Goldring Travel is Heading Antarctica Again on Ocean Endeavour – Part VI (More Details & Reflections)
The expedition experience provided by Chimu Adventures/Intrepid Travel in Antarctica was, without question, an impressive one. In fact, there was so much offered and, more importantly, accomplished, that discussing them in a chronological order just doesn’t do it justice.
When I was first approached by Chimu Adventures to experience its new product I was a bit hesitant since the ship is the Ocean Endeavour and not exactly a state-of-the-art or luxury vessel. While some of the luxury lines chuckled and even questioned my sanity, what I heard from expedition team members on other ships was a fondness for her. And that changed my focus to one of being someone romantically looking forward to an “old school” Antarctica expedition experience, drawing on my love for being, and experience as, a marine biologist many years ago.
What I experienced was, honestly, an impressive variety of Antarctica expedition offerings at an very high level, but with a significant (to some) caveat!
But first, let me get you up to date with my previous articles:
Australia-based Chimu Adventures, branding itself as a “Latin America and Polar Specialist”, has teamed up with Australia-based Intrepid Travel, a highly respected and environmentally-focused, worldwide expedition company to create this first-year Antarctica expedition program. On the expedition side of things, nothing short of a diverse and well-oiled, highly experienced, and professional operation was provided. Most importantly, I used the word “provided“, not “offered“! This is especially noteworthy because everything in Antarctica is weather dependent and there was a lot of weather on this expedition!
The offerings were robust; as much so as most any other operation (sans helicopters and submarines):
Landings and Zodiac Cruises were generously for more than an hour and, importantly, of eight (8) opportunities, eight were fully accomplished. This resulted in 5+ hours off the ship and in Antarctica every day.
A Photography Program (extra cost) was offered and was skillfully provided on every day, including during the crossings.
A Citizen Science Program (no cost) was offered and many guests were actively involved.
A Sea Kayaking Program (extra cost) was offered and delivered on an almost daily, if not twice daily, basis. (I have been on expeditions were it is repeatedly canceled.)
Camping on the Ice (extra cost) was offered and delivered. (I’ve been on expeditions offering it, but this is the first the accomplished it.)
Day Paddling (extra cost) was offered and delivered. (Not as frequently as sea kayaking because of the type of kayaks and the novice experience of those who signed up, but more than on other expeditions.)
Lectures are numerous well-times, relevant, and entertaining. Theywere given, both as 45-minute presentations and 5-minute short-takes during Recaps and Briefings on everything from history and politics to birdlife to cetacean behavior, etc.
Polar Plunge was offered and accomplished.
The only optional activity that I don’t think happened was Snowshoeing.
This was my sixth expedition to Antarctica and I cannot remember any of the other five accomplishing eight for eight landings/zodiac cruises; not a single cancelation! Yes, every moment is weather and ice dependent, but there is far more than luck involved in finding and exploiting opportunities. There were other ships in our area – more on that in a moment – and I know at least one luxury ship couldn’t (wouldn’t?) provide landings or zodiac tours in the same areas at nearly the same time…with one social media poster claiming it was great cruise; making it clear that “cruise” over “expedition” was the focus. And that is a very important thing to keep in mind!
The Daily Program is provided on your in-stateroom televisions and a couple of other places around the ship. It does change during the day (something I learned after missing a photography session) so you need to check it regularly. (There is no paper option and there is no app.) As you can see the days at sea are full!
As a side note, I am not a fan of the “Fly the Drake” programs offered by quite a few companies. Aside from very consistent delays and logistic issues with too tight flight windows due to weather and wind, if you consider all of the lectures, briefings and preparation that is done over the two days of the Crossing, you are so better prepared for…and actually already engaged with…your Antarctica experience, rather than being dropped into it without much context or a chance to really get you head into what you are about to experience.
A Hungry Gentoo Penguin Chick
It also has to be applauded that Chimu/Intrepid’s team provided a true “A-List” of an Antarctica itinerary. What was amazing is that some of the areas that are normally reserved until the end of the expedition – so as to leave guests with a WOW – had to be provided at the beginning due to the weather and winds essentially shutting down places to the north. But, somehow, we were given WOWs right up until heading back to Ushuaia!
Lemaire Channel Transit
Hidden Bay (Polar Plunge)
This is done by having a skilled and experienced team that can assure your landings happen, starting with the captain and expedition leader, to the expedition team and right down to the zodiac drivers.
For example, in Orne Harbour the landing was at a very small, rocky, cove with a moderate swell. (There was also a steep climb up a hill in fresh, deep, snow.) An announcement was made that it would be a difficult landing so those that didn’t want to attempt it could opt for a zodiac cruise.Well, the vast majority of the passengers landed and all returned with no injuries. Maneuvering the zodiacs for a landing was challenging and was coordinated with five (5) expedition team members on shore assisting everyone that wanted to land getting up to stable ground. This was followed by a zodiac cruise watching a number of feeding humpbacks. This was one of my favorite landings.
