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Fletcher

Quest for the Holy Grail - A Voyage to South America, Antarctica & South Georgia

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My husband and I each received one.

 

 

Sent from my iPad using Forums

 

Thank you!

 

One last question: Aside from American electrical plug receptacles, are the others Euro or British style?

 

Once again, thanks!

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GRYTVIKEN

Several months ago at Heathrow Airport - at least it seems like several months ago - we were leaving on this little Quest trip by flying to Santiago. At the duty free shop we bought a miniature bottle of Scotch. Chivas Regal if you must know. We drank it today. We had saved it for today.

It is a tradition that at the grave of Ernest Shackleton one must drink a toast to him, preferably in that Scottish tipple. A friend of ours was here a year ago and his ship provided a bottle of whisky from which all passengers drank at the grave overlooking the old port of Grytviken. Anyway, Mrs Fletcher and I were perhaps the only passengers on the Quest today who upheld this ancient tradition. We sipped, we toasted, we fell over.

We were in the last group ashore and we benefited from the best weather. It was almost sunny, almost warm. From the cemetery we strolled along the seaboard, past wrecks, whaling machinery and seals who had just crashed out and lay supine, farting a lot and giving us a rude look. It was quite surreal. There were even a few penguins, standing still and staring into space.

Then it was on to the church, flat-packed in the 1900s from Norway like an Ikea wardrobe, and then it was on to the museum. We have been to a few remote places like this - Tristan da Cunha and Pitcairn for example - but this was in a different league. It was clean and tidy, not covered in decades of dust, and it told an amazing story with extraordinary artefacts, such as a cinema projector and a programme featuring the likes of Charlton Heston and Jennifer Jones in CinemaScope. And of course it had all the bloody whaling stuff. And stuffed albatrosses. And a gift shop. We bought a mug with penguins on it. We could have been at a National Trust property in Hampshire until you looked out of the window and saw all that rusting machinery, the wrecked ships, the petrels and everyone in orange parkas. It was absolutely wonderful, every inch of it.

Tomorrow we are back where we started at the westernmost tip of this amazing island that is so much more, so much better than samey, sterile Antarctica. We are promised a zodiac cruise if the weather holds. It has been holding for three weeks. Why would it let go now?

 

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Another excellent report fletcher. Sir Ernest Shackleton was/is a legend and I don't think people realise the scale of his sheer courage and magnificent achievements. A true hero who richly deserves a wee dram in memoriam.

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THE LAST ZODIAC

Iggy and his Expedition Team got a huge round of applause at tonight’s Recap and Briefing. It was justly deserved - they have pulled out all the stops and today they were highly chuffed to achieve a fourth successive day of successful operations on South Georgia. That has never been done by Seabourn before. I guess not many traditional expedition ships have done that either.

Throughout this trip we have been blessed with amazing weather - calm seas, mild winds, even sunshine and never once did I detect a seriously icy blast. The Expedition Team have all said they have seen nothing like it before.

This morning we anchored at the mouth of Elsehul Bay on the westernmost tip of South Georgia. Our Blue Group were the first to zip and clip up for the zodiac cruise. I have say it didn’t look too promising. But Mrs Fletcher insisted and off we went. How wrong I was! We had four species of albatross overhead and at the end of the bay we witnessed a scene I can only describe as nature’s pandemonium. It was nature gone mad, out of control. Seals were going bonkers, penguins standing still at the end of the moult, skuas and giant petrels gliding in and feasting on the dead, then landing in the water to rinse their reptilian heads of blood. And out on the water flotillas of other sea birds. There were jungles of kelp looking like an armada of giant squid. Then, around the corner, a colony of macaroni penguins looking like fagged-out rock stars. I think if Charles Darwin was a passenger he would have had some sort of seizure.

 

I merely went back to the ship and had breakfast. Then lunch. Then dinner. We now have three days at sea before I see the first tree since Ushuaia. But I know I have taken the last zodiac.

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BRIEFING AND RECAP

Well, that was an epic trip and now it’s over. I’m in the BA lounge at BA and getting my head around what I’ve seen.

ITINERARY

We liked the itinerary as it started and ended in ports served by direct flights from the UK. This also avoided taking any internal flights in South America which are notorious for delays and lost luggage. The 24-day itinerary was much longer than most cruises - a point worth considering as some people might succumb to cabin fever. A long cruise also has an impact on the food - things like fresh fruit and vegetables run out after about two weeks and, overall, the fancy food can become monotonous.

