Polar Reports: Antarctica (3/06), Arctic (7/08), South Georgia/Falklands (2/12)
Antarctica Trip report – March 5-15, 2006 – Part 1
I appreciated the help I was able to garner from this forum in planning my trip, despite the slow traffic! I wanted to be sure and post my experience for future travelers. I had a LOT of questions when I was planning, and it was really hard to get answers, so I am going to go into pretty extensive detail here.
I took the Antarctic Explorer 10 day trip with Peregrine Adventures on the Akademik Ioffe, departing from Ushuaia on March 5 and returning on March 15. My trip was absolutely and completely amazing, and I would definitely recommend it. It was worth every penny, and the many months of planning. It was probably the single best thing I have ever done in my life. I’ll try to hit on everything I can remember, including the costs and timing. I selected Peregrine and this specific trip based on the recommendation of a friend who traveled with them in Feb 2004. Aside from Antarctica, on this trip I spent some time in Ushuaia, Buenos Aires (including a day trip to Colonia, Uruguay and the Tigre Delta area), and did a weekend at Iguazu Falls (both Argentina and Brazil side). I'll post about that here too. My entire trip was March 2 - 23.
The Bad - Booking
I highly recommend Peregrine for an Antarctica trip. While the trip was excellent, I did have trouble with the booking – however this was the only bad part of my entire experience. I booked a March 10 departure in early November 2005 after several months of planning (March 10 was originally the last departure of the season). I initially started contacting Peregrine in Australia over email. I was not pleased with the foreign sales rep I was working with. I had many questions, and despite organizing my emails in a clear manner, I wasn’t getting the responses I needed, which was very frustrating, especially as the time difference resulted in a 24 lag time in response. I ultimately wounded up booking through the Adventure Center in California – if you call the US number on Peregrine's website, this is who you get. I really cannot recommend using them either. The customer service and management of the company is horrible, and their Antarctic knowledge was very poor. This wasn’t so evident until December, when Peregrine abruptly cancelled my departure and proposed to rebook me on March 5. The official reason given was the boat needed to be dry-docked for maintenance – this was clearly a lie, and was confirmed when I arrived on my trip. The boat had a low booking rate, and many travel agents and staff family were aboard on my departure. Additionally the boat actually left USH for it’s home port in Russia the day we returned. In the end, it worked out, and I was able to rearrange everything on my own, with no help from Adventure Center. My agent was either fired or quit in the middle of all this, and I was never notified. Additionally, when I insisted that I need Adventure Center to work with Peregrine to salvage my trip, I was treated VERY, VERY poorly by a manager there. I have never had such a bad experience with customer service in my life, and I was spending 6k, which is not a small amount of money. Their billing department clearly did not communicate with the booking agents, and I was contacted for final payment although my trip had been cancelled. I could go on and on about inept these people were. Again, this was really the only BAD thing about my trip. I received a great upgrade when I arrived on the boat (from Peregrine, not AC) which really made up for all the booking nightmares – more on that later. Please feel free to ask me more on this because I see other people discussing AC on this forum. I will come back and add the correct name and link to the company that friends I made used, and had a great experience with.
I was traveling on my own. The cheapest accommodation on the boat – a triple, was only available to groups who actually had 3 people to place in 1 room. Therefore I was required to book a twin. I booked the cheapest twin, which was $5625. Additionally, there was a $200 fuel surcharge, and a $10 document charge so my total for the trip alone was $5835. Additionally, I spent about $600 on clothing. I think you can definitely NOT spend that much, but I was really pleased with my planning and the purchases I made. I will post them later with my comments. I did not buy boots – they had them on the boat, but I borrowed a pair of hiking boots and overboots from a friend. I spent about $220 on the boat over the 10 day trip – this was comprised of CDs to burn photos, alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks, a couple of small gift shop items, and the tip ($10 a day, as recommended by Peregrine). I’ll post my final trip costs soon, but this is exactly what I paid to Peregrine. It did NOT include airfare.
I used AA miles to fly coach from JFK to EZE on March 2, arriving March 3. I then used a travel agent in BA to book my domestic flights including a flight 4.5 hours later from AEP – USH. I had a choice of a 3 hr flight difference and was glad I opted for the longer window as my international flight was delayed and traffic and weather were poor in BA. I used and recommend a BA agent named Carla - email@example.com upon recommendation from FT. At the time I booked, I saved quite a bit of money from Aerolinas by booking through a TA instead of online on my own as a US citizen. Arranging my own flights was unusual – most people booked their airfare through Peregrine. My itinerary was also unusual in that most people stopped a night in BA. I was pretty happy with my decision, personally. Although I saved a lot of money on the flights by using miles and booking on my own, if there are any problems, it would have been good to have Peregrine finding alternate routings. I was very glad I arrived in USH on the evening of March 3, and had March 4 free. It was very good to relax and not stress over missing the boat. On the way home, I had a 1030AM flight booked from USH to BA. The boat docks at 7AM, and making the 1030 is not a problem – in fact some of the Peregrine staff took that flight too. The next flight is not till the mid-afternoon, so taking the AM flight was a good plan.
On the recommendation of a friend, I stayed at the Hotel Monaco on San Martin which was a perfectly acceptable and plain hotel. I paid $70 a night. I booked outside of Peregrine, as they offered hotel books at a significant markup, so I recommend contacting hotels directly to book at a cheaper rate. I met many people in USH who were staying at dirt cheap hostels, and some at more expensive hotels. There was a lot of variation in price, but nothing really to write home about. Peregrine contacted me the week before my departure to advise me that I was going to receive a free (ha!) transfer from the USH airport to my hotel. I am unclear if this was offered to all Peregrine customers, or if I received it because I signed up for an excursion on the day of departure.
In the next part of my trip report, I’ll try to write about my time in Ushuaia, the ship and boarding procedures, the staff on the ship, the passenger breakdown, and the facilities on the ship itself. Eventually I’ll get to all the good stuff! So many seals, penguins, whales, icebergs, glaciers - it was unbelievable.
