Part 1: How It All Got Started…or…
More Than You Probably Ever Wanted to Know
First, for the record Antarctica was not number one on my travel list or even second. In fact it wasn’t even on my radar screen. Second, Antarctica is that aspirational elusive Number 7 for those into collecting continents…but not for me. You can read what I was collecting in my About. Third, it’s not like one can get there by taking a wrong turn…it’s takes a very deliberate course of action and a small chunk of change to make it happen. Most plan and dream for years before a magnificent trip like this can happen. I am truly fortunate….one year from first thought and I was on my way! So I guess I can safely say, never get in the way of a woman that has her mind made up.
I could do this whole stream-of-consciousness thing of how I wound up choosing to go to the Antarctic going back to the day I was born and the decisions that led me up to this moment but I’ll just spare you the pain and go back as far as the Golden Princess cruise we did around South America in January 2015.
One of our ports-of-call was the Falkland Islands. What is there to see on that somewhat barren, wind-swept piece of rock that Argentina and Great Britain keeps skirmishing over you ask? Penguins….at least three varieties. Where else does one see penguins? Yep, the Antarctic. And that never-ending skirmish… if you aren’t already aware…God Save The Queen…for this round!
The other influential port-of-call was Ushuaia, Argentina. Other than carrying the title of Fin del Mundo…’the end of the world’, it also has the distinction of being a jumping off point for excursions to Antarctica. Long story short, Princess was known to offer excursions to the Antarctic Peninsula if all the factors of time, weather, and flying equipment participated in the process. The cost for the opportunity to be able to say ‘been there, done that”….just a measly $3000….un-re-fund-able. Yep. One tear or a bazillion…”Sorry Charlie”. (In this case, travel insurance is your friend.) Undeterred, I told Mr. TxPepper that I was going; he didn’t have to.
But the practical side of me was not to be denied. Since the cost was not refundable and we would only be landside for a couple of hours at most, I figured that adding a ‘little’ *wink, wink* more money would allow for a full-fledged trip. So I asked Mr. TxP if he would be interested in going to Antarctica. All he would have to do is try on the occasional piece of clothing and stay healthy; I would take care of everything from soup to nuts. He said ‘yes’ in a rather un-enthusiastic, non-committal sort of way. [I don’t think he was really listening to me when I asked.] So, I promptly jumped on the ‘yes’ and dismissed the ship’s excursion from my mind. Turns out that the time in port had to be at least eleven hours; we were booked for ten. The excursion was not even an option. But I was already mentally on the way to Antarctica.
After we returned home from the South America cruise…which I would do again in a heartbeat, I started to research traveling to Antarctica. Gotta love the internet….and those who are willing to take the time to write about their experiences and post online. Karen has an excellent, well-organized blog on her Antarctica planning and experience. Also, TripAdvisor sprinkled with a little bit of CruiseCritic.com are your friends.
After hours of reading, creating spreadsheets for ship comparisons, etc. I made a decision. The company I selected was Quark Expeditions. The boat Ocean Endeavour. It was new-ish to the fleet (but far ftom ‘shiny new’) and had undergone a bit of refurbish so that was points in its favor. Passenger max was 200 plus crew…one of the largest of the small boats that go to Antarctica but still very small compared to what we had been sailing on. Larger equals more stability in rough seas right? Gotta think about Mr. TxP.
I didn’t want to just get close…I had already had that opportunity…I wanted to cross The Circle, step on the continent. February 2, 2015 I went clickety-click and committed to Crossing the Circle: Southern Expedition January 22 – February 4, 2016 on the Ocean Endeavor led by Quark Expeditions (that is a mouth full). Almost one whole year away. I don’t think I’ve ever planned a trip that far in advance.
We would depart from Buenos Aires (BA), take a Quark charter flight to Ushuaia where we would embark the same day and begin The Trip! One of the factors that made this specific itinerary attractive, I only had to worry about getting to BA…which was a non-stop flight from Houston. After that first leg, the rest of the trip was on cruise control aka Quark’s responsibility. No more worrying about flight delays, having to plan gap-time for just-in-case…which meant extra hotel nights, other extra costs, etc. This was a trip where one could not ‘catch up with the boat’ if your inbound flight didn’t participate in the process. Based on the stories of some of the passengers, most of them had planned multiple gap-days and arrived early. The early arrivals from the US east-coast were lucky as there was a massive snow storm all along the upper east coast just as we departed for BA. For us, I planned for one gap-day as we were more likely to get whacked with airplane mechanical issues rather than snow and ice here in Houston. So my rule of thumb for hugely major extreme location travel is….one gap day at a minimum for each major flight segment if all the flights/segments are not on one record. And to always overnight in the city of your international departure. Ask me sometime about our international flight from Delhi.
What was next on the list to do? Book airline tickets.
One of our splurges in traveling is to fly business-class when the price is not too egregious. It was. So I booked points reward business-class tickets. Zip forward a few months….and remembering that we would be flying in a new frequent flier elite qualification year…. I needed to keep in mind the process of earning miles and revenue dollars to requalify at our current status level so I started watching the fares.
Fast forward some more, coach tickets with upgrade confirmed on the outbound and waitlisted on the return was the order of the day. Clickety-click. I know…you’re sitting on pins and needles wondering if we got the upgrade for the return. In a word, No! but at that point, I didn’t really care. The bulk of the trip was over; I would have lots of room to stretch out at home.
Next up…even more shopping! Of course. And eventually pictures!