We booked this specific trip because it went to South Georgia. Personally I would not book the trip which goes to the Falklands as the ship only visits Port Stanley. As nice as Stanley is, the great wildlife spectacle of the Falklands is in the outer islands, notably Saunders and New Island, and you need to be on an expedition ship to visit them. The penguin and albatross encounters are, in my view, better than anything we have just experienced in Antarctica and South Georgia.

SHORE EXCURSIONS

We didn’t take any Seabourn trips in South America. In Antarctica and South Georgia everything was handled by the expedition team and is included in your fare. The Quest is the biggest ship to land passengers in Antarctica and passengers are divided into four or five groups who each spend 90 minutes away from the ship. These zodiac trips ran seamlessly and because we had freakishly calm weather for most of the trip only one group did not get off the ship on just one day. Kayaking was more prone to cancellation.

People will ask - why the Quest and not an expedition ship? The size of the Quest means the ship stays put for most of the day whereas a traditional expedition ship (such as Silver Explorer) will land passengers in the morning and move to another location for a second landing in the afternoon. When you are ashore there isn’t much difference between being on the Quest or the Explorer but bear in mind the Quest, because of its size, is still limited to places it can anchor and take passengers ashore. One final difference is that the expedition ships have much slower cruising speeds and they don’t ride rough seas so well as a bigger ship. The Quest can shred distances - we did the Drake Passage in a single day! - and it rides the waves like a knife through butter.

ZODIACS

We are used to riding in zodiacs and just love the thrill of going out in them. The zodiac operation on the Quest was perhaps the best we have ever experienced - a brilliant team on the platform ensures your safety, even for those with mobility and weight issues, and there were quite a few of those. The expedition team were expert drivers and guides and on the landing beaches they endured some very harsh conditions so that we might have a great time ashore. Iggy and his team basically spent 10 hours a day standing in freezing water. They earned everyone’s gratitude and respect. And it was obvious they all loved their work. Their enthusiasm was infectious.

SIGHTS AND PHOTOGRAPHY

The landscapes on this trip were fantastic. The Chilean Fjords were a beautiful hors d’oeuvre to the main course. The landscapes of Antarctica were simply awe-inspiring. Glaciers were ice sculptures. The Lemaire Channel resembled 20 Milford Sounds glued together. South Georgia was remote, desolate and menacing one minute, almost lush and gorgeous the next. The ruined whaling stations were astonishing.

Anyone who has been on an African safari will know that luck plays a part in wildlife spotting. Also, the time of year is a major factor. Disappointingly, we didn’t see any orcas, dolphins, leopard seals or those colossal elephant seals with the big schnozzles. We did see hundreds of whales, mainly humpbacks, and we witnessed a vast pod of humpbacks bubble-netting, a spectacle that the expedition team had never seen before. We saw thousands of fur seals and their pups, immature elephant seals and a few weddell seals. We saw gazillions of birds, especially albatross, skuas, giant petrels and cape petrels. And of course penguins - we saw chinstraps, gentoos, adelies, kings and macaronis. I also saw a couple of tagliatelle but didn’t tell Brent Houston.

The cruise and the attendant lecture series brought into sharp focus what a nasty, wretched species human beings can be. When Captain Cook discovered South Georgia he went home and told everyone about the fur seals. Almost the next day people set sail to exterminate them. The same applies to the whales and the seals. The white continent quickly became the red continent. At the same time, the cruise showed how good humans can be in the various treaties now in place as well as the conservation programmes. These are so successful on South Georgia that I guess a culling programme will have to be introduced.

I took a serious camera set-up - a full-frame Canon and also a Nikon D5300. My lenses covered focal lengths between 12mm and 300mm. I never needed a bigger lens as the animals get very close. There were lots of photography fanatics on the ship as well as a lot of expensive hardware. The power sockets in cabins are not conveniently located so I’d urge people to bring an extension lead with four sockets. The ship has US and European power supply, not three-pin UK sockets. I also took a laptop to back-up and process my pictures. I’ve come away with just over 500 images - about average for me. Some of these will be uploaded to my Flickr account and I’ll supply a link in due course.

CLOTHING

There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing. We took thermal underwear, liner socks and thick socks, waterproof over-trousers, merino sweaters, liner gloves and waterproof gloves. Seabourn provided a parka, an inner quilted-style jacket, a woollen beanie and rubber ‘Wellington’ boots which we rented. The Seabourn clothing was of exceptional quality, especially the boots. The layer thing worked beautifully. Our weather throughout was fairly mild so I soon gave up wearing my liner socks. We never once felt cold on this trip. Every passenger gets a backpack. These are lightweight but not fully waterproof. When necessary we lined them (or wrapped our cameras) in the plastic bags in which the wellington boots arrived.