Let me know if you have specific questions you want me to address.
Last edited by Endor; Jan 24, 12 at 12:16 pm..
Reason: Removed additional travel agent recommendation due to poor experience.
I saw some concern in another thread about clothing required to take this trip, and since I did buy a lot of gear for my trip, I wanted to offer a review of the stuff I used. I don’t ski, so I bought a lot of stuff. Definitely I bought and brought more than I need on the trip, but I used everything and was glad to have it. Further, they had very little you could buy on the boat (besides a vastly overpriced fleece, so I was glad to be over prepared!) Where I have an alternate suggestion, I will note it.
I wound up checking a large bag and carried on a small backpack and large duffel bag. It was definitely the most luggage I ever took on a trip! I brought a lot of books with me, which was heavy, as I expected a lot of downtime, as I will discuss later, there was no where near as much downtime as I expected, plus they had a nice library on the ship, so I could have definitely cut down on books and weight. I was not charged any excess baggage (although I know I was over!)
The best thing was to layer, and it worked very well. There are 4 main things you do on the trip: (1) stay in doors on the boat, (2) go out on deck to look at things, (3) go on Zodiac cruises, and (4) spend time on land. We also camped out one night. I’ll tell you what I wore for each of those.
They do have laundry on board, but it took 36 hr to turn around. It was fairly reasonably priced, cheaper than it would cost at a Marriott, but more expensive than my USH hotel.
I bought most of my gear at EMS during the week btwn Xmas and New Year. They were having their enormous enormous sale - 20-50% off everything + for every $100 you spent btwn xmas and new years eve, you got a $20 off your next purchase coupon.
I could have rented a waterproof jacket and pants set from Peregrine for $50, or purchased a set for $150. I would say more than ½ the people on the boat did this. Generally, the older passengers rented the gear and the younger crowd brought their own. People I asked were generally pleased with the rental gear, but did report it wasn’t super warm. They were thrilled not to have to cart the stuff home, esp. since those Penguins stink! I brought all my own stuff.
I got 2 pairs of bergelene midweight long pants from EMS as my innermost layer. I also bought a silkweight Patagonia pair at Paragon later - In general, I much preferred the silkweight pants. However, during the coldest activities – zodiac cruises and camping out, the Beregelene were ideal. I wore of these on all excursions off the boat, and sometimes when we were out on deck I would wear the silkweight under my cords. In retrospect I would recommend one pair of each.
I bought polartec fleece pants as a middle layer. I wore these as a middle layer in the coldest conditions (camping out and on some zodiac cruises). Of all the things I bought, I was most concerned that these were a waste of money. I will say I was very glad to have them, but you could probably use a cheaper pair from an Old Navy kind of store.
Additionally, I brought 2 pairs of cords to wear on the ship for everyday activities. I did wear them everyday.
For the innermost layer, I got 3 bergelene shirts from EMS. I bought 3 different styles (one midweight crew, one silkweight crew, and one midweight zip). I liked having options – probably I liked the silkweight the best, and the midweight zip 2nd best. I wore these everyday, both on the boat and off, and was glad I brought 3.
For the next layer, I bought 3 techwick shirts. Again, I wore these shirts everyday, both on the boat and off, so 3 was the perfect number for a 10 day trip.
For the next layer, I bought this fleece microvest. This was a very good insulating layer. I wore it most times I left the boat, but not always.
Here is where I went overboard. I brought 3 different jackets with me – I really only needed 2, but I switched them around based on conditions.
Jacket 1 – I bought a NorthFace 300 power Fleece with a hood at a Northface outlet for $40. I wore this on the boat quite a bit, but never on the excursions. It was too bulky beneath my exterior shell. I liked having the fleece to change things up, but it was a waste of space. I did wear it when we went camping, and also around USH.
Jacket 2 – EMS Myth Jacket - This jacket is awesome and ison a super sale right now and I highly recommend even if you aren’t going to Antarctica. It’s totally waterproof, and very light weight, which was perfect. It was an awesome purchase. I wore it on every excursion. I hemmed and hawed over it because it didn’t zip into my shell, but I do think it kept me very warm. I wore it in buckets of rain in BA, and it kept me 100% dry.
Jacket 3 – NorthFace Summit Shell – I think this has been discontinued as I bought it 2 years ago at an NF outlet for $100. It’s a nice gortex/hydravent shell jacket, and I wore it most days over Jacket #2. There were a few times I didn’t wear it and just went with Jacket #2. I was fine.
My friend loaned me the boots and overboots she used on the trip. I didn’t need to bring them after all though, because Peregrine has boots on board. Basically, penguin crap smells horrible which means your shoes (and frankly, much of your clothing!) will smell awful and people don’t want to put that in their luggage. So they have TONS of boots on board. Some are better than others, but although Peregrine doesn’t guarantee they have boots for you, they'll definitely be able to hook you up. I did hear a couple people complaining of cold and dampness. I used Columbia Hiking Boots and some nice overboots – I’ll come back and add the details later. They were really awesome and I didn’t mind carting them around because my feet were very happy.
On the boat I wore sneakers and flip flops. I think most people share showers, so I would recommend bringing them. I liked having shoes that slid on and off because a lot of times I would be napping and they would make an announcement about whales or something and I would want to RUN to the deck to see them.
I bought 5 pairs of these liner socks: We had 5 days of excusions, so I think that was about right. I could have gotten away with fewer – but I did wear them every day on the boat and off on excursions.
I had 4 pairs (2 sets) of these hiking socks: I probably only needed 1 set. I wore them on all excursions, and 2 pair during camping.
Glove Liners – this was my only mistake. I wanted thin gloves I could wear under my thick mittens that would give me dexterity with my camera. I bought these. The EMS staff tried to sell me a more insulating pair, but I cheaped out and went with these – in reality I wore these 100% of the time, and my big mittens maybe 40% of the time (on top). I should have gotten the warmer liners. I wish I had gotten these instead.
