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Trip Report - Polar Pioneer - Christmas in Antarctica 2016

Darwin, Australia
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Trip Report - Polar Pioneer - Christmas in Antarctica 2016

Hi all

Well I promised to do a trip report so here it is. I'll probably write this over a few days so bear with me. The short version if you don't want to read it all is - it was INCREDIBLE and I wouldn't hesitate recommending this company and ship.

The Basics

Trip - Christmas in Antarctica 17-27 Dec 2016, sail/fly trip to Antarctic Peninsula only

Company - Aurora Expeditions

Ship - Polar Pioneer

Us - Aussie couple in our 40s, both love wildlife, one keen photographer

I'll continue this on the next post to keep the top post short for scrolling past.

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Darwin, Australia
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1. Re: Trip Report - Polar Pioneer - Christmas in Antarctica 2016

Planning

Why did I choose this ship? The key factor for me was that it takes a max 54 passengers, making it the smallest number of passengers unless you are on a yacht. Couple that with a company with a good reputation and an itinerary that provided as many days with landings as possible and I was sold.

Peninsula only? The wisdom on this forum is to do a trip that includes South Georgia if at all possible. I don't doubt this is wise advice as SGI looks amazing. But for us it just wasn't in the budget and I am not sorry we made the choice we did. So if you are considering a Peninsula only trip for whatever reason you may have, don't be put off.

Booking - I booked directly with Aurora Expeditions and all went smoothly. Personally I prefer to book directly with the operator where possible.

Darwin, Australia
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2. Re: Trip Report - Polar Pioneer - Christmas in Antarctica 2016

On Board

The Ship - the ship was everything we needed it to be. We chose a twin cabin with shared bathroom and it was clean, comfortable and big enough. Had two single beds, a desk, a couch type seat, a porthole and plenty of storage. There were three showers and six toilets on our deck which we all shared, but this was no problem as I never had to wait to use either (although the showers were in high demand straight after the polar plunge). At first everyone was I think pretty conservative and was fully dressed going from cabin to shower but by the end of the trip a quick duck down the corridor in a towel or sarong became pretty normal.

Dining rooms, lecture room, outdoor spaces were all great - my favourite spot was right up the bow. There was an open bridge policy and the bridge was a great place to see the view while staying warm, plus you could usually find one or more of the expedition crew hanging out there providing information and answering questions. There was a sauna on board, which was also pretty popular straight after the polar plunge (the only time I used it).

The Expedition Staff - couldn't have asked for better. Don, the expedition leader was super experienced (can't remember how long he said he had been doing the trips but it was over 10 years), funny and unflappable. The rest of the staff were great too, friendly, knowledgeable and dedicated to giving the passengers the best possible experience. One day I even noticed one of our naturalists listed as co-author of one of the reference books on the bridge.

The Crew - the crew were mostly Russian and totally competent. They tended to be quite shy until you started talking to them, at which point you found out their diverse and interesting stories. Turns out our waitress is a world champion sailor. Our Captain was great, you could see he took pride in making every effort to get us where we wanted to be, or working with Don to come up with a plan B, or C.

The Food - before the trip I had read that food on the Polar Pioneer was basic. Well I think it was several notches better than that. Ok we are not talking a luxury ship here with several choices for each course, but the food was varied, tasty and there was plenty of it. Buffet breakfast, two course lunch and three course dinner every day. Plus they catered for food intolerances well. Mine is quite complex and the list of basic foods I can't eat is long (including things as ubiquitous as onions). Each day the menu is posted near the dining room, I simply advised our Hotel Manager Justine if there was something I couldn't eat and at meal times there was a special meal provided. The staff even took everyone's photo as we got on the ship, this was posted on the noticeboard with names added (great for helping remember people's names) and a copy was given to the kitchen, so at dinner the first night I had a special meal put in front of me before I had even met our waitress or had to make myself known to the kitchen, no fuss at all. Nice.

The passengers - we had a total of 50 from I think 7 nations. Age range of 14 - 84 years old. All in all a great bunch.

Ok this is getting long. If anyone is still with me I'll continue tomorrow.

Edited: 24 January 2017, 08:47
Rennes, France
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3. Re: Trip Report - Polar Pioneer - Christmas in Antarctica 2016

I am totally with you! Thanks for starting this. Take your time if needed but you definitely have one reader!

Boston...
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4. Re: Trip Report - Polar Pioneer - Christmas in Antarctica 2016

I'm in for the trip report ride as well!!

