The Ultimate Antarctica Experience - Quest for the Circle
Next DepartureFeb. 18, 2024
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, Kayaking, Lectures, Photography, Zodiac
Looking for excitement? A true expedition experience? Join this unique adventure where we have NO SET ITINERARY, and the rhythms of the sea, ice and wildlife will lead us to adventure.
Join us onboard our purpose-built, ice-class expedition vessels, Ocean Victory and Ocean Albatros to experience the majesty and wonder of Earth's last frontier up close and personal. Our vessels enable us to get closer to nature, with a fleet of Zodiac landing craft, a team of experienced expert expedition guides, and the Antarctic Peninsula as our spectacular destination.
Departing Argentina's southernmost city of Ushuaia, we cross the mighty Drake Passage en-route southwards. The unique X-Bow design of our expedition vessels offers exceptional stability at sea, giving you a smoother ride across some of Earth's most challenging waters, while the vessels' speed allows us to maximise our time in Antarctica to offer a superlative exploration experience.
Continuing southward from the South Shetland Islands, we will delve deeper into the inlets and bays of the Antarctic Peninsula, entering the famous Gerlache Strait, where glittering ice cliffs and precipitous peaks rise straight out of the frigid water. Icebergs, glaciers, mountains and rugged snowfields characterise this wildly beautiful alien landscape. Our skilled Captain and Expedition Leader will work hard to maximise opportunities to explore the White Continent. While wind, sea and ice conditions will dictate the exact locations we will visit, we will make Zodiac landings to allow guests to set foot on land and experience penguin rookeries, research stations and historical sites, and aim to Zodiac cruise in scenic areas filled with giant icebergs, whales and seals. Shore landings and Zodiac safaris will occupy our days, while our knowledgeable onboard Expedition Team will offer a selection of specially crafted lectures to inform your matchless expedition experience.
From the 'mainland' of the Peninsula, we set off southwards, aiming for the Antarctic Circle at 66°33′ South - a goal which has eluded many of the talented and driven explorers of yesteryear. Watch as the sun circles your vessel, never quite setting at this extreme latitude. This voyage has no set itinerary beyond the aim to reach the Circle - however, we always aim to visit locations which showcase the best of Antarctica; wildlife sightings and weather conditions will decide the exact sites we visit as we move with the rhythms of nature; perhaps a well known penguin colony will draw us west, and whale and seal sightings will draw us back again! Wherever the whims of Mother Nature take us, jaw-dropping scenery and landscapes are guaranteed! With an extra day to explore compared to our Classic Antarctic voyages, you will have even more time to experience the White Continent.
Dense pack ice forbids many ordinary vessels from reach this far south, but with PC6/1A ice ratings, Ocean Victory and Ocean Albatros can access areas off-limits for most ships. With an average occupancy of 175 guests aboard Ocean Victory and Ocean Albatros, our cruises offer a unique experience for the brave few.
Note: The Ultimate Antarctica Experience has early and late season departures. Please see The Peninsula in Depth for early season departures.
Facts about The Ultimate Antarctica Experience - Quest for the Circle
ARRIVAL USHUAIA, EMBARKATION
Arrive in Ushuaia, Argentina - the world’s southernmost city. Explore this vibrant Patagonian city, or stretch your legs in the surrounding forests. Alternatively, consider a day trip off the beaten path into the raw nature of Tierra del Fuego. The island of Tierra del Fuego is a hiker's paradise with rugged snow-capped mountains, glaciers, flower-filled meadows and rich boggy wetlands. In the afternoon, we board our vessel, waiting to welcome us in port.
After our mandatory safety drill, our expedition begins as we navigate through the calm waters of the famous Beagle Channel (named for Charles Darwin's ship). This steep-sided strait divides southern Tierra del Fuego between Chile and Argentina, and has been the jumping-off point for thousands of expeditions into the unknown. Watch out for whales and dolphins as we sail off the edge of the map into the tempestuous Drake Passage.
