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Atravelynn
Posted (edited)

Subtitle: What would have been helpful for me to know when I was contemplating and planning a trip like this.

 

The report turned out to be longer than an Antarctic winter!  Sections are color-coded.  Perhaps the magnitude of the trip report will help convey the magnitude of what the Antarctic and environs has to offer, should you decide to visit.

 

Green = Falklands/Malvinas

Blue = South Georgia

Dark red = Antarctica and South Shetland Islands

Gold and Olive = Triple-share cabin

Orange = Staff

10 Qs & As Throughout the report = * * *  Magenta Highlight * * *

  Q1: & Q2:   Less costly trip vs. more expensive one?  Sacrifices for less costly?

  Q3: Why add Falklands, South Georgia?

  Q4: When to go?

  Q5: Ship size?

  Q6: How bad was sea sickness?

  Q7: Fly the Drake?

  Q8: Which species of penguins were seen?  Emperor?

  Q9: IUCN Status of penguins?

Q10: Environmental health of Antarctica?

Purple = Quote of the Trip, An Offer you Can’t Refuse

Gray = Helpful Hints and Things I Learned (near end)

 

large.1156213526_000DSCN7008St.AndrewsSouthGeorgiaKingPenguins.jpg.f1491181d05f7617a4d1096da2fab34d.jpg

St. Andrews Bay, South Georgia -- King Penguins and Sea Spirit in background

 

 

large.625067331_g5DSCN7371St.AndrewsSouthGeorgiaKingPenguins.jpg.71762384429b2fdb053f75c7b9360d31.jpg

St. Andrews Bay, South Georgia -- King Penguins

 

 

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Salisbury Plain, South Georgia – Fur Seal Pups

 

 

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Danco Island, off of Antarctica – Gentoo Penguins

 

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Westpoint, Falklands – Black browed Albatross colony

 

 large.499344500_e13M7A9253SaundersIslandFAlklandsGentooe1pPenguins.jpg.57a4a344122fc18774e8b97271355092.jpg

Saunders Island, Falklands - Gentoos

 

Labeling the most expensive trip I have ever taken a “bargain” may seem to be an oxymoron.  The key is “relative.”   I had assumed that a comprehensive Falklands-South Georgia-Antarctica itinerary was $20,000+. And many trips do cost that much.

 

But a triple-share cabin* with the early booking discount, made nearly 20 months in advance, on May 17, 2017, for this 21-day, Jan 5-25, 2019, Falklands, South Georgia, Antarctica itinerary on Poseidon Expedition’s 114-passenger luxury expedition ship, Sea Spirit, was what I call a bargain.  The arrival hotel in Ushuaia, Argentina is included in the price on Day 1, so it’s 20 days on the ship.

 

This link shows a Falklands-South Georgia-Antarctica trip like mine at under $11,700 for the triple-share, and that particular departure actually provides 3 more days on the ship than I had.  But it leaves October rather than January. 

https://www.polarcruises.com/antarctica/ships/luxury-expedition-ships/sea-spirit

 

My January trip was a few thousand dollars more, but still a bargain IMO!

 

Question 4 & Answer 4, later in the report, addresses some of the pros and cons of traveling at different times, and Oct is a good time for this itinerary, even though I chose January.

 

On the topic of $$, Polar Cruises is based in Oregon but Sea Spirit is registered in Cyprus, so all payments are considered foreign currency (unless you live in Cypress).  I used a no-international-fee credit card, no additional fee charged by Polar Cruises. Checks are also accepted.   All on-ship expenses are charged to Florida, USA.

large.1832523112_e1q3M7A9281SaundersIslandFalklandsGentooPenguins.JPG.575ceb5206b0212a55509ebb65323122.JPG

Saunders Island, Falklands – Gentoo Penguins

 

large.378659643_f5f3M7A1520SalisburyPlainSouthGeorgiaKingPenguins.jpg.49dbf242767ba67801d344888c877878.jpg

 Salisbury Plain, South Georgia—King Penguins

 

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Cooper Bay, South Georgia – Macaroni Penguins, viewed from zodiac

 

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Gonzalez Videla Chilean Research Station, Antarctica Peninsula, viewed from zodiac

 

 

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Westpoint, Falklands – Rockhopper Penguin

 

My Antarctica cruise investigation started with Polar Cruises. https://www.polarcruises.com/  and I ended up booking with them. Same price as going through Poseidon Expeditions, https://poseidonexpeditions.com , the company which operates Sea Spirit. 

 

A variety of companies can get you onto a particular Antarctic-bound ship or you can book directly with the ship’s operator. When I was investigating this trip, there was up to a $2000 difference between some travel companies for the very same cabin on the very same trip.

 

Last minute bookings can offer savings if you are flexible, but the popular departures that maximize the odds of seal pups and penguin chicks, for example, tend to book up completely very early. I tried to go one year earlier, booking 8 months in advance, but no availability in any triple-share for the itinerary and dates I wanted.

 

I chose Polar Cruises and Sea Spirit, but there are other companies and ships in the $12,000-$14,000 range for a Falklands-South Georgia-Antarctica trip.  Some boats offer a quad-share to cut costs.  G-Adventures, Swoop, and Adventure Life, all have similar trips with other ships.

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Antarctica--taken from the ship

 

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Saunders Island, Falklands – Magellanic Oystercatcher

 

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Saunders Island, Falklands – Gentoo Penguins

 

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Saunders Island, Falklands – Magellanic Penguin

 

*For anyone scared off by the prospect of a triple-share with two strangers, here’s my positive experience. On the Sea Spirit, the 220 square foot triple-share cabins have no upper berths to climb into.  There are two twin beds and one double sofa bed that remains open and does not fold up.  The result was adequate space for all 3 occupants.

large.869870584_tripleshare1.jpg.71aa642

 

Of the 6 triple-share cabins on board during my trip, half were occupied by families or friends, but the other 3 were strangers thrown together like my situation. Every threesome got along and all of the triple sharers I met were good sports.

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My cabin-mates were excellent and we had lots of laughs together.

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I’m in the middle.  Cabinmates of 347

 

Smoking is not allowed anywhere except a small area on Deck 5, so no danger of someone smoking in the cabin; and one of my roommates was a smoker—no problem.  Triples are assigned by gender, no mixing of men and  women, unless they are family or friends.  Of the 3 non family/friend triples, 2 had women and 1 had men.