DRESS CODE

The only dress code that really mattered on this cruise was what you wore ashore - the zodiac uniform of boots and parka and all the other clobber. For formal evenings I took a suit and immediately regretted doing so. I wore it just the once. A few people glammed up every night, but they rather stood out and looked like they were cruising the Caribbean or the Med. Most people just wore what was comfortable, so there were plenty of jeans, cable knits and hoodies, even on Formal Nights. This seems entirely appropriate for this cruise. There are enough penguins in Antarctica without passengers trying to look like them.

DEMOGRAPHICS

The passengers were predominantly from North America (ie, USA) with British and Australians being the next largest contingent. We have done maybe ten cruises on small expedition ships and, by and large (with the emphasis on large), we thought the passengers on the Quest a rather different breed. We didn’t socialise much. I’d put the average age as about 55-60. There were several gay couples, maybe a dozen solos, some teenagers travelling with parents and two toddlers. There were a few smokers and that was never an issue.

SHIP AMENITIES

We never went to the spa, the casino, the pool, the gym, the card room, the Trivia games. Nor did we do the Block Party! We attended lectures in the Grand Salon and went to only one of the evening entertainments, the Evening With Tim Rice which we enjoyed. We really disliked the Grand Salon itself - an ergonomic mess, by far the worst room of this type we have encountered. We found the internet connection to be more than acceptable as long as you just want to check emails and write blogs for Cruise Critic. I think we had just one day without a signal.

RESTAURANTS

Breakfasts and lunches were consistently good and we tended to go to the Colonnade for these. Dinners were inconsistent - they could be great, could be dreadful. Apparently two food containers were left behind in Punta Arenas so the galleys were working with more economy than perhaps Seabourn regulars expect. It was tinned fruit after two weeks and they ran out of butter. House wines were OK, nothing special. They always wanted you to take what was offered, exclusively Chilean on this trip, but they did have more choice if you asked. We never bothered with the fine wine selection as the food just wasn’t worth it. Service at dinner was supersonic - arrive at 7pm and you’ll be done by 7.45pm so these are not leisurely dinners. We never went to the Thomas Keller Grill or The Patio.

SEABOURN SQUARE & OBSERVATION LOUNGE

The Square was our favourite area of the ship, a brilliant concept. It is the only place on the ship where you can get proper coffee as well as tasty snacks served by a marvellous team. The area also has the Seabourn reception desk, a Seabourn cruise adviser, a rather poor library and several iPads which are downloaded daily with international newspapers. The outside seating area is fabulous and you can sit there even in Antarctica, huddled in the blankets provided, watching the birds, the landscape and the waves.

In the early morning and after dinner we went to the Observation Bar on Deck 10, the room with a Cinerama view. On this cold weather cruise it sometimes became very crowded, especially for the afternoon tea service and after dinner. Early risers coffee at 6.15am usually arrived late and was often bitter. I would like see a coffee machine installed somewhere, as they do on the Regent ships.

HOUSEKEEPING

Our cabin was on Deck 7, amidships. It was serviced every day when we were at breakfast and again when we were at dinner. The housekeeping service here was absolutely outstanding. The air-con worked and so did the plumbing. We hardly ever heard our neighbours. Our wardrobe door rattled but that was the only issue. The temperature in the cabin and throughout the ship was perfect for us.

AND FINALLY . . .

This was a great cruise, not the best ever, but still a memorable experience, helped by a fabulous bridge and expedition team as well as abnormally fine weather. There are cruises to this part of the world which go spectacularly wrong - I know, I was on one. On balance, I think taking the Quest was a good choice but a hard choice to make over a more traditional expedition ship. Given the great weather we had, maybe an expedition ship would have been better, a more immersive experience. Given lousy weather, well, the Quest would be the better option. Who knows?

I’m here if anyone wants to ask any specific questions not covered already.

O Captain! My Captain! Our fearful trip is done.

The ship has weathered every rack, the prize we sought is won,

The port is near, the bells I hear, the people are exulting.

  • Walt Whitman

 

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I must say your description of the dress of most passengers at night, especially formal optional nights,, is in stark contrast with not only the experience of my Holliday Antarctica cruise but with that of friends who were on the the cruise with you.

 

 

Sent from my iPad using Forums

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Chairsin,

 

I tend to agree with you. We were on the cruise and, while we found that many chose to do their own thing on the 3 formal nights, maybe 30% wore clothing according to the published standard. That would include tuxedos or dark suits and ties for the gentlemen.

