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Antarctica

We just returned from our trip to the Falkland Islands, South Georgia Island and the Antarctic Peninsula. As promised here is a quick trip report.

We sailed with the Scenic Eclipse which is a 220 passenger ship. The Antarctic voyages on Scenic are limited to 200 passengers. This is important as passenger ships with more than that number have limited opportunities for shore excursions. There were 160 passengers on our cruise.

We were divided into 4 color groups for shore excursions. The groups are rotated so that no group is always first on land.

We chose this cruise because all of the suites were verandah suites, the number of dining venues and the option of flight-seeing by helicopter and a submarine excursion. This was an all inclusive cruise with the exception of the helicopter and the submarine and the spa services. There are 8 restaurants onboard and three require reservations - the French restaurant, sushi bar and the Indian restaurant. These three are 8 course gourmet dining experiences. I asked for and received a vegan option at the French and Indian restaurant and both were outstanding. My husband also enjoyed his (non vegan) meals. The submarine was not functioning during our cruise but I really wasn’t interested in doing that anyway. We were on the ship during Thanksgiving and had turkey, cranberry sauce and gravy but not the full American holiday meal. We appreciated the fact that Americans onboard were served a holiday meal as most of the passengers were Australian.

We had two days sail between Ushuaia and the Falklands; two days between the Falklands and South Georgia island; two days between South Georgia and the Antarctic Peninsula; and two days on the Drake Passage. We were very lucky and got the Drake Lake. The Drake Passage can be treacherous and a recent Viking cruise was hit by a 58 foot rogue wave and a passenger was killed and four others were injured.

If you are prone to motion sickness as I am, talk to your doctor about what protocol would be best for you. I used the scopolamine patch but that is not good for everyone. There can be miserable rebound side effects when you stop using it as someone on our trip found out and other medical conditions such as high blood pressure may contraindicate its use. I did a combo of scopolamine and half a phenergan tablet as needed and did fine. But again, talk to your doctor.

We took thin lightweight waterproof rain pants (not heavy ski pants), waterproof mittens, glove liners, thermal socks, thermal underwear, top and bottom mid layers, a warm hat, a buff, sunglasses, lip balm and sunscreen. We brought extra mittens, hats and thermals and did not need them. For onboard, we brought 5 days worth of clothing. There is a free landerette onboard.

For camera gear, I brought my two dslr bodies, a 100 - 400 mm lens, 18 - 55 mm lens and an 11 - 16 mm lens. My husband took his mirrorless camera, 150 - 600 mm lens, 24 - 70 and 70 - 300 lens. We also brought rain covers for our cameras and some polarizing filters. We also had a Fuji underwater camera and the cell phone camera.

The weather was in the 30’s to low 40’s and with one exception the days were sunny. The day that it rained it was just a light rain. We did not have snow on any shore excursion but did experience snow when cruising on one occasion.

Shore landings were rotated as mentioned and we had about 1 1/2 hours onshore per landing. The landings are by zodiac. The zodiac is pulled up onshore as much as possible but on many occasions we were getting into and out of the zodiac in knee deep surf. The water proof muck boots that you are provided are knee high and fairly thick. Combined with the waterproof rain pants which go over the muck boots, you will not get wet. Getting into and out of the zodiac requires some agility but the crew is there to help you.

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2465 posts

Part Two

We had two landings in the Falkland Islands. We were scheduled to go to Stanley but the weather was not cooperating and we were not allowed to land. This was not a biggie for us anyway. We made several landings on South Georgia Island and also the Antarctic Peninsula. Although we had proposed landings, weather dictates where and when you will land. The captain and crew always have your safety in mind and if it is too windy you are not going ashore. The captain will look for alternate landing sites. We had landings every day and did not miss out on anything.

As with any wildlife trip, you hope to see certain animals but there is no guarantee that you will see those animals. We had hoped to see a leopard seal for example and did not see one. Whale sightings are few because of the time of the year but we did have a minke whale that circled and swam under our zodiac which was a thrill as they are shy and elusive animals. We did see whales spouting at times and whale tales, however. We saw lots of penguins sometimes numbering in the hundreds of thousands. Plus we saw elephant seals, fur seals and Weddell seals. We were required to keep a 15 foot distance from the penguins but at times the penguins ignored those rules. We did keep a good distance from the various seals as they can bite and the elephant seals weigh 4 tons. The crew maintained a gauntlet for us when going ashore among the seals. We were also given hiking poles and held them out between us and the seals and it was enough to maintain that distance.