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 large.82101645_tripleclosetandsafe.jpg.c

 

Triples are all on Deck 3.  Only Deck 2 cabins were closer to the bottom of the ship, the lower decks being more stable.  Our triple, 347 (and the one across from us, that I think was 346) was as close to the center of the ship as possible, also providing more stability than the bow or stern.

large.1681238958_tripleshare3.jpg.edcfb1
 

There’s more on managing a triple-share at the end of the report in the Helpful Hints and Things I Learned section typed in gray. I would not hesitate to book a triple again on Sea Spirit, but not sure I’d do it on other ships with much less cabin space.

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large.1311875795_tripleloo.jpg.d2a5bec9e

Focus on the loo

 

Professional shots of the triple-share can be found at this link from Poseidon's website.  The orchids are a nice touch.  We didn’t have any orchids, and we didn’t miss them.  The promotional/professional photo is an accurate depiction of the cabin and shows the spaciousness.

 

 https://poseidonexpeditions.com/ships/sea-spirit/

 

This trip was well worth the cost--financially and in the “price paid” for less space in the triple-share.

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Saunders Island, Falklands

 

 

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St. Andrews Bay, South Georgia – King Penguins

 

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Antarctica--taken from the ship

 

Anticipated Itinerary January 5-25, 2019

 

“Anticipated” because wind, waves, and weather dictate what will actually happen during the cruise; therefore, daily activities are not included on this itinerary overview.  We had to make one change due to rough seas and bad weather resulting in 4 full days at South George (instead of 5 as listed). We needed 3 days to reach the South Shetland Islands and Antarctic (instead of 2 as listed).  We had accomplished all of the hoped-for landings at South Georgia in 4 days because we knew bad weather was looming and we worked overtime.  No land excursions forfeited!

 

I arrived a day before the official itinerary began to avoid problems with a potential delay or lost luggage.  I added what could be considered Day 0 in Ushuaia, prior to the official Day 1 of the itinerary.

 

Day 1                    Ushuaia, Argentina

Day 2                    Embarkation in Ushuaia, Argentina

Day 3                    South Atlantic Ocean

Days 4 & 5             Falkland Islands

Days 6 & 7             Southern Ocean

Days 8 to 12          South Georgia Island

Days 13 & 14         Drake Passage

Days 15 to 18        South Shetland Islands and the Antarctic Peninsula

Days 19 & 20         Crossing the Drake Passage

Day 21                   Disembarkation in Ushuaia

 

My entire trip, with all travel days, spanned Jan 3-Jan 26, 2019.

 

large.2079013718_overviewofwholetripoure

 

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Antarctica

 

large.1723001176_f7d3M7A2137CooperBayofCooperIslandSouthGeorgiaMacaroniPenguins.jpg.ede065340d3ec47a652fb818bb89345d.jpg

Cooper Bay, South Georgia – Macaroni Penguins, observed from the zodiac

 

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Saunders Island, Falklands – Gentoo

 

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Andrews Bay, South Georgia – King Penguins

 

 

Next is Q&A How this trip compares to more expensive trips. 

And Q&A Why add Falklands/Malvinas and South Georgia to an Antarctica cruise?

 

Edited by Atravelynn

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offshorebirder

Wow, this trip report is full of useful information and insider tips!

 

Thanks @Atravelynn for putting forth such an effort.

 

First of what will probably be many questions from Safaritalkers:   was there good viewing / visibility from the deck?   Would I be able to bring a tripod + spotting scope to look for seabirds and cetaceans while the boat is underway at sea?

 

 

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TonyQ

Great start - and magnificent photos!

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michael-ibk

Fantastic Lynn, I had been looking forward to this so much, and of course this intro does not disappoint. Great photos and extremely useful information, much appreciated. 

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Atravelynn
Posted (edited)
2 hours ago, offshorebirder said:

Wow, this trip report is full of useful information and insider tips!  Hoping to make us all insiders, or as insider as you can get after a report from one trip.

 

Thanks @Atravelynn for putting forth such an effort.

 

First of what will probably be many questions from Safaritalkers:   was there good viewing / visibility from the deck?   Yes, for scenery, flying petrels & albatrosses & prions, and a couple of penguins "specks" on ice bergs, and almost all of our whale watching.  From the zodiac we got up close penguins on ice bergs.  Many of the photos will indicate, from ship.  Most of the wide scenery shots are from the ship.  I've even updated the couple scenery shots in post #1 to indicate "taken from ship."   Would I be able to bring a tripod + spotting scope to look for seabirds and cetaceans while the boat is underway at sea?  Sure.  There is plenty of room on the deck but the motion might make the spotting scope tricky to use.

 

 

Edited by Atravelynn

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Atravelynn
Posted (edited)
34 minutes ago, michael-ibk said:

Fantastic Lynn, I had been looking forward to this so much, and of course this intro does not disappoint. Great photos and extremely useful information, much appreciated. 

Hoping to add more useful stuff.  Here's a preview of one tidbit:

To help hang the towel on the limited # of bathroom hooks, it would be helpful to have something like the clips to clip mittens onto the sleeve of a jacket, but in this case clip them onto the towel to make a loop.  Even for a non triple-share, I think a better towel hanger-upper would be useful to keep the towel on the hook and not falling down on top of the toilet.  We made sure we kept the lid closed for that reason.

Edited by Atravelynn

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offshorebirder

Thanks Lynn.   My bucket list is dangerously close to getting one item longer   :-)

 

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Atravelynn
Posted (edited)

Those darn buckets, eh @offshorebirder?

It is a magnificent destination, so the photos naturally follow, @TonyQ

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *  * * * *

 

Q1:  How does a trip like this differ from trips 2-3 times the cost?  

Q2:  Is the quality of a likely “once-in-a-lifetime” trip sacrificed by paying less than $20-$30k?  

 

 

A2 in brief:  Nothing that really mattered to me was sacrificed in my opinion.

A1: Here’s what I compiled for differences between higher priced trips and mine, though without going on the more expensive trips, I can’t say for sure.

