From the night before embarkation we could see our ship, the Antarctic Dream (it was smaller than I expected), waiting for us in the harbor and its presence was reassuring after the sinking of the Explorer.
The initial interaction with the ship and its organization was a bit mixed. They picked up our luggage and brought it to the ship just as arranged. However, we were told two different places to wait to be picked up. We waited at one of them, however we weren’t on that pick-up list–a little bit nerve-racking–nonetheless, they said come along on the bus and we’ll take you to the pier. At the pier everyone just ran off the bus and through the terminal with no indication of where to go to check in or what the procedure was. We found our own way to the ship and then stood in line waiting to check-in. When we got to the front of the line the receptionist looked under our cabin number for us and we weren’t there. Then she scanned the whole list and couldn’t find our names. Alright, getting even more nerve-racking now, not on the pickup list, not on the rooming list. Then she goes, ‘ahh I have another sheet. Oh and this means you’ve been upgraded.’ Wow! Bonus!! In fact the upgrade to a much bigger stateroom (normally priced at $9100/person) seriously magnified our value.
However, arriving at the room was a bit disappointing, the bathroom had not been cleaned (there was no toilet paper), there was still trash on the floor, the beds had no sheets on them, and our luggage had not arrived either. So I went looking for our luggage and fortunately found it in our original stateroom, while Mom went looking for someone to finish cleaning our room. All-in-all, not a good start and a bit disconcerting with regards to the overall organization. The upgrade was great though!
Later we speculated why we were given an upgrade and decided it had to do with the fact that we booked early (though mid-October is actually not that early). Well, we booked early enough to pay full price compared to well over half the ship that booked less than 10days before departure and so got last minute deals. The ship put the people that got last minute deals in the lower, cheaper cabins while upgrading those who booked earlier and paid full price, even though it was full price for the lower grade cabin. In truth we’ve found less than a handful of other English-speaking pairs who booked early and paid full price. This is a bit curious because the travel agent was rushing us to book claiming the ship was nearly full. In fact, the majority of the ship’s passengers seem to be last-minute bookings after the sinking of the M/S Explorer. Word to the wise: if you have flexibility in your travel schedule or don’t have your heart set on going to Antarctica, hold out for last minute deals; they do exist at discounts of 20%, i.e. the week before the sailing. Then contact (not necessarily in person) travel agents in Chilean or Argentine Patagonia for specials.
Afternoon tea was offered immediately upon boarding and the brownies were sooooo good. I knew from then on that at least one aspect of the ship would be rewarding, the food, and in fact, so far the food has been excellent. Lunch and dinner are both four-course sit-down meals, which are at set times but open seating. Breakfast is buffet and again open seating. Free glasses of red and white wine or beer and water are offered with every dinner. The ship also has a Chilean doctor on board whom we met the first day, just by coincidence, not by necessity. The ship also has a gym, a shop, a conference room, and a couple of lounge rooms. Compared to the Russian Icebreaker ships, this is a very well-equipped ship, much more along the lines of a cruise ship rather than a research vessel.
Embarkation night we cruised out through the Beagle Channel which was a calm experience with lovely scenery. However, we had been pre-warned of the crossing the Drake Passage and so we prepared our sea sickness pills and patch and bags. The Drake Passage is where the Pacific Ocean meets the Atlantic Ocean and also where the northern warmer oceans meet the cooler Antarctic waters causing a lot of fierce winds and waves as the different densities of the oceans try to assert themselves. Drake has caused the crashing of many ships, the wrecks of which now litter the the Patagonia coast or caused many sailors to turn back. And had my drawer falling off hinges, my water bottle lost under my bed, silverware sliding off the plates at meals, it has also caused many passengers to become very seasick…
Besides being told this is one of the smoother, easier passages across to Antarctica and wearing a prescription strength seasickness patch, these were not enough for me to keep my breakfast or my lunch in the first day at sea. Plus with the drowsiness effect of the patch, I ended sleeping most of Day 2. I did manage to make it to the informational lecture on Antarctica’s history.
The same day they introduced 2 contests, the prize being a bottle of champagne. The first contest involved guessing the time at which the ship would cross the Antarctic Convergence, the place where the warm water sinks below the cooler Antarctic waters, and as a result of this mixing fish and bird life are abundant. Mom guessed 9:30am on Day 3 while I guess 11:54pm on Day 2 and the actual time was 9:45pm on Day 2. We were ahead of schedule due to favorable conditions in the Drake Passage and were promised the lurching motion of the ship would be finished by 5pm on Day 3 when we reached the South Shetland Islands. The second contest was to see who could spot the first iceberg.
On Day 3, still in the Drake Passge, two more lectures were held, one about penguins, and the other about the IAATO (International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators) as well as proper behavior for shore excursions. By dinner time, 7:30pm, the seas had definitely calmed as we had reached the South Shetland Islands; we could see a research base, very large icebergs, and even a few penguins.
Tonight we have stopped at Anchor. Tomorrow morning at 9am we will make our first landing in the Zodiacs, a special term for motorized rafts used in Antarctica. The Zodiac groups were created using sign up sheets, in which passengers got to choose which group and with whom they wanted to go ashore with. Since the ship has less than 100 passengers everyone is allowed on shore at the same time (max 100). The timing of the landings are set far in advance and are very strict so that not more than one boat is at the same place at the same time and number of people on land is strictly controlled, all as a means of protecting the pristine natural environment.
Tomorrow the prospect of seeing Chinstrap and Gentoo Penguins lurks for our first landing!
(All of the Antarctic pictures will be posted at one time…a later time )