We had an opportunity for a polar plunge. The ship docked in a very calm bay and it was sunny. If you want to do the plunge, you are tethered at the waist before you jump in. Many took advantage of this opportunity. Some fortified themselves with alcohol (for courage). My husband did the plunge and said it was shockingly cold. The water was 29 degrees Fahrenheit. He said he felt paralyzed when he hit the water and was glad it was a short swim to the ladder to climb back onboard. I hate cold water and didn’t regret not doing the plunge but it was fun watching others. After the plunge, you are given a strong drink of cognac or hot chocolate and promptly head to your cabin for a good long hot shower.

We had wifi on board as well as a large screen tv with all the major news channels. As you would expect the wifi was a little slow at times especially as we were in such remote locations. Our cellphone had Google Fi which worked great and I was able to send texts and photos to family and friends at home.

We took the helicopter flight over Antarctica. It was very pricey but so well worth it. It was one of the highlights of our trip. We were scheduled and canceled twice due to weather but the third time was the charm as we flew over Flanders Bay and the surrounding mountains. It was absolutely spectacular!

When we were not on shore, there were various activities to keep us entertained. We had naturalist lectures, after dinner entertainers, daily trivia contests, a scavenger hunt and other naturalist activities such as “critter corner” to learn more about the animals that we had seen.

Other activities that you could partake in were kayaking and paddle boarding. Both were dependent on calm seas. These were included in the cost of the cruise.

One of the landings that we did in Antarctica was at Port Lockroy aka the Penguin Post Office. That landing was difficult as the “shore” was a rock ledge. You then had to climb up a rock wall and then up a snowy path to get to the post office. It was treacherous to say the least. We were given hiking poles at the snowy section and the crew was positioned strategically to get us up and down that rock ledge.

We also went to Stromness and Grytviken in South Georgia Island. Stromness is where Shackleton sought rescue for his crew on Elephant Island and Grytviken is where he was buried.

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Part Three

Gearing up for the shore excursions was a task. Putting on all those layers plus the life jacket and the muck boots and then taking them off again was exhausting. Plus waiting in the lobby with all of your outdoor gear for your time outdoors is hard although you are called a short while before your timed excursion. We were never cold. I think it was warmer in Antarctica than it was here at home in Reno.

When the seas are rough, walking on the ship not to mention showering is difficult but there are handrails to steady yourself. But a lot of the time you are staggering around like a drunk person. LOL!

Because this region is a highly protected area, there are strict biological controls in place to protect the environment. All of your outer gear had to be meticulously clean. If there is any velcro on your rain pants, you need to vacuum and scrub it to be sure there are no seeds or dirt in there. Your muck boots are scrubbed after each shore excursion and sometimes dental tools are used to dislodge any pebbles or sand that may be in the boot treads. You also have to step into a disinfecting boot bath before and after each shore landing. You are not allowed to sit or kneel onshore nor are you allowed to put your backpack on the ground.

I would highly recommend reading about Shackleton’s adventure before you go as you will have a great appreciation of his and his crews’ courage and determination to survive after having experienced the Antarctic for yourself with modern comforts and amenities that they did not have.

We would gladly do this trip again. I just wish we had done it when we were a bit younger and a bit more agile but we managed just fine. The crew onboard the ship were great in helping us all in getting in and out of those zodiacs. Dealing with potential seasickness (plus the cost) were deterrents. Most of the passengers were older as they were most able to afford this trip.

OK. I apologize for this slightly disjointed report. I am trying to be as thorough and brief as possible. If there is something that you want to know that I haven’t covered such as the best time to go to Antarctica, let me know. I hope this helps some of you in your future planning.

Posted by
4867 posts

Wow, what an adventure! Fun to imagine it vicariously through your report. Congrats on what sounds like a marvelous trip!