 

(‘v’) First of all, I could easily have paid 3x what I did for this very same ship and itinerary, just a better, bigger and more private cabin.  So, in that case the advantages are limited to space and privacy. And for procedures like the bio-security cleaning sessions to remove invasive seeds, etc. from clothes and gear, the more expensive cabins got to go first.  So what?   Dining was unassigned seating so all cabins mixed it up at the tables and we ate the same food at all meals.

large.1697462258_DSCN5328SaundersIslandFalklandsGentooPenguinstighter.jpg.dcfe3aef4ef5f93f638621b3afb25566.jpg

Saunders Island, Falklands – Gentoo chicks

 

(‘v’) Speaking of food, I overheard maybe 6 people say they had enjoyed fancier, more gourmet food on other cruises (that I assumed were more expensive.)  But I thought the Sea Spirit food was fabulous, with a huge variety, and offerings such as continental breakfast before our full breakfast, afternoon tea with the little sandwiches and scones, before-dinner appetizers, and an occasional dessert bar instead of the regular choices of 3 desserts.  No bar tab is something I’ve seen on the more expensive trips, which could end up being very cost effective for some.  I personally would not want to pay more if the increased cost was allocated to food or to alcohol that I would not even be drinking.  The daily menus are here, provided to us on a souvenir tiny replica of Sea Spirit flash drive.

 

http://www.safaritalk.net/gallery/album/1760-sea-spirit-menus/

More on food and dining at the end of the report in the Helpful Hints and Things I Learned.

 

small.1030157002_z33M7A1154SalisburyPlainSouthGeorgiaKingPenguins.jpg.2b839308cf27267032d84cbe20baeb18.jpg

St. Andrews Bay, South Georgia – King Penguins

 

(‘v’) Some of the more expensive trips were on much larger and more luxurious ships.  Over 500 passengers means too big for shore excursions, I believe.  So more time on board in that fancier, more expensive cabin.

large.1913790871_f5fDSCN6350SalisburyPlainSouthGeorgiaKingPenguins.jpg.c6a38a4645d9dd0460e043ce129814e2.jpg

Salisbury Plain, South Georgia—King Penguins

 

(‘v’)  The ratio of staff to passengers was about 1 staff for every 2 passengers on our ship.  More expensive cruises might have more staff members per passenger.  We did have a few housekeeping issues that were addressed with apologies by many levels of staff, a complimentary wine and chocolate tray, and most importantly by doing a better job of cleaning.  On a more expensive ship with more staff, we might not have had any room cleaning issues to begin with.

large.586308898_g8DSCN7824TurretPointShetlandIslands-ChinstrapPenguins.jpg.dcb5e11e95010d9d1ab257203839626f.jpg

Turrett Point in Shetland Islands, north of Antarctica - Chinstrap Penguin

 

(‘v’)   There were some professional photographers on this trip who had done other more expensive Antarctic cruises with famous photographers, like Art Wolfe, on board as instructors. They said some of the famous photographers were very helpful and friendly, but some were aloof and spent most of their time with their trophy girlfriends.  Art Wolfe got good reviews, though.  This trip had a photographer who ran educational workshops, answered individual questions, and who put together a pictorial review of the trip and a slide show with videos, so if you did not want to bother taking photos, you’d still end up with a beautiful array of images provided on a souvenir tiny replica of Sea Spirit flash drive.  But this photographer was not famous and there was only one of him, not several.

large.2083708766_r5DSCN8820HalfMoonIslandShetlandIslandsChinstrapPenguins.jpg.b17d9efed9fd109b95b52854b573629a.jpg

Half Moon Island, South Shetland Islands, north of Antarctica – Chinstrap penguins.

Chinstraps were the least tidy of the penguin species we saw. 

 

 

(‘v’)  A delightful, down-to-earth couple who had been everywhere and done everything over the course of 60 years of marital traveling bliss, compared this trip with much more expensive cruises they had done.  They said the previous expensive trips had presentations by experts who had more qualifications and more impressive credentials than the staff on Sea Spirit.  But they stated the quality of the information provided by the Sea Spirit staff was every bit as interesting, up to date, and understandable.  They also remarked how all Sea Spirit staff were friendly and enthusiastic and enjoyed sharing what they knew with us, which, they noted, was not always the case on their other cruises. I’d wholeheartedly agree about the excellent, amiable staff. 

 

In my opinion, while our trip did not have some of the star power present on other cruises, all presenters brought varied first hand expertise backed up by recent scientific findings and they did an outstanding job conveying that information.  The passengers I talked to remarked how much more extensive and in depth the lectures on sea days and in the evenings were compared to what they were expecting.  But I do think that on some of the well-known very expensive trips, having world-renowned experts on board to share their knowledge is a BIG reason for the higher cost.  Understandably so.

 

More on Sea Spirit’s excellent staff in a few posts, in orange.

 

large.910408404_z3M7A7955GonzalezVidaleResearchStationAntarctica-GentooPenguins.jpg.1f648f5ed23fb34dd2e19b540deebb11.jpg

Gonzalez Vidale Chilean Research Station, Antarctica - Gentoo Penguin with chicks

 

(‘v’)  Some of the more expensive trips may allow active research to be undertaken by the passengers.  We did not have this opportunity.

large.1585622_e1i3M7A9168SaundersIslandFalklandsGentooPenguinfeeding.jpg.d7d700368da07b56313f6b527c626a5e.jpg

Saunders Island, Falklands – Gentoo Penguin feeding chick by regurgitating

 

(‘v’)   Some of the more expensive trips provide more gear.  We were given parkas (to keep if we wished) and were lent -20 F waterproof Arctic Muck Boots and walking sticks. But other itineraries also lend waterproof bib snow pants, drybags, and even binoculars, in addition to the items Sea Spirit provided.  In fact, One Ocean Expeditions boasts of providing $900 of gear to all participants.

https://www.oneoceanexpeditions.com/antarctica/falklands-south-georgia-antarctica

 

large.2027499862_g8DSCN7622TurretPointShetlandIslandsAntarcticShags.jpg.594c4e7bf4a3af86a864d102cdc1da36.jpg

Turret Point, South Shetland Islands, Imperial or Blue-eyed Shags or

 

(‘v’) The more expensive trips may book the international air for you and arrange any tricky transfers between airports, perhaps in a private vehicle.  I had to arrange my own ground transport between airports in Buenos Aires.

