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Antarctica Cruise Overview
For anyone who loves nature and exotic locations, a cruise to Antarctica is a dream vacation. Cruising for eleven days on a small luxury expedition ship like the Hanseatic is even better--a perfect blend of excellent service, cuisine, and accommodations along with exciting excursions and amazing wildlife. The next nine pages are a daily logbook of some of the activities we had during the four days we spent in Antarctica. Let's take a look at our cruise to the continent of Antarctica.
Our cruise tour began in Buenos Aires, where we had an overnight at the Four Seasons Hotel. What a great start to our cruise vacation! Our wake-up call was very early (about 3 am), and the Hanseatic passengers took a charter plane for the three-hour flight to Ushuaia, Argentina, the "end of the world". Before boarding the Hanseatic, we toured Ushuaia, rode the End of the World Train, and visited Tierra del Fuego National Park. The Hanseatic sailed in the early evening for the Falkland Islands,... and spent two days there before heading south to Antarctica. Our first stop in Antarctica was Elephant Island.Continue to 2 of 10 below.
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Antarctica Hanseatic Cruise Logbook - Elephant Island and Point Wild
In 1914, Ernest Shackleton led an expedition of 28 men to Antarctica on the ship Endurance. Their story is an amazing one. The Endurance became entrapped in the ice of the Weddell Sea in January 1915, and drifted with the ice until it was crushed and sank in November 1915. At that point, the 28 men used three small boats rescued from the Endurance to sail the perilous sea to Elephant Island, arriving on April 17, 1916. Shackleton and 5 of his crew then took one of the small boats and sailed the 800 miles to South Georgia Island. In spite of the fact that they had to make this winter crossing without modern instruments, they arrived on South Georgia 16 days after leaving their 22 comrades camped at Point Wild on Elephant Island. Unfortunately, they had landed on the wrong side of South Georgia, and had to traverse the mountainous, glacier-filled island in order to reach the whaling station on the other side. Miraculously, when Shackleton and the 6 men returned to Elephant Island on... August 30 after several unsuccessful tries, all 22 men were still alive. Shackleton never lost a man in all of his years as an explorer.
We took the Zodiacs from the Hanseatic to see Point Wild up close. The wet, rocky, cold spit of land was very small and surrounded by glaciers, high rocky cliffs, and the sea. Seeing Point Wild and Elephant Island and imagining how the men felt when they saw their captain sail away, only to return 4 months later, was both sobering and exhilarating.
We sadly left Elephant Island and sailed towards the Weddell Sea.Continue to 3 of 10 below.
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Antarctica Cruise Logbook - Paulet Island in the Weddell Sea
Leaving Elephant Island, the Hanseatic sailed southward in the Weddell Sea towards the Antarctic peninsula. During the night, the bumps and bangs we heard on the hull told us that we were in icy waters. I sure was glad we had a reinforced hull and were moving slowly! About 6:30 in the morning, we arrived at rugged Paulet Island, which was covered with Adelie penguin chicks and their parents. The island also had an old hut built by the Larsen expedition in the winter of 1903 after their ship, the Antarctic, was crushed by ice.
We went ashore in the Zodiacs and were astounded at the number of brown, downy penguin chicks. Sylvia Stevens, our onboard penguin expert, explained that most of the chicks were about one month old and were so large that it took both parents to feed them. Therefore, most of the parents were feeding at sea. When they return to the herds of chicks, the parent penguins can identify their young by the call. This was a noisy place! The time went by quickly as we watched... the interaction of the penguins. The adults would waddle quickly along with the babies "peeping" behind them, trying to keep up. The adult penguins often run from their young in order to properly identify which chicks are theirs. Eventually the chicks are fed by the parent bird. It was quite a morning, and we could see why so many people are so enamored of these hard-working flightless birds.
All too soon we left the penguins, but had more adventures ahead--gigantic icebergs!Continue to 4 of 10 below.
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Antarctica Cruise Logbook - Cruising Antarctica's Iceberg Alley
The Hanseatic sailed north from Paulet Island in the late morning along the Antarctic Sound on the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula. We could easily see why this 30 mile long, 7.5 mile wide area is called "iceberg alley", as hundreds of icebergs, of all shapes and sizes could be seen at any one time. We could tell the captain was enjoying this part of the cruise as he steered the ship through the maze of icebergs and took us very close (within 70 meters) to some of them. He even circumnavigated one beautiful iceberg, giving us a 360 degree view. The captain opened the fore-deck and most of the passengers gathered there or on the observation deck. It was a marvelous afternoon.
