Ponant Antarctica Beyond the Polar Circle

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topdrop

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This was my trip report from 2007 on another site:
Recently returned to Oz after a cruise to Falklands, Sth Georgia and Antarctic Peninsula.
We departed from Puerto Madryn on Prof Molchanov (50 pax only) on 9th Nov.
Rough weather, beam on, on the 10th Nov meant that all except 4 of us got seasick.
Arrived Falkland Islands 12th Nov early morning - I think it was most interesting for the English as it was the 25th anniversary of the Falklands War - however I did enjoy my time here - some surprisingly good gift shops in Stanley. Departed pm 13th Nov. We got to see Shag Rocks (100 odd miles from Sth Georgia) reasonably close up - huge amount of bird life. Arrived Sth Georgia am 16th Nov. I will tell you now that if you are going to do an Antarctic cruise, save up for a little longer and make sure it includes Sth Georgia - the scenery and wildlife are simply stunning. They also have a very good museum and pretty church at Grytviken (population 9). We drank a toast to Shackleton at his grave - half for me, the other half for him.
Departed Sth Georgia pm 19th Nov. There was a lot of pack ice around the South Orkneys 21st Nov - we also sighted the Explorer here. They were in clearer water about 7 miles West of us heading towards a fateful rendezvous.
am 23rd Nov, we were supposed to go ashore at Elephant Island, however, Explorer had been holed and they were abandoning ship, so we set course in case additional help was needed. (It was very rough at Elephant Is, so we probably wouldn't have been able to get ashore anyway). By the time we got to Explorer's lat/long she had long sunk - we cruised through the oil slick a few times - sighted a stool in the slick and 2 lifejackets which had blown up onto pack ice. The Chileans had a ship - with helicopter airborne - cruising the area.
24th Nov - arrived Deception Island - you actually sail into a volcano - there's a narrow opening in it's side. We dug a hole in the sand, it filled with water, volcanic gases warmed the water and 6 people had a dip.
25th Nov - fantastic weather for our landings at Cuverville Island and Neko Harbour (on the mainland) and cruising Paradise Bay.
27th Nov on our way back to Sth America, Drake passage lived up to it's reputation - Force 10, 10 metre seas side on to ship gave a good?? rolling motion - we got to 45 degrees regularly.
Arrived Ushuaia morning of 28th Nov.
This report is only brief, but I had the trip of a lifetime and I'm going to do it again.

My thought for those thinking of cruising to Antarctica:
Go to Sth Georgia - I know I said it before, but it's worth repeating.
My wife used seasickness tablets, Promethazine - Promethazine - Wikipedia - they make you a bit drowsy. Recommended dose was 1 per day (25mg), she took 2 per day and didn't get sick - make sure you take it before you even leave the wharf. I've done quite a bit of stuff in small boats and was confident of not getting sick so didn't take anything and thankfully I was correct.
Travel on an ice breaker or an ice strengthened ship of 50 pax or less - While these small ships don't have the fancy on-board environment of the bigger ships, they have the advantages of good comaraderie - you get to know everyone, everyone gets to go ashore in quick time (max allowable is 100 at a time), you can take photos without people in shot. The average age of pax is younger, so they will do zodiac landings that ships with older pax wouldn't dream of attempting. We were allowed on the bridge at any time.
Do some research on crew - our ship had a Russian crew that do both Arctic and Antarctic cruising - the captain had been to Antarctica over 200 times and it showed. We went with Oceanwide expeditions and their guides had a lot of experience. Antarctic & Arctic Expedition Cruises | Oceanwide Expeditions
If you are short of any gear, there are some good shops in Ushuaia selling at pretty good prices.
 

mjward55

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MR61
I could write reams on this because we agonized over which cruise to choose from late 2017 for a cruise we did in November 2018.
My advice is to get back to basics by which I mean you need to ask yourself what do you want from the cruise eg comfort versus adventure. We choose adventure which led us to wanting to be on a ship that provided the most opportunity to get on the ice as often as we could. So yes the larger ships were not considered, and it was agony because they look sooooooo good.
We booked thru chimu (but out local agent would have been fine) and we choose G Adventures. We had a fellow passenger who was a travel agent who specializes is Antarctica and he said it was the best cruise he had ever done after over 20 cruises, maybe he was right. We were blessed with brilliant weather and drake lake on the forward (but a little rough on the return).
Best of luck MR61.
 