large.433020665_e2a3M7A9416SaundersIslandFalklandsGentooPenguin.jpg.5cd1ea5e60cd57eb0d45662a7f4090ac.jpg

Saunders Island, Falklands – Gentoo

 

(‘v’)   Some itineraries offer more activity options, included in the cost, such as snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and camping on the peninsula overnight.  None of those activities were offered on this trip.  Kayaking was possible at most landings for about $750 (for numerous opportunities to kayak throughout the whole trip). All the kayaks booked in advance, before departure.  Two complimentary extended hikes were offered on our trip, but they had to be cancelled due to weather that delayed our landings.

  large.1664915649_p3M7A0470AitchoIslandShetlandIslands-GentooPenguinchicks.jpg.f6a3cd33f3fb1bf28e45bec26a3ea269.jpg

Aitcho Island of South Shetlands – Gentoo chicks

 

(‘v’)   If one or two flights are included to save time and avoid rough seas, that ups the cost.  No flights on this trip.  I think that could be a worthwhile option.

large.693051361_m1DSCN8443CuvervilleAntarcticaGentoofacecloseup.jpg.67ac04c76f9b03812f155b134189b439.jpg

Cuverville Island, Antarctica – Gentoo

 

(‘v’)  My savings were not due to timing the trip for shoulder season.  I went at the peak, most expensive time to go, when sea and weather conditions tend to be least volatile and when there are penguin chicks and seal pups. Dec-Jan departures tend to be the highest cost trips.  But, there are advantages to going other times, and no time is a bad time to go.  More on when to go in Question 4 & Answer 4.

large.1054334722_g5DSCN7084St.AndrewsSouthGeorgiaKingPenguins.jpg.918b3f577c28b170c79adcd04820a506.jpg

Andrews Bay, South Georgia – King Penguins

 

(‘v’)  When a trip costs more because of fewer passengers, then an increased price is warranted in my opinion, not for the dynamics on the ship, but for all that happens off the ship, such the flexibility fewer people allow and increasing the solitude of the landings.

large.490936910_f5f3M7A0985SalisburyPlainSouthGeorgiaKingPenguins.jpg.4bc4feac8cfde93300841ecbbdb8545c.jpg

Salisbury Plain, South Georgia – King Penguins

 

large.1363733345_c13M7A8172WestPointFalklands-mixtureofBlackbrowedAlbatrossandRockhoppers.jpg.e0e5c3f19877d47faeb1cbfbbfd0ccdd.jpg

Westpoint, Falklands – Black browed Alabtross and Rockhoppers

 

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Half Moon Island of South Shetland Islands, north of Antarctica – Chinstrap Penguin and chick

 

A2 on sacrificing quality for savings, detailed: Based on what mattered to me, I did not sacrifice much by paying $10K-$20K less than more costly itineraries.  My quarters were a bit tighter and less private and it would have been interesting to participate in research that is an option on some of the more expensive trips. So those are two sacrifices.

 

What really was important to me was the outstanding crew and captain who worked overtime and covered greater distances than planned so that we could maximize our encounters with the natural wonders we came to see during the slivers of time these wonders were accessible. The specifics on what the captain and crew did for us are visible when looking at our route on a map a few posts below this.

 

If a similar sized ship with substantially fewer passengers but the same itinerary and dates of travel and the same excellent caliber of crew/staff were available, but at a higher cost, then it would be worth paying more than what I did, IMO.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *  * * * *

 

 

 

 

large.784834034_g5DSCN7306St.AndrewsSouthGeorgiaKingPenguins.jpg.6e010acdf7abd1855a98a78372b495cb.jpg

St. Andrews Bay,  South Georgia – King Penguins, taken from zodiac

 

 

large.1883525083_p3M7A0245AitchoIslandShetlandIslands-GentooPenguinchicks.jpg.f2902b65321ba68aa2e745f5bc82958e.jpg

Aitcho Island of South Shetland Islands, north of Antarctica - Gentoo chicks

 

 

 

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Antarctica – taken from ship

 

 

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *  * * * *

Q3:  Why add the Falkland Islands/Malvinas and South Georgia Islands to an Antarctica Cruise?

 

A3:  More penguin species, more seals, more albatrosses and other birds.  More variety. The Falklands and South Georgia are each spectacular in their own ways.  You may only get to that area once, so why not include these destinations if time and budget allow?

 

Typically seen in the Falklands Islands/Malvinas, but not typically seen in the Antarctic:

 

Rockhopper Penguins

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Westpoint, Falklands, Rockhopper Penguins, one is actually hopping between rocks

 

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Westpoint Falklands, Rockhopper Penguin family

 

 

Black browed Albatross

large.1239451464_c63M7A8392WestPointFalklandsBlackbrowedAlbatross.jpg.498a80e644ba94b4d3b4313a3d7ec1d0.jpg

Westpoint, Falklands, Black browed Albatross colony

 

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Westpoint, Falklands, Black browed Albatross colony

 

King Penguins

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Saunders Bay, Falklands, a few King Penguins in the foreground.  Gentoos are the majority in the background; and Gentoos were found in the Falklands, South Georgia, and the Antarctic--everywhere we went.  They are thriving. 

I saw about 25 King Penguins at Saunders Bay, which was the total of Kings I saw in the Falklands. 

South Georgia had hundreds of thousands of King Penguins.

 

Magellanic Penguins

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Saunders Bay, Falklands-Megallanic penguins

 

Falklands Steamer Duck-Endemic to Falklands

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Stanley, Falkland Islands—This pair is “steaming” along the water, which is how they get their name. 

Male has orange bill; female has yellow.   These ducks are easy to find.

 

South American Sea Lion

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Stanley, Falkland Islands – our only sighting of this species on a guided walk

 

Also fur seal pups, but I saw none in the Falklands

 

 

Typically seen in South Georgia, but not typically seen in the Antarctica:

 

King Penguins

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St. Andrew’s Bay, South Georgia – Largest King Penguin colony, taken from zodiac. 

175,000 breeding pairs and most have one chick.

 

 

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St. Andrew’s Bay, South Georgia – King Penguin

 

Macaroni Penguins

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Cooper Bay, South Georgia – Macaroni Penguins (named for their “hairstyle) were seen from the zodiac.

 

Fur Seal Pups

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Ocean Harbor, South Georgia – Most of the fur seals breed on South Georgia.