Posted by
2465 posts

One final note. Penguins are dirty and fairly smelly birds. We all have this image of penguins with their clean white tuxedos. They look like that when they have just come out of the water. But onshore they are waddling around and lying in their own pink feces (pink because they eat krill). They are still cute and comical nonetheless and it is fun to watch them.

Posted by
586 posts

So very interesting. While Antarctica is not on my list of must sees, your trip sounds fascinating. I’m afraid the rough seas would do me in. But very cool to read about your trip. Thank you!

Posted by
2465 posts

@luv2travel Seasickness is a major issue for me. I can get seasick in a rowboat. I found a way to manage. I decided that I was going to do this trip regardless as life is too short to be limited by a temporary discomfort. If it is important to you, you will find a way.

Posted by
2122 posts

Mary, I am sooooo glad you posted a trip report. When the rogue wave that hit the ship of another brand hit the news, I instantly thought of YOU, but was relieved when I heard it was not a Scenic ship, knowing you were safe (but also sad for the passengers on that other ship).

I am also glad you got to take the helicopter trip, as that had to be truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience (and one we definitely would have opted for if NationalGeo/Lindblad had been set up for that).

Interesting you did not have any up-close encounters with whale, but at least you got to see some.

I remember when you first posted about your planned trip that you had to take the time slot you did, I think I recall your mentioning wiggling around to book a previous cancellation (to then book the only open time slots) from during the early part of the pandemic....IF my memory serves me correctly. But, for anyone else reading and wondering when the "ideal" time to go is, IMHO it would be mid-January. With the disclaimer that wildlife is wildlife and can never be "scheduled," we were fortunate in mid-January to not only see many humpback whale and some pods of orcas, but to experience some so close to our zodiac we could have touched them (but did not, respecting the rules of being wildlife-respectful visitors). A photo taken from another Zodiac of our experience is my husband's screen-saver on his PC, and it still makes us smile, almost with disbelief that we are in that photo!! NationalGeo had two whale researchers on board, so we also got to witness the scientific tagging of whale. The penguins are also doing so much in mid-January, too, still adding rocks to their nests, some parents still nest sitting, but also lots baby penguins off-nest in various stages are so adorable.

Yep, the smell of the penguins (or more correctly stated, their waste) is a very-hard-to-explain smell. With the disclaimer that I have almost no sense of smell (likely from using Zicam too frequently back when I worked), the smell of the penguin waste still hit me....sort of a strong vinegar/sewer mix...it sure is not pleasant. Even though we triple washed a pair of boots we took from home (there was concern the ship-provided boots might be too small for my husband's calves...turns out they would have been okay...but), but even though we tripled washed them and the boots in sealed plastic to travel home, how gawd-awful the lingering smell of the penguins when we unpacked them at home!!!

But, Mary, I am sooooo glad you all had a great trip and that you got to experience the journey (which was much more extensive than the one we took, as we did not make it to South Georgia). It truly is a lifetime experience, and I second your suggestion for those interested to do it as soon as they can, as it is easier the younger one is. We went 10 years ago (time flies) in our late 50s, and we are glad we did it then. We had a couple of passengers (likely in their late 80s/90s) who never left the ship and enjoyed the scenery/photography from on-board, and as you now know, that alone can be lovely., especially along the Gerlache Strait.

You did not mention icebergs.......I sure hope they were plentiful/beautiful and that global warming has not taken too much of a toll. How you described Port Lockroy sure sounds like it has had a lot of melt since we were there, as we landed on snow/ice with very little rock; and recent photos of that location also show less snow/ice. Another suggestion to those who may be considering Antarctica: Go before there is even more of an impact from global warming!

Mary, thank you again. Your post will be so helpful to others considering the journey!

The dining sure did sound high-end on your ship. Was attire casual (I hope)? "Dressed up" for dinner on our journey meant a clean flannel shirt and pants that had not been used on landings :)

What's next on your travel list?

Posted by
3312 posts

Oh wow, this may be the first Antartica trip report on the forum and I would totally do this trip! It sounds wonderful and I bet you got some amazing photos. I would love to see them! I have read Shackleton’s story several times. The greatest adventure story of all time IMO.
Sir Raymond Priestly: “For scientific discovery give me Scott; for speed and efficiency of travel give me Amundsen; but when disaster strikes and all hope is gone, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton.”