Mittens – I went with these nice waterproof mittens, which were very good. I liked them, but I often left them dangling off my wrists and just wore the glove liners so I could take photos easily. Waterproof was key, but I could have gotten a less expensive pair. I should have spent more on the liner, and less on the primary set of mittens/gloves.
I bought an expensive Neck gaiter at EMS and didn’t really test it out. Turns out it was too big and wasn’t properly insulating me. The Gaiter instead of the scarf was the way go. I realized the problem in USH and bought a $3 fleece Gaiter I used instead of my fancy $20 EMS one. I did actually wind up using both, if one was wet (or smelled like penguin), it was nice to tradeoff. I preferred the USH one to the EMS one.
I brought a Nalgene bottle to bring with me. Was a waste of space, although we had been instructed to bring a 32 ounce bottle. You could buy bottled water on the boat for $1.25 and could refill from fountains.
I also got some hand and toe warmers to wear inside all those layers. I bought enough to last me each day, but I really only used them during the camp out. I used them the first day and overheated! However, I did put them with my camera to maintain battery life and that was awesome. I also really liked these thin heat pads I bought at Walmart (for use with a sore back and neck) those were really thin, comfortable and warm. I would recommend them over the Grabber. Good for the camera battery too. I tucked one into my camera case with my batteries and it extended the life, I am sure.
My friend suggest I get a compression packing kit for all these layers. I bought some from EMS (2 bags for $20) and a set from Target ($12 for 3 bags). I used all 5, and I would recommend the EMS ones over the Target ones, hands down. One of the Target ones completely tore, and they never really compressed very well. The EMS ones were very reliable.
I bought this AquaPac waterproof bag for my camera. It was waterproof and functioned great, but the best part was just leaving my point and shoot dangling around my neck and not having to constantly cart it around. It was the biggest surprise to me because it was TOTALLY worth it. I loved it. Worked great at Iguazu as well.
I used the Kelty Redtail daypack on my excursions. it was a nice size and I loved the pockets for my waterbottle. You can really use ANY old backpack you have, and while the ground has snow and ice on it, there is almost no precipitation in Antarctica so I didn’t have to worry about waterproofing.
However, I had this pack cover and brought it with me as well. I used it only for the camping in Antarctica, but again, it was handy in Iguazu, and during pouring rain in BA.
I bought this hat at EMS and I really liked the nice fleece ear lining. However, I should have brought my own hat from home. No need for a new one (also this one made my head look sort of like an egg in some of the photos, not good!).
Survival Heat Blanket for the night I stay out in Antarctica. My friend who had gone before really wished she had taken these when she took this very trip to Antarctica. I bought 4 from Amazon for the same cost as 1 on other sites, I brought them all with me, and gave 3 to 3 friends I made on the trip. We all were very appreciative of them, and they worked great! Highly recommend.
I also brought a cheap Balaclava I bought off ebay – I used it during camping only, and was glad to have it. I also brought a fleece ear band and never wore it. Additionally, I also had a liner hat, which I wore 2X when my primary hat was wet from cruising.
So after all that, what did I miss? The big thing I didn’t bring was my laptop, because I thought I was carrying so much stuff. I should have brought it, to transfer photos. They did have a computer on the ship everyone could use, and I bought about 10 cds for $30 to burn my pictures. Well worth it, but so painful to spend. What an oversight! I thought if I had enough memory cards, I would be fine. Well you can never have enough in Antactica. Bring your laptop, and all the appropriate cables, your camera manual, etc. You won’t regret it.
In terms of clothing, I was totally warm and all set. I didn’t lack for anything, which was very good, because as I said before there was very little you could buy on the boat if you realized you had made a fatal error!
Antarctica Trip Report - Part 3 - USH, Boarding the Boat, Accomodation and Passengers
I spent March 4 wandering around USH. I did not go to the National Park - I had thought I would go in the afternoon, so I slept in in the AM, and all the organized tours were in the AM. I wish I had planned that a little better, but it was good to have a day to relax. I went instead to the big museum here, which is housed in the old prison. The funny thing about this museum is that you don't go just to learn the prison history - its also the maritime museum and covers additional topics too. So basically, each cell houses a different exhibit. This is extradinarily funny, especially in the GIFT SHOP, where there is a cell devoted to stuffed penguins. I kid you not. There are 5 wings to the prison - and one of them IS devoted to the prison, and each cell has info on a famous felon and a plaster model of said prisoner. There are even sculptures of guards randomly placed around (there look they were created by 12 year olds). Anyway, the museum was pretty lame, but an absolute hoot. My friend had insisted I go and I am glad I did, although it is no must see.
I also went to the local tourist office. They will stamp your passport there. They apparently have 3 different stamps (all similar) and while i was otherwise occupied they put all 3 in my passport. Yikes. Apparently, most people ASK for all 3 in their passport (believe me, you just need 1!). I found out later the the post office has a seperate 4th stamp, but I decided 3 was enough for Ushuaia. I also got 3 or 4 stamps in Antarctica, when we stopped at Port Lockroy and the Ukraniane Base.
So I wandered around and bought lots of postcards, and then I decided to spend my afternoon on a cruise of the Beagle Channel. I wasnt sure if this was a great idea - although seeing the Beagle IS a must do in USH, I am going to be on parts of the channel tomorrow when I leave on my cruise. It was only 20US, so I went and I had a lovely time. I selected a ship called the Barracuda based on (1) Rough Guide recommendation (2) duration of journey and (3) price. It was very relaxing, and I was pretty happy with my decision. We made 4 primary stops, although we never got off the boat. The boat pulled up to 3 islands: 1 had a penguin colony, 1 had a colony of South American seals, 1 had a colony of fur seals and 1 was the home of the famous red lighthouse that is the symbol of USH and the southernmost lighthouse in Argentina. I met some great people on the boat and had a nice time. After, I wandered around before calling it a night. Note - I know USH is considered expensive by Argentina standards, but I found it to be pretty reasonable.
