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Silversea’s Silver Endeavour – Antarctica (Getting Home Flying The Drake Passage)

This, my seventh expedition to Antarctica, was definitely different from my previous ones.

Fly the Drake Passage in a Penguin Jet!
Fly the Drake Passage in a Penguin Jet!

There are really two things that my Fly the Drake Passage experience set it apart and one can see them as, “Hey, this is perfect for me!” or “I want a longer and more immersive experience;” a very personal decision!

(1) Flying across The Drake Passage, allaying the fear of possible rough seas, rather than embracing the experience of crossing The Drake and having time to settle in, get your head around what is about to happen, and enjoy the whales and birds on your way to/from Antarctica, was a hassle that I am not sure is worth the trouble; and,

(2) It is just the right amount of time to see a few penguins, whales, landscapes, and ticking Antarctica off as your Seventh Continent, and get home, or from a different perspective, a somewhat rushed and superficial experience, which is what I felt. 

Silver Endeavour at Danco Island
Silver Endeavour at Danco Island

It is important to note that the vast majority of the guests were thrilled with what Silversea and the Silver Endeavour provided.  Specifically, when I asked some guests they said that five days on the ice was enough. Others said they just wanted to see penguins and didn’t care about the difference between an Adelie, a Gentoo, or a Chinstrap. Some were quite indifferent to the history of Antarctica (“I never heard of Shackleton or Ross”).  Overfishing of krill and/or climate change affects on Antarctica didn’t matter. Of course, with limited time in between landings and zodiac cruises, there just wasn’t enough time for more in-depth lectures. (The ones that were given were quite good.)

This is not a matter of “judging” but observing.  And, of course, there is the concept of, “You don’t know what you don’t know, so how could you know you missed it?”  

Adelie Penguins on Ice
Adelie Penguins on Ice

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For example, this was the first time I had my final day of expeditions being my final day on the ship and, for me, I didn’t like it. It was too rushed. I felt had insufficient time to settle into that last landing, to take Antarctica in for one last time, to kick back and reflect. I figured my time at Hope Bay (a favorite of mine) should be my last memory of this expedition.  

As a result, I foolishly found myself doing work to clear my head and attend to my clients before two full days of travel. I’ll never do that again! Heck, no matter how badly my New York Jets are losing, I commit to staying until the game is over.  Why? Because you never know. And I missed out on what was downplayed as an abbreviated landing with limited interest, but which the guests that did go came back raving about. Silversea Silver Endeavour Experiences Antarctica

Hope Bay, Antarctica
Hope Bay, Antarctica

With the expedition coming to an end, the concept of simply disembarking the Silversea Silver Endeavour and hopping on a charter flight to Punta Arenas, Chile for an overnight stay before flying on a second charter flight to Santiago, Chile and the onward wasn’t exactly that. But, fortunately, it wasn’t the pre-expedition travel ordeal I had on the way to the ship! Silversea Silver Endeavour Journeys to Antarctica.

Let me backtrack a bit. After our morning at one of my favorite sites, Hope Bay, we had a briefing where we were told that due to anticipated cloud cover, we would have quite an early morning flight but that the final word would be coming around 7:00 p.m. Would that mean an earlier flight? A later flight? No flight? Another crossing of The Drake Passage?  Nobody knew. 

And to be sure, this is where less stressing and more of a Doris Day-esque “Que sera, sera. Whatever will be, will be” mindset is needed. There is no need to look at alternative flights, text the dogsitter, take seasickness pills, etc. And, in our case, all of it would have been totally unnecessary because the final report was that we would be flying, but would have to be up at “stupid o’clock”. That’s right 4:00 a.m. and off the ship by 5:00 a.m. Ugh. (When things are “perfect” it is a more comfortable 9:00 a.m. or so disembarkation.)

While the delivery of the news and the description of the logistics was far more confusing than need be, the process – once it was completed – made perfect sense. 

Silversea Uses Three Charter Jets to Fly to/from King George Island, Antarctica
Silversea Uses Three Charter Jets to Fly to/from King George Island, Antarctica

Let me explain:

There are three smaller jets that the guests will board to fly back to Punta Arenas, but those jets arrive at King George Island with the newly embarking guests, orderly bringing them to the Silver Endeavour while simultaneously offloading their luggage and any provisions the ship requires. Note that the jets don’t fly in formation, but rather are spread out, in part for logistics as the landing strip is small and rustic and embarkation is by zodiac.

Because the mixing of disembarking and embarking passengers would be a logistical nightmare, the disembarking guests are split into three groups/jets with those on the second and third jets taken to a small building in a hodgepodge of vehicles to wait while the first group gets a bit more time on the ship.