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2465 posts

Hi Maggie,

We did have an up close and personal experience with a minke whale which circled and swam under our zodiac. I have photos of it just under the surface of the water which was so incredibly clear as well as its back and fin above the water. The whales are better later in the season for sure. We will have more whale opportunities in June when we do the Inside Passage in Alaska with NatGeo.

We only dressed slightly better for dinner. I wore black knit pants and a black and white print top and ballet flats for example. We were with Australians who tend to be far more formal than Americans in their dress.

Yes, we saw lots of icebergs. They were absolutely spectacular. We spent a lot of time zodiacing around them in Antarctica. Such fantastical shapes and colors - brilliant blues and turquoise. And the enormous tabular icebergs and the pack ice. The quality of the light. The crystal clear blue ice. I agree that January is the best time to go and, who knows, we may go back. I haven’t planned any other trips so far other than Alaska. After 6 tours this year, I need to recover and catch my breath for a bit. I’ll think about other trips in January.

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2465 posts

Thanks, Tammy. I am glad you enjoyed the report. I was thinking of you when I wrote it. I agree that the Shackleton story is amazing and one of the best I have ever read. I recently read about his funeral in Grytviken. Did you know he died of a heart attack at 47 years old? Probably the rigors of all those adventures did him in. What a life he had, however!

Posted by
2465 posts

Tammy,

We do have some amazing photos. I have just started to look at them and have processed a few as we have only been home a few days. I sent you a private message with a link to my IG account.

Posted by
2122 posts

Mary, I am glad you had a close encounter with a whale :)

You and your husband sure have done some wonderful trips, and it sounds like you have made some very wise decisions re: trip/tour providers. That really does (often) make a big difference in one's experience, especially in remote locales.

You might enjoy a float plane/fishing excursion when you go to Alaska (which, of course, will not even come close to the unique nature of your helicopter trip in Antarctica).

Godspeed to you! You two are "living life."

Posted by
4619 posts

We were never cold. I think it was warmer in Antarctica than it was here at home in Reno.

Having been in Reno in winter and not finding Reno very cold, that is good to know. So the big question, was it worth $60,000 for the 2 of you? Also, was South Georgia more rewarding or less rewarding than Antarctica? Fortunately have done a polar plunge at home (socks only), so that wouldn't be a "should I or shouldn't I?" question hanging over the trip for me.

Posted by
4252 posts

Soooo envious. I'd love to do it but I talk myself out of it when I think of the costs vs. the risk that I'm bedridden with seasickness or things are cancelled due to rough seas. Maybe one day I'll take the plunge... the polar one too.

Posted by
2465 posts

Hi Tom,

It has been exceptionally cold here in Reno this past month hence my comment about Antarctica being warmer at the time. The trip including the required insurance, airfare, gear and helicopter flight was well north of $70,000. Was it worth it? Absolutely. We are in our mid 70’s and the time is fast approaching when travel will no longer be easy. We need to go now. Obviously we would not have done it if we could not have afforded it. We explored all of the other tours including Quark, NatGeo, Viking, etc. and chose this one because it was going to give us the optimal experience. Having been on NatGeo cruises, I can say that Scenic was comparable in experience, naturalists, etc. but a better value for the money. NatGeo is quite a bit pricier for the equivalent cabin on Scenic. Plus Scenic had the two helicopters and NatGeo does not. I wish we had done it earlier but as I said my qualms about seasickness held me back. But we are not guaranteed tomorrow so we went. We figured this may be our one time going to this part of the world so we decided to go for the trifecta of the Falklands, South Georgia and Antarctica. South Georgia and the Antarctic peninsula are very distinct. On South Georgia you will see hundreds of thousands of penguins all massed together. It is a different landscape entirely from Antarctica. In Antarctica, it’s the jagged, rocky snow covered peaks and icebergs that will enthrall you. The flight over Flanders Bay will be something we will remember forever. Some people took 3+ helicopter flights on this cruise. We think we were lucky and had the best one.

Posted by
2465 posts

@AMann Thanks for your kind comment on my photos. I truly enjoyed creating them.