 

We enjoy dressing for Christmas Day, New Years eve and the captain’s farewell. That is our style for all Seabourn cruises, and when we do so everything about the evening, starting with how we feel upon entering the Observation Bar for cocktails at 6:00 pm, makes everything special.

 

Happy and healthy sailing!

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Good to know Markham - seems we are kindred souls. My DH and I look forward to meeting you shortly on our Cape Town to Singapore cruise.

 

 

Sent from my iPad using Forums

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I would have to agree about the dress on the ship for dinner. On our cruise ( a year ago) we dressed nicely for dinner each night and I wore long gowns on formal nights since they occurred at Christmas and New Years. I never saw people dressed in jeans, cable knits and hoodies in the dining room.

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I did say the only dress code that matters on this cruise is what you wear ashore. My comments about casual clothing were confined to the Colonnade where we went for perhaps half of our dinners.

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11 hours ago, whogo said:

Just read this wonderful blog. Thank you, Fletcher.

 

Thank you, whogo.  I hope other Questors on the upcoming 2019/20 Antarctic voyages make the effort and let us join them for the ride.  Everyone has their own take on these cruises . . . 

 

I promised a link to my photos . . . here it is -

https://www.flickr.com/photos/up70mm/albums/72157664827943208

 

 

 

Edited by Fletcher

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Thanks for the link to your photos, they are amazing. My photos will not be as good and not just because I will take an inferior camera. I plan to blog my usual "grouch" drivel from the January 12th Santiago to Buenos Aires cruise.

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While I read part of this report back in 2017, I evidently never finished reading it--which I did this morning.  Thank you Fletcher for a truly informative and entertaining travel report.  I enjoyed it immensely.  

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WOW WOW WOW! We looked at your album several times and are amazed by the scenery, your photographic composition and expertise. Excited about our Feb cruise but now disappointed we won't be visiting South Georgia. Many thanks for sharing.

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On 9/13/2019 at 5:34 AM, vaitape said:

WOW WOW WOW! We looked at your album several times and are amazed by the scenery, your photographic composition and expertise. Excited about our Feb cruise but now disappointed we won't be visiting South Georgia. Many thanks for sharing.

 

Thank you vaitape - I do like your name!  Wish I was there right now. 

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Fletcher,

WOW is right. I was also on this cruise, and I must say have seen many photos from it taken by those with much better cameras than my cell phone. Some with lenses larger than small children and tripods larger than cranes. Many of the people who owned this equipment even had the technical skill sets to use them. None however had your eye for composition and capture. Thank you for sharing.

 

I would have been happy with another week or so of the samey sameness of Antarctica. I wonder if a few years has changed your mind?

 

I do share your love of the South Pacific tropical setting. That samey sameness deserves months. When we reached the outskirts of Montivedo and our feet now released from their welly confines slipped into the Rio de La Plata, it was heaven.

 

TKG Lobster Thermidor tip: Tell them to hold the Thermidor. 

 

I enjoy your writting style, off to read your other posts.

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11 hours ago, highplanesdrifters said:

Fletcher,

 

 

I would have been happy with another week or so of the samey sameness of Antarctica. I wonder if a few years has changed your mind?

 

I do share your love of the South Pacific tropical setting. That samey sameness deserves months.

 

Thank you highplainsdrifters -  I look back fondly to those Antarctic landscapes but I'm not sure I would ever go back there.  However, I would happily go back to South Georgia and always look in vain for a cruise that also visits the South Sandwich Islands.  As for the South Pacific, I've just booked a back-to-back on Ponant's Le Soleal visiting the Marquesas and the Austral Islands.  I'm also likely to book another Ponant trip next March sailing from Recife in Brazil to Fernando de Noronha then Bissagos Islands in Guinea-Bissau and ending in Dakar in Senegal.  Hopefully when Seabourn gets its expedition ship we might find itineraries like these. 

Edited by Fletcher

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12 minutes ago, Fletcher said:

deleted

 

Edited by Fletcher

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On 9/15/2019 at 7:57 AM, Fletcher said:

However, I would happily go back to South Georgia and always look in vain for a cruise that also visits the South Sandwich Islands.  

Ditto.

 

I'm relatively new to cruising and destination driven. Have you been on Ponant? Look forward to an independent review as opposed to the Brand Cheerleaders or perpetual whiners.

 

Booked on Seabourn Venture Svalbard/Greenland. Also just grabbed a quickie Silversea Explorer Apia to Kobe. First time on Explorer, its only 11 days, but still not sure.

 

The CC boards seem to reflect a deterioration of service along with the reluctance of the Captain to deliver something that resembles an Expedition product on said Expedition Cruise. The reluctance might be from potential legal action should someone get wet, clashing with the expedition leader, or general unwillingness to deliver a premium expedition product. The luxury expedition product is rapidly expanding, and the poaching of talent is rampant. Must look for an insider to help me navigate!

