My desire to go on an Antarctica Cruise had always been strong, and when a girlfriend I had met on a citizen science trip contacted me to see if I’d be interested, I jumped at the chance! My Antarctica cruise is one of the most fantastic expeditions I have experienced, and I would love to go again. And again!
When Annie asked me about Antarctica, we never considered going on any other cruise line than Lindblad. Though I was over 50 and Annie over 60, we wanted a learning and scientific experience. The two of us met on a Citizen Science Trip with Ray of Hope Expeditions in Cancun where we were searching for Manta Rays. Instead we discovered hundreds of Whale Sharks and enjoyed taking Identification Photos of them. Our shared interest in wildlife, science and the ocean drew us together, and made the idea of a Lindblad NatGeo Antarctica cruise very enticing. With several scientists on board, and explorers, we set off to discover the White Continent.
What to Expect
What I expected on an Antarctica cruise was a journey into a dark, stark, snowy world filled with icebergs, but no, no, no. We sailed into blue skies, deep blue waters, and unbelievable scenery. There were plenty of icebergs, and they were awe inspiring. We sailed on Lindblad’s ship, The Explorer, on Antarctica: The White Continent, with only 142 passengers on board. The crew was probably around the same number and the service was impeccable.
When going to Antarctica, one has to go through the Drake Passage. This body of water is where the Atlantic, Pacific, and Southern seas converge, making the currents extremely strong, and the passage (named after Sir Francis Drake) can be one of the roughest crossings on the planet. Luck was with us, and we had a smooth sailing. I cannot say the same about the return trip, when we did receive an example of the churning Drake Passage!
Dame Travelers Aboard!
Annie and I were pleased to discover some other women traveling together, and solo, and we quickly connected. We had no reason to feel strange being two mature women on their own, as we were among the younger passengers! We met two women who had known each other since their early twenties, and they had taken an epic adventure to celebrate their 25th birthdays. Now, they were turning 50, and so they were doing another celebratory expedition, and they both did a polar plunge to mark going into their 50s! I have to confess that jumping half naked into the coldest ocean in the world was not appealing to me, but I happily watched and photographed those who did it!
What I Loved the Most
The experience of the Antarctic cruise was perfect. The food, the service, and the scientific sessions were wonderful and illuminating. Having scientists on every part of the journey was also fascinating, and they played an important part in what I loved the most: the wildlife. I’m not sure I have the words to express the sheer joy and excitement of seeing Penguins, Seals, Birds, and Whales in their natural habitat, but I will try.
There is nothing comparable to seeing animals in the wild, in their own environment. Seeing our first penguins had us completely bowled over. We fell in love immediately. We saw Gentoo, Chinstrap, Adelie, and even Emperor Penguins! On one of our onshore tours we saw over 60,000 mating pairs of Adelie penguins. It was an amazing sight, and I was taking hundreds of photos of the Adelies of Brown Bluff. Porpoising penguins are so cute you could overdose on their cuteness. Annie and I sat at our window laughing and watching them in the water as often as we could!
We actually came face to face with snoozing Elephant and Leopard Seals. The juvenile Elephant Seals were twelve feet long, and penguins, their favorite food, jumped and walked all around them. Apparently, seals only eat them in the water and don’t allow them to interrupt their sleep! While kayaking among the icebergs, Annie and I came upon a Leopard Seal snoozing on an ice floe, and that was definitely a breathless photographic opportunity. To see the size of these animals, to look into those liquid brown eyes, is awesome, in the true sense of the word.
Let us not forget the wonder of the whales! Humpbacks, Minke, and Killer Whales abounded. Whales have intelligence on the scale of our own, and seeing these incredible mammals in the waters of Antarctica was stunning. The coldest parts of the trip were the whale sightings as everyone tumbled from their warm rooms to the freezing bow of the ship. Humpbacks came up to, and under, the bow of the ship several times, and seeing them close up was a treat. The water was crystal clear. We encountered a Minke Whale while exploring on a Zodiac, but the best whale encounters were the Killer Whales.
We saw the Orcas a few times in the distance, but on the last day in the Antarctic Circle, in the Ross Sea, we ran into either several pods, or one large pod. We actually witnessed a hunt and it was thrilling (I did feel sorry for the penguin they caught, though). The Orca, or Killer Whale, is a member of the Cetacean Family. Dolphins, Killer Whales, and Porpoises are toothed Cetaceans. They are a part of our family of mammals. The scientists aboard the Lindblad NatGeo Explorer discussed types A, AA, and C. I have no idea which Type or Types I photographed, I only know it was wondrous to see them. Every single passenger on the ship was on the bow!
Did you know that no Orca has ever killed a human in the wild? In captivity, yes. They also do not display the fallen over dorsal fin that many of their brethren do in captivity, so well shown in the documentary, Blackfish. It has never been seen in the wild. I watched these magnificent creatures, and felt such sorrow for captured Orcas like Tilikum, who must have been mad with grief, with claustrophobia, and with loneliness. Orcas are very social, have their own families with whom they spend their entire lives, their own language and forms of behavior. Orca sons often spend their entire lives in matriarchal pods, with their mothers. For an Orca to be separated from family, from hunting, from migrating…is absolute hell for the animal. I’m so glad they are no longer being captured for use in “shows”.
Explore the White Continent
Antarctica is one of the most iconic journeys on the planet. The sights, the smells, the sense of adventure is unparalleled. It is also a destination in danger. Climate Change is ravaging the continent as it warms five times faster than the rest of our planet. I urge you to undertake what will be one of the most fantastic adventures of your life, and to do it soon!