A Day in the Life of an Antarctica Expedition, Part 2
Last week I shared the details on the day in the life of an expedition, but only got through the morning, so this week we continue the rest of the story…
A Day in the Life of an Antarctica Expedition, Part 2
Last week I started sharing the details of a day in the life of an Antarctica expedition, but we only got through the late morning after the first expedition of the day, and there is still more to share.
After all the zodiacs came back from the morning excursions and were hoisted back onboard, the ship would move to a different location for the afternoon excursions.
The ship’s movement usually happened at the same time that we were having lunch. There were multiple locations on the ship available for lunch – dining a la carte in the restaurant, a buffet in one of the specialty restaurants, and a few times a special chef’s themed lunch out around the pool. You’d think it would be crazy to eat outside but they had a fun vibe going with music and great food, so it attracted a good crowd.
In part 1 covering the morning part of the day, I described a zodiac cruise, so now let’s talk about a zodiac landing.
For landings, only 100 people from a ship can be on Antarctica at any one time (per the regulations of the IAATO, International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators). This is one reason it’s important to cruise with a smaller ship if you want the opportunity for landings on the continent of Antarctica.
When they planned a zodiac cruise, those excursions were scheduled every 10 or 15 minutes because everyone on the ship can be out at the same time, since they have enough zodiacs for everyone. They would stage the times to avoid a crowd in the mudroom, but from a regulation standpoint, it’s fine for everyone to be out in zodiacs.
For the landings, the zodiac groups were timed farther apart so the expedition team could properly manage the 100 people limitation while giving the guests a good amount of time on land.
Our preparation for a landing excursion was exactly the same as the zodiac cruise, where we would gear up in our room, wait for our zodiac color to be announced, and then head down to the mud room.
For a landing excursion, you are out in nature – there’s no type of port or dock. The excursion team determines an area where the zodiacs will pull up, sometimes to a rocky area, but more often just to shore in the shallow water. They call it a ‘wet landing’ because when you get off of the zodiac, you are stepping into water, usually less than a foot deep.
Landings is where you learn the value of having great boots that fit. Silversea has boots available for folks to use, but there is also the option to rent boots if you want to ensure your size boot is available. We chose to rent the boots which was a great investment because we had the simplicity of knowing we had the right boots from the very start – they were waiting for us in our stateroom when we arrived onboard ship.
An important part of our gear was our waterproof pants, with the pants worn outside of the boots, snapped or velcroed around the boot so no water gets in. We were stepping into water for those landings, yet were warm and dry the entire time, so that shows how important it is to be well outfitted and prepared.
For our landings we would typically go to an area where there were colonies of penguins and maybe some seals. Seeing thousands of penguins is an incredible sight.
The expedition team set out to the location to prepare and use flags to mark the areas to avoid, and a safe route to walk if we would going up a snowy slope. You couldn’t just wander wherever, as some areas are covered with snow and the ground may not be solid. It’s important to pay attention and not cross the ‘penguin highways’ – the paths that the penguins regularly travel.
Traveling in Antarctica is all about protecting the environment, ensuring that you don’t bring any contaminants, diseases or non-native species to an area or wildlife. We had to maintain a proper distance from the wildlife of 15 feet, but that’s pretty darn close to those cute little penguins.
It is forbidden to remove anything from Antarctic, such as rocks, fossils, plants or feathers.
While the zodiac excursions were available twice a day, there was an option to kayak while Antarctica. Anyone interested had to attend a mandatory training session, and then the folks that chose to sign up were assigned a group number. During our cruise there was the opportunity to do one kayak excursion during the whole trip because there were so many people that wanted to kayak, and they have to keep the kayak group small and manageable. One group of kayakers went out shortly after each zodiac excursion. We had a few people in our group who were assigned to kayak group 7, so they had to wait until the fourth day for their turn to go kayaking, and their report was that it was incredible.
The kayak folks had to be in good shape and have had some experience with kayaking previously, because it’s clearly a challenging environment. If your kayak flipped over, you would be in frigid water and you would have to be able to right your kayak.
Returning to the ship after a landing was a bit different than the zodiac cruise. Because of the focus to avoid contaminates or non-native species, even from area to area, you had to go through a ‘boot cleaner’ machine that would spray your boots with disinfectant. On one landing I stepped in some soft snow and fell to my knees, so I had to have my pants sprayed with disinfectant after going through the boot cleaner.
In the afternoon as in the morning, after an excursion, you’d check in to the ship and that great hot chocolate was waiting to warm you up.
Returning from the afternoon excursion, we had similar options as in the morning. Some folks gathered in the Panorama Lounge looking for wildlife, chatting, doing a puzzle, or joining a team for trivia. There were yoga and aerobics classes, and sometimes they would have enrichment talks about different aspects of Antarctica and the wildlife.
The recap and briefing was each evening around six or seven o’clock, so we would go to that kind of learn what happened that day. Because the zodiac groups were spaced out in time slots, various groups would see different types of wildlife. The expedition leaders would talk about some of the things that were seen during the day and then describe the plan for the next day.
One of the key things about expeditions is flexibility. They would say they have Plan A, B, C, and all the way to Z and then even beyond, because everything is so dependent on nature, weather and wildlife, so they have to adapt to constantly changing conditions.
Whatever we were told in the briefing, it was clear that things could change the next day from the plan. They would always announce any changes. They based their decisions on safety and then what would provide the most enriching experience for the guests.
After the recap and briefing, there was music in the various lounges and bars, and dinner.
There was dinner in the main restaurant, and they had specialty restaurants. Those options were an Italian spot and a place in a French place. The most unusual was the Grill, which is outside on the pool deck. It seems a little crazy because we were in Antarctica. They did have some heaters, but it was still very cold, but I thought it was a fun concept.
It’s designed as an interactive experience, where the guests cook their food directly at the table. They serve a lava stone that is heated to a temperature of 400˚C, and you place your meat or fish on top of the grill stone and cook to your own taste. We enjoyed dinner out there a couple of times.
After dinner there would usually be some entertainment, maybe a singer, or a piano bar. One night they had ‘Name Tune’ trivia.
While there were late evening entertainment options, there is something about being in all that fresh air and cold that made me head to bed earlier than I normally would.
When we returned to our room, we’d find our bed turned down waiting for us, along with the newsletter for the next day, which would recap all of the times of the excursions that were discussed in the briefing.
With the excitement of another fantastic set of zodiac excursions in Antarctica the next day, we head to bed to get a good night’s sleep to wake up fresh and prepared for another amazing experience.