 

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Salisbury Plain, South Georgia – Fur seal pups

 

Wandering Albatross

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Prion Island, South Georgia – Wandering Albatross

 

South Georgia Pipit—Endemic to South Georgia

large.126061666_g2DSCN6821JasonHarborSouthGeorgiaPipit(endemic).jpg.bb678fc491e395ca6eb56ec752244a08.jpg

Jason Harbor, South Georgia - South Georgia Pipit.  This bird is a tremendous success story.  Once the invasive rats that wreaked havoc on these ground nesters were eradicated, the South Georgia Pipit grew in numbers. 

I saw about 4 South Georgia Pipits in total in different parts of South Georgia.

 

 South Georgia Pintail—Endemic to South Georgia

large.1479987988_g33M7A3497GrytvikenSouthGeorgiaYellow-billedPintailDucks.jpg.56336e8533c63ce145f864391a03a904.jpg

Grytviken, South Georgia – chains remaining from an historic whaling station.  I saw about 6 of these, 3 pairs I think.

 

 British Explorer Ernest Shackleton’s Grave

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Grytviken, South Georgia—Ernest Shackleton’s Grave.  Photo taken by the Sea Spirit’s photographer, John Bozinov

 

Typically seen in Antarctica, but not in the Falklands or South Georgia.

 

Chinstrap Penguins

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Aitcho Island in South Shetland Islands, near Antarctica

 

Adélie Penguins

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Turret Point in South Shetland Islands, near Antarctica.  Here’s how these penguins got their name. The French explorer Jules Dumon d’Urville explored the Antarctic from 1837-1840.  The black and white birds he saw reminded him of his dear wife who often dressed in black and white and whose rounded physique was similar to the penguin.

 

 Penguins on icebergs

large.1983444973_kp3M7A7577GonzalezVidelaChileanResearchStationAntarcticaGentooPenguins.jpg.f33669e65fe3fbfeb3a8978b1e67ce70.jpg

Iceberg in front of Gonzalez Videla Chilean Research Station on the Antarctic Peninsula - Gentoo Penguins – viewed from zodiac.  The Gentoo species was seen in The Falklands & South Georgia too.  Only on icebergs in Antarctica.

 

large.78001985_g6aDSCN7515NearingAntarcticathosearepenguins.jpg.bc6189e6e6beb04759221f63dc9aea35.jpg

Those dots are penguins on an iceberg, Antarctica, viewed from the ship

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *  * * * *

 

Next is Q&A When to go? & Q&A What size ship?

 

Edited by Atravelynn

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Pamshelton3932

I love all the detail you are providing.  This may be my ultimate bucket list destination, so I’m really enjoying every word and photo.

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janzin

Great report as usual, as always your reports are full of valuable practical info and very colorful :) And of course great photos. This is a trip I doubt I'll ever do...its not only the cost but I don't think I'd be able to handle being that long on a ship, especially in the cold. (I'll get a better idea of my ship-in-cold-weather tolerance when I go to Svalbard next year.) Anyway I will live it vicariously through your report!

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xelas

The above cost-related topic is explained with great details. One question: are there also less expensive options (beside applying for a job on a ship :))? While researching this trip, have you encountered any such, less costly option to visit same spots in same time span?

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Alexander33

Thanks for a very interesting report loaded with helpful and practical insights and information, as usual. There are so many destinations I’ve yet to see, so I don’t know when or if I’ll make it down there, but if I ever do, I’ll definitely use this report as a reference. 

 

You got some great photos, as well. Penguins galore!  I was just watching the “Polar” segment of Nat Geo’s Hostile Planet, and it featured some memorable footage of a leopard seal. Enormous!  Did you encounter any of those?

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Atravelynn
53 minutes ago, Alexander33 said:

Thanks for a very interesting report loaded with helpful and practical insights and information, as usual. You are most welcome. There are so many destinations I’ve yet to see, TELL ME ABOUT IT!! so I don’t know when or if I’ll make it down there, but if I ever do, I’ll definitely use this report as a reference. 

 

You got some great photos, as well. Penguins galore!  I was just watching the “Polar” segment of Nat Geo’s Hostile Planet, and it featured some memorable footage of a leopard seal. Enormous! And deadly for the penguins.  We were told no testing the water temp with your fingers because a leopard seal might see your pinkies as an appetizer.  Did you encounter any of those?  3.  I was told by one agent that a little later in the season they are easier to see as more young penguins are enter the water for the first time and are easy prey.  The staff on the ship said that the entire sailing season provided about equal odds of leopard seals.

 

2 hours ago, xelas said:

The above cost-related topic is explained with great details. One question: are there also less expensive options (beside applying for a job on a ship :))? While researching this trip, have you encountered any such, less costly option to visit same spots in same time span?  If just going to Antarctica,  this was the least expensive I found at $5653 for a quad-share, but the offer stated book by June 1, 2019.  Maybe that extends, week by week.

https://travelwild.com/cruises/antarctica/antarctic-peninsula-cruises/antarctic-peninsula-whale-watching-voyage/  

Otherwise that $11,700 Sea Spirit Poseidon Expedition Oct departure on the Polar Cruises webpage for Falklands, S Georgia, Antarctica is the lowest I could find.  But I think booking last minute if there is a cancellation might offer you a better price if you have flexibility.  One woman I know is going to wait until she moves to Ecuador to book, figuring it will be less expensive from there.  She is probably right,  but moving to Ecuador is an extreme option.    For the same spots at the same time of year with 5 days in South Georgia, I found nothing less expensive.  It turned out we had 4 days in S. Georgia due to weather, which ended up being sufficient.  But if I had been on a 4 day S. Georgia trip that had to cut out a day, I think 3 days would be too little.  Some of the itineraries had only 3 days in S. Georgia.   Other companies with lower priced trips were: G-Adventures, Swoop, and Adventure Life, plus One Ocean.  

 

11 hours ago, janzin said:

Great report as usual, as always your reports are full of valuable practical info and very colorful :) And of course great photos. This is a trip I doubt I'll ever do...its not only the cost but I don't think I'd be able to handle being that long on a ship, especially in the cold. (I'll get a better idea of my ship-in-cold-weather tolerance when I go to Svalbard next year.) Anyway I will live it vicariously through your report!   Good idea to test the waters, so to speak, with Svalbard.  Many of the Svalbard companies also do Antarctica and will offer a discount for your next trip.  There was plenty of room to wander around on the ship inside and out, please an exercise room with bikes and stuff.  I did not use that room.  Plus we spent many hours a day off the ship.

