7th November 2018
Travelling to Antarctica, there are so many options of cruise boats it can be overwhelming. I recently inspected the Hebridean Sky at Portsmouth Harbour to see one of these ships myself to see what it had to offer.
The ship was hectic with crew members carrying boxes of supplies onto the ship for its next cruising destination. My first impression of the Hebridean Sky was the size! I imagined any ship going to Antarctic would need to be huge to withstand the Drake Passage and polar ice, but I was mistaken. The ship was much smaller than I imagined, but then it does only hold 112 passengers. I was immediately curious as to how such a regular sized ship could manoeuvre in the Antarctic waters.
Once aboard, I was treated to a presentation in the spacious lounge in order to understand what life is like on board. Through the many windows surrounding the lounge I could see crew members scuffling about with various items (including a sofa). I could only imagine what the view must be like from here as icebergs and seabirds skim by.
My host today is Polar Latitudes, specialists who run voyages to Antarctica. I can see from the presentation by the expedition leader and passenger service manager that the team are very passionate about Antarctica and do their best to make sure anyone travelling on board has an incredible journey and learn as much as they can about the White Continent. I learn that Polar Latitudes take over this ship for multiple itineraries to Antarctica, with each voyage having a customer service manager, doctor and expert guides on board (including a geologist, a marine mammal biologist, an ornithologist and a historian!).
I am told about the rules set out by IAATO which expedition ships follow to protect the Antarctic environment and its inhabitants. For example, only 100 people may land at a time in Antarctica. The benefit of having a small ship like this means all passengers can land at the same time, providing more time on the White continent for each passenger. On larger ships, only half the passengers can land at one time and they must swap around.
Common for other cruise ships, citizen science is a key focus during their expeditions, with voyagers taking part in krill surveys and photographing whales for identification. However, with Polar Latitudes you can go one step further on a scientific expedition in partnership with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute to study and record Humpback whales when they migrate to Antarctica in March. You can view one such trip here.
Following the presentation, I am now considering where the best place to hide onboard would be so I can go to Antarctica and live with the penguins. I am given plenty of ideas as I am taken on a tour of the ship. It truly is a beautiful ship with inspiring maps and wildlife identification posters adorning the walls, gleaming handles for gripping when tides are rough and stylish wooden interiors.
I am shown the various cabin categories and I am amazed at the space, considering the ship seemed much smaller than I imagined. Rooms have varnished wooden tables with Antarctica related books on display, the bathrooms are bigger than any of my university accommodation bathrooms and most rooms have a sofa. Although no cabins are listed as triple, it is possible to request a double room with a sofa bed, with a curtain halfway through the room. Do be wary though, some of the higher category cabins are actually a little smaller in size than the bigger category but this is due to extra amenities, for example a free minibar that is replenished each day. I am informed that most ships have cabins low down to avoid seasickness, but the Hebridean cabins are on the higher decks to ensure you get the best view from your room. Imagine seeing a whale breach beside the ship as you are lying in your bed or from your balcony (only on decks 5 and 6).
I am then taken to the outstanding Owner’s Suite, about the same size as my two-bed flat in London!
I am then treated to what I was informed would be a ‘light lunch’ but turned out to be a three-course meal! The dining lounge is set out like a silver service with white linen and sparkling cutlery. After sampling the Argentinian wine, I sample the delicious dishes. One of the main selling points of travelling with Polar Latitudes is that alcoholic drinks are included (beer and wine) during dinner. I try the vegetarian option and am delighted at its flavours. In my experience, vegetarian options can be a bit dull and I mention this to my host. They explain that they can cater for any diet as long as they are informed in advance to get the ingredients on the ship. The dining area outside on the deck also has beautifully laid tables, primed for service. How many could claim that they have dined al fresco while floating past icebergs in the Antarctic?!
We continue to the library area, past the snack bar, you certainly would never go hungry on board this ship! The library is full of books on all things Antarctica and I immediately want to settle into one of the cosy sofa chairs and get stuck into one of them. There are two computers set on a desk for passengers to access emails free of charge. Emails are possible but obviously not a reliable communication due to the remoteness of the destination. In Antarctica, no news is good news!
We are taken to the Bridge, for certain my favourite part of the tour. The Hebridean Sky, like other ships, has an open deck policy, meaning you can wander onto the Bridge at any time and discover how cruising in Antarctica is possible. The various controls, buttons and charts in front of me immediately sparked my curiosity and I could have spent all day annoying the captain with my questions. If technology isn’t your thing, the view from the deck will surely be a reason to go visit the Bridge.
The tour is now complete. Although the price of an Antarctic expedition cruise may not be for everyone, the price of Polar Latitudes is certainly justified due to the smaller ship size (and hence the enhanced experience of Antarctica), luxurious cabins and drinks with meals included.
The Hebridean Sky has a sister ship called the Island Sky, which also runs expeditions to Antarctica with Polar Latitudes. Both ships are truly sisters, built in the same Italian Shipyard, both featuring spacious, well-appointed suites, stylish common areas and an ice-strengthened hull.
Book a cruise through Wild Frontiers and we can arrange everything for you, including any further travel. Why not visit the famed landscapes and hiking trails of Chile’s Torres Del Paine National Park (easily accessible from Ushuaia), spend some more time in Argentina exploring the lake district or winelands or warm up after the freezing temperatures of the Antarctic on the beaches of Brazil?