Nick Mitchell is an Adventure Specialist with AdventureSmith Explorations, a leader in small ship, adventure cruise vacations. This post contains excerpts from an article originally published on the AdventureSmith Explorations Travel Blog.
Ocean Endeavour as spotted from a Zodiac cruiser deep in the Southern Ocean, between massive tabular icebergs.
I’ve been all over the world and for sheer wow factor, Antarctica is number one. If you have the slightest inkling that you might enjoy a trip to Antarctica, wait no longer. It will be the trip of a lifetime.
Antarctic Peninsula trips like Antarctic Explorer are the most popular way to experience the white continent. They have the greatest number of departures, the widest date range and they are where you’ll find the lowest prices. I went on the 199-guest Ocean Endeavour, and while Antarctica shone as the lead, the Ocean Endeavour provided great comfort in the supporting role.
The 10- to 12-day Antarctic Explorer is offered on several different vessels, including Quark’s brand new World Explorer, set to first sail this route in January 2019. As on all of AdventureSmith Explorations Antarctic cruises, the focus is on getting off the ship and witnessing the wildlife and scenery up close, exploring by zodiac and on foot. Weather permitting, you’ll get off the boat at least twice a day on shore excursions and zodiac cruises while you are down there.
Stand-up paddleboarding the frigid waters off the Antarctic Peninsula. Photo: Nick Mitchell
I went on the Ocean Endeavour in early December. Spaces are sold with mandatory round-trip Buenos Aires-Ushuaia flights and a pre-night hotel night in Buenos Aires on day one. The benefit of this is ease. All you have to do is get yourself to Buenos Aires and the rest is taken care of; you don’t have to stress about getting to Ushuaia in time.
The Ocean Endeavour is a comfortable, well-appointed polar expedition ship, and she has a spacious, modern feel. There is a wide choice of cabin categories, from economical triple cabins to spacious suites. There are also single cabins, which is a rarity on Antarctic vessels. I was in a clean, comfortable main deck twin porthole cabin with an ensuite bathroom and have to say, I did not spend much time in there at all. There was always something going on and I spent a lot of time on deck, which I recommend you do on any expedition cruise.
Ocean Endeavour’s amenities include a day spa, warm saltwater pool, gym, juice and smoothie bar, and his-and-hers saunas with windows, so you don’t have to miss the glory of Antarctica while you unwind.
There are lots of common areas, and plenty of deck space to watch wildlife, icebergs and ice-covered landscapes go by. In fact, there was so much deck space you could always find a little solitude if you wanted. You could also choose to socialize with your fellow travelers and spot whales and penguins together. The Bridge Deck was a superb viewing spot; very spacious with 360-degree views. It was my favorite deck and there were never many people up there.
Taking in the panoramic views from deckside aboard Ocean Endeavour. Photo: Nick Mitchell
There were several comfortable lounges where our experienced expedition team gave presentations and slideshows. These ranged from Antarctic marine wildlife to photography workshops to the history of the Antarctic Treaty. They took place in the evenings and when we were crossing the Drake Passage.
We even traveled with two scientists who were studying penguins. The expedition guides were professional and always around, engaging with the guests sharing their knowledge and stories at meals, on deck and in the common areas. Their enthusiasm was infectious and they clearly loved their jobs. There was a lot to learn and to entertain and never a dull moment.
Cross-country skiing on the seventh continent; Ocean Endeavour awaits us below. Photo: Nick Mitchell
We saw lots humpback and minke whales and orca. A juvenile orca even obliged us with a close-quarters visit by the bow. We followed a pod for quite a while as they hunted. We saw penguins leaping out of the water, escaping snapping jaws of death. When the hovering, attendant seabirds landed on the surface we knew one had been chomped. We also had a leopard seal swim right up to our zodiac before a shore landing. He was massive and looked me right in the eye before he shot off with a flick of his tail. He then breached like a whale, clear out of the water. Talk about jaw dropping! Others said they had seen him on an iceberg eating a penguin. Poor little penguins; it’s amazing they seem so cheerful.
The Ocean Endeavour is also the only polar adventure ship in Antarctica focused on health and wellness. Facilities include a spa serviced by organic spa provider VOYA, his and hers saunas with windows, so you don’t have to miss the glory of Antarctica, a warm saltwater pool, a gym, and a juice and smoothie bar. There were complimentary yoga and stretching classes. The food and service was excellent. With a large buffet for breakfast and lunch we were spoiled for choice. Dinner was ordered from a menu. I wonder what Shackleton would make of such pampering!
Antarctica’s climate can be harsh on your skin. Ocean Endeavour’s indulgent spa treatments are designed to refresh, rejuvenate
and revive your delicate facial skin.
On Antarctic Peninsula cruises you get to cross the Drake Passage—twice. I wasn’t worried about seasickness, more that I’d constantly be terrified of capsizing. As it turned out, the Ocean Endeavour was reassuringly large, and I found the crossing exhilarating, No matter the size of the waves and the amount we rocked and rolled, I knew we would be fine. She has two stabilizers and is no waif.
Mountaineering, an optional Antarctic adventure activity, with Ocean Endeavour waiting in the bay below. Photo: Nick Mitchell
At 450 feet long, the Ocean Endeavour is one of the biggest ships AdventureSmith Explorations is partnered with, but the feeling of being on an expedition is not sacrificed. For those who are nervous of sailing the Drake, the reward of getting to experience Antarctica will make it all worthwhile. I guarantee it. When you look back you’ll appreciate that your adventurous spirit triumphed. At the time, you may feel different.
People often say they don’t care about the ship, they care about the expedition experience. I’d say that’s right. Having an exceptional expedition experience should be your main concern when choosing a trip to Antarctica. But why not have both? If you want a comfortable, clean and spacious boat with an experienced and engaging expedition team, great service, excellent food and lots of adventure options, then the Ocean Endeavour is a great choice. If you are leery of crossing the Drake and a larger vessel will ease your mind—and you’d quite like having the option of a massage or watching Antarctica go by while in a sauna or enjoying a warm swimming pool while on your expedition—then the Ocean Endeavour is a great choice.
Sometimes, you really can have it all.