This was a trip that I had wanted to do for many years, especially visiting the Falkland Islands as that is the first piece of history I can really remember growing up. Several of my friends had also visited the area and said "it was an absolute must!". For me it is also a "once in a life time" trip although I would consider returning to the Falkland Islands as I would like to see the battle fields and more of the Islands.......but we shall see!
- What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?
There were three really great moments on the trip for me. The first was on the Falkland Islands, when we were at Port Stanley and we had done a brief guided walk around the town before being given free time - it was suggested by the Expedition Leader that the Globe Pub was a great place to visit as they serve good beer and fresh fish and chips! Unfortunately the chef was not working so there was no food available but as far as I was concerned we did better than that - there was a Falklands War veteran there, from 3 Paras who spent nearly 45 mins chatting with 3 of us. He was very emotional and he showed us on the map on the wall how they had done their manovers during the war.
Secondly was visiting Sailsbury Plain on South Georgia where there were 250,000 King penguins, fluffy brown chicks and adults as well as many fur seals. It is very difficult to re describe seeing so many en-mass and with the noise and smell they produce! It was great and if you stood or sat still they would come very close and did not appear to be at all bothered by lots of people walking around in red clothing!
Thirdly was our last zodiac ride in Fournier Bay on the Antartic Peninsular - the sea was flat calm for most of our time around the Peninsular (thankfully!) but as we sailed in to the circular Fournier bay, the sun was shining, the sky was blue, the glaciers and mountains were bright white and we had great reflections in the water. We dropped anchor before getting in the zodiacs. It was so calm and we had a bit of a speedy ride (for fun) before looking for wildlife on the icebergs. We were not disappointed and to me it was just how I had imagned Antarctica to be like. We found 3 penguins sitting on top of an iceberg which made for great photos, seals lazing in the sun on the icebergs and then about 24 penguins waiting to dive in to the water which they duely did! It was then ended by a celebratory champagne farewell on the boat as we set sail and even the whales did a "swim by!"
- What did you think of your group leader?
Boris Wise was our main Expedition leader - helped by a further 18 members of staff and about 45 crew. Every one was excellent and nothing was too much trouble for any of them. The whole trip was run in a very professional and slick way and a time schedule but nothing ever felt rushed.
Safety was paramount at all times from getting on and off the zodiacs to being advised not to go out side as the decks were covered in ice. All the staff had radios so if for example you needed the doctor any one would just call for him.
We also had an American professional photographer on board who gave talks and helped people with any camera issues, 2 excellent bird and wildlife spotters, 2 people who had worked / been involved with Antarctica and South Georgia for many years, a British professional wildlife artist as well as 2 kayak guides, zodiac drivers who all have good knowledge, massage and yoga professionals and excellent "hotel managers"
Exodus as such does not provide a specific leader for their own clients on this trip (which is not a problem) as there are all the staff members as above. The boat was filled with various groups from places throughout the world and one of the larger groups did bring a fairly vocal agent with them! You just have to learn to turn a deaf ear to them!!
- Do you have any advice for potential travellers?
Just book it....it may be costly but it is worth it!
I also did the option of going to the Iguassu falls (I believe Patigonia extensions are also available which is worth visiting too) which I did for 3 days before the start of the trip which I found to be very good as it meant I had caught up with any time changes. It also meant that I was also in Argentina and closer to Ushuaia - Areolinas Argentina sometimes delay and cancel flights at very short notice.
Make sure you get to Ushuaia at least one day before leaving with the ship - there is plenty to do there and it is better to be early than miss the boat.
We had very changable weather and discovered fairly early on that the wet skin tousers were not completely water proof - easy solution was just to wear a thin pair of water proofs under neath which also gave an extra layer of warmth (so pack your own just to be on the safe side).
Take plenty of layers as you will definately need them - as the guide said on several occassions "put on all the clothes you have!" On a couple of times I had 8 layers on my top and 5 on my bottom half and I was very glad I did.
If you think you may be going to feel sea sick, book a cabin on deck 3 as it is the most stable area of the boat in rough seas..........
None of the cabin doors lock - this is for health and safety reasons (if some one was ill / had an accident it would be very difficult to gain access). However this was not a problem and infact many of the staff members left their doors wide open with all their belongings on show. There was a safe available on request.
The power supply was 2 round pin plugs but worth taking a double adapter or multi plug so you can do lots of charging at the same time as the cold weather uses up your batteries and you will also take lots of photos / videos.
The Shackleton walk is worth getting up at 530am for - it is medium to hard but walking poles are provided. Steep ascent to start and end but worth it for the views.
- Is there anything else you would like to add?
The Sergy Vavilov ship was excellent - the bar / social area on deck 6 has 3 sides of really big windows, open access to the deck and stairs up to deck 7 as well nearby. It is kept warm, the seats are very comfortable, there is free tea, coffee, hot chocolate and home made biscuits readily available!
Food throughout the whole trip was superb - lots to choose from at breakfast and 3 - 4 courses at lunch and supper including freshly made bread and soup (providing it did not get spilt in the rough seas). There were 2-3 choices for a main plus a pudding as well
Plenty of hot water readily available for showers with containers of shampoo, conditioner and shower gel all provided along with towels and dressing gowns.
Despite taking anti-sea sick tablets etc at times I did not feel particularily well - the staff made a point on checking cabins to make sure people were OK etc or if they needed any thing. The days at sea are filled as a number of talks are given in the presentation room (deck 1) or in the bar (deck 6). Unfortunately due to not feeling 100% I did not go to many of the talks as they were in the most rocky / unstable part of the boat - we had particularily rough days with force 10 gales and 60' waves!
Open access to the Bridge and watching the Captain and the Officers work was really interesting, especially watching them turn the boat in tight circles just so we could all watch whales for longer!
The satellite phone worked well and not expensive - US$30 for 60 minutes of talking when ever you wanted to.
Don't spend the whole time behind your camera - sit and enjoy watching the penguins etc. They are great characters. Take a few videos as unfortunately no photos are going to do the areas justice and the shear scale of numbers and sizes of things.
Be prepared for all weather conditions - 4 seasons in one day and don't be disappointed if you can not get landings. We had very rough seas but we got 2 out of 3 for the Falklands, 4 out of 6 for South Georgia and 9 on the Peninsular. If you don't get off the boat it is for a good reason and safety comes first as the ship needs to drop anchor and we have to walk down a metal staircase on to the zodiac boats and this can not be done if there is a big swell in the sea. Thankfully the Drakes Passage and Cape Horn were virtually flat calm (which I was very relieved about)
Have fun and just take it all in..............