This is our latest blog post from Brendan van Son:
Our ship sat in the bay of Ushuaia waiting for us the afternoon of our departure. It floated in the port dwarfed by huge ships carrying anywhere between 500 to 2000 passengers to the “White Continent.” Like a toy vehicle beside a full sized car it would be easy to become intimidated by the large ships. And as those who entered the large ships may have been looking down on us both physically and mentally, what they didn’t know is that we were going to have more fun. This is my review of the advantages of expedition vs. cruise trips to Antarctica.
Our ship held just over a hundred passengers, although we were a total of 88 on my trip. The small size of the group quickly created a community as nearly everyone knew each other’s name, shared dinner tables like families and took pictures of one and other to share later. The small size is also a huge advantage when interacting with the expedition guides and staff as a personal relationship can be built between passenger and guides. When it comes to land excursions, is where the small group size has its biggest advantage. Whereas the large ships can only land 100 people at a time on most landings, the expedition ships can off load everyone at the same time, which eventually leads to more excursions and essentially more time off the ship exploring.
When I talk about age, it has nothing to do with how many days have been spent alive, rather the passenger’s adventure age. Our ship had passengers between the age of 15 to 70, but all of the passengers showed the same sense of adventure and maintained a child-like curiosity throughout the trip. Each person, from the youngest to the oldest, held strong to the idea of continually learning, exploring, and discovering.
It may be completely possible that the ships of 2000 passengers preach responsible tourism to their passengers, but the truth is that it is very difficult to manage when groups are that size. On our ship we received a lecture on preservation and responsible tourism before our initial landing and we were constantly reminded that if we wanted our children’s children to be able to visit this wonderful place that it was up to us to preserve. The smaller group sizes and responsible travel committed staff ensured that we would get the most out of our visit while maintaining our respect for the environment.
An expedition is more than just a cruise it is a trip where you can gain a better appreciation of the place that you visit. I made this claim in describing the value of hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. When you journey to somewhere and receive the history, culture, and natural information about a location it makes you value a destination that much more. The guides on board were all very knowledgeable and some of the best in their fields and were always open to teaching. On the expedition cruise we were given the option of attending lectures on the animal life, history, geography, geology, and much more if we wanted. And if you didn’t care to learn about it, you were more than welcome to pass your time sipping gin and tonics in the bar.
With the smaller group sizes and experienced staff on the expedition ships the journeys are allowed to become much more flexible. For example, our crossing of the Drake Passage went by smoothly so we received an extra land excursion a day early. Upon our return we had banked an extra half day due to calm seas and were allowed to round Cape Horn. The flexibility also allows you to feel as though you are part of the decision making process
If a cruise is what you are looking for, that is fine. However, I strongly encourage all of you to take part in these expedition style trips instead. You will gain a stronger appreciation for the land you discover, avoid pushing your way through hundreds of people at the ship buffet, and be joined by a group of like-minded individuals ready for an adventure.