Late in the day we neared the Chilean O'Higgins research station. The Hanseatic had a German technician on board who was enroute to the German facility at this base. Two of the crew took him ashore in a Zodiac while we got ready for our special Ernest Shackleton dinner. We all laughed when we... were greeted at the entrance to the Marco Polo restaurant by our expedition leader, David Fletcher, dressed as one of Shackleton's men. The costume was complete with black (i.e. frostbitten) toenails! The menu had items named for Shackleton's men or his exploits. The evening was topped off by a classical concert by the surprising Festival Band--we didn't know they were so talented! What a way to end an amazing day. The next morning we arrived at the Lemaire Channel.Continue to 5 of 10 below.
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Antarctica Cruise Logbook - Cruising the Lemaire Channel
The Hanseatic sailed south all night down the Bransfield Strait on the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula. Ronnie and I got up early to see that the channel was foggy and filled with bands of pack ice. The massive tabular icebergs of iceberg alley had been replaced by chunks of ice and larger bands, making navigation difficult. If iceberg alley was like sailing in a glass of water filled with ice cubes, this was like sailing in a glass of water filled with crushed ice. The Lemaire Channel was very narrow (720 meters) and surrounded by huge rocky peaks.
The captain had hoped we could use the Zodiacs to go ashore on Petermann Island, but the ice conditions prevented it. The captain turned the Hanseatic around at 65+ degrees south (our furthest position south) and we sailed back through the Lemaire Channel. Ronnie and I both agreed that we thought that sailing in the severe ice conditions was as exciting as whatever we missed on Petermann Island.
As we cruised along the Lemaire... Channel on the way north, we passed another expedition ship, the Endeavor. While sailing towards Paradise Bay, the hotel organized a barbecue on the back of the Columbus Deck. We thought it was a little cold to eat outside, but many of our fellow travelers did not. It was still delicious, with beef, chicken, and shrimp on the grill. We all enjoyed the passing rugged scenery and even saw another cruise ship, the Hurtigruten Nordnorge. It was a busy morning!Continue to 6 of 10 below.
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Antarctica Cruise Logbook - Paradise Bay
The Hanseatic arrived at Antarctica's foggy Paradise Bay in the afternoon. Even with the clouds, the landscape was impressive. Towering mountains, huge glaciers, and wildlife filled our vision. One of our two Zodiac groups cruised around the bay for an hour while the other went ashore. Then the two groups swapped. The cruise took us along some rocky cliffs covered in colorful lichen and moss. The cliffs were blue, green, orange, or yellow, depending on the covering. Blue-eyed cormorants were nesting above us, and the nests were filled with chicks. The Zodiacs cruised near some spectacular glaciers--they really looked big from the small inflatable boat! The bay was filled with ice floes, and we got very close to two leopard seals and a crabeater seal. These seals posed for us while we all snapped away with our digital cameras.
Once ashore, we wandered around the abandoned Argentinian Almirante Brown research station, which was burned in 1984 in a fire set by the physician who... didn't want to stay another winter at the base. We got up close to some gentoo penguin families, and some of the group climbed a snowy cliff and tried to slide down using plastic bags or just their red coats. We left Paradise Bay about 6:30 in the afternoon and sailed by the Chilean research station named Gonzales Videla. A supply ship, complete with helicopter, was anchored nearby. That evening after dinner, a pair of humpback whales gave us quite a show for about 30 minutes as we sailed north towards Deception Island.Continue to 7 of 10 below.
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Antarctica Cruise Logbook - Whaler's Bay on Deception Island
A stopover at ring-like Deception Island is a highlight of any Antarctic cruise. The 230-meter narrow passageway into the caldera is marked with towering rocks, and Whaler's Bay is surrounded by the old volcano. The shoreline is covered by black cinders from the volcanic eruptions of 1812, 1842, 1907, 1912, 1956, 1967, 1969, and 1970. In 1923, the water suddenly began boiling in the bay and removed the paint from all the ships in the harbor. Minor eruptions occurred as recently as 1992.