AT SEA - CROSSING THE DRAKE PASSAGE SOUTHBOUND
Sailing onward, we cross the famed Drake Passage - the body of water separating Patagonia and the Antarctic Peninsula. The Drake Passage is known for rollicking conditions and strong westerly winds, nicknamed the Roaring Fifties. While this passage may be challenging, you can rest comfortably aboard our expedition vessels, which are purpose-built with stabilizers, powerful engines and manned by a highly-qualified crew. The most spirited sailors consider Drake Passage a lifetime achievement - and you will complete the crossing twice!
Our days in the Drake Passage will be put to good use preparing for our arrival in Antarctica - your Expedition Leader will brief you comprehensively on how to stay safe and minimise your impact on this precious wilderness, as well as briefing you thoroughly on our plans for our time spent exploring, including hints and tips for wildlife watching. Our dedicated Expedition Team will assist you to biosecure your clothing and equipment (a vital process to protect Antarctica's delicate ecology), as well as sharing tailored lectures on Antarctic exploration history, wildlife, geology, glaciology and more!
We will cross into the Antarctic Convergence on the third day of our voyage - watch the mercury plummet as we sail southwards into Antarctic waters, an abrupt cooling that marks the intersection of Antarctic waters with the warmer waters of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. As the sea cools, wildlife multiplies; these are some of the most biologically productive water on Earth, so expect to see petrels, albatrosses and potentially penguins, seals and whales in abundance. Weather permitting, we may be able to make landfall in the South Shetland Islands (a small but spectacular archipelago to the north of the Antarctic Peninsula) on the afternoon of our second day in the Drake Passage, marking the start of our exploration on the Last Continent.
THE ANTARCTIC PENINSULA - ADVENTURE AWAITS
With no set itinerary in Antarctica, this voyage offers adventurous travellers the chance to experience Antarctica as it was meant to be - flowing with the wind, sea and ice, and taking the best opportunities Mother Nature provides. This voyage departs in the first half of the brief Antarctic summer, when sea ice is at its maximum - this offers us ample opportunities to explore in the icy wilderness of the last continent. Our exact route will be subject to careful planning by the Expedition Leader and Captain - however we will aim to visit a range of sites which showcase the best of this staggeringly beautiful region.
Marvel at the massive icebergs and vast glaciers on a Zodiac cruise in Paradise Bay. Be moved by penguins tenderly caring for their precious eggs, and fiercely defending their nests on Cuverville Island. Watch cataracts of ice tumble into clear blue ocean on a hike over the active glaciers of Neko Harbour. Experience the Antarctica of old at historic huts such as Damoy Point, lovingly restored and open to all. Feel the spray of water from the blow of a humpback whale on a Zodiac safari in Wilhelmina Bay. Wonder at awe-inspiring scenery on a ship cruise through the Lemaire Channel. Watch city-sized tabular icebergs drift silently past the ship in the Antarctic Sound. Wherever we go on the Antarctic Peninsula, endemic wildlife, tantalising history and breathtaking natural beauty abound.
This time of year, expect to see penguins carefully tending their fluffy chicks, while their partners frantically hunt for food at sea. As the snow melts, opportunities for hiking onshore increase. Antarctic fur seals start to arrive in their summer feeding grounds, and humpback whale numbers increase as more of these gentle giants arrive at the end of their long migration. With luck, we may even see the young of these gentle giants.
There is no set itinerary on this trip, which allows our staff onboard to maximize the experience for all onboard. Whilst our suggestions above are just possible routes and landings, we can be sure that this will be the ultimate Antarctic experience.
AT SEA - CROSSING THE DRAKE PASSAGE NORTHBOUND
We eventually depart Antarctica, and spend two days at sea on our way northwards back across the infamous Drake Passage towards the more welcoming shores of the Beagle Channel and Ushuaia, Argentina. During our time at sea, a variety of activities will be arranged on board to provide our guests with the chance to reflect on their voyage. Relax with an expertly crafted cocktail in the Nordic Bar in the company of new friends, soak up the knowledge and passion of our Expedition Team during lectures in the Shackleton Lounge, or simply enjoy the flight of the albatross which accompany us northwards.
