Click photo to watch video by Ava.
TUCKER- Antarctica was my absolute favorite place on this entire trip. Between the beautiful views and the great food, it was all amazing. One of the best things about staying on the boat was all of the people. There were a few other kids on the boat who had traveled with their parents as well. We played hide and seek, card games and even had a snowball fight. We had so much fun. Another cool thing about the boat was the staff. The staff were so nice and helpful to me and everyone else on the ship. We were happy to talk to the staff and I even played some chess against them. The staff were so ready to help us understand what was going on. I am so happy I got to experience this and meet all these amazing people. This was a trip of a lifetime.
AVA- Antarctica was absolutely insane. The beautiful views, the wild life, and the expedition ship itself was all fantastic. One of the coolest parts (literally) was the polar plunge.
Wow. When I tell you it was cold, I mean it. We got dressed in our robes early, giddy with excitement, and were one of the first groups in the waiting area. We talked with the other plungers with nervous enthusiasm. After what felt like forever the first group (us) got called down to the jumping point. Dancing to the Spice Girls as hype up music, the whole line was buzzing with nervous excitement. As we saw the first plunger come back from the water, we all began to question our life choices. He was beet red, shivering uncontrollably. Nevertheless, we pressed on.
Tucker went first, and we all stood on our tippy toes to watch his jump. Count down; 3, 2, 1. He jumped. Everyone cheered, and Tucker came up with a scream, a funny look on his face, as if it was frozen in shock. Dad went next with a very solid jump. Both of them came back shivering, with half shocked, half exhilarated expressions. Mom went next, and we were all so proud of her since we may our may not have done some light (or not so light) peer pressuring. (For the record, she is glad she did it.) Apparently she had stayed under a little longer than necessary because it was her understanding they would pull her up. That was not the case, and she was up and out swiftly after.
I watched an iceberg be pushed away by the crew so Carmen had a safe place to jump. She was in and out in a blink, shakily smiling at me. While she jumped I was waiting for my turn, my heart racing so fast I thought maybe it wouldn’t be too cold because of how fast my blood was going. That was not the case. After she got out they put the harness on me, and my entire stomach froze just from the soaking wet harness. Down the steps I went, realizing how brave the rest of my family is. 1, 2, 3. Cannonball! I went full send with a beautifully executed cannonball, if I do say so myself. For a moment in the water I couldn’t feel anything.
Before I could think of that the icy water hit every part of my body, and I went into survival mode. The water felt as if I was submerged inside an iceberg, almost stinging my skin. Jumping out of the water I tried to run to the towel which was at the ready inside, but I forgot I was tied to a rope with a harness on. It felt life forever for them to unclip the rope (it took 3 seconds) and for me to get to the warm towel. We all then warmed up, very proud of ourselves, and happily watched 93 other people jump into freezing cold Antarctic water.
CARMEN- While on the expedition ship we met a ton of different people, including some other kids. When we weren’t on expeditions on land or on zodiac cruises, me, Tucker, and Ava were most likely having fun with the other kids. Their names were Noah, Ariel, Silas, and Emmet. We would play in the pool, play hide and seek, Uno Flip, cards, and a game called Taco Cat Goat Cheese Pizza. Just to keep ourselves busy. One of my favorite expeditions was to an old abandoned whaling station, were whaling ships would boil and prepare thier catches for selling.
TERESA- Exceptional beauty is how I would describe Antarctica. This was the trip of a lifetime within a trip of a lifetime.
Seven continents was not our initial plan. Dan and I have always dreamed about Antarctica and wondered if we could make it happen. We knew we could not afford the price tag for an expedition outright but had heard about last minute deals being offered on ships that had extra space. We timed our travels so that we could be in Buenos Aires or Ushuaia, El Fin del Mundo (the end of the world) when ships were still leaving in February and March. Dan spent countless hours pouring over information, websites and local tour agencies to try to figure it out. By January, we had not found any specials and I said I was done thinking about it and focusing on other travel planning. Dan agreed….but kept it in his mind enough to continue to check in with local guides in Ushuaia.
At the beginning of March he reached out one last time and found out about a ship, the last of the season, that had extra space and heavily reduced prices. We didn’t know then, but end of the season ships usually have difficult weather. Since we would be in Buenos Aires at that time, we could easily make it down last minute, without much planning. And that is how we ended up on the World Navigator, a beautiful expedition ship with amazing crew and staff. We called the ship home for 10 days and loved every minute of it (well almost every minute).
Preparation: Since we did not have warm clothes with us, we picked up hiking shoes, thermal underwear, extra socks, hats and gloves. The ship provides parkas and boots, our local tour company provided waterproof pants, more hats and gloves. Luckily, our international insurance did not have an Antarctica exclusion which I checked ahead of time. I picked up dramamine and searched for the “patches” I read about online. Strangely, patches were not sold in Argentina. Next, we signed a bunch of online waivers for the ship and we were ready. As I had not done much research, I was surprised at the required level of fitness expected for the ship and the range of accidents possible.