 

12 hours ago, Pamshelton3932 said:

I love all the detail you are providing.  This may be my ultimate bucket list destination, so I’m really enjoying every word and photo.  Thank you.  Ultimate it is!

 

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gatoratlarge

This is really great---I've got Antarctica on my bucket list and from what I've seen, you really should include South Georgia with is as it's full of wildlife...thanks!!

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Atravelynn
Posted (edited)
On 5/30/2019 at 3:19 PM, gatoratlarge said:

This is really great---I've got Antarctica on my bucket list and from what I've seen, you really should include South Georgia with is as it's full of wildlife...thanks!!

Yes, South Georgia was my starting point.  I considered just a South Georgia trip.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *  * * * *

 

Q4:  When to go?

 

A4: Variables I considered:  Oct-March (for Falklands & South Georgia)& Nov-March (for Antarctica) is the cruising season because it is the austral summer.  Early in the season the snow is more pristine without penguin poop and it is prime nest building time for penguins. In South Georgia, the male elephant seals are fighting along the beaches in Oct and Nov.  From about Christmas through Jan, fur seal pups can be seen on South Georgia and The Falklands and penguin chicks are seen in The Falklands and Antarctica. In South Georgia, King Penguin chicks may be found at different stages/ages due to the breeding cycle.  Jan is also Black browed Albatross chick time in the Falklands.  Into Feb and Mar, the penguin chicks are fledging and starting to swim.  Whale watching improves in Antarctica as the season progresses into Mar.  Later in the season there is less ice to navigate so that the ship has more mobility in passages in Feb or early Mar in Antarctica.  Although it was not part of our official itinerary, some passengers asked if we could go to the Lemaire Channel, a picturesque passage.  The captain and crew made a heroic effort to get there, but ice prevented us.  This year had heavier ice so passages were still closed in January.   I have been told that the earliest and the latest departures have the most volatility for rough seas, bad weather, and difficult conditions over all.

large.2131731236_f63M7A1274SalisburyPlainSouthGeorgiaKingPenguinsmanychicks.jpg.03c110863730e2c7e4d47f93f1cbdd25.jpg

Salisbury Plain, South Georgia – King Penguin chicks.  Early explorers thought there were two species of penguins in these colonies because the chicks look so different from the adults.

 

In short, the big tradeoff for me was foregoing the elephant seal fighting on South Georgia that happens in Oct-Nov in order to see more fur seal pups and penguin chicks and other chicks throughout the trip in Jan.  Over Christmas is an excellent time to go and would probably have been my first choice, but leaving my family on Christmas was out.

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Aitcho Island in the South Shetland Islands near Antarctica-Gentoo Penguin chicks.

 

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Salisbury Plain, South Georgia – fur seal pup

 

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Ocean Harbor, South Georgia – fur seal pup looking rather bear-cub-like

 

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Westpoint, Falklands – Rockhopper chicks

 

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Half Moon Island in the South Shetland Islands near Antarctica – Chinstap chick being fed.

 

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Salisbury Plain, South Georgia – fur seal pups playing

 

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Saunders Island, Falklands – Gentoo chick

 

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Westpoint, Falklands, - Black browed Albatross chick

 

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Westpoint, Falklands, - Black browed Albatross chick

 

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Saunders Island, Falklands - Magellanic Penguin with chick

 

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Gonzalez Vidale Chilean Research Station on the Antarctic Peninsula – Gentoo chicks

 

Here is what Polar Cruises has to say about when to go.

https://www.polarcruises.com/antarctica/dates

 

Adventuresmith weighs in here, with a detailed account of when to go.

https://www.adventuresmithexplorations.com/best-time-to-go-to-antarctica-month-guide-when-visit-travel-seasons

 

I talked with one couple on the cruise who really wanted to see penguin chicks and seal pups but they had booked a different trip in either Nov or Feb (I forget when).  After making a deposit, they started investigating and realized their error and that they should have booked mid-Dec to Jan for babies.  They chose to lose their deposit on the other trip so they could book our trip during chick and pup season. They had no regrets about incurring that loss after seeing all the youngsters.

large.539241336_f5d3M7A0649SalisburySouthGeorgiafursealpups.jpg.5320c9508bb9631548a1b695345c172f.jpg

Salisbury Plain, South Georgia – fur seal pups

 

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Gonzalez Vidale Chilean Research Station on the Antarctic Peninsula – Gentoo chicks

 

large.199204557_g43M7A3739OceanHarborSouthGeorgiafursealfun.jpg.69cd5bf7b9f22025a14bf27c25bb6559.jpg

Ocean Harbor, South Georgia – fur seal pups

 

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Half Moon Island of Shetland Islands – Chinstrap Penguin and chick

 

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Westpoint, Falklands – Rockhopper Penguin parents attending to chicks

 

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Salisbury Plain, South Georgia – King Penguin & begging chick

 

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Aitcho Island in the South Shetland Islands near Antarctica-Gentoo Penguin chick all tuckered out

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *  * * * *

 

 

 

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Half Moon Island in the South Shetland Islands near Antarctica – Chinstrap Penguins

 

 

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Andrews Bay, South Georgia – King Penguins

 

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Cuverville in Antaractica, taken from the ship - I did not know a sailboat was in photo until I got home and downloaded photos.  Besides this sailboat we saw only one or two other ships during our entire cruise. 

 

 

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Andrews Bay, South Georgia – King Penguins

 

 

 

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *  * * * *

 

Q5: What type of ship?

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Sea Spirit and swimming penguins in South Georgia, taken from zodiac

 

A5:

(size): To reduce sea sickness, I was always cautioned by Antarctica travelers not to go much below 100 passengers.  Too small of a ship means more motion and perhaps more motion sickness.

 

You can check out the Antarctica part the 2010 Globe Trekker DVD series, “South Atlantic & Antarctica,” where host Zay Harding sails and helps crew on a yacht in Antarctica and across the Drake Passage. His trip was a very small group, participatory travel experience.  Spoiler alert:  Lots of seasickness.

