Editor’s Note: Belgian photographer and writer Mike Louagie is such a talented photographer that we’ve included all of the photos submitted with his story in a gallery at the end of this post. Follow Mike on Instagram @mikelouagie.
Crossing the dreaded Drake Passage could have lasted a bit longer, if you ask me. Suddenly it’s announced that we’ll be making an unplanned stop at Elephant Island, made famous by Shackleton. The sea was so calm that our ship, the Seabourn Venture, had arrived in Antarctica half a day earlier than planned.
From day one it becomes clear that the Seabourn Venture is an expedition ship through and through. A large part of the fleet of Zodiacs gets lowered into the water using four telescopic cranes. And it’s a speedy process. The ship has 24 Zodiacs, which is quite a lot, but necessary for the number of passengers.
Time for a bit of math: There are 132 suites. On our trip there were 245 guests. To make sure everything runs smoothly, six groups are created, each with their own color code. Every shipping company must comply with IAATO regulations allowing a maximum of 100 passengers ashore at any one time. Which is why Seabourn has come up with a really smooth process.
Assistant expedition leader Claudio is responsible for organising the groups. He’s the one that makes all the announcements. ‘The red group can start getting ready now. In 15 minutes it’s your turn. A quarter of an hour later he invites the ‘red group’ to proceed to the mud room, where we pull on our boots.
Everything runs like clockwork. The guests are usually already told the night before when their turn will be. This information is shared via the Seabourn Source app or in-suite interactive TV.
At first I was a bit sceptical about the larger passenger capacity. The fewer the passengers, the more you get to see, or the longer you can stay ashore. But in reality, not everyone is constantly jumping up and down to set foot on the seventh continent. After day one, some passengers have seen enough. They’ve been able to tick Antarctica off their bucket list. Or they’re simply too tired.
Alternative activities, like a submarine trip or kayak excursion, also mean that not everyone heads ashore. The on-board computer keeps track of exactly how many guests have been dropped off, to make sure that the number never exceeds 100. A typical shore excursion lasts up to two hours. If you really want to, you can easily stay longer and without having to ask.
Conclusion: Do you see as much as you do on most other expedition ships? The answer is essentially yes.
Seabourn Venture Strengths
Loyal Seabourn customers will feel right at home on the Venture. There’s the familiar Seabourn Square and coffee bar. The Colonnade allows for both indoor and outdoor dining, even in Antarctica (remember, the seasons are opposite the Northern Hemisphere, so in December summer starts in Antarctica). The main restaurant offers equally high-quality dishes with equally expert service. There’s an atrium. There’s a spa. A (small) outdoor pool and Jacuzzis. A sushi restaurant. And the staff are exactly what we’ve come to expect from Seabourn.
The suites are all similar to what the other Seabourn ships offer. The showstoppers here are the Panorama Veranda Suites with their large windows next to the balcony, and the duplex Wintergarden Suites.
Only a few details – like the electric heater for the quick drying of clothes in one of the wardrobes – give the game away that you’re on an expedition ship.
The theatre is called the Discovery Centre and is mainly used for briefings and lectures by the expedition team (26 people!). Right next to it is the Expedition Lounge, which wouldn’t look out of place in a winter sports hotel, complete with (fake) fireplace and comfy armchairs. This could be described as the pre-expedition waiting room.
The nearby shop focuses on polar clothing and accessories, extremely useful for anything you might have forgotten: merino underwear, hats, sun cream, etc…
One item you don’t need to remember is a parka. You’ll get a decent Helly Hansen parka on board.
Seabourn Venture Bow Lounge
Seabourn has no open bridge policy. But you do get a guided visit to the navigation bridge. I got the impression this wasn’t an issue for most passengers. Plus Seabourn has also come up with a nice alternative: the Bow Lounge, an observation room at the front of the ship. It not only gives on to the spacious bow deck, but also has duplicates of most of the navigation equipment. So anyone interested in tracking the navigation, weather, etc. can do so from here. One of the expedition team members is usually also on hand to walk you through it all.
In a corner on the port side there’s a small self-service buffet where you can always get something to eat. Very practical if your expedition has an early start, or if you get back after the restaurant has closed. Room service is another option, but high demand meant it was generally slow (45 minutes).
The ship’s nose has a small platform (à la Titanic) with enough space for a few people to stand and try and spot frolicking dolphins (which you won’t find in Antarctica).
Kayaks & Submarines
For an extra fee, guests can also sign up for a kayaking adventure or to take a deep dive on one of the two submarines. Both activities are fantastic. The big question is whether a submarine trip is worth it. Are you surrounded by whales and swimming penguins? No. Is it exciting? Yes! I think you have to see it as a unique opportunity. It’s not cheap: up to $1,000 per person. You also can’t be sure it’ll go ahead, because everything depends on the weather. On our expedition, everyone was able to go, reaching depths of up to 85 meters!
Antarctica At Its Best
Our expedition’s destination was the Antarctic Peninsula. This was the real deal – where the captain and expedition leader pulled out all the stops to give us the best experience.
A lot of ships pass through the photogenic Lemaire Channel. The Seabourn Venture arranged it so that we’d be “sailing into the sunset.” A fairy-tale moment, especially when the night is almost non-existent and the evening colors seem to go on forever.
When we weren’t able to access Paradise Harbour, it was decided we’d do whale watching in the Gerlache Strait. Then we set course for the stunning Neumayer Channel with its truly astonishing landscapes. And as if that wasn’t enough, the captain decided to take us down the Peltier Channel. With the water being so shallow there, a Zodiac equipped with a depth sounder was sent on ahead.
In short, they really try to show you the very best of Antarctica. It’s then up to the guests to decide how intensely they want to experience it all.
Loyal Seabourn customers will feel right at home, while at the same time experiencing a fully fledged expedition.
For anyone new to the shipping company and looking for a combination of an ultra-luxurious floating boutique hotel and a state-of-the-art expedition, Seabourn should definitely be on your list.
All images in the gallery were photographed by Mike Louagie. Images are subject to copyright. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without express permission from Mike Louagie.