During your last evening onboard, join the Captain and Officers for the Farewell Cocktail Party, followed by a presentation of photos and video by our onboard photographer - the ideal opportunity to re-live your Antarctic adventure. Skål!
ARRIVAL IN USHUAIA AND DISEMBARKATION
On the morning of the final day of our voyage, we will arrive back at the pier of Ushuaia, Argentina. Trees, grass and a busy city may seem strange to you after the white wilderness of Antarctica! After a hearty breakfast, it is time to bid a fond farewell to the Crew and Albatros Expedition Team, and descend the gangway back to dry land with memories of the voyage of a lifetime.
- 12-day/11-night cruise with accommodation in a shared double stateroom featuring ensuite facilities
- Embarkation shuttle transfer to the vessel from Ushuaia city centre
- Shuttle transfer after disembarkation from the ship to Ushuaia city centre or airport
- All Zodiac landings and excursions, as per itinerary, guided by our Expedition Team
- Expedition parka
- Rubber boots loan scheme
- Briefings and lectures by our Expedition Leader and Team
- English-speaking Expedition Team
- Full board on the ship - breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks
- Complimentary house wine, beer and soda at dinner (selected labels and brands, served at our a-la-carte dinners)
- Free tea and coffee available 24 hours
- Taxes and landing fees
- Special photo workshops
- Welcome and Farewell Cocktail Parties
- Digital visual journal link distributed after the voyage, including voyage log, gallery, species list and more!
- Extra excursions and activities not mentioned in the itinerary
- Single room supplement and stateroom upgrades
- Meals not on board the ship
- Beverages (other than coffee and tea)
- Tips for the crew (we recommend USD 14 per person per day)
- Personal expenses (e.g. Albatros Polar Spa services, Albatros Ocean Boutique purchases)
- Anything not mentioned under 'Inclusions'
Arriving in Antarctica
After crossing the Drake Passage, you'll be exploring Antarctica. The goal for the days around the South Shetland islands and Antarctic peninsula is to offer activities which will allow everyone to explore off the ship as much as possible (weather permitting). Weather dependent, we will try to offer two activities per day, usually either a landing or a Zodiac cruise.
Typically, there will be a morning activity after breakfast and an afternoon activity after lunch. We always try our hardest to meet this expectation, but because weather in Antarctica can be extremely unpredictable, we ask everyone to be mindful of our remote location and thank everyone in advance for their flexibility. Activities we offer include landings, Zodiac cruises and ship cruises. Regulations* in Antarctica limit the number of people ashore at any time, so we will usually aim to offer a Zodiac cruise while our first group of guests are ashore, and reverse this for the second group ashore to maximise exploration time. No matter the day’s planned activities, the onboard Expedition Team and Expedition Leader will work as hard as possible in conjunction with the Captain and Crew to maximize exploration opportunities
Some sites do not offer landing opportunities, but are locations where exploring on the water offers the best opportunities for sightseeing and photography. These Zodiac cruise sites are often known for their collection of larger icebergs, wildlife densities and even historical landmarks such as shipwrecks, where our fleet of Zodiacs offer the best vantage point. This would be the only scenario you may have to wait on the ship (other than in adverse weather conditions), but we will always aim to offer an onboard program during this time, such as seminars given by our knowledgeable and experienced Lecturer team.
*IAATO rules/regulations state that: Avoiding disturbance of wildlife is paramount. There may be no more than 100 visitors ashore at any time, exclusive of expedition guides and leaders, with a maximum of 20 visitors for each guide. Albatros Expeditions is a member of IAATO (International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators), an industry regulatory body dedicated to ensuring socially and environmentally responsible tourism in Antarctica.
· 0645: Wake-up call
· 0700-0800: Breakfast
· 0830-1130: Morning activity - Landing and Zodiac Cruise
· 1230-1330: Lunch
· 1430-1730: Afternoon Activity - Landing and Zodiac Cruise
· 1830-1930: Evening Recap with Expedition Team
· 1930: Dinner
· 2100: Evening entertainment or presentations with Expedition Team.