Telling the kids about this was a lot of fun. They knew we were planning to go to Ushuaia, Argentina, then on to Patagonia but we had said that Antarctica was a trip they would have to plan for us when we they were adults. Because, that was the plan. When we told them they were shocked and excited.
The World Navigator was a beautiful ship and much more luxury than I had expected. When I read about these ships growing up, they were bare bones research vessels. Our rooms were comfortable and beautiful. The ship staff was from all over the world, smart, fun and kind. The expedition and research team was incredibly knowledgeable and talented. I didn’t know what to expect, but this was beyond anything I could have imagined.
The Drake Passage: this is the body of water connecting the tip of Patagonia to the South Shetland Islands and the start of the continent of Antarctica. Usually you hear, the “dreaded Drake Passage”. The Captain provides daily updates on how high the swells were expected to be and how long it would take to cross; usually 2 days each way. Several staff members reported they almost didn’t take this trip because the weather is usually so bad at the end of March they didn’t know if they could handle it. With amazing luck, we had perfect weather.
They called the 5 to 10 foot waves the “Drake Lake” because they can reach a tumultuous 30 feet. I am prone to carsickness and I struggle even with the lower waves. Walking down the hallway was a challenge. How kitchen and wait staff do their job in this environment is beyond me. I spent most of the two days in bed, watching the programs from the auditorium on the TV, eating green apples and taking ginger shots between my dramamine. On the return voyage, another traveler shared a patch with me which helped the seasickness but had the terrible side effect of blurred vision. I could not read anything for two days which was terrifying.
What to expect: The days on the ship were filled with eating, research presentations, talking with other travelers, and zodiac expeditions. Seeing our first big icebergs, the frozen mountains, and wandering albatross flying behind the boat was our initiation into the beauty to come. Antarctica is stunning. Weather dependent, you can take up to two zodiac expeditions a day. Some ships miss multiple due to bad weather. Our voyage had amazing weather and we got to go out each and every time possible.
The captain chooses a landing spot and the expedition team goes out first to set up a course to follow. When your group is called, you outfit yourself in thermals, waterproof pants, hats, sunglasses, gloves and boots. We took a combination of zodiac landings and zodiac cruises. On the landings, we were able to see penguins, seals, abandoned whaling stations, research stations and unparalleled beauty. Throughout the journey, we learned about icebergs, ice calving, whales, seals, katabatic winds, climate change, ice shelves, historical expeditions, shipwrecks and more. Expedition staff had a wealth of knowledge and experiences one can only dream about or read in National Geographic. I could not be more grateful that we ended up getting to do this part of the trip.
For the birders and animal lovers out there, the animals spotted on this voyage were: Adelie, Chinstrap, and Gentoo Penguins; Wandering and Southern Royal Albatross, Giant, Southern Giant, Southern Fulmar, Antarctic, White Chinned and Cape Petrels; Antarctic Prions; Wilson’s Storm-Petrel; Antarctic Cormorant; Kelp Gull, Arctic Turn; Brown Skua and South Polar Skua; Showy Sheathbills; Humpback Whale; Killer Whale; Arctic Fur Seal, Crabeater Seal, Leopard Seal, Southern Elephant Seal, and Weddel Seal.
DAN- One of the happiest moments that I can remember in my life was the day after we reached Antarctica. We had done it. The seventh continent.
If I had died in that moment it would have been alright. Standing in our room in the World Navigator staring out at those mountains of other-worldly blue ice, it was immediately clear to me that anything else this trip had to offer would be icing on the cake. It had not always been easy, but our crew had made it to every continent and the feeling for us and every other traveler on that ship was pure joy.
This moment was the beginning of a deep sense of gratitude that has not gone away sense. So many things have to go right for a trip like this to come together. Finances, relationships, physical ability, geo-politics, natural disasters, etc… The fact that our initial trip was side-lined for a pandemic provided us with a continuous feeling of just how lucky we were to be able to enjoy one more country, one more unforgettable experience, even the hard ones. Nowhere made me feel this so strongly as Antarctica. It has always been on my bucket list. Not really the bucket list you tell people about, but the one you keep to yourself, wanting it too much to discuss openly.
It is extremely expensive and well beyond the budget we set for this trip so we assumed it would not be a part of it. That said, I’m known to be a little dogged about things I want, so six months before we would eventually go I reached out to local tour operators in Ushuaia letting people know that we would be nearby for two months with flexibility but not much money. Not exactly a great pitch, but worth a shot. We ended up working with a fantastic operator, who connected with us less than a month before the trip to let us know that I space had opened up. It still blew the trip budget a bit, but it ended up being worth so much more than I imagined it could be.
There was such a deep respect for the privilege of being there by everyone on the ship. The perfect culmination of all that we had experienced to that point. I had been hesitant to use the phrase “once in a life-time”, which so many people used when talking about our trip. But standing there, entranced by the ancient blue glaciers and the majestic life that surrounds them, it was finally clear to me that “once in a life-time” was exactly what we had experienced. I am so very grateful.