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14 hours ago, highplanesdrifters said:

Booked on Seabourn Venture Svalbard/Greenland. Also just grabbed a quickie Silversea Explorer Apia to Kobe. First time on Explorer, its only 11 days, but still not sure.

 

 

I’ve not sailed with Ponant before.  Two of their ships were berthed alongside us Questors at Ushuaia and they looked incredibly sleek and sophisticated.   I’m not expecting Seabourn standards inside the ship but I do think that, right now, Ponant has the best itineraries and I am still itinerary driven.  Hapag-Lloyd is Ponant’s only rival as far as itineraries are concerned.  Try as I might, I can’t find a single cruise on Seabourn that I fancy ( do I hear cheers or sighs of relief?).

 

I do think that Silversea Explorer trip from Guam to Japan looks enticing as it goes through some very rarely visited places.  And that’s what cruising is all about for me, going to places that I can’t fly to (like South Georgia, Pitcairn, Tristan) or to places where there is nowhere to stay or really only merit a single day’s visit (like Benin or Los Angeles).

 

I’ve done the Caribbean and Indian Ocean islands, I discount Alaska and the Med as heavily over-touristed.  Apart from the Kimberleys, I don’t regard Australia as a cruise destination.  Or New Zealand which is a road trip. Or most of the Far East and India.  Which leaves me with the South Pacific, the best cruise destination there is, as long as you choose the right ship.

 

PS: The Ponant forum on Cruise Critic is deadly dull.  I must try and do something about that.

Edited by Fletcher

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12 hours ago, Fletcher said:

Try as I might, I can’t find a single cruise on Seabourn that I fancy ( do I hear cheers or sighs of relief?).

Ditto, except for the Svalbard I have booked. I keep looking thinking I must have missed something. The sighs you hear are 'c'mon Seabourn' enough with the itinerary rut you've sailed yourself into. Perhaps Iggy with find the adventurous Captain he deserves and corporate will listen.

12 hours ago, Fletcher said:

 

PS: The Ponant forum on Cruise Critic is deadly dull.  I must try and do something about that.

Dull, save for one or two who are trying.  I look forward to your insight.  It was the beauty of their ships that first caught my eye.   I considered them when I first started cruising in 2013. My TA advised against it, as my high school French would not be sufficient and I would feel isolated. It sounds like perhaps that has changed.

 

Silverseas Explorer has a Dunedin to Dunedin which hits some remote sub arctic islands that looks very interesting.  Unfortunately I can't make that one. Perhaps next time they offer it.

 

Forgot to mention, as of August, the Quest had a Nespresso machine in the observation bar.

 

In closing, does LA really merit one day?

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On 9/15/2019 at 2:57 AM, Fletcher said:

 

Thank you highplainsdrifters -  I look back fondly to those Antarctic landscapes but I'm not sure I would ever go back there.  However, I would happily go back to South Georgia and always look in vain for a cruise that also visits the South Sandwich Islands.  As for the South Pacific, I've just booked a back-to-back on Ponant's Le Soleal visiting the Marquesas and the Austral Islands.  I'm also likely to book another Ponant trip next March sailing from Recife in Brazil to Fernando de Noronha then Bissagos Islands in Guinea-Bissau and ending in Dakar in Senegal.  Hopefully when Seabourn gets its expedition ship we might find itineraries like these. 

 

We loved this so much we are booked to do it again this time from Santiago to the Amazon in Manaus Brazil.  We spent a week in the Amazon by land eco-tour this past Ferbruary so seeing by air-conditioned cruise ship may be a let down. I wanted to do the So. Georgia cruise on Seabourn but the holiday sailing does not work for us this year.  I'm hoping that the March timeframe in Antartica will allow us to witness the elusive aurora australis. I looked at some of the other lines' offerings but the Quest really gives a lot for the fare.  I know you are an avid photographer so I am posting two of mine for your perusal:

Peterman-Island-Red-Shed-1.gif

Antartic-glacier-pano-1.gif

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So, you're going back, insert sly smile. Yes, Quest, talk about bang for your bucks. I also was happy with the trade off versus full expedition. Hope you get the green 'spooky action at a distance'.

 

Amazon...not so much for me. Perhaps you can enlighten me.

 

Love the shots. Don't remember the red shack. Chilean Outpost? Here's one for your perusal. I wonder how many others have this shot?  Sadly I was not allowed to take the vertebrae home.

20190917_140346.jpg

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