A Flying Penguin Jet at King George Island, Antarctica
A Flying Penguin Jet at King George Island, Antarctica

Once each plane is empty of passengers, it is refueled, luggage loaded, disembarking guests boarded, and takes off for Punta Arenas. As the first group flies on the first jet, it logistically makes the most sense for them to go straight from the ship to the plane…and the zodiacs will be on shore waiting for the arriving guests. Once that is completed, the same happens for the second group and, finally, the third.

Practically speaking, it meant that I was up at 4:00 a.m., off the ship at 5:00 a.m., and then hung out at this small building for over three hours before finally boarding the third jet for the 1.5-hour flight, arriving in Punta Arenas at 11:30 a.m. 

Silversea took care of the luggage delivery from the ship to our hotel rooms (which were ready for us upon arrival) after taking about an hour to get everyone off the plane, onto the transfer bus, and to the hotel. I stayed at the well-located waterfront Dreams Hotel and Casino. 

In short, it was a very long morning and I would have much rather been on the Silver Endeavour relaxing – even if there were rougher seas – sailing across the Drake Passage! I know others were relieved having been told that fairly modest seas – shown in red – were being avoided.

After a well-needed nap, Silversea had arranged a nice lunch (and, later, a dinner) at the various hotels the guests were assigned to. Silversea offered two different tours that guests could choose from – a very nice touch!  Silversea also had two extremely personable representatives at our hotel basically the entire time I was there to answer questions, hand out maps, distribute boarding passes, etc. Perfect!

I had a bit of lunch, went back to my room for a bit, and then headed out into Punta Arenas on my own. It seemed to me like this small, but historically very important, city has suffered economically quite a bit since my last visit; not that it was a thriving hub back then. Heck, I even went to Shackleton’s Bar for a pisco sour and the entire hotel was sadly closed. 

But after wandering around looking for a good place to eat, I found myself heading back to the Municipal Mercado – a small fish market below and five very small restaurants above. The one I ate at the last two times I was there was closed on Mondays, so this time it was Mercadito…and it was delicious!  A huge Scallop and Cheese Empanada followed by Chupa; King Crab with Cheese and Bread. 

Huge Scallop & Cheese Empanada
Huge Scallop & Cheese Empanada
Chupa: King Crab with Cheese & Bread
Chupa: King Crab with Cheese & Bread with a Pisco Sour!

After that meal there would be no dinner for me, but I did take advantage of the included dinner to grab a couple of glasses of Chilean wine for my room!

The next morning, at a very civilized 10:00 a.m. it was off to the airport for our 3.5-hour flight to Santiago, Chile; again with our luggage seamlessly taken care of. Fortunately, there was a Priority Pass Lounge at the airport, so it was about an hour’s wait there before boarding our LATAM charter flight.

Our flight arrived in Santiago at about 4:00 p.m., but that meant having to sit around the airport for over three hours before I could check in for my onward flight and then wait another three hours to board my 10:45 p.m. United flight to Houston. Fortunately, this time I was at the new Santiago International Airport and there were sufficient dining and drinking options; a huge improvement. And once checked in it was off to the LATAM lounge which was surprisingly beautiful and fairly well stocked.  (LATAM seems to be upping its game since becoming a SkyTeam partner.)

LATAM Lounge at Santiago International Airport
LATAM Lounge at Santiago International Airport

So it was a second very long travel day. But I do have to note that if we sailed The Drake I would have been faced with a similarly long day disembarking the ship, flying from Puerto Williams or Ushuaia to Santiago or Buenos Aires and then onward.  I guess having one long travel day, to my mind, is a better option for me.

Having experienced the Fly the Drake, with the issues on the way to Antarctica and the logistics and timing of the return, do I think it is a good option? Alas, that is not an easy question to answer!  So, I pose how to draw your own personal conclusion with two questions:

1. How fearful of rough seas crossing The Drake Passage are you? Do you feel the anxiety of just thinking about it overwhelms your desires to visit Antarctica? Or, simply, do you not like being at sea for two days at a time? Or, do you want the experiences that a crossing gives you? 

2. How much of what Antarctica has to offer do you want to immerse yourself in? Do you just want to say you have been there?  Do you want to spend time experiencing Antarctica, but not that much time? Or, do you want a fully immersive experience and more time to contemplate what you have seen and how it affects you?

Gentoo Penguins at Neko Harbour, Antarctica
Gentoo Penguins at Neko Harbour, Antarctica

Alas, there is no “right” answer. There is the correct answer for you.  And, of course, that is where utilizing all the resources available to you – like a travel advisor that truly understands what Antarctica Expeditions are through both personal experience and the experiences of his/her clients. 

Interested in a Luxury Journey by Cruise, Expedition, or Land?

Contact Goldring Travel For Truly Expert Advice!

Email: eric@goldringtravel.com 

US: (877) 2GO-LUXURY or (530) 562-9232

UK: 020 8133 3450

AUS: (07) 3102 4685

WhatsApp: +1 732-693-8797

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