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2465 posts

@treemoss We had ten days on location in the Falklands, South Georgia and Antarctica. We had two onshore expeditions on each of those days or zodiac cruises where landing was impossible such as at Flanders Bay in Antarctica. Cost? As I mentioned above, we spent in excess of $70,000. because we went for all three locations. You can do it for less, of course, but what will the trip include and what will you be charged extra for? What will the quality of the experience be? You can go on a ship with 500 people and it will cost less. You will see Antarctica but you will never get off the ship. In any event, these cruises are expensive no matter how you cut it.

Posted by
2734 posts

Mary, Thanks so much for posting this report. It was so informative and interesting. I am particularly interested because my husband and I are scheduled to go to Antarctica in March with Imprint Tours (owned by former Rick Steves guide Reid Coen). This trip was originally scheduled for 2021 and has been cancelled twice now, so I am hoping we actually get to go this time.

I had not heard about the person who was killed on a Viking cruise. Yikes. My main worry had been getting seasick. However, I read a post on Trip Advisor from a guy who said he got really sick during the Drake Passage but still felt it was the best trip he ever took. So I decided to go for it even though I have trouble with seasickness when the seas are rough. Still, I’d be happy to skip that unpleasantness. I will talk to my doctor.

I do have one question. How did you handle your camera, or rather how did you keep from dropping it? I will be taking pictures with my new iPhone 14 which I think takes terrific pictures. Since I am a klutz, I use a wrist strap while on vacation to safeguard it. But I am wondering how that will work with gloves on. Also, I worry about putting it into my pocket and taking it back out when boarding the boats, etc. I was thinking about getting something so I can hang it around my neck. Do you think that would work?

I am also thinking about attaching my gloves to a long string that goes through my jacket sleeves like parents do with little kids so they don’t lose their gloves. I’m thinking I will be taking them off a lot to take pictures. Perhaps I am overthinking things, but I’ve had two years to think about all the potential problems! Haha

I would love to see your pictures.

Thanks again,
Carroll

Posted by
6632 posts

What a great report, thanks so much. This is a trip I'll never take but it was great fun to share your experience. (No polar plunge for me, anywhere, that's for sure.) I read about Shackleton (Roland Huntford's wonderful book) and admire him so much -- the Priestly quote was spot on. Did you get to his grave?

I trust that your insurance for this trip was not with AIG Travel Guard! ;-)

Posted by
2465 posts

Hi Carroll,

The Drake Passage is probably one of the most dangerous bodies of water in the world and accidents have happened. You can get either the Drake Lake or the Drake Shake. We were lucky and got the Drake Lake. But I looked at it this way - what an adventure to experience the Drake Shake.

Please talk to your doctor about what seasickness protocol would be right for you. As I said I was using the patch the whole time and half a phenergan tablet as needed. When you are not doing an ocean crossing and are near land, the seas will be calm.

You can get a neck strap for your cell phone. I bought one for mine. Just keep the phone under your jacket until you are ready to use it. We used our cameras mainly on land. On the zodiac the camera gear was in a dry bag. If we were cruising slowly in the zodiac, then we took our cameras out but of course the camera straps were around our necks.

You can buy straps that go around your wrists and attach to your mittens so that will take care of the mitten issue. We never even wore our mittens. We just wore our glove liners and took them off when we were shooting. Our hands were never cold. You may have a different experience.

I overthought things as well. You are going into an unfamiliar environment and there is no shopping if you don’t have what you need.

Don’t worry. You’ll have a great time.

Posted by
2465 posts

Hi Dick,

Yes, the insurance was AIG. I had a credit for the insurance we didn’t use due to the pandemic and applied it to this trip 2+ years ago.

Posted by
2734 posts

Thank you, Mary. BTW, I would pass on the polar plunge too!

Posted by
1360 posts

Mary, what a fabulous time you and your husband had on this cruise. Thank you so much for sharing your adventure of a lifetime.

Posted by
2465 posts

Thanks, Linda. This was quite the trip. We really enjoyed photographing the wildlife and the spectacular scenery. I would love to go back.

Posted by
919 posts

@Mary: Thanks for the trip report. My wife and I leave for Buenos Aires, Iguazu Falls and Antartica in week and half. Looking forward to it.

Posted by
2465 posts

Thanks, Ed. You will have a fabulous time. Report back when you return.

