It was to have been just another day at sea. As I wrote yesterday, our stop in Port Stanley was nearly scrapped. Following the technical issue on Monday that caused Seabourn Quest to deviate from its charted course, it looked as though we would spend two or more sea days cruising directly from Puerto Madryn to the Antarctic Peninsula.
Port Stanley had been scratched off the list in order to make up for lost days. The captain wasn’t happy about the decision, but he had to put guest and crew safety first. In a surprise announcement on Wednesday, however, the captain informed guests that the technical issue had been resolved more quickly than was planned and that we would be visiting the Falklands after all. See On Seabourn Quest: A Diversion Meets With Disappointment, Then Something Remarkable Happened
Thanks to the valiant (and creative) efforts of the captain and his crew, we spent most of Friday in the charming British outpost in the South Atlantic Ocean. Was it worth the extra cost of fuel and the added expense to Seabourn to reinstate our stop in Port Stanley? I spoke with a few folks who said they were thrilled that they were able to visit the remote islands. One passenger from San Diego confessed that while she had not been terribly excited about visiting the Falklands in the first place (Antarctica was her primary reason for the trip) she was pleasantly surprised by her visit today.
Nearly everyone on board appeared to share similar sentiments. When Seabourn Quest departed Port Stanley shortly after 3 p.m., the ship was buzzing with the high energy that accompanies an exhilarating day ashore. We had been to a place that few others get to visit. Yes, you can fly to the Falklands, but doing so requires some effort. First, you need to get yourself to Santiago, Chile — on a Saturday, no less. LAN Chile flies to the Falklands every Saturday morning, departing from Santiago and flying via the southern Chilean city of Punta Arenas.
The other option is to get yourself to London, then travel 65 miles northwest to the Brize Norton Royal Air Force base in Oxfordshire. The United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence operates two non-commercial flights weekly between Brize Norton and the Mount Pleasant military base in the Falklands. The 20-hour flight includes a refueling stop on Ascension Island. An economy class ticket will set you back more than $3,000.
Arriving in Port Stanley on Seabourn Quest following a leisurely breakfast in the Colonnade could not have been easier. And what a day it turned out to be. Sunny and bright for the most part — and with no rain — a perfect day for exploring.
While they can’t be compared to one another, the Falklands serve as a good option for those who can’t make the longer Antarctic voyages that include the South Georgia Islands. The latter group of islands is even more remote — and with fewer people and more wildlife — than the Falklands.
Antarctica itself has plenty of wildlife, but the Falklands and South Georgia present species that you’re not likely to see in the Antarctic Peninsula, namely the King Penguin, whose habitat ranges in the subantarctic islands situated between 45°S and 55°S. At 51°S, Port Stanley is perfectly positioned as the staging ground to see kings.
Seabourn Quest’s Destination Services department offered a number of tours in Port Stanley, but the sell-out excursions were those that included penguins. We were lucky to find space on a sold-out tour to visit a sprawling colony of more than 1,000 King Penguins. During a seven-hour 4×4 adventure to Volunteer Point, we learned that the Falklands has the largest community of King Penguins outside of South Georgia. We readied our cameras for an exciting day ahead.
We didn’t have a lot of time to spare when we returned to Port Stanley, but certainly we could make time for a pint of British ale. With two pubs within walking distance of the tender landing, finding a place for a pint would not be a problem. First, however, I wanted to see something of Port Stanley.
With the last tender departing at 3 p.m., we made a quick stroll around the town. British to the core, Port Stanley is a remarkably bite-sized chunk of England. Cars drive on the left side of the road, and we had to take care more than once when stepping off the curb as vehicles nearly clipped our shoulders because we had been watching for them in the wrong direction.
The town has fewer than 3,000 residents, and I met a few. One was a nurse who came here on a six-week assignment. She loved it so much that she signed on to stay for at least a year. I met her in a new development where 250 homes are being constructed. I also stopped to talk to a red-haired man working in his yard. We talked for 10 minutes or so before he offered to drive me to the pub.
I ended my day in Port Stanley inside the Globe Tavern, toasting what turned out to be a perfect day in a port of call that we nearly missed. Like most others on Seabourn Quest, I’m glad we didn’t skip Port Stanley.