og

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I have done 2 trips to Antarctica. The first was on the Kapitan Khlebnikov (Stanley to Christchurch via the Peninsula, Peter 1 Island, Ross Sea, McMurdo, Campbell Island) and the second was on Sea Adventurer that did Ushuaia, Falklands, South Georgia, Peninsula and back to Ushuaia. Both were “small” ships (about 100 pax) and did numerous zodiac landings. The KK also had helicopters that ferried us around. I’d strongly recommend “small” ships and something with the best ice strength rating. The KK was a true ice breaker and could cut through 2 m of ice. It was the “go to” ship that could rescue anything in trouble. On our recent trip (Sea Adventurer), it had a dodgy engine that reduced our speed and caused the crew serious stress - but we made it home on schedule and demonstrated that 2 engines are better than one! In rough weather, the Sea Adventurer crew block the lounge forward windows with timber panels to protect from waves - rendering a zero view for this period. We were also told of a recent Ponant trip that had an engine room fire that triggered a total evacuation of the ship about 2 days away from the Falklands. The Falkland shop keepers apparently sold all their souvenir clothing as the ship refugees had to leave all their gear on board! My other comment is to allow a couple of days buffer after any tour (especially if arrives back into USH) as winds can close the harbour port or airport for days at a time. Oh, and if I ever do another trip, I’d only want to go to South Georgia - head and shoulders more interesting than the Falklands or the Antarctic Peninsula.
 

Reto

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Look at Hurtigruten (Norwegian company with specifically design ships like MS FRAM). I have been to Antarctica three times over the past 10 years, always with Hurtigruten and always on a different route, but always starting in South America. Well equipped ships with no entertainment, fantastic food and very experienced expedition personnel.
 
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I've also done 2 Antarctic trips and if I win the lottery any time soon, I'd go again.

My first trip was from NZ to the Ross Sea region, including the explorers' huts and the NZ and USA bases, and my 2nd trip was from Ushuaia to the peninsula, South Georgia and flew back from Stanley, Falkland Is to Chile. Both trips were on small expedition ships, sister ships in fact so they were almost identical, carrying only 54 passengers. The ships were small, tough, clean and with basic facilities, but the food was great and had everything you need and for me, added to the adventure.

According to the rules for tourism in Antarctica, ships can only land 100 people at a time, so if there are more than that on your ship, you have to take turns. If there aren't too many more I don't think it would be an issue, because we did plenty of zodiac cruises anyway and they're great (cold) fun.

The Ross Sea trip was fantastic, but involved a LOT of sea days and rough at that! Also, I don't think there was the same amazing mass of wildlife. My peninsula trip was with Aurora Expeditions and I'd thoroughly recommend them, but not if you're looking for luxury - unless you wait until they pension off the 'Polar Pioneer' and bring on the new 'Greg Mortimer'.
 

drron

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Also remember that nature can intervene.As well as the passenger mix.When we did our South georgia cruise we were in Stanley harbour with a Quark ship.met a few aussies on the Quark and they thought it there worst cruise ever.The great majority of the pax were a large Chinese group.They were scheduled to have 3 days around South Georgia but the weather was atrocious.no landings and came back to the Falklands a day early.
Another place to consider are the NZ and Australian sub antarctic islands.We visited Macquarie island on our Antarctic cruise.On board was a Linblad captain-they took over the Orion which we were on.He said Macquarie island is Australia's South Georgia.Having now visited both I know he is right.
Ponant are doing a couple of subantarctic island cruises.
 

mel1

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Joined
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Posts
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Good evening Australian Frequent Flyer Team,

I have spent several hours over several days doing a deep dive - so to speak - into expedition cruises to Antartica. My partner and I have looked at smaller, older, refurbished ice breaker vessels with 20 day itineraries offered through Chimu Adventures, and the newer, finer ships with extra creature comforts offered by Ponant. We are considering a 16 night trip on Ponant L'Austral in February 2020, Beyond the Polar Circle, which covers Falklands, South Georgia and the Antarctica Peninsula up to the Antarctic Polar Circle. Have any of you travelled this route, and if so, can you offer any advice and/or insights for newbies to Antarctica and Ponant ? Thank you in advance.
 
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smckay

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Hi MR

We did that trip this January/February so I can offer you all the advice you need.
Firstly this was our first cruise to Antarctica, and our first 5 star cruise so I can't make comparisons but I can comment on our experience.
I found Ponant to be excellent from the first phone call to walking (very reluctantly) off the ship, which was Le Soleal.