On the AM of March 5 (departure day), I was picked up by my tour company, Canal Fun. I left my luggage at the hotel, and while I was on my all day excursion, Peregrine collected it and brought it to my cabin on the boat. I didn’t see it until I checked in at the port and made my way to my cabin. The excursion company dropped me off at the port at the end of the day. That was VERY nice. My excursion was a 4X4 off road tour of Lake Fagnano. There were 3 other people from the boat on the tour, so I enjoyed meeting them. Additionally there were several other people not going on our trip. There were 2 off road vehicles and they divided us into english speaking and spanish speaking cars. We drove to 2 separate lakes, and we really went off roading – stuck in the mud and all. We had a really nice barbeque lunch on the beach. In general, it was a beauitiful excursion, but I would probably recommend taking the national park tour instead, for 2 reasons – (1) we spent almost all day in the vehicle, which was a bit much and (2) the vehicle jostled around quite a bit. Considering you are going to spend the next 2 days in the Drake Passage, that’s a lot to deal with. Several passengers in the car felt ill, and one woman got motion sick on the excursion and remained ill all the way through the Drake. Not fun. But it was such a lovely day, and we saw beautiful scenary – I had a nice time.
Boarding the Boat, Rooms and Passengers
After the tour they dropped us off at the port, where Peregrine had us board some coach buses. The buses were funny because we basically sat there while they gave us some instructions, and then they drove us through the parking lot to security, we exited the bus, went through security, got back on the bus and drove a few meters and then got off near the boat. We probably were on the bus for about 100 meters, but it was a security issue.
I was very excited to see the boat – the Akademik Ioffe, to see my cabin, and meet my fellow passengers. Peregrine collected the return air tickets of all passengers and left them in USH for reconfirmation. This surprised and alarmed a lot of people but was fine – I left them a copy of etix itinerary and they had my boarding pass for me when we returned back on March 15. At some point, I learned that my cabin had been changed. I was worried about my luggage not being in the correct cabin, as I had marked it with my original cabin number but not to worry it was there and waiting! I was so happy when I saw my cabin.
The Ioffe has basically 4 decks for passenger cabins: deck 3, which is the main deck where the dining hall has cabins that are probably the “lowest grade” – this is where most of the triples were located, and the cabins shared bathroom and shower facilities with the entire floor. Deck 4 is a step up – there is a private bathroom and shower shared between every 2 cabins. Deck 5, my deck, has nice rooms with private bathrooms, and truthfully, I never saw a Deck 6 room. So I paid for a deck 3 double, and expected to have a roommate. Because my trip was originally cancelled and I was inconvinenced I was upgraded and assigned to deck 4. However when I got to the boat, I was upgraded again to deck 5! I had my own room and bathroom, although I had paid for a room with shared facilities and expected to have a roommate. I was very, very happy. My room was in the "quiet" area of the boat, near the library, and hosptial. There was a bed (with a bunk folded into the wall on top), a sofa, a desk, lots of cubby holes and 2 little closets, a nice big window, and the bathroom, which really not much smaller than my NYC bathroom. Everything was very well secured in the event of rolling around in the Drake. There is no way to lock the doors, so I had brought locks for my luggage to lock stuff up, but really I didn't worry about it much at all. The cabin stewards cleaned the rooms 2 or 3 times a day, and I even got a lovely chocolate each night. Lots of electrical outlets, and I was even able to borrow a hair dryer from reception for the duration of the trip. It was really far more than what I was expecting in terms of accomodation.
The boat had about 80 passengers on it, and can accommodate around 100 or 110, so there was a lot of extra room. On the voyage, the last of the season, there were a lot of passengers that were (A) family members of crew (B) travel agents and (C) Peregrine staff. So clearly, another reason I would assume I was upgraded was because a lot of people didn’t get suckered into paying the full price like I did! I met one person who had won the trip in a jingle contest, and one who booked last minute from USH for about 2/3 of the full price. For those wondering, he had to go to several agencies before he found one that was aware of availability on the boat.
I was really worried about the passenger makeup – I am a female in my 20s, and traveling alone, and I was really concerned I wouldn’t find a lot of people to hang around with. However, that was totally not the case. The average age was 47, and the age range was 15-91. There were people in every age bracket, and other travelers in my demographic. I met all sorts of different people, from all over the world, and it was great. People did seem to divide off by age, and while groups certainly formed over the trip, everybody was always very welcoming. The crew was also very accessible and friendly - their rooms were even mixed in amongst passenger cabins.
Coming up: I’ll talk about features of the boat, the staff and crew, our first days at sea and the Drake Passage.
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Great stuff, Endor ; keep it coming! I was on the Ioffe in 1998, visiting South Georgia and Antarctic, 22 days. Marvelous! I'll also ask for your permission to fill in a bit for those who wish to go but don't find an asnwer in your comprehensive and really well-thought-out posts (I love the links!) or even some trivia... since you are so admirably filling in the important information.
With my size foot, the uncertainty of onboard footwear and the number of landings and excursions we made, I bought and took my own boots. Mine were lined Nokia boots - the Finns know about cellular phone sand definitely boots, as Nokia is also famous for making Russian military footwear. Sorrell makes very good ones as well - my recommendation is boots that are lined (keep you warm, you can remove the liners and dry them out,) waterproof and at least mid-calf in height (when you make a beach or "wet" landing you want boots high enough water won't get inside your boots, since the water is slightly below freezing,) with at least moderately lugged soles and enough structure you can walk comfortably, since on a landing you will do some walking around. Ice and penguin crap can be slippery...
And in Ushuaia, be sure to stop by Tia Elvira's seafront restaurant at Maipú 349 and try the local fish - "centolla" (cent-OH-yuh) is the local delicious king crab, but they also have black hake and other fish (of course, they have Argentine "parrilla" meats as well.) Foto Santa Maria on the main drag (two blocks up from the seafront Maipú) has a huge variety of decent postcards, in-date film and one hour photo processing.