Landings are a great opportunity to stretch your legs and set foot on Antarctica to visit the dense penguin colonies, vast snowfields, and dramatic landscapes of the last continent. Our experienced Expedition Team will be on shore to help you spot any chicks, identify the different species of penguins and other wildlife, as well as keep our guests safe on shore from any potential hazards.
Zodiac cruises are great for observing icebergs, glaciers, whales and other marine wildlife. Your skilled driver will navigate around the area looking for wildlife and beautiful landscapes. By the end of the voyage, Zodiac cruises tend to become a firm favourite among our guests because of the vast diversity of scenery and marine life it is possible to experience.
Ship Cruises: In the event we encounter bad weather or are in a particularly spectacular location, often our purpose-built expedition vessels are the best viewing platform. The Captain and Expedition Leader will search for locations best accessed with the vessel to seek out the best wildlife and scenery. We encourage everyone to bundle up and either head onto the outer decks with the Expedition Team or relax in superlative comfort in our specially-designed lounges to experience the majesty of Antarctica from the best vantage point. During this time, our Expedition Team specialists will offer skillfully-crafted lectures related to Antarctica wildlife, history, conservation and more!
Other activities include our ship Gym, where you can burn some calories on our fitness bicycles or treadmills; most of our ships even have other cardio machines and strength/lifting options. Voyages in from October to December offer camping options to spend the night on Antarctica, whilst most voyages throughout the season also offer kayaking (booked and paid onboard – weather permitting). Snowshoeing will also typically be available during the first half of the Antarctic season, when the Peninsula is mantled in snow. Sometimes our staff will even offer yoga lessons or other leisure activities, as our flexible schedule allows. Our new purpose-built ships have a Spa, in which guests can enjoy massages, facials, and other relaxing treatments (additional cost applies). Our Library is a great place to rest between outings, with expansive views and a wide selection of Antarctic-related reading material. During your voyage you will also be able to enjoy our tea time in the late afternoon, or indulge in some retail therapy in our onboard shop, which sells personal necessities as well as specially-selected Antarctic souvenirs.
In between our landings and activities we offer three hearty daily main meals. Albatros Expeditions always have allergy flexible options, healthy selections as well as a variety of vegetarian and vegan options.
Our hardworking galley crew deliver multiple Breakfast options, served in a buffet style a cooking station where eggs are made to order. At Lunch we are also met with a smorgasbord of mouthwatering choices. Safe to say you will have the energy for your next outing!
When it is Dinner time, you can choose to eat at the main restaurant or book a table at the Specialty Restaurant. Your evening meal is served a la carte, with fresh new options daily and always a selection of fixed items. There is always a vegetarian and pescetarian option available. Albatros Expeditions are known for our delicious menus and a variety of exquisite wine pairings.
Onboard you will also have the option to join Afternoon Tea with sweets, cakes or snacks served each afternoon. Albatros Expeditions have tea and coffee freely available all day throughout the vessel, while specialty coffee, alcoholic beverages and hand-crafted cocktails are available at the ship’s bars.
During October to November visitors to Antarctica can expect to see penguins coming ashore for their annual nesting season. This is the time when these birds build nests, court mates and tend their precious eggs, offering a fascinating glimpse into the lives of these charismatic birds. While still a little early for penguin chicks to have hatched, November offers the potential to see the very first hatchlings. Pristine snowy landscapes, large icebergs and lack of late-season vessel congestion can be experienced in the beginning of the season, offering a radically different experience to the high season. Unbelievable glacial ice formations and huge ice bergs stud the ocean as the last sunsets of the season occur, a majestic spectacle eventually giving way to the Antarctic midnight sun.
In December temperatures approach their warmest, daylight is longer and wildlife is even more active. The continent glows under the midnight sun and the penguin rookeries reach peak activity as the hatching starts in earnest. Whale sightings begin to be more commonplace as migrating whales arrive to feed. Midnight sun with close to 24-hour daylight occurs in this period, lighting up the patches of snow that are still left at sea level. The sea ice is also retreating, potentially allowing access to landing sites further South.
