Antarctica view from ship

Mollie-Jo in Antarctica with HX Expeditions

‘If you can describe Antarctica, you haven’t been.’  The captain of HX Hurtigruten Expeditions’ MS Fridtjof Nansen, told us this early on our once in a lifetime trip to the seventh continent, Antarctica. It soon came to fruition exactly what he meant. However, I am indeed going to try my best to describe this life-changing trip, and why everybody should experience it at least once in their lifetime.

On 6th March, myself and Senior Cruise Connoisseur Emma began our journey to board the MS Fridtjof Nansen in Ushuaia, starting our trip on HX Hurtigruten Expeditions ‘Highlights of Antarctica’ itinerary. After a relaxed journey to Buenos Aires, where we explored Argentinian culture before staying in the beautiful Emperador Hotel for one night. We took the short flight to Ushuaia—also known as the end of the world—filled with excitement, like I cannot begin to explain, knowing penguins, icebergs, humpback whales, and seals were within reach. 

Argentina flag
Prior to embarking on the ship, HX provided a tour around Tierra Del Fuego National Park for all guests included in the cruise fare. This was a perfect start to the trip. Our HX tour guide, Damien, was extremely informative and we had plenty of time to explore the natural beauty and peace of this region of the Patagonia area. Sitting by the lake, taking a few moments to reflect on the journey we had already made, and wondering what lay ahead for us was a centering experience that set us up perfectly for 10 days of intense exploration and adventure.

For me, the trip truly started when I boarded the beautiful MS Fridtjof Nansen for the first time. We were taken right up to the gangway, the true definition of door-to-door service and were welcomed warmly with plenty of smiling faces all on hand to help in any way possible. After receiving our key cards and checking in, which was an extremely seamless and quick process with no queues, I might add, we received our iconic HX parkas, ready to be armed against the elements. Emma and I then retreated to our Arctic Superior cabin, with a beautiful open balcony, seating area, dressing table and most importantly 2 extremely comfortable beds, perfect for crashing into after being intrepid explorers for the day. We took time to find our way around and take a look at all the amenities on offer including the science center, the lecture hall, the hot tubs and pool, the sauna, the three different dining options, the gym, the spa and so much more. I was blown away with what the ship had to offer, and it enhanced our experience even more, for example being able to take part in lectures such as ‘Penguinology’ with the onboard Ornithologist in the lecture hall and learn the science and facts behind our destination and the wildlife too.

View from hot tub

It was an early dinner before crashing to get some sleep as we began our transit through the Beagle Channel to enter the Drakes Passage to the one and only, unmistakable White Continent. The excitement was palpable.

So, the question I assume you will all be wondering. What was our Drakes Passage crossing like? 
After leaving Ushuaia, there is a 2-day crossing across the Drakes Passage, which is often described as the Drake ‘Lake’ or ‘Shake’ depending on the waves and swell. We were extremely lucky both ways of the crossing. We experienced Drake Lake, which was extremely calm, with very small swells. This allowed us to explore the ship, take part in IAATO and science lectures, enjoy onboard activities, connect with our fellow travellers, and rest too. There is so much to do on the ship to stay busy and the two days go extremely quickly, especially on the way there as the excitement is overwhelming and bubbling. The feeling when the first iceberg is spotted as you enter Antarctic waters is like nothing else, you know you’re nearly there by this point. There is absolutely no doubt that all the travelling is worth it.
Have you ever heard a glacier carve just a few hundred metres away,  whales cry, or had a leopard seal just metres away from you under the backdrop of the ocean and towering glaciers in the most remote place on earth? 

Penguin lecture

I got to experience all of this from a landing site as I camped on the White Continent. 

I was lucky enough to be chosen in the lottery draw for the Amundsen Night, which consists of a night camping in tents on the ice with 30 other passengers. After a warm and delicious dinner in Freidheim–which was our daily favourite for lunch–and wrapping up in several layers, we took a zodiac to our landing site as the sun began to set.

Sunset

We were met with our pulkas, which resembled a sled, holding our tents, and sleeping bags, penguins, and a leopard seal– the first of which we had seen this close. We chose our spots and put up our tents before using our time to admire the peace and find the beauty in the silence of Antarctica. Although the whole experience of camping was so special and an unforgettable night, there was one moment that will have a long-lasting effect on me for the rest of my life. Our expedition guide, Arnaud, took a group of 7 of us to a quiet area away from the buzz of the tents and we enjoyed a guided group meditation. As we closed our eyes and followed him through it, we were told to ‘connect to the sounds’ and if we were lucky, we would perhaps hear a whale. Well, cue the tears as a pod of humpback whales came past ‘singing’ and a glacier carved into the water just moments later. Goosebumps covered me as I was speechless and choked up that I was here, in Antarctica, experiencing what many can only dream of. It was a true privilege to be there and present in the moment. This was only followed by a game of cards as a group sat by our tents under the stars, because what else do you do when camping on The White Continent? Oh. and to make the experience even better, I won! 