Little known fact: the Akademik Ioffe was built in Wartsila, Finland, and was named after Avraham Ioffe, a famous Jewish academician in Russia - but they mention his first name anywhere as it was Jewish. The ship was built as an "acoustic reasearch vessel" with high tech listening and analysis devices and was even equipped with semi-cylindridcal "sails" (didn't work well at all) and a sailing sloop (to drop sonobuoys.) The Ioffe was built to listen in to and record the propeller and other sounds of American submarines!
I toured the acoustics centre with an officer - one guy gave me incredibly nasty looks. When I told the Captain, he said it was because the chap was an Afghan veteran, and he hated the idea of the "enemy" - or at least the "ex-enemy" getting a load of some of "his" equipment. I told the Captain I understood, as I was a Vietnam veterna. Next time I saw the chap, he gave me big smiles, a "high five" and warm "tovarich!" Amazing what persoanlizing others can do...
The ship was pretty darn comfortable, much more than I expected, although of course, it’s no Carnival Cruise (in my opinion, this is a good thing).
Here are some of the main features/rooms on the ship:
Dining Hall – On Deck 3, this was used for all meals (except the traditional Antarctica on deck BBQ lunch we had one day), some snack times, and for some presentations and lectures. All passengers and most crew could fit in there at one time. I found I preferred to sit at tables that were perpendicular to the ship itself. If I sat parallel – my soup tended to slosh out of my bowl while we were in the Drake!
Presentation Room – On Deck 1 (?) – this was the 2nd largest gathering location on the ship. Most lectures as well as all evening films were held here. Additionally it was the room where the ship computer (s) and photo equipment were, and passengers were welcome to use at all times (usually after waiting in a lengthy queue). It could NOT comfortably seat all passengers, which was only evident on the last day, when the Exhibition Leader delivered the trip recap and best of photo essay.
Mudroom – this was where all passengers went to prior to heading out on the zodiacs and for land. All boots and lifejackets, as well as kayak gear and camping gear was stored here for the duration of the trip. Passengers would pick a location to discard their boots after each trip, so there were boots strewn around. Additionally, if you rented gear from Peregrine, I believe it was claimed and returned here. It was sort of like a locker room, if you will.
Bar and Lounge – Self explanatory! There was a designated bartender, who was usually (but not always present). There was a refrigerator with water, soda, and beer for passengers to help themselves at all times, and an honor sheet to record your purchases. Those beverages, as well as wine, were also offered for sale at dinner – the bartender came around to each table. The water and soda was about $1.50 each, and beer was about $3 each. Wine varied but was closer to $6 a glass. You could buy a bottle to enjoy at meals, and they would bring it back for you in subsequent meals if you didn’t finish it. They had mixed drinks at the bar as well, and a very popular happy hour as well. The mixed drinks and beer were in the $2.50 range during happy hour. Often, teatime was held in the lounge, but there was always hot tea available there. Additionally the lounge held a TV and VCR with some tapes, as well as a variety of boardgames and puzzles. I never saw anyone playing a game or watching a movie there. Every night, the staff would host a brief activity in the bar, btwn dinner and the evening movie.
Bridge – The bridge was a lot of fun – it was usually open for all passengers. There were times it wasn’t open, and it would be marked on the door. When open, in addition to the Russian crew, a Peregrine staff member would be manning the bridge as well. There were windows designated for passengers to stand in front of as well as ones kept open for navigators. Quite often, when they would announce a sight, or some wildlife to see, if I didn’t want to put all my heavy clothing on, I would just hop up the stairs to the bridge to get a great view, and usually enhanced commentary from the on duty staff.
Gym – The gym was on the lowest deck accessible (1 or 2?) and held some older but serviceable equipement, including a universal, a stationary bike and a rusting set of free weights. I believe there was also a stair master. It was rarely in use, at least by passengers.
Computer Room – This was a small room on the 6th floor. I am not sure that everyone knew it was even there. There was an older computer on which you could compose an email in outlook, save it to a folder on the computer and the ship radio crew would send it out (at 8am, 12pm and 6pm each day). You would record your name and room number in the subject line, and you would be charged 30 cents a KB. Then, your loved ones could write back to you (make sure to ask them not to copy your original message in the reply. I sent and received quite a few messages on the trip and spent $9 total. I loved getting email – it was my only contact with the outside world. I think the satellite phone was also in this room, but I never used it.
Gift Shop – This was a joke. The gift shop was this small room in the middle of the ship that was only open for about 3 hours the entire trip, and was mobbed the whole time. I really think Peregrine is missing a huge opportunity here to make some money. Basically you could buy the following: fleeces with the ship name on them (at over $100 each!), a fleece vest, fairly ugly tshirts, postcards, blank CDs, some random artwork, a map, Nalgene bottles, and maybe 2 or 3 sundry items. Literally, that was it. Buy Antarctica tshirts and gifts in Ushuaia (but not at the airport). Further buy Antarctica postcards in USH. The ones on the ship are poor, more expensive, smaller, and don’t say Antarctica. I’ll talk about postcards more later.
Pool/sauna I never used either of these, although I had friends that did. The pool is filled with Antarctic water, and was open and filled more often than I expected. The sauna was rumored to be as hot as the pool was cold.
Deck – It was such an important part of the trip to be out on deck and watching the animals and scenery. The deck was accessible from levels 3 and up and was almost always open. They did close the lower levels at times when swells would come up over the ship. Whenever there was something of note to see, be it an albatross, a breaching whale, dolphins, a beautiful sunset, our first iceberg, etc, it would be announced over the loudspeaker system and we would run to see it. We abandoned meals, woke up from naps, etc. It was well, well worth it. I took to carrying my camera and a pair of gloves around with me when I left the room so I would be prepared at all times.