We differed from most in that we got our own way to Ushuaia; this saved us about $1,000 but it also meant we were not up at 3am on the day of departure in Buenos Aires to catch a 4am flight. Suffice to say, the first night a lot of people were in bed early the night before. It's not something they advertise but it is an option. We were travelling elsewhere after the cruise so going back to BA was not an option for us and Ponant were fine with that.
The wildlife; a lot of people advised you need to do South Georgia for the wildlife and it makes sense because it's not that far or expensive to do it. Another benefit is you don't cross the Drake Passage going there so sea's are smaller. We did get a storm coming through so we did get some high sea's but only for one night.

Falkland & South Georgia wildlife is great. Lots of penguins, plenty of space to wander and plenty of time to do it. This is not 'Antarctica' so the whole ship goes ashore. Plenty of interesting things to see; ruins, whaler settlements, rookeries, this list goes on. In Grytviken there is a really great settlement with buildings, ruins, etc that will amuse you for hours. There is a shop there with lots of things to buy so make sure you take cash or card as you are supporting the locals who hang around there rebuilding it.

The Antarctic peninsula and islands are what attracted me. I wanted to see big ice, snow, glaciers, etc so I enjoyed here.
The 100 person rule is well managed by Ponant - once 100 on land is reached they will either run around the bay in a Zodiac or they stagger the landing times and time ashore so everyone gets a go. I never heard anyone complain they felt dudded.
Once such landing we spent an hour or so slowly cruising a bay full of 'bergs, land formations, and landscape that was just as good as the land part. We had an added bonus - our engine died and we spent about 20 minutes in total silence just soaking up the scenery. Being a mechanic I knew what the issue was, told the guide how to fix it and then sat back and didn't worry. Never, ever felt concerned.

Guides - what an excellent bunch of people. All of them were passionate, knowledgeable, friendly, approachable and willing. What made them standout to me but, is a day when we needed to cross a stream that became a small, shallow river with fast water. 3 of them stood knee deep in rushing water for 4 hours holding a rope for all the passengers to cross, with assistance from 2 other guides. That is above and beyond for me.
They were also pretty laid back - rules around animals were enforced well but not to the point that is became a bad experience. One time a guide stood over a baby penguin who was asleep on the side of the path. Normally with animals you cannot approach more than 5 metres unless they approach you; It was just a matter of look and see but don't do anything else as you walked past with this little tacker. That may not sound right but they had the animals welfare foremost but also had common sense.

The ship - 5 star. Everything was immaculate, in place and working. Being a small ship you got to know the crew well. We had a favoured buy guy who we followed when he changed bars (there are 2 - one at the front which is a lounge with glass windows and one at the back in the main lounge which is less cosy)
Food - damn they had some good food. Fresh, tasty, tender, plenty of it, variety. Every meal had at least 4-5 courses from starter, main, salads, dessert and cheese. If you like cheese then you will have at least 5 types to choose from.

Entertainment - yes they have a theatre and yes they have shows but it's not the focus. Most days start early and the people on the ship are there for the experience outside not inside. I think we went to 2 nights. The main lounge had a (bad) duet but low key. To be honest, we spent most of our nights in the upstairs restaurant enjoying new friends and food, then off to bed.

Being an all inclusive ship you don't pay for anything, bar premium wines and alcohol and the gift shop. A lot of experienced cruisers on board loved the fact that you signed for nothing or showed your cabin card. Want to get a round of drinks for your table of 6? just get Nicholas the var tender to bring them over.

The crew were up to the 5 star level. Not sure how many days in but when I walked in the bar my beer was ready, at the meal times I had either coffee, water or booze bought to me without asking. You don't get that on P&O.

Some downsides for me, personally: I wanted to see Antarctica the continent along with the ice formations. I found the landings prior to that similar to what you'd see anywhere; hills, snow on them, bit barren. I enjoyed them, but I enjoyed standing on Antarctica better
We had 4 hours on the Antarctic peninsula. 3 days were on Antarctic Islands but I didn't rate them as the continent. Just my opinion and it's what I wanted from the cruise.
Laundry is charged if you are a first timer on Ponant.
Alcohol was interesting - a good range of spirits and coughtails were offered as part of the open bar, but only 3 beers - Heineken, Budweiser and a local choice - and the base wines were very base. Decent wine but about 8 bucks in the shops.

