by Lara Dalrymple
I was recently lucky enough to be on the ‘Off The Beaten Track’ Antarctic Peninsula voyage which departed 8th November 2016. When I arrived at the port in the minibus with some of my fellow passengers to see the Akademik Ioffe there was definitely excitement in the air and we were all eager to set off on our adventure of a lifetime!
After boarding the ship we were handed a welcome drink and had some nibbles set out for us giving us all a good opportunity to get to know our new travel companions and crew. We were introduced to all the crew and briefed about what to expect of the following days and hours. After chatting with some of the other passengers and crew we headed for our cabin. On arrival I found our twin cabin with private bathroom to be very warm and comfortable with a good size window that proved fantastic for viewing wildlife out of. We also found our waterproof jackets and pants waiting for us in the sizes we requested. Had the size not been quite right we were told during the briefing that there would be an opportunity to exchange them for the right size. While unpacking our luggage and making ourselves comfortable the ship started and we were finally on our way to Antarctica.
Having made ourselves comfortable and taken some snaps of Ushuaia disappearing into the distance we were all called to dinner. The dinners and lunches are mostly a la carte with a different options each day. They always had a different soup as an entrée, then you can pick out of 3 different options for you main (there is always 1 vegetarian option) followed by a delicious dessert which was prepared by a pastry chef from Argentina. There is also a salad bar available during all lunch and dinner services. The breakfasts are buffet style with a fantastic selection of hot and cold food. I also noticed that they took special care of those passengers with dietary requirements.
The next 2 days was spent crossing Drake Passage which I found to be a lot less dramatic than I was expecting! While the boat did rock the Akademik Ioffe has one of the best stabilisation systems out of all the expedition ships that go to Antarctica and I really think that helped keep most of us out of bed during the days we spent on the Drake. During these days there was many experts speaking in the presentation room about their area of expertise. I particularly enjoyed the presentations run by the naturalists, and the historian. Also Dr Alan was particularly interesting having spent the past 30 years doing research and working in Antarctica! It didn’t take long to get to know the crew who were all super enthusiastic about what they do and even tho they have been to Antarctica many times still got just as excited as us every time we spotted wildlife! When I wasn’t being informed in a presentation I was usually up on the bridge with one of the naturalists and one of my favourite crew members ‘Dick’ looking for wildlife. You would be surprised how much you can see while crossing the Drake. My favourites were the great Albatross, fin whales and Orcas even in November!
Each and every day during breakfast, lunch and dinner we would be briefed on what the next part of the day held in store for us as well as regular announcements about where we needed to be and when. On the 3rd day finally it was announced that we would be making our first landing. When we arrived we all put on our warm and wet weather gear and got ready to board the Zodiacs. The Akademik loffe is one of the smaller vessels carrying only 98 passenger’s plus crew so the whole process from ship to landing I found to be very quick and efficient.
During the following days I tried snow shoeing, camping and even did the polar plunge (which is a VERY quick dip in the Antarctic ocean). They will always try to offer these options for you to try
where possible and I would recommend them all! You can also do kayaking for an extra cost although they do prefer if you have a little experience.
Some of my highlights during our 8 days exploring the Antarctic Peninsula were being re-routed due to weather which meant we got the opportunity to go to the Weddell Sea and experience the huge tabular icebergs that this region has to offer. Snow shoeing to the top of a glacier for some spectacular views! Seeing an Emperor Penguin which is very uncommon in that part of Antarctica and having a Minke Whale swim around our Zodiac for around half an hour giving us some incredible photo and video opportunities!
While those were the highlights the whole trip really was just incredible and I could not speak highly enough of the crew who always made sure we got the most out of our trip. Having the extra days was fantastic and really left me feeling as though I had the best chance to thoroughly explore this part of Antarctica. I would highly recommend traveling to Antarctica in November. While also being more cost effective it is the time of year when the continent is at its most pristine. You will see many penguins as they are starting to arrive in search of a mate. While it is not the season to see whales it is still possible, especially while crossing the Drake and it makes it a special experience when you do.
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