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When I saw a sale an epic Antarctic cruise in January 2021, I thought it would be a fabulous way to kick off my 50th birthday celebration year and check off my last continent. Being a savvy wanderer, I did some research. OK I did a lot of research.

Full disclosure I’m not a typical cruiser. I’ve done exactly 2 “big ship” cruises. One a 6 day cruise from Istanbul to Athens. And a 3 day Los Angeles to Ensenada to Los Angeles for a friend’s wedding. Most of my cruises are on scuba liveaboards with less than 16 passengers. Plus the Nile River cruise.

But to get to Antarctica you have to cruise. There are no hotels, hostels, AirBnBs, public campsites or anywhere to stay on Antarctica. Why? Because of the Antarctic Treaty. Basically the world decided to establish Antarctica as a scientific preserve, establishing freedom of scientific investigation, and banning military activity. (NOTE: Military scientific research is allowed.) The 62 anniversary of the treaty was during our trip!

I considered some other cruise options that brought the cost per person per day down, but in the end went with a luxury expedition ship, Silver Explorer (from the original sale). I wanted this to be my Antarctica trip, not South America plus Antarctica. More time in Antarctica was a key requirement. Also not having to pay for lots of add-ons. The less expensive options didn’t necessarily include all expeditions, food, drinks, butler service (I miss my butler!!!), wifi, and gratuities. All of which can add to the total very, very quickly.

I discovered that ships over 500 passengers are not allowed to make any landings, so no feet on Antarctic soil/snow. I discovered many expedition ships included teams of scientists and experts to provide lectures/presentations/discussions related to the animals, seas, snows, etc of the Antarctic. I discovered even on “sale” Antarctica is NEVER, EVER inexpensive.

I wasn’t sure the trip was going to happen. COVID has changed travel, travel research, and travel planning. My flights changed multiple times, through multiple airlines and countries. Patience, vaccination (and proof thereof), multiple countries COVID apps and registration, tolerance for brain tickling (spearing the inside of your skull for COVID testing), and more patience are critical.

Flying South from Santiago, Chile

Four flights got me from Adana, Turkey to Istanbul, to Paris (for a lovely 2 day stopover), to Amsterdam to Santiago, Chile. One night in Santiago, quarantined in the Mandarin Oriental while waiting for yet another COVID test. And finally a charter flight on Antarctic Airways from Santiago to Puerto Williams treated us to some gorgeous scenery flying south, and a flyby of the Silver Explorer.

The Puerto Williams Airport consists of a single runway, and some small buildings (which we weren’t allowed in). Vans transported us around the island to the Puerto Williams Naval Base where the Silver Explorer was docked. I caught a glimpse of a shipwreck on the drive where the wreck was in use as the support for a bridge!?!

Shipwreck Bridge Puerto Williams, Chile

The guide mentioned another shipwreck is used as the sailing school for children.

The itinerary and home port of the ship had also changed due to COVID and country restrictions. Puerto Williams Naval Base has one small shack as an “office” and one pier.

Puerto Williams Naval Base

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when we finally got to the ship. But that’s another story.

CJ

I have visited 7 continents and 80 countries. I have lived in 9 different countries. I speak English, Spanish, French, and Russian. I like to hike, ski, dive, eat, drink, and wander the wonders of the world.

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