 

The downside of going much above 100 passengers is that most landing sites have rules of only 100 on shore at one time.  That’s 100 bodies, not just 100 tourists, and of course several crew and staff are always on shore.  Our 114 capacity Sea Spirit, with 111 actual passengers (some solos in double cabins) handled the 100-on-shore rule by offering additional activities.  For example, people who had signed up for kayaking spent the first 60 - 90 minutes paddling. By the time the kayakers went ashore, some of the first visitors were ready to leave.  Kayaking was not always possible due to wind, etc., so there was also a “photographic zodiac option” for each shore excursion.  Instead of making a bee-line to the landing spot, the zodiac motored slowly along the shoreline for a good hour, offering a different photographic perspective. Again, by the time the “photographic zodiac” passengers landed on shore, some of the first visitors were ready to leave, keeping total #s at 100.

 

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Brown Argentinian Research Station, Antarctic Peninsula -- taken  from zodiac

 

The “photographic zodiac option” where no more than 8 people in the zodiac cruised the shoreline, was very popular.  We could sign up for that once we were on the ship at no cost.  Many liked it so much they went several times.  Even some of the professional photographers on our trip did the photographic zodiac option at least once.  I never opted for it because I wanted to maximize time on land. 

 

For the penguins on the icebergs, the Macaroni Penguins, some scenic areas and one evening cruise, the outings were designed to be done by zodiac. In those cases, the whole fleet of zodiacs went out and everybody went by zodiac for an hour or two cruise with the emphasis on photography.  We all had plenty of viewing/photo opportunities from the zodiac, even if we did not sign up for the specific “photographic zodiac option.”

large.1142390781_f7mDSCN6455CooperBayofCooperIslandSouthGeorgiaMacaroniPenguins.jpg.bc3f450837a8e49f4b86e059af11df19.jpg

Cooper Bay, South Georgia – Macaroni Penguins, viewed from zodiac

 

 

large.1378257075_m33M7A8784BrownArgentinianResearchStationAntarctica-humpback.jpg.442e91af7e0e410737c87f64c06afb1e.jpg

Brown Argentinian Research Station, Antarctic Peninsula – humpback, viewed from zodiac

 

 

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Gonzalez Videla Chilean Research Station, Antarctica Peninsula – Gentoos, taken from zodiac

 

I thought it might be a problem that everyone would want to stay on shore for every minute possible, pushing the numbers above 100. Not the case.  There were plenty of people who enjoyed a short look around on land and were ready to head back to the warmth of the ship and the welcome-back warm beverages (always with or without alcohol options).

 

Ships with numbers around 150 to several hundred passengers, must have a shore-group and a wait-on-the-ship group for the various landing sites, to keep within the 100-body count limit—thereby decreasing overall time on land.  I was told by some repeat Antarctica visitors that their last trip had been really great but that their time ashore was less than on this Sea Spirit trip. They described how passengers on their previous cruise with more people were split into a ship group and a shore group, then they swapped.

 

Over 500 passengers--I believe that’s the cutoff--means no landings, just a look from the boat.   

large.1607033033_DSCN5215SaundersIslandFalklandsMagellanicPenguins.jpg.593c0a74e59c1a6e32fd663eb941c273.jpg

Saunders Island, Falklands – Magellanic Penguins

 

 (level of luxury): Luxury Expedition vs. Expedition is a choice.  The Expedition ships do not have the piano player, extensive menus, or as much square footage in the cabins like the Luxury Expedition ships.  I bet they do not get a nightly chocolate mint like we did.   Some have fewer passengers, which is a plus.  But the cost of the Luxury Expedition ships was not that much less than Expedition.  Sometimes more.

 

I picked the itinerary and timing, and then the ship; and it was a luxury expedition ship--Sea Spirit. 

 

Another itinerary very close in the running and about the same cost was on an expedition, not luxury expedition ship.  But it had only 3 days in South Georgia and I wanted more.  This was it.

https://www.polarcruises.com/antarctica/ships/expedition-ships/ioffe-antarctica/falkland-islands-south-georgia-antarctica-flyfly

 

And then there is the Luxury option, which I did not look into. 

large.1634556947_e1z3M7A9414SaundersIslandFalklandsGentoo.jpg.10d6a950061fe115c22936abb6a3da49.jpg

Saunders Island, Falklands – Gentoo Penguin

 

 (focus):  Before booking, I spent a long time talking on the phone with the Polar Cruises people to make sure the trip I booked was wildlife centered.  My fear was that the luxury in the “Luxury Expedition” name might mean tea and scones took precedence over extensive excursions.  I emphasized I wanted “gung-ho, get out there" over “gourmet in the galley.” Polar Cruises were very patient with my questions and thorough in their explanations.  I was assured that nature was the focus of the trip and schedules would be adjusted to maximize our landings.  And our captain and crew really went overboard (ha ha) in making sure were on shore as much as possible for as long as possible.  The map a couple of posts below demonstrates this visually.  I believe for most expedition and luxury expedition cruises, the emphasis is the Antarctic wildlife.

 

large.1405119161_c83M7A8446WestPointFalklandsBlackbrowedAlbatross.jpg.a33241ef9faf0e10d34d6f2029a0991b.jpg

Westpoint, Falklands – Black browed Albatross, classic couples bonding

(environmental commitment):

The International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO) was founded in 1991 to advocate and promote the practice of safe and environmentally responsible private-sector travel to the Antarctic.  Members adhere to these principles.  Here’s a list of members, on which Sea Spirit appears.

 

https://apps.iaato.org/iaato/vessel/list.xhtml

 

We had very strict and comprehensive biosecurity sessions in which our gear was vacuumed, examined with magnifying glasses and invasive seeds or matter was removed with tweezers per IAATO guidelines.

 

large.70093032_biosecurity.jpg.b8674b6c6250e61540514f55332801f1.jpg

This is Peter, The Artist on Board’s representation of our biosecurity procedures.  Peter made dozens of sketches throughout the trip and shared them with all passengers on a souvenir tiny replica of Sea Spirit flash drive.

 

Before each shore excursion we stepped in treated soapy water.  After each excursion we scrubbed our boots and snow pants with the same solution.  (I think this procedure is used on all ships.)

