Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Seabourn's 2013-14 Antarctic-Patagonia-Chilean Fjord Cruises: Just About Everything You Wanted to Know, But Were Afraid to Ask...or Didn't Know What to Ask

This morning I had a really wonderful chat (not really an interview) with the Expedition Leaders for Seabourn's 2013-14 Antarctic-Patagonia-Chilean Fjord cruises, Robin West and Jarda Versloot-West, while they relaxed in Amsterdam.


First, if you have not done so, please read my first article, "Cruise to Antarctica - Seabourn Style". 


Now, before getting into the details, Robin and Jarda want you to understand that these cruises are going to be unique experiences for a number of reasons:
  • This is NEW cruise product as the Itineraries are not "just" Antarctica. 
      • While almost every other cruise to Antarctica sails to/from Ushuaia, Seabourn's itineraries combine the Chilean Fjords, Patagonia, the Falkland Islands or South Georgia Island, Uruguay and Buenos Aires.
  • The Seabourn Quest is the most modern, luxurious, technologically advanced cruise ship to visit Antarctica.
      • These are not your ordinary expedition cruises where you are ordering spaghetti bolonese or chicken for dinner; nor are you compromising on your accommodations; nor are you bobbing around on an older ship where comfort was not the first consideration when it was built.
  • Seabourn is offering a combination of not only naturalists and photography experts, but political, legal and paleantology and other experts (cruise dependent).
  • If you just want to walk a few steps and observe or even just cruise around in a Zodiac semi-rigid inflatable boat and never set foot on the land, those options will still leave you with a feeling of excitement and fulfillment.
With that preface, I have to tell you that Robin and Jarda are ethusiastic, charming and well experienced with both expedition leading and luxury travelers.  Robin, from South Africa, and Jarda, from Australia, are married and, more importantly, come off as a great team.  They have previoiusly been expedition leaders for both Orion Expeditions and Silversea Silver Explorer cruises and have, thus, lead 40 expeditions to date.  Also, while we discussed the "nitty gritty" of it all, what shown through was their love for being in Antarctica and experiencing news things every time...including the guests.

Here is a bonus if you were thinking about the 2013 Goldring Travel Food & Wine Cruise on November 13, 2013:  Robin and Jarda are going to be onboard the Seabourn Quest starting preparation for these cruises, so your adventure can begin early!  (We actually spoke of my love for nature and how we will be having a special Champagne and Caviar Event where Seabourn's evironmentally responsible supplier of aquacultured caviar is going to fly in some live sturgeon and fresh caviar to explain how luxury and environmental responsibility actually can work hand-in-hand. And, of course, I invited them to join us!)

Robin tells me he starts every Welcome Talk with the following statement:

Every holiday you take after this one will be:
Dissappointing, Dull and Boring!
 
I don't know about that, but I do know that when you set someone's expectations that high, it better be good...and disappointed guests are not an option.  So let's now delve into this bold statement and why Robin, Jarda and Seabourn are so enthusastic about these cruises.

What is the cruising going to be like?  Rest easy, the Drake Passage has a bad reputation and Seabourn's Captain Bjarne Larsen is highly qualified and experienced.  According to Robin and Jarda, 9 out of 10 passages (which only last a day and half) are calm to fairly calm and the waters in Antarctica are protected and calm.  Also, you will be sailing on one of the most modern designed and steadiest cruise ships in existence (and certainly more comfortable than an expedition ship).  The Chilean fjords are equally as calm.  My readers will recall I was just on a Caribbean cruise where we had days of seas; something that was hardly worth it...and something millions of cruise passengers endure without a thought.  Would I "risk" a day or two of those to visit Antarctica?  Absolutely...especially with 9 out of ten passages being nothing of note.

What is it that you are going to see?   The best answer is:  It depends on when you want to go and what you want to look at.  If you choose the November 20th sailing you will find breathtaking vistas of white and snow (just like you imagine Antarctica) with penguins still incubating their eggs.  You will see many male seals and some minke whales and killer whales (OK, they aren't actually whales, but you call them that.). 


As this cruises sails on you will be in the late spring with the winter snow melt just finishing in the Chilean fjords. You should read Bruce Good's (Seabourn's Public Relations guru) article on his journey here.


As the cruises continue into the season, some will see the Penguin Highway as the birds following a well-worn path walking to and returning from the sea, and then when the snow in the Antarctic melts stones and rocks appear, as do the quickly growing penguin chicks...with one parent always watching them (to their both going to sea to gather enough food leaving the chicks unattended); while the variety of seals increases as do the number and types of whales.  The Chilean fjords warm up, the sweaters (jumpers) are peeled off and the outdoor options increase.


Robin points out there is one very special cruise departing December 11, 2013.  It stops in South Georgia Island for two days; a place considered to have some of the most abundant seabird habitats on earth with an estimate of over 30,000,000 breeding pairs.  Six species of penguins, four species of albatross, numerous petrels (including burrowing), waterfowl, and more. And, of course, fur seals...lots of fur seals.  You want to get Robin and Jarda excited?  Talk about South Georgia Island.