Engine room, communications room, etc – One day we received a tour of the ship, which essentially included the bridge, Engine Room, and I think the audio room. It was interesting – the only time we accessed the latter 2.
Hospital – located on deck 5. I actually had to see the doctor twice – once for motion sickness in the Drake, and once for my tonsils. The hospital appeared to be well equipped and they were capable of providing surgery there.
That’s all I recall off the top of my head. I will be sure to update if I have forgotten something.
I was really impressed by the crew. They were very knowledgeable, and very confident in their capabilities. The crew was very large – over 50 in total, which is an impressive crew to passenger ratio. They broke down into 2 groups:
Russian Crew – They ran the ship and all services. This including the captain and his crew, the engine room, etc, as well as most of the dining staff and housekeeping. We had some interaction with them, but largely, I must confess that we rarely saw them. They ran the ship very, very well, and I was most impressed. They had a separate doctor for the Russian crew.
Peregrine Crew – I believe there were 16 people employee by Peregrine. This included the Expedition Leader, who worked closely with the Captain of the trip to plan our excursions. The Exhibition Leader was really impressive – very knowledgeable, and did an outstanding job of managing crew, and his many responsibilities while providing outstanding customer service. Other staff included the a political expert, a marine biologist, a geologist/climate expert (all PhD level), a hotel manager, a photographer, a director of activities, a chef, a bartender, and assorted other zodiac and exhibition crew. I was really surprised at the experience, knowledge and expertise the staff had. It was top rate.
In my next post, I think I’ll talk about the Drake Passage and the lectures and programming that were provided en-route to Antarctica, and upon the return.
JDiver - Thanks for your kind words. I was very frustrated when I was planning my trip because I had a hard time getting answers to questions. It's an expensive trip, and I think it's worth knowing what you are buying. I hope my report will fill in some gaps for future travelers.
Thanks for the very interesting and informative posts. I'm looking forward to your description of the Drake passage. That is my biggest hesitation with going to Antarctica as I get seasick very easily.
I was on an Antarctic trip in February and you really cannot tell what the Drake passage will be like. Our cruise, according to one of the naturalists, was the smoothest for him in 68 crossings. But, the cruise before ours was pretty bad and the passengers were confined to their cabins for their own safety.
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You can never predict, other than it will be unpredictable. On our leg to South Georgia, we had moderate swell, and from there to the Bransfield Strait / King George Island, we had perhaps ten knots of wind and ten feet of swell at one point, a very tolerable gentle roll and easy sleep. A very easy crossing - but the ship following immediately had a nasty crossing. The Southern Sea surrounds Antarctica and goes literally around the world, with unimpeded sweels pushed by very strong winds.
On our trip back to Ushuaia, it was so smooth the Captain announced we would cruise on one engine and it might feel and sound different than normal voyaging. We arrived off Cape Horn in a two foot swell, very early, and cruised around sightseeing, because the appointment with the pilot into Beagle Channel was not until after midnight and could not be pushed up.
In between we had our most challenging time from a rapid retreat down the marshes and a hellish clamber up the Ioffe's ladder due to a sudden and powerful case of "williwaws" (katabatic winds) hitting us as we crossed the Salisbury Plain in South Georgia. In a matter of minutes, the winds hit 50 MPH or more, the seas got very bumpy for Zodiacs...
Originally Posted by greg999
Thanks for the very interesting and informative posts. I'm looking forward to your description of the Drake passage. That is my biggest hesitation with going to Antarctica as I get seasick very easily.
Last edited by JDiver; Apr 10, 06 at 11:04 pm..
Reason: slay duh spill chicken
When you leave Ushuaia, a local “pilot” comes on board to guide the ship out of the Beagle Channel . Likewise, upon your return, a pilot comes back to guide you in. As JDiver points out, the pilot’s schedule can impact the boat’s schedule. We were late in both cases, but it was no big deal.
The Beagle is lovely, but I was glad I had taken a separate boat ride the day before to enjoy it. We were all too excited to enjoy it on the way out – checking out the boat, unpacking, life boat drill, attending welcome events. On the way back, it was dark when we went through, and docked around 6 or 7AM.
After we clear the Beagle, a companion boat picks up the pilot and we were alone! I never saw another boat or soul (aside from staff at 2 bases we visited) until our return 10 days later.
The Drake started right away. I have to agree with the other posters – there is no way to predict the conditions you will experience. Of the 4 some odd days we were in the Drake, 3 were very choppy, and 1 was the unusual calmness referred to as the Drake Lake. Fortunately, the Drake Lake occurred as we approached Cape Horn. We had great visability, and it was a great experience. The aforementioned 91 year old on the trip had rounded Cape Horn in the 1930s, and he (and we) were so excited to experience it with him again. Peregrine showed us a video the night before Cape Horn about a tall sailing ship (with many sails) that sailed through the Drake, and was narrated by the sailor who shot it over 50 years later. It was amazing, and the gentlemen on our ship had had the same experience. He hadn’t been able to see Cape Horn the last time.
So the Drake. The choppiness on the way out started right away. I have never had motion sickness in my life. The only time I have ever felt nausea was on the Great Barrier Reef (during both a day trip and a scuba liveaboard). I woke up the first morning, walked into my bathroom, and promptly threw up. It was the first time (and so far last time) in my life that has happened. I had taken Dramamine the night before. People who had those prescription patches seemed to do much better than those without. Look - I’ll be honest here – it wasn’t fun, but we did get used to it quickly, and it’s no reason at all not to take this trip. Some people looked awful, but most seemed fine. I sought out the dr, who came promptly to my cabin. My bunk was perpendicular to the ship, but my room had a sofa that was parallel to the ship. He advised me to take more Dramamine, have some ginger ale, and sleep parallel to the ship. The sleeping trick really worked. The ship had no ginger ale. I was not expecting to have a refrigerator in my room (which I did on the 5th floor) so I had brought no beverages with me. I would suggest bringing some Ginger Ale. The dr did have shots to help out, and said if I didn’t improve, we could go with that option. However, I did get used to the pitching, and didn’t need to see him again about that. Later, I found out there was a cyclone in the area, which was what had caused us to have such a bad crossing. We went through the Lemaire Channel and things were immediately better. Immediately.