 

 

large.1234581276_DSCN6069cleaningstation.JPG.c73c27e751f542079a8bb1d1813a6d5f.JPG

Removing any contaminants from our boots and snow pants after an excursion.

 

We even had inspectors board the ship and check passengers’ clothing for soil or seeds and a couple of people had to return to the vacuums and tweezers before being allowed to board the zodiac.

 

Poseidon Expeditions also is part of SeaGreen Recyclng operated by Sealand Ship Agents & Suppliers. The process is described as... “Beginning in the 2018-19 season, participating cruise ship operators will be allocated one or more 10 cubic meter containers, placed alongside the vessel at port calls to collect recyclable materials; cardboard, paper, plastic bottles, and glass.

These containers will be transported to the SeaGreen Recycling yard, where the items will be separated by material, compacted and packed for shipping. At the end of the summer season, recyclable materials will be transported to Buenos Aires by truck for processing.”

 

I watched this recycling happen when we came back to the dock at the end of our trip.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *  * * * *

 

Next is maps of the trip, Booking the international flight, and

Quote of the Trip—An Offer You Can’t Refuse

 

 

Edited by Atravelynn

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Towlersonsafari

What a splendid destination matched by a splendid report-as remarkable as a Ben Stokes catch! @Atravelynn

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Kitsafari

an amazing comprehensive encyclopedic TR, as always expected from you Lynn! 

I too have been looking forward to this very much, and I am so awed and so moved by those spectacular images especially those on St Andrews Bay.

 

just WOW. 

 

 

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Atravelynn
Posted (edited)
8 hours ago, Towlersonsafari said:

What a splendid destination matched by a splendid report-as remarkable as a Ben Stokes catch! @Atravelynn

Thanks and to show the very different worlds you and I live in, I had to google your Ben Stokes reference.  Now I know.  I am actually familiar with another Ben Stokes but I could not believe you were mentioning this obscure character.  Plus the Ben Stokes I know does not catch.   Ben Stokes was a sinister character on the 1960s Gothic Soap Opera, Dark Shadows.  I enjoyed that show after school when I was a kid and decided I would relive that experience on DVD.  Our library has the entire series and I watch them in streaks.  I have only about 150 episodes of the 1225 to go.

 

7 hours ago, Kitsafari said:

an amazing comprehensive encyclopedic TR, as always expected from you Lynn! 

I too have been looking forward to this very much, and I am so awed and so moved by those spectacular images especially those on St Andrews Bay.

St. Andrews Bay is a highlight of the whole trip and the only land excursion where we had sun the entire outing.

just WOW. 

 

 

 

Edited by Atravelynn

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Antee

Lovely story from a dream destination in the future!

I am eager to hear about the next Q & A: sea sickness :) 

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kilopascal

So excited to read all of this @AtravelynnThis has been on my list for about a year now and you have done much of my prebooking work for me. As usual!!  Phenomenal job on the detail in this report. 

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SafariChick

I've been waiting for you to start this one - wonderful information and photos as always!  Looking forward to more!

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Atravelynn
On 5/31/2019 at 2:14 PM, Antee said:

Lovely story from a dream destination in the future!

I am eager to hear about the next Q & A: sea sickness :)   One quick bit of advice that has worked for me in many situations on land and seas--and I am very prone to nausea--is over-the-counter Bonine.  If you'd like I can give you the ingredients of Bonine if that particular brand is not available where you are.  You could take it in advance to be sure it did not have undesirable side effects.  Maybe test it out on a local boat ride, even.  I have learned to take a half for less sleepiness but still all the anti-nausea I need.

 

On 6/1/2019 at 3:01 PM, kilopascal said:

So excited to read all of this @AtravelynnThis has been on my list for about a year now and you have done much of my prebooking work for me. As usual!!  Phenomenal job on the detail in this report.  Just make sure you do the actual booking well in advance!  Many spots are filled right after the trip is published.  You can even get on a waiting list to be the first to book the moment the trip goes live to the public.

 

18 hours ago, SafariChick said:

I've been waiting for you to start this one - wonderful information and photos as always!  Looking forward to more!  Me too, now that I have Internet service again.  Phones and wifi went out for 4 days.  No storms or anything, just no service.

 

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kilopascal
10 minutes ago, Atravelynn said:

One quick bit of advice that has worked for me in many situations on land and seas--and I am very prone to nausea--is over-the-counter Bonine.  If you'd like I can give you the ingredients of Bonine if that particular brand is not available where you are.  You could take it in advance to be sure it did not have undesirable side effects.  Maybe test it out on a local boat ride, even.  I have learned to take a half for less sleepiness but still all the anti-nausea I need.

I would have to echo @Atravelynn on this.  I will get motion sickness on the slowest of the slow water vessels and the drug in Bonine (meclizine) works the best for me.  Year's ago a dive master told me (after I 'fed the fish' that morning) to take a dose the night before and then half the morning of.  Worked much better me that way.  I've managed to do several live aboards nausea free thanks to meclizine.

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janzin
1 hour ago, kilopascal said:

I would have to echo @Atravelynn on this.  I will get motion sickness on the slowest of the slow water vessels and the drug in Bonine (meclizine) works the best for me.  Year's ago a dive master told me (after I 'fed the fish' that morning) to take a dose the night before and then half the morning of.  Worked much better me that way.  I've managed to do several live aboards nausea free thanks to meclizine.

This is really good to know...two recommendations...I will stock up on Bonine for our Svalbard trip, for sure.

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Photo-Kiboko

@Atravelynn

Thank You for the trip report and all these informations.

I have seen the Sea Spirit only from the outside.

It looks like the cabins are much more luxurious as on the similar sized Plancius and Ortelius.

I did a similar trip in November 2014.

I remember many locations.

Also, I have shared the cabin with strangers. This was not a problem.

In November you do not see any chicks. Also you won't see any whales.

The Rock hoppers transport and steal stones. Fighting for nest sites. Mating.

The Chin Straps are clean, because the breeding sites are still covered with snow.

In South Georgia you might see plenty of sea elephants. The fights are almost over. Mating has started.

There are also the sea elephant pubs.

Sea Bears fighting for territory and are very aggressive in November.

 

I have enjoyed your pictures from Andrews Bay.

We could not go on land, because of bad weather (high waves and heavy rain).

 

I am looking forward to see more pictures from you trip.

 

Best regards

Bernd

 

I

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