Whalers and researchers used this island extensively for the last 200 years. The 1969 eruptions destroyed all of the facilities, and it seems like an eerie ghost town today. The black soil is warm to the touch and if you stick your finger in it, you can get burned. This is one hot island!
For the first three decades of the 20th century, Deception Island was used as a major whaling station. At one time over 3,000 whale carcasses littered the shores, and we saw the bony remnants of this sad history on... the beach.
We explored the beach, looked in the abandoned buildings, and examined the rusting whaling equipment. Some of the more adventuresome passengers wore their swimsuits and sat in natural "hot tubs" dug in the cinders by the crew near the shoreline. They had to keep putting cooler ocean water into the tubs to cool them down, and the group all dipped themselves in the bay afterwards. Who said there was no swimming on the beaches of Antarctica?
Looking for more penguins, we next headed to Yankee Harbor on Greenwich Island.Continue to 8 of 10 below.
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Antarctica Cruise Logbook - Yankee Harbor on Greenwich Island
One thing we noticed on Antarctica's Deception Island was that although no penguins could be seen from Whaler's Bay, our noses could detect a nearby rookery. We could see the thousands of penguins on the outer ring of the island as we sailed away. Isn't it interesting how quickly our senses can learn! Our second stop on our last full day in Antarctica was at Yankee Harbor on Greenwich Island. This harbor was surrounded by glaciers and rocky outcroppings. The shore was home to a large Gentoo rookery, with many chicks. We also saw numerous fur seals basking on the beach, our first "close" look at them. Many of us lingered ashore, as we knew this would be our last penguin viewing. They didn't disappoint us, waddling to and from the sea and feeding their young. As we returned to the ship, I'm sure I wasn't the only passenger with a saddened heart.
We did have one more stop--at a research station on King George Island.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
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Antarctica Cruise Logbook - King George Island
Our last stop before sailing for Ushuaia was at King George Island. We ate an early dinner and arrived at this "unofficial" capital of Antarctica in the early evening. How we all loved these long daylight hours.
King George Island is home to 8 national winter research stations on its small, ice-free shore. It is like a miniature embassy row, with the Russians, Chileans, Chinese, Uruguayans, South Koreans, Argentines, Brazilians, and Poles all connected by about 20 km of roads. Four other countries have summer stations on King George, so the island was bustling.
We visited the 25-person Russian station at Bellinghausen, where the base commander Igor met us on the black sandy beach. The Chilean base was just next door, and while we were there, a van from South Korea drove up.
We toured the recreation facility at Bellinghausen and walked up a hill to see their new Russian Orthodox Church. It was built in Siberia and shipped to the Antarctic. They were quite proud of the church, and... it was perched high on a hill, well anchored from the fierce winds. They also stamped our passports at the Bellinghausen Station, and I will cherish that penguin picture in my passport in the years to come.
Before returning to the ship, we walked the short distance to the Chilean souvenir shop, where we even saw a small Chilean child who was living on the island with his family. By 11:00 we were all munching on Hanseatic hot dogs--a special treat to celebrate our last landing in the Antarctic!Continue to 10 of 10 below.
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Antarctica Cruise Logbook - Summary and a Look Back and Forward
Antarctica was a wonderful cruise destination, and the Hanseatic captain and crew certainly managed to give us an amazing expedition experience in the comfort of their luxurious ship. As the cruise came to an end, Ronnie and I couldn't help but wonder what the future of Antarctica will be. The history of Antarctica is impressive and a tribute to the curious nature of mankind. Many explorers risked their lives to learn about this frozen continent. Today's researchers are using Antarctica to learn about our environment, the sea, and the skies above.
A hundred years ago, whalers plowed its waters, taking whales, seals, and penguins. Even today a few countries take whales, albeit in the name of "research". With Antarctic whale meat a common commodity in Japanese fish markets, one can't help but wonder what kind of research they are doing--tasting panels?
Although the Antarctic Treaty countries consult on the use of the whole continent, the pendulum could easily swing from... one of conservation and protection to that of uncontrolled usage and extinction of rare Antarctic mammals and birds.
I am glad we had an opportunity to see this magnificent wilderness, and encourage anyone who loves the out of doors and adventure to make a trip to the far south on the Hanseatic or another of the numerous ships that sail Antarctic waters. I promise you the cuteness of penguins will exceed your expectations, and it's really not that cold! (in the Antarctic summer)
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary cruise accommodation for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our Ethics Policy.