25 March 2022 by Emma Sanger-Horwell
Wexas Travel destination specialist Emma Sanger-Horwell discovers the white continent, Antarctica, on a once in a lifetime cruise, sailing with Swan Hellenic's SH Minerva.
The staterooms aboard SH Minerva
The brand new, Scandinavian design of SH Minerva was both stylish and luxurious, with subtle little touches on board like the real effect log fires in each stateroom, where fabulous occasional pop and crackles just added to the luxurious feel. My stateroom had more storage than I’ve ever had in any suite, which is a godsend, especially on an expedition cruise. Surely this must have been designed by a woman with more shoes than me!
Most of the dining took place in the main restaurant, buffet style for Breakfast and lunch, which is quite normal on an expedition cruise. Dinner was a more formal affair, with an la carte menu showcasing their super fresh food. Afternoon tea was always served up in the lounge and occasionally we had a BBQ out on deck for lunch while we watched the icebergs float by. There was also a wonderful room service menu to choose from, ideal for the times you don't feel like venturing from you stateroom. The Food and quality of service was some of the best I have experienced at sea.
The crew & expedition team
The Expedition team were world class and a privilege to be around, with a full team of ornithologists, marine biologists, scientists and historians, which only helped to take the voyage to another level and certainly left no questions unanswered. The Swan Hellenic crew themselves, although a newly launched product, were friendly, professional and experienced. Some of the crew I had even met before, which is always a nice surprise.
Excursion with the expedition team, photo by Emma Sanger-Horwell
Excursions are all experienced on zodiacs, taking you over, either for shore landings or for venturing further afield, where the main ship could not reach. This allowed us to get up close and personal with nature, breaking through Ice and sailing past seals resting on icebergs – a thrilling experience.
The wildlife encounters did not disappoint – think Blue Planet documentary – with wildlife and nature at its best. And, it was a joy to get super close to wild animals who haven't developed a fear towards humans, for some of closest wildlife experiences I have witnessed. Some of our best encounters were with Humpback whales, where from a distance we could see them slowly coming closer and closer to us, making their way right next to our zodiac. Sometimes, they put on a bit of a display for us, but mostly they just raised their head to watch us.
Watching up close how animals interact was also very special. I witnessed first-hand an adult Gentoo penguin desperately trying to fight off three huge Skua birds. They took on a three prong attack, trying to get access to her chick, which she tried to keep deeply tucked underneath her. The battle lasted a few agonising minutes, where as observers we could simply watch without interference, but the penguin prevailed and was victorious, this time! Disturbing to watch but no doubt the Skua’s also had chicks they needed to feed.
Fur seal and Gentoo penguin, photo by Emma Sanger-Horwell
What I was not expecting from this trip, was the impressive amount of history. We followed in the footsteps of the Great Explorers such as Shackleton and Scott and In the afternoon briefings, the staff would give us lectures on many topics, but the history ones, I found thoroughly amazing and inspiring.
We visited old whaling stations, abandoned scientific bases all untouched by the decades that had past. My most interesting visit was to Winter island and specially, Wordie house. Completely untouched since the 1950s and now a protected heritage site. It was near here in the 1980’s that a small group of scientists discovered cfcs and the hole in the ozone layer, a pivotal moment on our quest to save these stunning environments.
Wordie house, photo by Emma Sanger-Horwell
If you get a chance to visit this wonderful continent then I can’t recommend it enough. From the landscapes to the wildlife and the ship to the crew, this voyage was a trip I won't ever forget. The chance to visit Antarctic is a once in a lifetime journey and needs to be done right, where you can have an amazing expedition team guide you through the environments, allowing you to spot and get close to truly unique wildlife. An expedition cruise, in my eyes, remains the best way in which to explore the dreamy white continent, Antarctica.