On the 28th of November, we joined the luxury cruise to Antarctica operated by Ponant, one of the leading French cruise lines. It is a place south of everything, far from home, a time zone separated by 11 hours, a transverse from the north to the southern hemisphere, and 48 hours of flight time.
It was a trip of a lifetime. I have a separate article with over eighty stunning images documenting the whole itinerary for our expedition. However, this article will focus on life on a luxury cruise.
How do we book our luxury cruise to Antarctica?
Antarctic cruises usually operate during summer, from October to February, with temperatures slightly above 0°C. This period is the best time to visit because most sea ice is melted, making it possible to land at various locations.
We took three connecting flights. Unfortunately, there were no flights on certain days, meaning we had to stay overnight in Buenos Aires and took a domestic flight to Ushuaia the following day. Fortunately, our travel agent Sedunia Travels took care of all these nitty-gritty things. Everything went smoothly, and we did not have to worry about the flight schedule, confusing time zone, and airport transfer. Sedunia Travel represents the French Cruise Company Ponant, a specialist in Antarctica cruises.
I recommend contacting Sedunia Travels for more information if you are from Malaysia. If not, find an agent where you live to make all the necessary arrangements.
The embarkation process
We arrived in Buenos Aires a day before we flew to Ushuaia. As a luxury cruise to Antarctica, Ponant had made all the arrangements for us.
Ponant had arranged accommodation for us at Alvear Art Hotel in Bueno Aires. A PCR test was conducted at the hotel, which is mandatory 24 hours before boarding the expedition ship.
And our luggage was transferred directly to our cabin.
Upon arrival at Ushuaia, we joined an optional tour to Tierra del Fuego, which I will tell you the trip in a separate article. After the tour, the coach sent us right into the port, only steps away from our ship Le Lyrial, which had docked to welcome us on board.
The embarking process took about ten minutes, including validating our documents at the reception on deck 3. The staff kept my passport throughout the trip and returned it to me on the day I disembarked.
We were given an access card as the door key and the access document to board the Zodiac for our excursions.
When we opened the door, our luggage had already arrived.
As a luxury cruise to Antarctica, we had high expectations of the facilities in our cabin. Our cabin (called Stateroom) is on deck 5. The total area is 18 m2, excluding the balcony. It is a compact room but fitted with everything you expect for a five-star hotel room.
A king-size bed, as requested.
A table is perfect for in-room dining and editing my video clip at night.
A flat-screen TV, free 24 hours internet, coffee-making machine, a fridge (with wine and snacks on the house)
A balcony with a table and two chairs.
A dedicated cabin stewardess was assigned to provide housekeeping and fulfill all our needs.
After a quick fresh up, we went straight to the Theater at deck 4 to attend the safety drill.
Safety drill, boots, and parka distribution
A safety drill was organized at the Theater at deck 4 immediately after checking into our cabin. Everyone was shown how to put on the life jacket. This is mandatory and must be done strictly.
The crew members provided us with boots, then cleaned them thoroughly with water and detergent. We were also required to thoroughly vacuum our pockets and bags, the tips of the tripod, and the walking pole. All these steps are necessary to prevent bringing seeds and other non-native species into Antarctica.
We were given a parka to wear for the excursion and bring home afterward.
OK, we were all ready for the exciting moment to land in Antarctica. However, we must first cross the notorious Drake Passage to reach Antarctica. There was where the challenge began, be it you consider it as torture or an unforgettable experience.
Our expedition cruise ship sailed slowly through the Beagle Channel, which was calm. However, the sea condition abruptly changed once we entered the Drake Passage.
Crossing the infamous Drake Passage
If there is one sea dreaded by tourists and hardened seafarers alike, it is undoubtedly the Drake Passage. Situated at the latitude of the notorious Furious Fifties winds between Cape Horn and the South Shetland Islands is the shortest route from Antarctic Peninsula to South America.
The Drake Passage is one of the most treacherous seas in the world. This 600-mile-wide passage is rough because this is where the Pacific, Atlantic, and Southern Oceans converge. Besides, there is no landmass to create resistance, coupled with high winds, and the waves had been recorded as high as 40ft (12m).
The sea was rough while we crossed the passage, yet the swelling water still hit the window on deck 2 multiple times. Our luxury cruise to Antarctica can handle it with ease, but not ourselves 🙂
We must earn our visit to the White Continent!
The first day was the most miserable one, especially for the unprepared passengers. The strong wind carried the waves bashing from both sides, causing at least a third of our fellow passengers nauseating and vomit. We underestimated the power of the rough seas.
The glass bottles rattled, clothes swayed on hangers, and my sunscreen slid off the table. Our friends told us that she was rowing from side to side while sleeping.
We were expecting strong currents but still underestimated the power of nature. So after we got punished and learned the lesson, we took seasick pills tamely in advance on our return trip.
Note: Seasickness pills and patches are highly recommended. The common seasick pills are dimenhydrinate and meclizine/pyridoxine, best to be taken a few hours before crossing the Drake Passage. The seasick patches (stick at the back of both ears) usually contain scopolamine is also effective.
Enjoy the stunning view, spotting whales and penguins
The view was exceptionally enchanting when our ship sailed through the Lemaire Channel. The Captain made a special announcement to ask us to look out for the floating iceberg at the Antarctic circle.
