Antarctica with National Geographic Expeditions

Okay, it's not Europe, BUT.....a while back one of the Helpline posters asked us what destinations are on our wish list. Antarctica was on my bucket list, and we went: If you are considering Antarctica: 1) Search YouTube for "Rough Seas Drake's Passage." If you decide you could endure a worst-case scenario, then don't miss Antarctica. 2) National Geographic (operated by Lindblad) runs a first-class expedition. Crew, Naturalists, cabins, meals, experiences were incredible/beyond expectations. Multiple off-ship experiences in a day: zodiac, sea kayaking, shore landings, etc. Humpback whales right next to our zodiacs that we could have reached out and touched...unbelievable. Seals, penguins, whale, birds, etc. of all types. 3) Research takes place from the ship...watched on-board whale researchers take a crossbow out on a zodiac to tag killer whale with satellite trackers. The ship has an underwater camera, and dive team showing underwater life. 4) Global Perspectives speaker was scientist who headed team on Antarctica for 30+ years...spoke re: ice core drilling and carbon results vs. activities of mankind over centuries. Fascinating presentations. 5) National Geographic photographers hold photo workshops. 6) Safety....the National Geographic Explorer is an extremely safe ship, and one wants the safest passenger ship to take them thru what can be very unsafe waters. 7) with National Geographic, the group tour begins in Buenos Aires, so you don't have to worry about flights getting cancelled to Ushsuia...group on private charter jet.
8) Fellow passengers bright, well-traveled, interested. For many, this was their 7th continent. 9) Those baby penguins are so darn cute :)

Posted by Agnes
Alexandria, VA, USA
616 posts

Hi Margaret, Thanks for your tip! Apart from the fact that Antarctica is a very unique place and off-the-radar, I'm wondering if you have any insights as to why Nat Geo trips are so incredibly expensive compared to other tours. I am guessing it's because they either a) have world renowned experts or researchers that are part of the trip, so you're paying for a college professor, b) they use their own and smaller ships/boats so you get a custom experience, c) they cater to a well-heeled crowd, and/or d) they have really small groups and highly customized schedules. I looked their trips ranging from US to Canada to Africa and they are all quite expensive (e.g. a few nights in Santa Fe, NM was a few grand, as an example).

Posted by Margaret
Nashville, TN, USA
451 posts

Agnes,
Since I have not been to Antarctica with the other providers, I can't do a first-hand side-by-side comparison, but as we ed the provider we used, I combed reviews, talked with many of the other brands, and then quickly settled on National Geographic/Lindblad. Yes, they are expensive, but the value one receives is incredible. Our approach was: When will we ever do this again, so why not do it right? We definitely got our money's worth. Most day we had 2 (and sometimes three) off-ship experiences each day. Some of the other brands, I think limit that to one per day (and some, I think, may not even be that many). We had a naturalist with us just about all the time....every time we were in a Zodiac, each one had a naturalist aboard, and then there were more naturalists to greet us when we went on land. The on-board lectures were incredible, and each speaker was a global-level speaker (one ran ice-core drilling research for over 30 years on the continent). The cabins were very comfortable, modern, well-attended. The bridge was open 99.9% of the time (we could hang out there at will). Food was first-rate, service top-notch. We were given parkas to use/take home that are of the highest quality. The photography instruction from the National Geographic photographers (who had cover photos in their magazines) was extra special. The day we could have touched the humpback whale, we had a whale expert on our Zodiac telling us what we were seeing, what the whale was likely to do next (and she was right). (continued)