Line of tents
After settling down for the evening at 11pm and falling fast asleep, snuggled inside a sleeping-bag fit for temperatures of up to -15℃, to the sound of snow falling against the tent, I woke up at 5 am ready to collapse our tents, and head back to MS Fridtjof Nansen, where all the other guests were still fast asleep. Once we had packed up and spent a while admiring the sunrise, our zodiacs came to pick us up and we were met back on the expedition launch with a Baileys hot chocolate. To trump this was our exclusive camping group breakfast in Lindstrom. There was certainly no time to waste going back to our cabins to put our layers back, we were straight to breakfast to see what awaited us. This was a very special way to end a very special night on the ice. We were greeted with a mimosa and a beautiful buffet of continental breakfast, coupled with a-la-carte service of anything we could want, from omelettes, to scrambled eggs and salmon and more. Anita–the hotel manager–then presented us with our certificates to certify our night following in the footsteps of Amundsen. It certainly was one of the most amazing experiences of my life, and one I will truly never forget. If you get the chance to camp in Antarctica, I would strongly urge you to take the opportunity. It isn’t as cold as you think!

Camping land
It is almost impossible for me to choose highlights from the trip, as every single second was awe-inspiring and like nothing I have ever experienced. However, along with my camping experience I mentioned, there are some more stand out moments- in no particular order of course.

I officially stepped foot on my 7th and final continent. Neko Harbor was our first official landing on the continent of Antarctica, meaning at just 19 years old I had reached all 7 continents of the world. We experienced a perfect ‘bluebird’ day with the weather, which we were assured is not always normal, and although the temperature was pleasant it made the conditions for climbing icy! With our walking poles, mud boots, and a whole lot of determination I made it to the top, where the views were breathtaking. Surrounded by Gentoo penguins and carving glaciers sending waves across the water, I took a moment to realise the enormity of the opportunity I was experiencing, and it was certainly an emotional moment. Grateful does not cover it.

Next on my top moments must be, without a doubt, Wilhelmina Bay. If you have ever wanted to see Humpback and Minke whales just metres away, this is the place to go. We headed to the expedition launch on deck 3 to head into our zodiacs, and begin our cruising around the bay and I simply couldn’t believe my luck. From the moment we left the side of the ship, Humpbacks were breaching and feeding immediately in front of us, and soon we were surrounded by over 10 whales, with more in the distance. Although I managed to capture some ‘David Attenborough’ style videos, I also just knelt in the zodiac simply admiring the sheer size yet grace of these creatures, admittedly with tears in my eyes. This was a bucket list for me, as I am sure it is for many others too. 

zodiac from behind
Have you ever plunged into -0.3℃ water with the outside air temperature at -1℃? I did, I lived to tell the tale and I can tell you it is exhilarating. You have got to do the polar plunge if the weather permits, and you can get to the beach. The smile on our faces showed just how pleased we were with ourselves afterwards, especially when we sat in the hot tub 15 minutes later warming up! It’s an absolute thrill and my certificate is now framed and a prized possession!

There is so much more that I could talk about, as every single minute of every day was a highlight and unforgettable, but these moments are the true stand out for me. Not to forget the beautiful ship and its amenities that we called home for two weeks– the hot tub and sauna was a particular favourite– everything was perfect.  My top tip for a trip to Antarctica, is to do as much as you can with what is offered to you. For most, it will be a once in a lifetime trip so take the opportunities whilst you are there, as I can promise that you will not regret it in the slightest.

Penguins
Overall, HX Hurtigruten Expeditions’ Antarctica itineraries offer a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to immerse yourself in one of the world's last true wildernesses, experiencing the breathtaking beauty and ecological richness of the Antarctic continent.

My trip to Antarctica was simply the best trip and experience of my entire life, and I think moving forward will prove hard, if not impossible to top. From whale watching, to polar plunging, the trip was life changing for me as an individual.

If my trip has inspired you to uncover your inner explorer, head to the 7th continent and become part of the less than 1% of the population who will ever visit Antarctica, please contact one of our expert connoisseurs who can help you find a trip you are guaranteed to never forget.

Call Panache Cruises on 0161 513 8200 if you want to learn more about HX Hurtigruten Expeditions

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