How are you going to see all of this?  Believe it or not, Robin explains that this is the last thing you need to worry about.  Seabourn has invested in some pretty nice Zodiac semi-rigid inflatable boats that will be stored in the specially modified marina of the Seabourn Quest. 


The Robin and Jarda's Expedition Team has many years of experience assisting guests ranging from "ardent explorers" to wheelchair bound "enthusiasts" to the "timidly kinda-sorta interested".

Regulations require that no more than 100 people be on land at any one particular time, so Seabourn has created a schedule of 90 people divided into five groups visiting for one to one and one-half (1.0 - 1.5) hour landings on each of the five landing days scheduled.  Robin's experience is that
  • Some people will be more than pleased with a quick landing, a photograph proving it (wearing the Seabourn provided parka which you get to keep as a souvenir) and then a Zodiac shuttle back to the ship to for a Champagne toast.
  • Some people will be happy to find a spot close to the landing site and sit there for 30 minutes or so and then take a Zodiac shuttle back to the ship.
  • Some people will forego the landing, or supplement it, with a bit of a Zodiac tour of the area.
  • Some will partake in some vigorous hikes (up to 45 minutes) to outstanding vistas and nesting areas using every precious minute of their alotted time.
  • And, like me, there are those that just can't get enough and find that observing...just observing...over an extended period is nirvana.  (Dunno.  Maybe there will be small sydicate selling landing slots!?  Only kidding, I am sure there will be opportunities.)
Who are you going to see this with?  Because the Seabourn Quest is larger (and more luxurious), it has the abilty to comfortable host quite a diverse group of specialists in addition to the extraordinary Seabourn staff and crew.  But rather than list the photogaphy coaches, legal and political experts, naturalists, scientists, etc. when you can read about them here,  I want to mention your fellow guests

Robin and Jarda explained that because you will not all be going off on different excursions, but rather will be sharing similar ones a very exciting and interesting thing happens:  You share.  You compare.  You learn from each other.  In essence you become a more cohesive group...without being a group or having your privacy invaded.  "What a great photo!  Do you want to see my picture taken from a different angle?", "Did you see that seal with her pup?" "Those penguins sliding around on the ice were hysterical, weren't they?"

Or, possibly, just sitting out on deck with a Seabourn blanket on your lap and a hot chocolate in your hand, quietly admiring the scenery that is bigger than anything you could capture on a camera and too beautiful to really explain to your friends and family back home, you look at your fellow Seabourn guest and just giving a nod.  A great moment to share without saying a word.

What do you need to bring along? OK, this isn't packing four suitcases for a luxury cruise in the Mediterranean.  The weather can change from short sleeve shirts to parkas in no time.  You can get wet and cold.  "I mean what do I pack?!" The answer is it is far easier to pack for an Antarctic cruise than it is for the Med!  Jarda and Robin have a number of suggestions.
  • Pack keeping layering in mind.  That does not mean 10 layers, but rather two or three smart layers.  It is amazing how warm you can be with an UnderArmour t-shirt, a fleece pullover and a waterproof outerlayer or parka.  There is no fashion show...the Seabourn provided parka is a fashion statement all its own...and you don't even have to pack it.
  • Leave those rubber overboots at home.  Not only don't they work, Seabourn is providing everyone with a loaner pair of the correct footwear for your expedition landings. 
  • Bring two good pairs of gloves.  Trust me, as a skier I know that those waterproof gloves are anything but, so while one pair dries out in your suite you have another warm and dry pair to use.  (Leave those woolen mittens and fashionable leather gloves you love on the ship!)
  • Bring extra camera batteries.  The cold wreaks havoc with batteries.  One that lasts for days in warm climates may well die in an hour or so when its cold.  And store the second battery next to your body, not an outside pocket!
  • Bring Handwarmers.  According to Jarda it is one of the world's greatest inventions.  I agree. You cannot pack enough.  I also recommend you purchase gloves with a slot in the back made specifically for them.
  • Bring Memory Cards. Robin observed that on the first landing he has seen people take over 500 photographs.  They are very inexpensive, so bring extras.  That will keep you from having to sort through your photos in a panic trying to find space while you are looking at something spectacular. 
But as I mentioned this cruise is not just about Antarctica, so you will be able to retire to the Seabourn luxury you love, pealing off those jeans and boots, dressing for dinner and enjoying a contrast in environments that, frankly, only a rare few will ever be able to experience.  Don't you just want to raise a glass of champagne to that alone?

Honestly, this is one of the hardest articles I have ever written.  Why?  Because I already feel myself being dragged off the Seabourn Quest on November 20th, kicking and screaming, because I will be so close to taking this dream travel experience. 

Maybe I will just stay on.  My wife will understand? My kids are getting older, so they will be fine?  I can still take care of my clients while I am at sea? 

I'm thinking about it. 

Are you?

Prices starting at US$14,999 (+ $608.88 in taxes). For more information or to book your Antarctic Experience contact Goldring Travel today!

Please email me at eric@goldringtravel.com or telephone at (877) 2GO-LUXURY or in the UK: 020 8133 3450 or Australia: (07) 3102 4685 or elsewhere Internationally: +1 732 578 8585.