By January/February, we enter what we call ‘peak season’ with long daylight hours and flocks of fluffy penguin chicks. There is more activity in the colonies as parents head off to hunt for food for their ever-hungry young. Towards the latter part of this period, the chicks get more curious and mobile, often hanging around in ‘creche’ groups as their parents head out to sea. The added penguin activity also means that some of our landing sites become muddy and slushy in the height of the Antarctic Summer. Sea ice starts to break up in earnest, which allows vessels to venture further south, enjoying improved opportunities for whale and seal watching. Longer sunsets and shorter evenings return towards the end of February as the brief Antarctic Summer gives way to Autumn.
As we enter March/April the season starts to wind down. Whilst the whales are at their highest number, ferociously feeding to get ready for their long northward migrations, the penguin colonies start to thin out as the adorable chicks shed their bay feathers to begin adult life out in the fury of the Southern Ocean. This attracts leopard seals, which are often seen actively hunting in the clear waters just offshore. Spectacular sunsets and less snow make this a great time for photo opportunities and longer walks onshore. During this time of year the weather begins to get colder and there is an increased risk of storms, but the wild rugged beauty of Antarctica approaching Winter is unparalleled throughout the year.
Temperatures in Antarctica:
Whilst Antarctic weather is constantly changing, the Summer months can be surprisingly mild, and generally have temperatures ranging from -2°C (28°F) to 6°C (46°F). The extended daylight during the summer warms up more sheltered areas and on calm windless days, a t-shirt can even be of more use than a parka. Bearing that in mind, the weather can harbor storms, snow fall, rain or fog, which can occur at a moment’s notice. Bigger storms are rare but can lead to further rapid drops in temperature, and glacially-generated katabatic winds can blow out of nowhere. In other words, we would remind our guests that it is crucial to be ready for any weather conditions! Waterproof layers are an essential for any venture off the ship, and we advise guests to dress in several warm layers (including hats, gloves, scarfs and sun protection) to adjust as the weather dictates.
Travelling with Albatros Expeditions
Albatros Expedition strives to employ the very best Expedition Team in the whole industry. We travel in some of the planet’s most remote regions, where planning and on-location experience is key. Our routes and itineraries are subject to the prevailing sea, ice and wind conditions, which are closely monitored by the Bridge Team and Expedition Leader. Drawing on their vast experience, they find the best alternatives in the rare instances where our planned itinerary needs to be changed. Each cruise is a completely unique combination of locations, where the highlights can often be the totally unexpected. Most of our cruises provide the opportunity to spot a variety of unique wildlife, although this is subject to the whims of Mother Nature and cannot be guaranteed. As you will no doubt experience, the joy from our Expedition Team when spotting different species on land or at sea is as genuine as your own.
This means that you as a guest are part of an adventure, a true expedition, where plans change, wildlife is encountered on their terms and your team consists of the very best experts within their fields. We strive to maintain a mix of specialists within relevant polar subjects including marine biology, ornithology, earth science, history and others. Albatros Expeditions boast a large number of Expedition Staff onboard, allowing us to maintain a high quota of staff-to-guests at 1:8, amongst the highest ratios in expedition cruising. Some of our staff have decades of experience on ships or research stations, whilst others may be performing their first season. One thing they all have in common is the wish to make each and every journey something completely special and memorable for our guests. Knowledge, skill and passion are the trademarks of all Albatros Expedition Staff.
To ensure the safety and quality of experience of our guests, please keep in mind that the itinerary and outdoor activities during each voyage are solely dependent on weather and sea conditions. Your safety is our highest priority. The route and shore landings will be determined by the Captain and Expedition Leader and communicated to guests through regularly scheduled briefings. Albatros Expeditions reserves the right to modify the landings and locations visited during a voyage based on local weather conditions and climate to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for all our guests. Our voyages are expeditionary in nature, and thus changes to timings are commonplace due to the environment we operate in, as well as wildlife opportunities and locations.