In this series, we’re sharing how expedition cruising can help you reach more remote, Bucket List destinations in comfortable, often luxurious accommodations. Expedition cruises bring you up-close encounters with wildlife, untouched landscapes and unparalleled adventures, all from the comfort of your expedition ship. Unlike traditional ocean cruises that focus on the ship, expedition cruises focus on far-flung destinations and the nature, history and culture of the places they visit. The ships are much smaller and itineraries tend to be much more adventurous.
Once upon a time, I enjoyed “roughing it.” I’ve camped in tents, I’ve backpacked on sand dunes. I’ve done the kind of trip where you carry everything on your back, taking with you everything you need for a week, drinking water out of a lake that you have to purify before you drink it. I’ve dug holes in the ground for <ahem> an au naturel bathroom. Once upon a time, I was that adventurous. I still have that adventurous spirit, but let’s just say I’ve outgrown “roughing it.” These days when I set out to see the world, I like a certain level of comfort. That level of comfort includes high thread count sheets and plenty of French champagne. Have I been accused of being bougie? Yes. I prefer the term “fancy.”
If you’re like me and your Bucket List includes a lot of exotic places but you can’t live without a beautiful place to sleep and a steady supply of cappuccinos and croissants for breakfast, then expedition cruising is for you. After my harrowing journey to reach Argentina and the ship on which I would spend 12 days discovering Antarctica, I was thrilled to find that it could indeed be called FANCY.
Adventures by Disney charters Ponant Cruises luxury ships for both their Antarctica and Arctic expedition trips. For our departure, we boarded Ponant’s Le Lyrial in Ushuaia for our journey to the White Continent. Ponant’s ships are more yacht than ocean liner, and they are definitely luxurious. Remember that you’ll spend at least four full days just enjoying the ship as you transit the Drake Passage twice (unless you forget my pervious advice about preparing for motion sickness, in which case you’ll spend four days in your stateroom trying not to vomit!).
Our stateroom lived up to my new standards, and could in no way be called “roughing it.” Brittney and I shared a two-bedroom suite complete with a living area, two full bathrooms, and butler service. Our butlers, Ludo and Pityr (we had two, because Ludo was suffering from a back injury and couldn’t do any lifting or carrying) took care of our laundry, brought us room service, and made sure we had everything we needed on the long journey. (Side note – I’m now addicted to having a butler.)
Nearly all of the staterooms on the ship have a balcony, and ours was huge, spanning both bedrooms and our sitting room. It might seem strange to think of using a balcony on a cold weather voyage (and it did indeed snow out there at times), but the scenery is so incredibly beautiful that you find yourself running out there a lot to watch the glaciers and icebergs float by. The balconies were also handy for whale and dolphin watching; our ship’s captain would announce on the PA system when they spotted whales and dolphins, and we saw penguins swimming past almost every day. (Another side note – the first time the bridge spotted a pod of orcas was at 6 a.m. on our first morning in Antarctica, and the captain came on and told everyone to RUN outside to see them! We groggily staggered out to catch our first sight of killer whales in the wild, and it was 100% worth it.)
Some other “fancy” features of this beautiful ship:
- A small spa, where you can get massages, facials and other body treatments
- A hammam (this is the bougie term for a steam room)
- A fitness center (if you’re so inclined)
- Two restaurants (all of your meals are included on your Adventure)
- A main lounge with a full bar (plenty of French champagne)
- An observatory lounge with a coffee bar
- A library with books and games
- A theater
- A heated swimming pool
The Adventures by Disney team on an expedition cruise is made up of six Adventure Guides, and they do a great job of making the time onboard the ship fun (especially all those days in the Drake Passage). Brittney and I spent a lot of time in the Main Lounge, sipping champagne and playing games. The Adventure Guides brought on board tons of board games and card games, and they always had activities going on in the lounge. We played trivia, made crafts, and because our trip coincided with the opening of the 2022 Winter Olympics, the guides organized the ABD Olympics.
The two restaurants on board, one at the top of the ship and one at the bottom, serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And the food! The food was spectacular. Ponant is a French cruise line, and food is very important in French culture. Every meal includes both heavily French dishes as well as options more familiar to the American palate. All of your food and beverages are included – even alcohol – and lunch and dinner are both staffed by a sommelier offering very good wine pairings. Breakfast and lunch include both a la carte and buffet options, and SO. MUCH. CHEESE. In addition to a very diverse daily menu prepared by the French culinary team, there are standard options that are always available like burgers, fries, chicken sandwiches, and steaks. The seafood selection was excellent, especially at the beginning of the cruise (with nowhere to resupply in Antarctica, the seafood dishes were mainly featured on the first days when they were fresh).
Along with the six Adventure Guides, the ship is staffed with a team of naturalists and scientists who are experts on everything from the wildlife to the geology. Every day of the trip there are lectures in the theater, and I highly recommend attending. You can learn about penguins and whales, the ice, hear from a vulcanologist about the volcanoes in the region, sea birds, just about every aspect of the continent. The expedition team also holds a daily briefing about each day’s excursions, which often includes important safety information and even satellite footage of the places you’ll visit.
We were never bored – and we were also never roughing it! By the end of the trip, the bar team in the Main Lounge knew us so well that we’d be greeting with a glass of champagne the moment we walked in. They also made a mean espresso martini, and knew how much we loved the snacks during High Tea every day at 4:00. Adventure can be very, very luxurious! I’ll even let you call it bougie. No “au naturel” latrines in sight, by the way!
Next up, we’ll dive into the most exciting part of the trip – the landings! – and later, I’ll walk you through exactly what to pack (and what NOT to pack) for an expedition to Antarctica.