Once we passed the Drake passage and entered the polar regions, the weather conditions became more pleasing. The sea is gradually turning from rolling waves into a vista of icebergs.
I could see a humpback whale half a mile from me; It was hard to capture that moment even with my 400mm telephoto lens.
During that time, some of us took up kayaking and managed to get closer to the whale.
There is always something to look for on the cruise. Of course, the Panoramic Terrace on deck 6 is the best place to look for whales and penguins.
The view outside the ship changes every moment, from the gigantic icebergs to the sunset during golden hours.
And spectacular sunrise at 2:00 am.
Activities on the luxury cruise to Antarctica- Le Lyrial
We received a program sheet each evening about the activity the following day.
We could enjoy all the five-star facilities while not joining the expedition. The main lounge serves simple breakfasts for the early birds and offers afternoon tea daily. There are live performances every afternoon, and it is a popular place to relax and mingle after a day of excursions.
The Panoramic terrace on deck 6 is the best place to observe wildlife, especially whales. We were mesmerized by the lovely piano renditions while seeping our favorite cocktail.
There is a small library next to the grand piano, where I read books about Antarctica.
A small gymnasium with treadmills, bicycles, and a strength training combo machine. The gym is my favorite place to go, ensuring I am physically fit and burning the extra calories from the spread of the buffet.
There is also a spa on board. The cost varies depending on the package and is not included in the initial payment.
The heated swimming pool is on deck 6, outside the grill restaurant.
The image & photo desk is on deck 5, where you can view all the photos taken by the in-house photographer and order your copy.
The souvenir shop is next to the main lounge. We could charge to our credit card or pay in US Dollars.
Antarctica is the driest continent on earth. Some of us had given our bodies a treat at the hammam after exposing to a harsh environment.
A clinic at deck 3 with a doctor on board in case anyone needs medical treatments.
The cruise also organized dancing and yoga class, dance performance, wine tasting, and more to keep you entertained.
Activities specific to the polar expedition cruise
The above features are the standard entertainment for a luxury cruise. In addition, there are specific activities organized for the Antarctica expedition.
- Recaps are held each day before dinner. Our expedition leader provided additional information about what had been covered for the day. We took the opportunity to ask questions and clarify things related to what we encountered. It is one of the most popular activities, although it is not compulsory.
- Specific lectures on topics about Antarctica were held regularly. The lectures are related to penguins, seals, icebergs, volcanoes, and other related subjects to what we saw. The classes were not compulsory but provided valuable information.
- Dinner with naturalists. We can ask the naturalist in the expedition team anything during a pre-arranged dinner.
Wine is bottomless, and the kitchen is open 24 hours
There are two restaurants and two bars/lounges to ensure a constant flow of food and wine during our stay.
The grill restaurant on deck 6 provides breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily.
The gastronomic restaurant on deck 2 served full-course lunch, dinner, and semi-buffet breakfast. However, the food is primarily French, and it would be nice to offer a more international menu since guests are from all over the world.
The main lounge on deck 3 offers breakfast as early as 6:30 for the early birds. This lounge is also the place to embark on the Zodiac boats, and they offer afternoon and late morning tea when we return from our land excursion.
The panoramic lounge on deck 6 is adjacent to the panoramic terrace. The lounge offers various cocktails, and a pianist is there to perform live music.
We would never get hungry because the room service is available 24 hours.
Gala dinner with the Captain
As a luxury cruise to Antarctica, Le Leryal has everything you can think of for a five-star hotel. There was a gala dinner with Captain Remi, and he introduced his team to us, plus performances.
Visiting the bridge
We signed up for the tour to visit the Bridge on deck 5, where Captain Remi briefly explained how to sail the ship and answered our questions. Here are the main points he mentioned to us.
- The maximum speed of our ship is 18 knots per hour.
- The essential equipment of the ship is radar, not GPS.
- The ship is run on autopilot mode mostly. However, manual maneuvering is used when accuracy counts, for example, during docking.
- There are four generators on the ship. The power of one generator can run a whole 5-star hotel.
- The water used on the ship is processed from seawater with reverse osmosis.
- The used water is processed, and the staff will dispose of the garbage on the mainland.
Watch our video shot during our stay on our cruise, LeLyrial. 👇👇
If you have read this blog post this far, don’t miss out on the video shot on our cruise, Le Lyrial. Click the image below to watch on YouTube (shot in high definition!).
Before I came, I was sure this would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, not only costly but required taking work off for three weeks. However, the enchanting sceneries and the unusual wildlife captured my heart after this expedition. Who knows, I will return when I save enough in the future. I will visit the Falkland Islands, South Georgia island, and the Weddell sea by then. These are the places I will meet the king penguins and the Weddell seal, which were unfound in the area I visited on this trip. Also, I would take on the polar plunge if there is an opportunity!
Read our articles about the expedition and Zodiac cruise
This post is focused on our life on the cruise. But we are in Antarctica because of the landscape, icebergs, volcano, penguins, fur seals, elephant seals, and a variety of bird species that can only be found here. We have a separate article on all our excursions at various landing sites and Zodiac cruise. I invite you to view the stunning landscape and Antarctic wildlife. Here is the link to the article, Epic Antarctica trip- Journey to the end of the world (where few have been before).