|Seabourn Quest’s 225 suites each have a private balcony, offering a vantage point to watch penguins and massive icebergs.|
If you’re thinking a three-week trip to Antarctica isn’t like other cruises — you’re right, especially if you’re aboard the Seabourn Quest. For starters, there is destination itself: dramatic, stark, otherworldly. The air is cleaner, the sun’s rays, unfiltered by buildings or pollution, is brighter, and the ice is bluer. The compacted glacier ice radiates a cool, almost glowing, blue hue. And that’s before you’ve even set foot on the continent.
Then there is the expedition team. The Seabourn Quest has a staff of 25. There are biologists and geologists, historians and anthropologists, plus a pair of ace nature photographers. Every day, there are lectures and presentations on topics such as seabird research along the Antarctic Peninsula and the race to the South Pole; at night there are recaps of the day’s sightings and a preview of what’s to come. The Result: Passengers feel like explorers rather than ordinary cruisers.
|Mid-day meals onboard Seabourn Quest are more often than not outdoor affairs, either at the Patio Grill or the Colonnade.|
Though, it’s worth mentioning that the Seabourn Quest is quite a bit plusher than the ships that delivered Scott, Amundsen and Byrd to Antarctica. Each of the 225 suites has a palatial bathroom with a shower and a tub, a walk-in closet, and a private balcony from which to watch porpoising penguins and massive mile-long icebergs. In-room entertainment is so extensive, it might be tempting to hole up and watch the “March of the Penguins” or the latest blockbuster while snug in your bed. But the Quest really excels in areas like the Seabourn Square, the ship commons, where you can order a mochaccino, peruse the extensive library, or read the paper on an iPad while taking in the pods of whales flashing their tails.
There are also decks, pools and Jacuzzis here, there and everywhere, so that you can spend each day exploring a different nook of the ship — though our favorite spot to while away a few hours is the Observation Deck. In the mornings, you might go over the navigation charts with one of the expedition leaders. In the afternoons, there’s tea and biscuits, and at night, cocktails and piano music.
Life on Board
Pre/Post Antarctica: The days before and after Antarctica are similar to what you might expect on other cruises. Passengers have the option to explore port cities on their own or book an expedition, which might be a city tour in destinations like Buenos Aires or Montevideo, or a 4x4 tour over peat bogs to see the King penguins in the Falkland Islands (well worth it, even if you think you’re all penguined out). The last call for embarkation is sometime in the late afternoon, in time for a pre-dinner cocktail at one of the ship’s six bars and lounges.
|Zodiac tours and Land excursions give cruisers the opportunity to appreciate Antarctica’s wildlife, including various kinds of penguins and seals.|
Days at Sea: It’s worth noting that it takes some time to get to and from Antarctica. The itinerary allows for two days on the way down, two on the way from Antarctica to the Falklands, and two more from the Falklands to Montevideo. On the way down, you’ll cross the Drake Passage, which can be quite rough, but on our sailing was so calm the crew called it “the Drake Lake.” There’s still plenty to do — bridge classes and trivia, movie nights in the Grand Salon with popcorn and champagne, fitness classes and an impressive gym with treadmills, stationary bikes and elliptical machines, as well as free weights. This is also a good time to take advantage of the spa, which offers everything from facials and massages to more innovative treatments like a detoxifying wrap that involves being submerged into a water cocoon and lulling into relaxation.
In Antarctica: The days in Antarctica are the most exciting and the most impressive from an operations perspective. This is Seabourn’s second year in Antarctica, but you might think they’ve been organizing excursions for a decade or more. Guests are organized into colors and each color has a call time. From the time your group is called until you board the zodiac and make for the shore almost never takes longer than 15 minutes. It is a well-oiled machine: Passengers, kitted in their arctic garb, enter the grand salon, get fitted with life jackets, then proceed to put on their boots. You’ll descend to the disembarkation bay, have your armband swiped by a staff member, rinse your boots, and be on your way.
