Antarctica - Beyond Expectations
If the situation is manageable, take advantage of all the fascinating educational presentations given by the expedition team on their areas of expertise from marine biology and ornithology to geology and history. Spend time bundled up outside on the deck watching the albatross circling the ship, go up to the bridge and learn about the navigational equipment, visit the gift shop and get yourself some Antarctica-themed merchandise, eat lots of cookies in the lounge and get to know your fellow passengers. On my cruise, there were people from all over the world – a mini United Nations of sort – who were well-seasoned travelers. For many, Antarctica was their seventh and final continent. You’ll also be engaged in a variety of mandatory activities such as picking up your boots and parkas, learning about the environmental protocols for shore landings, participating in safety drills and vacuuming your outer clothing and equipment to prevent spreading any invasive species.
The 2-day crossing really serves to gain not only physical, but psychological distance, from civilization. You can’t really appreciate how far removed Antarctica is until you sit on a boat for two days with not much to view except steel gray rolling waves as far as the eye can see. And that makes it all the more incredible when you espy your first iceberg and get your first glimpse of terra firma. Then the excitement builds as gradually the ship is surrounded by more ice sculptures and jagged mountains covered with snow and glaciers, presenting a photo directly out of the pages of a National Geographic Magazine.
Visitors to the Great White Continent will find scenes of grandeur and magnificence, along with abundant marine life. The variety of ice will astound you and even more so when you learn that each kind has its own name. Passengers are provided with a glossary of terms in order to help them identify the different forms, ranging from anchor ice and bergy-bits to floe, growler and frazil. Of special note are the mammoth tabular bergs – flat-topped icebergs that are more or less parallel with the waterline. The glaciers, too, are impressive in size, and when calving occurs, the noise can be deafening.
As we cruised through the islands surrounding the Antarctica Peninsula, we settled into a routine that consisted of at least two excursions a day. Zodiacs or inflatable boats took us from the ship to land where we had time to wander around, watch the wildlife, take a hike and simply revel in the majestic scenery. The expedition team was always on hand to point out sensitive, off-limit areas, as well as to explain about the environment and the creatures inhabiting it. The penguins were the main attraction on these landings. They squawked and waddled, fetched rock after rock for their nests, splashed in the sea during their food forays and basically went about their business as usual without paying much attention to their human admirers. Like paparazzi, we followed them, cameras clicking away, as we attempted to capture every last comical pose. We never tired of watching and listening to these Antarctica celebrities. Most of the species we saw were either Adelie, Chinstrap or Gentoo penguins, and as it was December, they were still in the nesting stage. We were fortunate to spot one errant Macaroni penguin that seemed to have somehow gotten himself mixed in with the others. He stood out from the rest due to his bright yellow feathers on the top of his head.