After the overnight flight to Buenos Aires, we arrived at the Sofitel Recoleta where we were greeted by Ponant representatives. We checked into our room with early check in (pre-arranged by Ponant) and headed to the Ponant area for a welcome coffee. After a quick lunch at the hotel’s café - La Patisserie, we enjoyed a 4-hour tour of Buenos Aires which we had pre booked separately. We visited Casa Rosada, Plaza de Mayo, Cathedral Metropolitana, Boca Juniors and the Caminito area.
Although the following day began with an early start, you could tell that excitement was in the air as pre-arranged coaches collected all guests taking us to the airport for our flight to Ushuaia. On arrival in Ushuaia, we were we were taken to a ski resort for a traditional lunch of lamb BBQ, potatoes and salad followed by a dessert of local berry and white chocolate ice cream. Next, we had a quick stop at the Ushuaia sign before boarding Le Boreal.
As we embarked we were welcomed with a glass of champagne whilst checking in and then shown to our cabin and introduced to our cabin stewardess. Before departure we had a welcome meeting and safety drill.
The next 36 hours were spent settling in and crossing the Drake Passage. The Ponant schedule allows time for adjustments to the itinerary to help cross this passage of water at the optimum point. During this time, we also had meetings with the captain and expedition leader, an IAATO (International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators) meeting, a boots and parka fitting and a Bio security cleaning of our outdoor clothes, all adding to the excitement of our first landing.
We arrived at our first port of call around lunchtime which was our first landing - Half Moon Island, South Shetland Islands. Once ashore, we had just over an hour to explore and we saw fur seals, chinstrap and gentoo penguins. At the end of each day, there was a daily briefing with a small presentation by the expedition team to discuss what was seen in the days outing along with what was to come on the following day.
The next day we arrived at the Antarctic peninsula, it was stunning, something pictures just don’t do justice. Over the next 5 days we visited several points via landings and zodiac cruises and witnessed Fur, Crabeater, Weddell and Leopard Seals, Humpback, Beaked and Minke Whales and Chinstrap, Adelie and Gentoo Penguin colonies. We even got to see a Leopard Seal extremely close up when it popped its head up right by the side of the zodiac. You get so close to the wildlife you can hear them breathe or, in our case, a seal snoring whilst on the ice.
And wildlife, whilst a very important part, is not the only unbelievable part of this journey; the scenery changing with the natural light, experiencing ice calvings, manoeuvring between the ice on a Zodiac, hearing the ice pop as it melts releasing air bubbles and to see the magnificent shapes of the ice.
We were also fortunate enough to have a scenic cruise along the Lemaire channel - the captain of the vessel steered the ship between icebergs and cruising between stops did not disappoint either. Sitting on your balcony or eating dinner and watching a humpback whale beside the ship was magnificent and happened several times so there were always chances if you missed one sighting.
What’s great about Ponant is the care and time clearly taken into giving guests the best experience whilst remaining safe. Le Boreal was immaculate inside and out and the food and drink was exceptional with a huge variety to choose from. The crew were attentive, friendly and always with a smile. You can see the expedition team members still get excited when they witness the scenery and wildlife alongside you which adds to the realisation that you are witnessing something not many people get to see.
Summary of Landings
Monday - Half Moon Island, South Shetland
Bio Security Cleaning of Clothes
Cross English Strait
Landing Half Moon Island - Fur Seals, Chinstrap Penguins, Gentoo Penguins, Brown Skua
Tuesday - Portal Point and Charlotte Bay
Landing Portal Point - Fur Seals and Hike
Charlotte Bay Zodiac Cruise - Humpback Whales, Leopard Seal, Minke Whale
Wednesday - Paradise Bay with Almirante Brown Base and Cuverville Island
Paradise Bay Zodiac Cruise - Gentoo Penguins, Crabeater Seal, Leopard Seal.
Landing Cuverville Island - Gentoo Penguin Colony, Fur Seal.
Thursday - Zodiac Cruise Boregen Bay, Scenic Cruising Lemaire Channel and Port Charcot
Boregen Bay Zodiac Cruise - Crabeater Seal, Ice Carvings
Scenic Cruising Lemaire Channel
Landing Port Charcot - Gentoo Penguins, Adelie Penguins
Friday - Damoy and Visit Argentinian Refuge Hut and Mourreau Flanders Bay
Landing Damoy - Gentoo Penguin Colony and Baby Chicks
Mourreau Zodiac Cruise - Crabeater, Leopard and Weddell Seals. Humpback and Beak Whales.
Saturday - Whalers Bay and Telefon Bay Deception Island
Landing in Whalers Bay - Active Volcano. Gentoo Penguins and Fur Seals.
Landing in Telefon Bay - Hike Up Mountains