Cruise Specialists hosts Steve and Wendy Bodenhemier are taking us along on another amazing journey. We hope this series shows you what you can expect on a Holland America Grand Voyage. First was the kick off, then Costa Rica, the Panama Canal, Chile, Patagonia, and now the next stop in their Grand South America & Antarctica Voyage (next voyage January 2018).
It will be impossible to adequately describe our experiences of three days in Antarctica. This is the highlight of the Voyage for many of us and we can definitely say it exceeded expectations. Temperatures in the low 30’s; no fog; a short snow shower that delighted; sun and reasonable winds – we couldn’t ask for more.
Let’s get the adjectives out of the way up front: spectacular, awe-inspiring, humbling, stunning, jaw-dropping, serene, exciting, overwhelming, beautiful, grand, majestic.
This is the land of ice, in massive quantities, but it’s so much more. Here are some scenes from our visit to the frozen continent.
We see two zodiacs racing across the water toward our ship. On board are a small bunch of Palmerites – the people who live at Palmer station – the smallest of the three U.S. research stations in Antarctica.
The group has come to spend the day on the ship and tell us about life in this remote place. They live quite comfortably with a full time chef, a doctor, a gym, a movie room, and fully equipped labs of all kinds for the scientific work that is the reason they are here.
We in turn send them home with cases of beer, soda, wine, fresh milk, and produce . . . and a good supply of snack food. We can only see their station from a distance with binoculars – it is not safe for us to get any closer.
We’re sailing through the Gerlache Strait to the Lemaire Channel. Ice flows often clog this fjord and prevent passage through, but not today. It’s amazingly beautiful with almost vertical high icy peaks closing in on both sides of the ship.
We’re thinking- we can’t possibly be going through that narrow passage!! But yes we are. In a hold your breath few moments, we pass through and can almost reach out and touch the icy structures we are passing. Then you look up and see the glacial ice hanging over the high cliffs, looking like it is ready to fall just where we are. Heavy sighs and applause for the fine navigating by our Captain and crew. This is the season of icebergs – literally all shapes and sizes.
We floated through massive fields of them, many are more than a mile long and over 200 feet high. These have broken off the massive ice sheet hundreds of miles away and drifted south to the Antarctic Sound where they get stuck, often for years.
It’s not often that the waters are calm enough to clearly reflect the surrounding peaks and icebergs, but that was one of the prettiest and most unusual scenes of this adventure. This phenomena is referred to as mirror seas.
A hungry leopard seal is stalking in the water just on the edge of an ice flow where two unsuspecting penguins are resting. We watch the seal try to surprise what he hopes is his next meal, but they see him and back away further on to the ice. Safe for now. A pure white bird with a black beak is flying back and forth in front of the ship. Our naturalist identifies it as the snow petral, found only in Antarctica.
We enter Paradise Bay and are surrounded in every direction by humpback whales. They have traveled here from places like Hawaii to take advantage of the extraordinary opportunities to feed on krill. Some jump completely out of the water, some slap the water with their fins as if playing a drum, others lift their heads out as if to look around. These are behaviors we haven’t seen.
Then we see what look like two huge trees floating on the surface of the bay not far from the ship. But there are no trees in Antarctica, so it can’t be trees. As we quietly go closer, we realize they are two sleeping whales – a very unusual sighting.
Someone on the bridge counted 39 whales sighted in 5 minutes, a banner day for wildlife! A group of about 50 penguins are occupying a random ice flow. They’re standing in a random pattern, not doing anything that we can identify.
As if someone gave them orders, they all turned to face the same direction, lined up single file across the length of the flow, and dove in one at a time off the left edge. They certainly know how to organize.
Signs of Life
Entering Hope Bay, there are a group of orange buildings ahead of us. We’re told it is the Esperanza Station, an Argentinian research facility that operates year round. What is startling is that they share this little part of the world with TENS OF THOUSANDS of pairs of Adelie penguins.
As we get closer, you make out the individual penguins just standing all over, some are walking up a nearby icy hill, others are lined up near the shore as if they are getting ready to jump in, some are porpoising (they look like porpoises as they swim) toward open water to feed. We can hear them clearly and smell them even more. So that is just a brief summary of our Antarctic experience.
We passed several small boats out exploring and some lucky people will actually get into zodiacs and set foot on this magnificent and still unknown continent. Although we are not able to land from a ship of our size, we didn’t feel we had missed anything.
See the next Grand South America and Antarctica Voyage >>
Cruise consultant Matt Caplinger can help answer your questions about cruising Antarctica or a Grand Voyage!