Melbourne, Australia
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5. Re: Trip Report - Polar Pioneer - Christmas in Antarctica 2016

I'm in for the whole ride. Was Don a tall thin Kiwi ? Most of my team on the Ortelius also work with Aurora.

Darwin, Australia
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6. Re: Trip Report - Polar Pioneer - Christmas in Antarctica 2016

Thanks Soph and makai

To continue - On the high seas

17 Dec - embarkation from Ushuaia. Left luggage at our B&B for collection and headed out to explore Ushuaia. Headed to the dock at the appointed time of 4.00pm, walked straight out on the dock to find the crew waiting next to the ship to check us off. Momentary panic when I went to hand over my passport and it wasn't there - what? Figured it must be in my suitcase (although I never do that), into the cabin sure enough there it was. Disaster averted although I did feel kind of embarrassed! Briefing and life boat drill and we were on our way out the Beagle Channel, escorted by sea birds, Magellanic penguins and Peals dolphins, magic.

18 Dec - Drake Passage. The Drake was kind, so kind in fact we made the crossing in 46 hours which we were told is a record for the Polar Pioneer. Though even a smooth Drake provided enough rocking and rolling to confine some to their beds. Usual round of lectures, briefings, vacuuming gear. Hang out on the Bridge looking for seabirds, the calm Drake meant the number spotted was reduced (as they need wind) but the naturalists soon had us telling a prion from a petrel. I was surprised we even started seeing penguins on the crossing and I was lucky enough to spot a few macaroni penguins - the only sighting for the trip as it was to turn out. Also saw pods of sei whale in the distance. Enjoyed Captain Yury's welcome drinks before dinner.

19 Dec - More lectures and briefs, competition on when and where the first iceberg would be spotted, spotted first iceberg and then it was time for our first landing at Aitcho Island - yay. Chinstrap penguins, Gentoo penguins and a lone Adelie penguin spotted along with some lazing elephant seals. Watched rock stealing and chicks feeding. A great start, although windy and rainy. After this we were lucky with the weather though, it was mostly overcast but almost no wind, making temperatures more comfortable (generally 0-5 degrees C during landings).

20 Dec - From here on the routine was basically wake up, breakfast, landing, lunch, landing, dinner, sleep. Morning landing at Yankee Harbour, mostly gentoos and elephant seals, but more scenic that Aitcho and it started snowing, a novelty for me. Afternoon was to be Elephant island but the weather was not on our side so, no problem, motor off to Hanna Point instead. Tried but failed to spot macaroni penguins amidst the gentoos and chinstraps but we did get our only sighting of an Antarctic fur seal.

21 Dec - After a bumpy night crossing the Bransfield Straight we awoke to a morning landing at Mikkelsen Harbour, beautiful spot, plenty of penguins plus our first Weddell seals. Afternoon landing and zodiac cruse at Hydruga Rocks, icebergs, chinstraps and shags were the main attractions. A recap in the bar and dinner was followed by a surprise - its the summer solstice so let's go for a sunset zodiac cruise. So off we went, cruising in the glowing twilight through icebergs of all sizes on the east coast of the Gerlache, with the Peninsula's snow covered mountains as a backdrop. The light truly was incredible. After a couple (maybe 3?) hours the sun, while not actually setting ducked behind the mountains and we called it a night.

Darwin, Australia
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7. Re: Trip Report - Polar Pioneer - Christmas in Antarctica 2016

PP we must have been posting at the same time, glad you are along for the ride! Yes Don was a tall, thin Kiwi and he mentioned he also worked on other boats. Sounds like the same man. He was a great, genuine bloke, his catch phrase at the end of each announcement was 'Be Brave'.

Brisbane, Australia
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8. Re: Trip Report - Polar Pioneer - Christmas in Antarctica 2016

Keep going Shaz! Love reding about other trips and fantasising about nother one.

I met you and your partner at EcoCamp. We were on the Sea Spirit that departed on 16 Dec with not such a kind Drake crossing. Amazing the difference a day makes.

London, United...
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9. Re: Trip Report - Polar Pioneer - Christmas in Antarctica 2016

Following from a train in the UK....keep it coming!

Newcastle, Australia
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10. Re: Trip Report - Polar Pioneer - Christmas in Antarctica 2016

Enjoying your trip report, Shaz and I'd like to 'second' everything you've said about the company, ship and crew.

This time last year I was on my way home from a fabulous 18-day, Peninsular and South Georgia trip with Aurora. I had a different expedition crew, but they were also amazing and we were also looked after by Captain Yuri. (Sorry, I never got around to doing a trip report - slack!)

Can't wait for your next instalment, Shaz.

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