Posted by Margaret
Nashville, TN, USA
451 posts

continued........ Our trip started in Buenos Aires (where hotel was included and a city tour), then we all went on the same charter plane to Ushiuia. Most other brands require you to make your own way to Ushiaia (and I understand the flights can get canceled randomly). The ship is very safe...the bridge is up high....it has icebreaking equipment. When you travel there, you want safety above all else. Another brand's expedition ship (Silversea with whom we cruised the Greek Isles and Turkey and loved) was hit by a 27 foot wave, we were told, and we saw the ship with some of its bridge windows boarded up and one or two of the cabins also boarded when we were in Ushuiaia...we were told their captain and some crew members were injured......but one of our ship officers pointed out that their bridge sits much lower, so their communications equipment was at a greater risk. We have also been pleased with Tauck in the past, but the ship they used for Antarctica is more of a large yacht
style, with many more passengers (Tauck makes up a only part of the sailing with other passengers). The National Geo ship is made for waters like this, and we understand it has helped other ships in distress in the past. I love to find a bargain, but I also want good value for what I spend. This was a bucket list trip for us, and while very expensive, the value was apparent. Memories will last a lifetime. Click on the National Geographic expedition web site and watch the videos.....just a snippet of what you will experience. I've noticed some of the National Geo trips are more expensive for other locations, and I might choose other providers for some of the other locations, but for certain locations, like Galapagos, I'd choose Nat Geo. Hope that helps.

Posted by Margaret
Nashville, TN, USA
451 posts

P. S. Re: size of ship. I think I recall ours had 140ish passengers...small. We got to know just about everyone a bit. Well-traveled, better educated crowd (as I would guess any traveler to Antarctica is). We were one of the few
for whom Antarctia was not the seventh continent. We have two more left to visit. One guest on board had two installations (photography) at the Smithsonian, a handful of other guests had done the private jet around the world trip, and then there were also a few young people (a firefighter and his wife) who have made travel a priority in their lives. We enjoyed the fellow passengers very much.......all seemed to enjoy the same type experience and all were very down to earth, intellectually curious, ecologically aware individuals....not one person was stuffy or snobby. Antarctica is not usually someone's first vacation journey. We had a cabin on the main deck in the center of the ship....among the least expensive choices. Some of the higher rooms were very pricey. But, the main deck in the middle is the best location for stability and avoiding ocean motion.

Posted by Ray
Portland, Oregon, USA
1358 posts

hi, thats is sooooooo cool. yes pun intended! if i may ask, how long (approxmimately?) is the trip after landing in Buenos Aires? Happy trails.

Posted by Margaret
Nashville, TN, USA
451 posts

Ray, I'd have to pull our itinerary to remember, but counting the half day in Buenos Aires (city tour and overnight) and then the charter flight to the tip of South America (with then catamaran sailing to Beagle Island for lunch before boarding our ship), the whole trip was right at two weeks (which also counts the charter flight back to Buenos Aires). With 1.5-2 days to cross Drake's Passage both
ways, that leaves just shy of a week for the Antarctica Peninsula. And, on our journey, we went south of the Antarctica Circle, which was not expected but nice to experience. The groan was the long flight home.....from Ushuaia to Buenos Aires then the US, then connect for our flight home. It was a really, really long day. Some folks stayed overnight in Buenos Aires on the way home, and others opted for an add-on trip to the falls while down in the tip of Argentina. We can't be gone (for business reasons) too long, so two weeks was a stretch for us. But it would be nice to do some side trips while in South America, if you have the time.

Posted by Margaret
Nashville, TN, USA
451 posts

Ray, what's also funny is that on several days it was warmer in Antarctica than it was on the same days in Nashville, Tennessee. It's summer there when it is winter in the US. We really did not feel the cold too much, except on a really cloudy, windy day when we were crossing the water in the Zodiacs (when one is glad to have the warm parka, which actually can be unzipped into two different coats). Oftentimes once on land, we unzipped parkas and took off our head gear, so we would not get too warm. Photos just don't do justice, because the
views are 360 in person and fabulous.

Posted by Ms. Jo
Frankfurt, Germany
4766 posts

Thank you for posting this. It does sound like a trip of a life-time and so unique and special. Haven't thought very much about doing something like this before, but your report has made me start thinking about it. Great job on writing this report too.

Posted by Ray
Portland, Oregon, USA
1358 posts

@ Margaret, Many thanks for the info. the duration of the trip doesnt have to be exact, since i would like to try and make a journy to the south end of the world also, dont know when it will happen. The est will give me an idea on how much time to allot for that part. im lucky with my new job, with that i get 4~5 weeks vacation/year and if i make it to my sabbitical, i will have another 2 weeks on top of that. when i do make it down there, i will be spending some additional time in the area. with regards to weather, i was in London/paris area last march and had great weather. i shudder to think if i got caughtup in it now. but you can get lucky sometimes. thank you, happy trails.