On the way back, we had some pitching the first day, and then things calmed right down, and we had the smooth Drake Lake. During the rougher period we saw some bottle nosed dolphins, which was amazing. Aside from the Dolphins, the only real wildlife we saw in the Drake was birds. Beautiful, huge albatross, petrals, skuas, shags and other local birds. I’m no bird watcher, but they were very cool.
So what did we do besides suffer in the Drake? I thought I would be bored out of mind, but Peregrine had tons of programming. Each monring, there were 2 lectures after breakfast, lunch in the afternoon, another lecture, tea time, a final lecutre, happy hour in the bar, dinner, a short activity in the bar, and a movie or another event in the evening. The lectures were very good – led by the experts on the ship. There was no pressure to attend, but I think I went to all but 1. They were held in the presentation room and the dining hall, and aside from the last night ship recap and best of photo show, there was always plenty of room for all attending. Here are the lectures that were presented:
Really there was so much to do, it was unbelievable. The programming was very good. You could do as much or as little of it as liked, and it really did make the time in the Drake go by so quickly. I went on this trip to SEE Antarctica, and not only did I do that, but I learned an awful lot at the same time.
Up next: arriving at the White Continent! Excursions, cruising, and camping out
What an awesome report. You went to an enormous amount of work to give us a primer should we be considering a similar trip. This will truly be a classic, and one for folks to refer to well into the future.
Antarctica Trip Report - Part 6 - Daily Routine in Antarctica
I found it challenging to tackle the heart of the report – the 5 days we spent exploring Antarctica. I think it’s best to handle in a series of posts – what we did on a daily basis, touching on the places we actually went, the wildlife we saw, and then special events. I'm not going to add a ton of super description in this section. Essentially what it looks like: everything is beautiful icey blues and whites, everytime you land there are hundreds and hundreds of (smelly!)and curious penguins underfoot, whales blow off in the distance, and seals loll around on icebergs you pass. It looks like you stepped into the pages of National Geographic. Period.
After “arriving” in Antarctica and successfully passing through the Drake, and until the night we went back through the Drake, our days had a certain pattern to them, although the specifics and timing were unpredictable. Generally, this is what would happen:
7AM - Expedition Leader would awaken us over the loudspeaker. He would tell us about the weather, our location and any activity or beautiful sunrises outside the boat. He would tell us that he would talk to us about our morning expedition over breakfast, and that breakfast was in 30 minutes.
730AM - Hotel Manager would come over the PA and announce breakfast.
735AM - Those attending breakfast would stroll in (full disclosure, I am not a morning person and only attended about ½ the time). Breakfast was my least favorite meal on the ship. It usually consisted of some sort of egg, ham or a meat, cereals, croissants, toast, fruit and always Beans. Usually I like a continental breakfast, but I wasn’t crazy about the breakfast on the Iofee. The expedition leader would brief us on what the PLAN was for the morning (the plan was always subject to change) – this would include info on activities at landing sites, times to report, etc.
830AM - The Expedition Leader would come over the PA and announced that we were to be at the Mud Room at 9AM for a departure by 930. Kayakers need to report sooner. Because I usually skipped breakfast, this is when I would wake up and get up and get dressed in all my gear. I would put on all my layers previously discussed, except the outer boots, and I would make my way to the Mud Room
9AM - Mudroom is PACKED. Everyone has left their boots or outer boots in a specific location. Everyone locates their boots and puts them on. Additionally, everyone must put on a life vest – these are strung along the room in size order. As I said before, the average age on the boat was fairly high, and I must confess that the older folks had the younger crew beat by a mile. I would come stumbling in at 9, and they would ALL be fully dressed and lined up to board the zodiacs. It was astonishing. After awhile, it became apparent this was advantageous to all. There were occasions were some people would get cold, or be wet and want to head in early from an expedition. People started forming groups with likeminded passengers and got in zodiacs together. Now again, I was traveling by myself. I did make lots of great friends, and usually I would try and ride with them. However, there were many times I was on my own and would just get in whatever zodiac was next. This was NO problem at all. So after putting on the final outer layers, we would proceed outside and line up for the zodiac in a single file. We would progress down the length of the ship, check out of the boat, (by name and room number, individually) and proceed down a staircase to the zodiac. The zodiacs usually took 10-12 people before departing.
We usually did 2 expeditions a day – either a landing, or cruising. For the sake of this recap, let’s say we did a landing in the morning, and a cruise in the evening.
920AM - We spend 20 minutes cruising around the designated area, as there have been some whale/seal, etc sightings nearby. The zodiac leader pulls us close to some icebergs and we take photos of seals lounging. We laugh at penguins porpoising. We stand up, look around, ask questions, and have a nice time. Then the driver heads toward our landing site.
940AM – We arrive at the landing location and some of our crew is there to greet us. They tell us what there is to see at the island/location and point out areas where we can walk around, areas of particular interest, and things to steer clear of. They might tell us about a sheltered area where young penguins are learning how to swim, a giant set of whalebones, an abandoned hut. They might point out a high point to climb too, or the perfect hill to slide down. We spend the next 2 hours literally playing with penguins (letting them approach us!), seeing seals on the same beach as us, taking amazing photo after photo, going on hikes, etc, etc. There was always so, so, so much to do. I’ll write more specifics about this in my next post.
1145AM – If you were tired, you could go back earlier, but I always stayed till the last zodiac. Usually we had a good 2 hrs+ to explore. We would return to the beach, pick up a life jacket we had abandoned earlier, pile into the zodiacs, and head back to the Iofee
1155AM – Back on the boat, we would go up the stairs, check in with the hotel manager (name and room number, individually), rinse off our boots, enter the mudroom and remove our outer boots and life jackets. Tea would be available in the near by lounge. I would usually go right back to my room and strip off all my gear and lay it out if it was damp to dry. I would usually lie down for a few minutes.
