Tell them you are going to Antarctica, and they have to tell you about storms and ice. This January people were quick to bring up a Russian ship stuck in the ice. One person said to me that two out of three cruise ships were never even able to see the continent.
Now to be fair, the weather can be rough. Cape Horn is notorious for the number of shipwrecks. Drake Passage, between the Horn and Antarctica, is only about 450 miles wide and becomes a funnel for ocean currents and winds. The tourists on the Russian ship were evacuated by helicopter.
In 2007, we boarded a ship that had just “rounded the Horn,” and were told that waves had been over third deck portholes. The captain said it was his worst trip ever. At dinner on this cruise, one couple told us they had taken the same route in the spring of 2013, had been unable to see much of Antarctica, and had been unable to even get into many South American ports. The captain of our ship said the ship could not visit the Falkland Islands fifty percent of the time.
Our weather was fantastic! We are the people who brought rain to Ayers Rock in Australia in 1986. We brought 17 days of rain and the worst floods in history to central Europe (see June 2013). We had great weather in Puerto Montt and Castro. Our Puerto Chacabuco guide was ecstatic to see the sun. Our guides in Punta Arenas, Ushuaia and Port Stanley all told us how unusually nice the weather was. Patrick, a Holland America travel guide, told us the Straits of Magellan were as calm as he had ever seen. Furthermore, he had never been to Cape Horn when it was so beautiful and peaceful. Our Port Stanley guide apologized: “The weather isn’t usually like this; we don’t get this much sun.”
We were up before the early summer sunrise to see the Amalia Glacier and Chilean Fjords. A shipwreck in the Paso Shoal reminded us the weather was not always so good. The next day we were in the Strait of Magallenes (Straits of Magellan) to Punta Arenas. From Punta Arenas, we continued on to the Beagle Channel (we had been in the Darwin Channel earlier) and
Ushuaia, Argentina. Sometimes there was fog or a light rain, but invariably the sun came out. We were told the blue ice developed that color over the millennia as the weight of snow and ice above it gradually forced out any bubbles of air.
When we became too cold or just wanted a break, we could retreat to the “Crow’s Nest,” a bar at the top level of the ship, with panoramic window views. Much of the time, the ship’s lecturers also had displays there related to their topics, and there were charts showing our route. However, many of us were most fascinated by an interactive touch screen that we could manipulate to show where we were – or any other place – and zoom in and out at will.
We will leave it to you to say whether Chile’s Glacier Alley is better than Alaska’s Glacier Bay (I don’t think so; others disagree). Are the Chilean fiords better than those in New Zealand (March 2011) or Norway (August 2013)?
Approach every place with an open mind and heart, however, and you will find something to enjoy. And most importantly, don’t let those who find pleasure in tales of woe discourage you. Even a disastrous voyage will make a good tale for your friends when you return home.
Finally, let us all try to collect stories of survival and recovery when we hear them. The next time someone comes to us with bad news, we will have a reservoir of encouragement.