Passengers: Seabourn has a loyal following among cruisers and during our sailing, there were plenty of repeat guests and expert cruisers who had been everywhere from the Adriatic to Africa and Australia — and now Antarctica. Many onboard were continuing on from Buenos Aires, after which the ship spends another couple weeks along the coast of Brazil and the Amazon before ending in Fort Lauderdale. There were also relative newbies, who had been on a cruise or two, as well as a handful of first-time cruisers. For nearly everyone, this trip was a once-in-a-lifetime, bucket-list-worthy experience.
Dining: It’s cold in Antarctica — but not nearly as frigid as you might expect. On our sailing, the temperature hovered in the high 30s, even into the 40s, save one day when it snowed. Even then, mid-day meals are more often than not outdoor affairs, either at the Patio Grill, where guests bundled in their bright orange parkas might order a beer to go with their hamburger and thick-cut fries, or at the Colonnade, where thick, wool blankets, French rose and a rotating buffet of cuisine kept the chill at bay. You might also dine indoors at the Colonnade, or opt for lunch at the formal Restaurant, but we were more inclined to save the Restaurant for dinner, when our attire was more likely to match the setting. The creative tasting menu at Restaurant 2 should be done at least once, as we waited until the last minute to make reservations, we didn’t dine there until the very last night — it was a fitting finale.
Insider Intel: It’s entirely possible to have champagne and Ossetra caviar every night at The Club on the fifth floor — you need only ask. But our favorite pre-dinner spot was the aforementioned Observation Deck. And our preferred combination was an aperol spritz and potato chips, though we did occasionally mix it up with mixed nuts and a Manhattan.
If you’re feeling peckish at all during the days at sea, the consommé is the way to go. Our advice? Get it delivered to your room with some ginger beer and crackers, open up the door to your private patio for some fresh air and put on a movie. And for a late-night snack, in-suite pizza is the way to go.
Technology: There is Internet onboard, offered by-the-hour or for the duration of the cruise, and there are workstations in the Seabourn Square. Some days, reception was better than others, but we found that guests were more likely to be puzzling, out on deck with binoculars, or just enjoying a hot chocolate than checking e-mail. We found ourselves checking e-mail once a day — and no more. After all, if there’s a time to be disconnected, it’s when you are literally at the end of the world.
Stargazing: The Sun Terrace on Deck 11 was closed for much of the journey, but once we cruised into warmer climes, we found the stairs un-roped and wandered up. At night, the sun deck is virtually empty and the ideal place to lie back and look up at the stars. We guarantee you’ve never seen them like this.
Daily excursions in Antarctica are weather-dependent. You’ll spend six days in Antarctica and therefore have six opportunities to go ashore. On our sailing in mid-February, there was only one day when the wind speed prevented us from landing.
The following day’s activities were announced during nightly briefings. Some days were landing-only days, i.e. you went from the ship to Antarctica via zodiac and then back. Other days, there was the opportunity to do a zodiac tour in addition to a landing. Land excursions lasted for 90 minutes, which was more than enough time to explore the well-marked trails the expedition crew set out; zodiac tours lasted an hour, so that in total, the longest excursions were two-and-a-half hours, or about three-and-a-half hours from the time it took to put on all your gear to when you were back in your suite and into normal clothes.
The highlight of the land excursions was the penguins. There are opportunities to see Adelies, Gentoos, Magellanic and Chinstrap penguins and while the first time is indeed magical, they really don’t get old. We found we could never have enough pictures or videos of penguins strutting along the “penguin highways.” That said, it’s important to put your camera down sometimes and just take notice of where you are!
Earlier in the season, you’ll see fluffy chicks; in mid-late February, the chicks were mostly grown and had started shedding their fluffy coats in preparation for their first swim. You’ll also see all variety of seals — crab, tiger, fur — on land, but more likely, from the zodiac. On our last day, we must have spotted dozens of seals lazing on icebergs, getting some shut-eye before hunting for their next meal. We saw humpback whales too — they were out en masse — and albatross and other seabirds, but no orcas. We’re pretty sure no one minded.
Our favorite days were when we were able to do a zodiac tour and a land excursion and we talked to expedition staff who hinted at other possibilities (kayak excursions!) in the future. That might just merit a repeat visit.