So, to end my ramble I totally recommend Ponant, the longer cruise and the whole deal. I would go back again and again. The price and 5 star I don't think meant poor expedition experiences. The guides got in and worked for us, the passengers and made sure we got the best experience available on the day. When you look at the inclusions, the quality and the end result the price is worth paying. We met a lot of people who were on Ponant for the first time and said it walked all over the other products.
 

rodblech

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Dec 11, 2013
Posts
6
Good evening Australian Frequent Flyer Team,

I have spent several hours over several days doing a deep dive - so to speak - into expedition cruises to Antartica. My partner and I have looked at smaller, older, refurbished ice breaker vessels with 20 day itineraries offered through Chimu Adventures, and the newer, finer ships with extra creature comforts offered by Ponant. We are considering a 16 night trip on Ponant L'Austral in February 2020, Beyond the Polar Circle, which covers Falklands, South Georgia and the Antarctica Peninsula up to the Antarctic Polar Circle. Have any of you travelled this route, and if so, can you offer any advice and/or insights for newbies to Antarctica and Ponant ? Thank you in advance.
We did a trip with Quark Expeditions in February on the Island Sky.The cabins were fantastic and the maximum number of passengers is 100.The big advantage is that you flew from Punta Arenas to King George Island thus avoiding the infamous Drake Passage and you got an extra two days in Antartica.You also crossed the Antartic Circle .The travel convention in Antartica is that a maximum of 50 people can only land at a certain location at any one time .With 100 people 50 would land and 50 would cruise the coastline.If you were on a larger ship it could take all day to let everybody on shore.We were able to do two different locations per day or spend a longer time onshore
 
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We did a trip with Quark Expeditions in February on the Island Sky.The cabins were fantastic and the maximum number of passengers is 100.The big advantage is that you flew from Punta Arenas to King George Island thus avoiding the infamous Drake Passage and you got an extra two days in Antartica.You also crossed the Antartic Circle .The travel convention in Antartica is that a maximum of 50 people can only land at a certain location at any one time .With 100 people 50 would land and 50 would cruise the coastline.If you were on a larger ship it could take all day to let everybody on shore.We were able to do two different locations per day or spend a longer time onshore
Island Sky looks like it’s not part of Quark anymore. It’s not listed for upcoming Antarctic trips and I see it’s now used by APT. I only had a quick look so may well be wrong. :rolleyes:
 

mrs.dr.ron

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Posts
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We cruise a fair bit and we went on one cruise on the Caledonian Sky - an APT Botanica - Cherry Blossoms in Japan cruise. You couldn't get me on that ship or any APT trip/cruise ever again after that !!


The three "Sky" ships are leased out regularly =
" London-based Noble Caledonia is primarily a tour operator, offering ocean and river cruises on small ships. The structure of Noble Caledonia, which was founded in 1991, is slightly complicated. The three "Sky" expedition ships, Island Sky, Caledonian Sky and Hebridean Sky, belong to Gothenburg-based Salen Ship Management, which also has a stake in Noble Caledonia. The ships are on long-term charter to Noble but also go out on occasional short charters to other operators including Australian-owned APT (which in turn has a minority share in Noble Caledonia)."

Best Cruise Ships: Cruise Ship Companies & Featured Ships - Cruise Critic

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There are a lot of cruise operators out there and if you have the time researching these cruise forums is a good idea. Just remember some of the reviews are paid content.
 

Jennifer Cook

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Mar 29, 2016
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I really recommend One Ocean Expeditions on the Academik Ioffe if you are not really a 'cruise person' and care more about wildlife and the experience of the place than happy hour. It was small (100 people) so you could disembark regularly and not have to queue for ages - only 100 people can disembark at any one time on the Antarctic peninsula. I joined the kayaking group and it was an amazing experience.
That said, I would try and book direct through One Ocean Expeditions or an agent other than Chimu Adventures - they messed up the disembarkation date on my itinerary and I spent the last day at sea trying to get through to airlines and hotels on the satellite phone to change my plans. Chimu did the bare minimum to compensate me, and nothing to assist with changing plans, it was very poor service considering the cost of the trip.
 
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Posts
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I really recommend One Ocean Expeditions on the Academik Ioffe if you are not really a 'cruise person' and care more about wildlife and the experience of the place than happy hour. It was small (100 people) so you could disembark regularly and not have to queue for ages - only 100 people can disembark at any one time on the Antarctic peninsula. I joined the kayaking group and it was an amazing experience.
That said, I would try and book direct through One Ocean Expeditions or an agent other than Chimu Adventures - they messed up the disembarkation date on my itinerary and I spent the last day at sea trying to get through to airlines and hotels on the satellite phone to change my plans. Chimu did the bare minimum to compensate me, and nothing to assist with changing plans, it was very poor service considering the cost of the trip.

Indeed, we love the One Ocean ships as well, in addition to the Ioffe and Sergey Vavilov they've also now added the Resolute to their fleet, which used to operate very successfully as Happy Lloyd's Hanseatic, although ti is a bit larger at 146 passengers. What a pain in the rear end that date stuff up must have been, can imagine your frustration at having to change everything en route.
 
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