Posted by
84 posts

Mary, I was in Antarctica, on the National Geographic Endurance, around the same time you were there. We saw the damaged Viking Polaris in Ushuaia, as it arrived on the day we departed.

The geography of our trip was different, we did not go to the Falklands and South Georgia, but went directly down the western side of the Antarctica peninsula and across the Antarctic circle. We spent most of our time south of the Antarctic circle. We were supposedly the first ship to cross the circle this year, as a result, all landings were snow covered pristine landscapes, with penguin colonies.

We were able to anchor and disembark on fast ice, see multiple types of penguins, including emperor penguins, various types of seals including leopard seals, and humpback and killer whales/orcas. The humpbacks were up close to the zodiacs. We had the polar plunge, kayaking, zodiac tours among icebergs, and on land hikes - I did all of them. After passing through the Drake, we had clear and sunny skies with temperatures in the upper 20's and low 30's.

The ride down was quite treacherous, with 50-60 foot waves, a huge Drake Shake. We were confined to our rooms with breakfast and lunch delivered during this time. The return trip was a Drake Lake.

The Endurance is a newer ship, about 125 maximum capacity, built specifically for traveling through the Antarctic ice and Drake passage. The ship was staffed with Nat Geo researchers, tagging whales and other research, and providing lectures on their work. Attire on the ship was casual, the food and wines were excellent, the scientists were outstanding, as was the crew. The ship has an open bridge policy, which allowed the passengers to visit and view from the bridge. There is no helicopter and/or submarine, but a submarine camera used by the scientists/diving team, and results presented in lectures.

Passengers on the ship were almost all from the US, with less than five from other countries. There was a mix of ages, from 20's - 70's, but the majority being in their 60's and early 70's. Everyone was able to navigate with ease the zodiacs, kayaks, and landings, with assistance from the crew.

Prior to the trip, spent time in Buenos Aires and Uruguay, while the early rounds of the World Cup were happening. The countries come to a stand still during a match.

As Mary and Maggie said above, Antarctica is an amazing place to visit. This trip has made me a member of the 7 Continent Club.

Posted by
2465 posts

@Traveler99 I am happy to hear you had a great trip and made it back safe and sound. Antarctica is an amazing, ethereal place. You got the Drake Shake but you can at least recount what an adventurous ride that was. You must have had the Viking ship disaster in the back of your mind though when you were on the Drake. I certainly did.

This was continent #6 for us. The only one left is Australia and, honestly, I have zero interest in that one (apologies to any Aussies who are on this forum) so we will undoubtedly remain at six continents.

We will be having more adventures this coming summer as we are doing the Inside Passage and Svalbard and the Norwegian fjords both with Nat Geo Lindblad. Norway will be on the NatGeo Endurance. I am hoping for more whale sightings, grizzly and polar bears, walruses, reindeer, etc. Since we returned from the Falklands, South Georgia Island and Antarctica, I find that I want to see more of these wild landscapes and animals. Plus we already have the gear. LOL!

Posted by
3312 posts

Taveller99, thanks for your mini trip report. How many days was your trip?
Antarctica is a far away hope for dream, but for me South Georgia is a must. One of my husband's colleagues has been a lecturer on the Hurtigruten ship and has been to Antarctica 7 or 8 times and he told me that South Georgia is not to be missed! I think I want to go there even more than Antarctica. Fingers crossed that I get to see it someday!

Posted by
84 posts

Tammy: Sorry for the late reply, we had 10 nights on the ship, this does not include the night in Buenos Aires with National Geographic. We spent additional time in Argentina and Uruguay before the cruise. They advertise the trip as 14 nights, they include travel time from US.

There are quite a few options to visit Antarctica, one can conclude, the greater the number of passengers on a ship, the lower the price, but fewer landings for the larger ships on Antarctica with the 100 person limit. There is also the level of comfort, within National Geographic, the same trip can have a price difference based upon which ship at Nat Geo.

It also seems that the larger boats, have less maneuvering ability, and therefore have fewer options for landing sites or walking on fast ice. The ever changing weather conditions, make it impossible for a set itinerary.

Everyone has different priorities, but it seems, no matter what size or type of ship, how many landings/excursions there are, it is a spectacular journey.