1215PM – Expedition Leader would come over PA and welcome us back to the boat, announcing the completion of the excursion.
1230PM – Hotel Manager would come over PA and announce lunch.
1235PM – Everyone converges on lunch, and eagerly shares their AM adventure. Lunch always begins with soup and bread first, then a standard dish for everyone (one day I remember a nice pasta, another day, a less successful Shepards Pie). There is always a vegetarian option available, and a dessert to end the meal. At lunch you are given the options for dinner – usually 3, sometimes 4 choices. The bartender usually would take our dinner order – (handy tip - the beef options were always the best!)
1255PM – The expedition Leader gets up and does a little recap of what we saw that morning. He calls upon the Geologist to talk about the glaciers we saw at the landing site. Then the Expedition Leader tells us about our afternoon expedition – cruising after whales.
1:05PM – The Expedition leader announces there are 6 breaching whales off the bow of the boat. 80 people abandon their pasta and run to the front of the ship.
120PM – Everyone happily returns for dessert and the marine biologist gets up to explain to us about breaching behavior of humpbacks
145PM – I go back to my room hoping for that nap.
2PM – Announcement from Expedition leader we should be in the mudroom at 230 for the afternoon cruise.
230 PM – Mudroom. Mob scene as before. Since we are cruising, people are wearing more layers. Also since we are cruising, getting a good zodiac driver (read, one of the crazier, young guys) is imperative, so we stake it out.
3 PM – We are settled in the zodiac and there is a report that a pod of Orcas has been spotted. We take off!!! We chase after them for about 15 minutes, getting really close, until they shake us. We spend the next 2 hours cruising around looking for more whales. We see minkes and humpbacks – we learn to sport them in the distance very well! We admire some spectacular and huge icebergs. On the way back, we see a leopard seal killing a penguin (we saw 5 occurrences of this – very lucky – I will discuss more later). Every zodiac has a completely different experience.
530 PM – Time to head back to the boat, and check back in. I ditch all my clothing and go to lie down.
6PM – Bartender announces over the PA – it’s happy hour!
640PM – Expedition Leader comes over PA – there are dolphins swimming in the wake of the boat, and we are all invited up to the bridge to see them. We all go.
730PM – Dinner is announced. We all go down to dinner where we have soap and bread, salad, main entrée chosen earlier, dessert, and fruit and cheese. Dishes are of varying quality, but dinner is not bad.
8PM – Expedition Leader recaps our day, and invites the marine biologist up to speak about the Orcas and leopard seals we saw. The programming director is then invited up to tell us about the evening activities. We are not usually told what will happen tomorrow, although the proposed agenda for the next day is posted around this time.
815PM – Activity in the Bar – this might be a game or a little talk about ghosts, or just something fun.
845PM – Bar activity is over, and the last PA announcement of the day is made, announcing the evening movie. Few people will attend the evening movies, especially during the landing days of the trip. People will disperse to the movie, the bar, their rooms, or the library to play cards.
Pretty much – that was it! I would usually shower at this point, play cards with my friends, read a little and turn in btwn 11 and 12. They were very long days, and after all that we would rinse and repeat.
It was awesome.
Everything I outlined in this hypothetical day REALLY happened. I have a map and journal from Peregrine that outlined our trip, as well as a wildlife checklist that details what we saw. I'll draw on those tools next to tell you exactly where we went and what we experienced. Of course, one night we went camping, and I’ll talk about that as well.
SanDiego1K, JDiver, LouiseMC, greg999, chuckd - thanks for reading along, and the kind words. I'm glad to know someone is reading it! It's really nice for me to have a written record of the trip and I am putting together a seperate version with photos as well. Again, I think this trip is not an insignificant investment, in both money, time and research, so I think a detailed trip report is a valuable tool to put out there!
Sorry this is out of order! I promised I would do a cost breakdown, and now I have all the final numbers.
Again, I traveled alone and my trip comprised the following characteristics:
Coach flight from NYC - EZE (award)
2 nights hotel in USH
Peregrine Antarctic Explorer - main deck twin
4 domestic Aerolineas flights (roundtrips BA - Ushuaia, BA - Iguazu)
5 nights at the BA Marriott (2 seperate award stays)
2 nights Falls View Sheraton Iguazu (award)
Excursions and Admissions (including Beagle Channel cruise, day trip to Lake Fagnano in USH, day trip to Colonia, city tour of BA, day trip to Tigre, day trip to Brazil side of Iguazu, attending the opera at the Teatro Colon, tour of the Teatro Colon, tour of the Casa Rosada, museum admissions, etc)
Here is my total cost breakdown:
14,000 SPG Points
8,991 Amex Points (converted to SPG pts. When pooled with above I used a total of 17k SPG pts)
93,000 Marriott Points
40,000 AA Miles
$8,600 (of which $350 was spending cash from ATM)
Here is a breakdown of the $8600:
68% - Antarctica trip from Peregrine
9% - Gear, including clothing, toiletries, many books
6% - Transportation (domestic flights, car service, supershuttle, trains, etc)
4% - Excursions, as outlined above
3% - Insurance
2% - Hotel in Ushuaia
Note: I opened an AA Mastercard to track all my costs on this trip. I got 18,000 AA Miles for signing up + over 8k for the spending, so I made back 26,000 of the 40,000 AA miles I used.
ETA - When I called to close Mastercard account 9 months later, they offered me 3,000 miles to leave it open. This brings my total AA mile count to 29,000, and I am still closing that account before the annual fee hits.
I'm still with you. How on earth do you remember everything? You must have taken some time during your busy days for notes!! I am thoroughly enjoying your reporting. I am a single traveler also and single supplements sure are the "pits" but I do enjoy small ship expedition cruising so grin and bear it.