My Newly Found Addiction: Antarctica

I traveled to Antarctica with G Adventures on December 18, 2015 to January 2, 2016 and I can’t stop talking about my amazing experience. It was a trip of a lifetime and definitely exceeded my expectations in every way. Fact is, I was not looking for a traditional luxury experience but rather for a journey that would show me all the magic this 7th continent is able to offer, which includes seeing fantastic icebergs, wildlife up close
and travel with the safety and warmth of a good running ship and a passionate and energetic team. And yes, the trip was exactly that.
Before I go into details, I realize that sometimes luck must be on your side to get to see what I saw. The team on board said we were extremely lucky, for example we saw hundreds of humpback whales surrounding our ship bubble-net feeding. So I am thinking you can’t promise what guests get to see as nothing is guaranteed and therefore it truly feels like you are going on an expedition. In fact, clients don’t get a detailed itinerary in advance, the itinerary is being shared day by day. So nothing is rehearsed and the team works diligently to make the next landing happen.

The Ship
The MS Expedition is a comfortable ship, it can accommodate 135 guests and about 70 staff. The Cat 3 and Cat 4 cabins are large in size, and not cluttered with much furniture. The bathrooms are perfect, but only offer one sink.  The bedding is nice and comfortable but I wouldn’t call it luxurious.  They offer triple and quad sharing which is great for people with a specific budget. Since you are out on excursions most of the time, you spend very little time in the room. One thing I must point out, nobody on the ship locks their rooms, in fact, there are no room keys. I was hesitant at first but quickly learned that people are all traveling for the same reasons, to enjoy a trip of a lifetime.  When I asked, they said not once were there any issues. Safety boxes are available for anything valuable, I left my camera equipment in the room at all times and everything was fine. This only tells you what wonderful guests G Adventures attracts.
The ship has a library with seating and a good selection of books. A sauna, which I never used because we had too many activities on our schedule, a discovery lounge that seats everyone at once and where all seminars, daily briefs and special events and announcements are held. The lounge has a bar with coffee, tea and water stations available 24 hours. Through the lounge you access the deck in the front, which at times of stormy weather or when the ship is about to anchor is closed to guests. A back deck which is always open, a bar with nightly live entertainment and guests get to visit the bridge when it’s not closed for docking, special maneuvers or bad weather. The restaurant will seat everyone in one seating and breakfast and lunch are served buffet style with a good changing daily selection of dishes, dinner is mostly served and includes 4 courses. The quality of food is good, although I heard that the vegetarian options are somewhat limited. Guests usually get to choose from 3 entrées, we had lobster twice and ossobuco once, so you can see the food was great. Wines can be brought onto the ship, the corkage fee is $15 and the waiter will keep the bottle for you. On board wines start at around $30 per bottle, so decently priced.

The Mud Room
The mud room I hear is special to the MS Expedition as not all ships offer that. It’s basically a place in the bottom of the ship that stores everyone’s rubber boots, outdoor jackets and pants. Everyone has their assigned spot and with that all your wet clothes don’t have to be taken back to your cabin, which is absolutely terrific. Also, the kayaks are stored here.
For the zodiac excursions guests get divided into groups and called up by group name to go down to the mudroom to get ready to go offshore. Kayakers go first.  The process works seamless and the groups are being rotated daily.

The Expedition Team
The team is changing for every cruise departure but speaking to customers who have been on the ship multiple times, every journey is amazing and the team gets a lot of credit for that. The team consists of an expedition team and crew. The crew is mainly Philippine and the expedition team comes from all over the world, Germany, Australia, UK, South Africa, Zimbabwe, etc.  The expedition team ages range anywhere from late 20s to I believe 78, so chances are every guest will relate to someone on the team and find their connection. All team members are on the ship to serve one mission, to make this the best trip for the guests.
G Adventures typically has a resident photographer on board, who takes guests out during each excursion on one zodiac. Guests get to sign up a couple of hours before the departure and guests who have not been on the photo boat get picked first. It usually turns out that you may be able to go twice during your 12 day journey. Paul Teolis was on our cruise, you can find some of his images and profile on his site:
G Adventures is one of the few companies that offers an overnight camping experience on “land”, i.e., ice. The camping setup is quite easy, no prior experience is required. Camping is a wonderful experience mainly because you get to spend a whole evening/night on land. And since it doesn’t get dark, it’s a great opportunity for photographers to take time-lapse photograhpy.  Camping has to be booked and paid for in advance. Please make sure to advise your clients.

G Adventures offers optional kayaking at an additional charge. Travelers get to go out on kayaks every day with other fellow kayakers. You get to see wildlife and icebergs up close and the advantage is that get to stay on the water for a longer time so in some cases you get to see more than on a zodiac cruise, however in some cases your time on land is shortened. As single traveler, you get paired up with another kayaker. If you have purchased the kayak option, you don’t have to kayak every day, you can opt to go out on zodiacs if you wish, but most of the kayakers kept going out every day.

Tips on Packing List
I did a lot of research before traveling and would like to share some of my findings that really served me well:

  • G Adventures provides each guest with a polar jacket. The jacket is sufficient for all outdoor excursions. Guest gets to try jackets on the first day and are able to pick the right size. I did not use any other jacket as the polar jacket has another inside layer, which can be removed.
  • I purchased a couple of top and bottom base layers, medium weight, merino wool which is best to keep the body dry and warm.
  • Pants, ski pants are great and water resistant.
  • Protective waterproof dry bag 30L to protect my photo gear – there are more expensive ones that can be worn as backpacks, so depending on budget you can upgrade, but this is the one I bought and it served me very well to not get my gear wet when getting in and out of the zodiac.
  • Insoles for the boots that are provided by G Adventures, these insoles kept my feet super warm and I would highly recommend to get these.
  • Relief Band to prevent motion sickness, works like magic and can be turned on and off at the push of a button. Provided I did not get into a big storm, however this was great throughout the trip when sitting in the dark and listening to lectures, etc. There are different models, I purchased mine here.
  • Tripod, I don’t think you need to bring a tripod unless you are going camping, then it’s useful for time lapse photography or long exposures.

Post Trip Report
G Adventures will share a post trip report with a trip log, daily programs, the camping certificate, wildlife lists, bios of the expedition teams, all daily menus etc. with every traveler after you return back home. It’s a wonderful selection of documents that completes the trip experience. You can advise your clients of this, so that they don’t need to worry about collecting this information while traveling.

In Summary
I would recommend traveling to Antractica with G Adventures to any traveler who is looking for a great, exciting experience and not looking for traditional luxury. If I could go to Antarctica again tomorrow, I would go back over and over again. The only think I would change is I would pick a longer journey.
Here are some photos from my trip which I posted on Flickr. You can click on the image to access the link and see all my photos. If you like to use any, please email me.

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