One stylistic, more than critical, observation: I wish there was more interaction between the expedition team and the passengers when not on expedition. I know it is exhausting for them after being out all day and doing a great job, but even just a few more acknowledging smiles would have been appreciated. Note: This stood out to me especially because Jason, Andrew and Luke, who ran the Photography Program, could not have been more interactive with the program members!
With all of these superlatives, which made me very happy over almost the entirety of the expedition, the Ocean Endeavour – as a ship – has her challenges. It is a circa 1981 Polish-built, Russian ferry that was converted into an ice-class expedition ship. While it has been refurbished a number of times over the years, it has definitely seen better days.
This is not the most stable of ships as it has a ferry’s flatter bottom and small, old-fashioned, stabilizers. In The Drake’s 12-foot seas, you could feel it, but it wasn’t bad. In the 20+ foot seas, we were rockin’ & rollin’. In fact, I was sitting at my desk writing on my computer and the ship rolled so much I literally slid across the entire room…still seated! In the Dining Room, the crash of dishes was not uncommon on the crossing back to Ushuaia. I’ve been on more modern ships in similar seas with no such experiences! Note: I would not fully discount Ocean Endeavour for this, but rather note that if you are inclined to seasickness, you have better choices.
Ocean Endeavour basically operates one lounge for lectures and entertainment (and two former lounges are used for meetings). There are saunas and a hot tub, both of which were regularly used, but which are not the most modern. There is also a heated saltwater pool, but that was hardly filled and, to be honest, was more of a science experiment when first filled. (Add heat to the nutrient-rich Antarctic waters and I thought a humpback might rise to feed on all that was growing!) Ocean Endeavour has only a small bar in the Navigator Lounge which has limited selections, but does include a variety of local beers. While you can order, say, a beer at lunch, sitting with a round of drinks mid-day is not going to happen.
In the more modern and popular coffee lounge, there is always a large pot of coffee along with teas and hot chocolate mix. They are the only complimentary beverages onboard, other than water. You will even pay for soft drinks. Note: There is a sign offering espresso, etc. starting at $3.50 a shot. Yikes!
There is a decent selection of wines, but for the most part, the ones I ordered were not stored properly but were still drinkable, but were seriously overpriced. Meals are not to be considered a culinary experience, but rather mostly just sustenance; something I am perfectly fine with as a trade-off for the excellent expedition experience. I did my Hamburger & Hotdog Test and the hamburger proved consistent with the other meals, but the hot dog was pretty good all around (even though it was not a beef hotdog).
Breakfast is basically the same every morning: Buffet with an omelet station. Lunch is quite varied but still a buffet with hot soup and carving stations. (Most of the soups and actual carvings were quite good.) Dinners are a mix of plated and buffet, dependent on what is happening that day/evening. As I said, I did not come on this expedition for a dining experience and found the meals to pretty much be as expected. They were varied and more than acceptable. I did not starve and, in fact, gained a couple of pounds.
But that brings me to the hotel and restaurant staff. Most of the hotel staff were fine. They did their job, knew enough English to communicate, and were friendly enough. (My room steward, however, had an uncanny ability to always want to clean my room when I was just arriving back at it, regardless of the time. I always just left him to it and went for a cup of coffee.) There were some bar staff that hustled and one really stood out as really caring, but others were just OK.
The restaurant staff is another thing. There were a couple of decent servers, but for the most part, they were downtrodden individuals doing the minimum possible with not a smile to be seen. Sometimes just getting a cup of coffee or a water refill could be a real challenge. At dinner, if you order soup and salad to start: They are brought together. Order two of any course and they are brought together. That truly frustrated me, but I learned to just live with it. My tablemates and I were all there for Antarctica and with the daily experiences being so good, and the diversity of the passengers so interesting, the lively conversations more than made up for this less than acceptable issue.
I also have to note that the internet was virtually non-existent for the vast majority of the voyage. As the internet is very expensive and charged by the minute, I am quite confident that more than 80% of my billed time was just trying to get online. I was advised a new antenna was being installed after my voyage, but the antiquated system needs more than that. (It is also why my articles have a bit of lag in being published.)
I do not have enough superlatives to describe the Chimu Adventures/Intrepid Travel Expedition Program. From the ability to create an excellent 8-for-8 itinerary in spite of the weather, to the diversity of experiential offerings, to the Expedition Team to the Photography Team, my experience was unequivocally exceptional!
If you chose to sail with Chimu/Intrepid on the Ocean Endeavour just be sure you are willing to accept some compromises due to the ship…but, then again, remember the price you are paying. This expedition experience is not for everyone, but there are those – including me – that will find it just what they are looking for when balancing all of the factors and being honest about what matters for you when considering an Antarctic Experience.
Interested in a Luxury Journey by Cruise, Expedition, or Land?