Silver Explorer, Antarctica: Day 5 – Brilliant Sunlight, Beautiful Bay, Awesome Antarctica

Day 5 – Brilliant Sunlight, Beautiful Bay, Awesome Antarctica

Note: Yesterday’s live report was delayed because of challenging internet … okay, time to fess up. Internet was fine. Yesterday’s live report was delayed because Antarctica is so friggin’ awesome (to use the words of my teenage son). Specifically, yesterday’s report was delayed because of the time I spent 1) climbing mountains, 2) admiring penguins, 3) spotting seals, 4) trying my best to absorb some of the most spectacular scenery I have ever seen (a friend from Greenland saw my postings on Facebook and thought that I was back up there – indeed Greenland comes close to matching Antarctica’s beauty in my cruising experience). Back to the list of excuses, 5) zigzagging on zodiacs through ice-choked Paradise Bay and along massive glacial faces, 6) watching the sunset at some ungodly hour (it never gets completely dark), 7) enjoying lunch under sunny skies at the Outdoor Grill, 8) getting a haircut (thanks Kiah!) 9) sipping a glass of champagne as sparkly as the glint of the sun reflecting off the chunks of ice floating in Cuverville Bay (photos below), 10) pausing for high tea served in the Panorama Lounge, 11) talking about glaciers and wildlife with the extremely informed and ever-affable expedition team, 12) breathing — just breathing — no mobile phones, no network “news,” no distraction from meaningless crap — just taking deep and sustained breaths of refreshing Antarctic air. So now that you know the real reasons for the delay, without further adieu, I present to you yesterday’s report … please forgive any errors … I am journalistically trained and know what I am doing … just totally absorbed in moments of grandeur in a place that is, in the words that do seem appropriate, even if a bit juvenile, friggin’ awesome.

Cruising Silver Explorer to Antarctica. © 2013 Ralph Grizzle
We saw many tabular icebergs during our voyage yesterday. © 2013 Ralph Grizzle

Last night there were two standing ovations in Silver Explorer’s dining room — and neither was for the chef (although he certainly deserved applause).

On both the port and starboard sides of the ship, visible through the dining room’s large windows, humpback whales repeatedly submerged, blew spouts, surfaced, fluked their tails and flapped their flippers, a performance that lasted for a good 15 minutes. Diners stood up from their tables, me among them, rushed to one side of the dining room, then the other. The mood was a mix of marvel and merriment.

Captain Adam Boczek slowed the vessel and turned it so that we could enjoy the spectacle taking place among icebergs and blue sky. There were oohs and aahs as well as cheerful applause each time the whales fluked or appeared to wave to us with flaps of their flippers.

It was an evening to remember on a voyage that has been punctuated by peak experiences. The trip thus far has been so rich in activities and exposure to spectacle that it is hard to believe that we are not quite midway through the voyage.

Multiculti & Young

It is perhaps worth noting that the experiences on this voyage are collectively shared among many nationalities. Silver Explorer’s 114 guests hail from at least 15 nations. Among us:

  • 9 Australians
  • 1 Austrian
  • 1 Canadian
  • 18 Chinese
  • 5 from Hong Kong
  • 2 Japanese
  • 1 Latvian
  • 1 Malaysian
  • 2 Dutch
  • 1 Russian
  • 10 Singaporeans
  • 4 Swiss
  • 10 Taiwanese
  • 13 from the United Kingdom
  • and 36 from the United States

Languages can be challenging (I don’t speak Australian, for example), but everyone seems to know “Good morning” and “Hello.” The atmosphere aboard is polite, with a constant thread of excitement about all that we’re experiencing. Moreover, the experiences are shared as a collective, whether the moment is watching whales fluke or climbing snow-covered mountains, and the smiles, laughs, oohs and aahs are universally understood among the guests.

There is also cultural cross-over. Christian Armster, Silver Explorer’s executive chef, tells me that Americans and Europeans are ordering from the menus he has prepared for the Asians — and vice versa.

Ours is a relatively young cruise, the average age of guests being just under 50 years old (49 years, 8 months to be precise). The abundance of youthful vitality has only heightened the experience — and probably pushed some of us to participate in activities we may not have otherwise considered. All lend helping hands to one another, whether it is extending an arm to assist with an ascent or volunteering to snap a photo so that our collections aren’t full of selfies when we arrive back home.

Cruising Silver Explorer to Antarctica. © 2013 Ralph Grizzle
Coming into Cuverville Bay this morning. © 2013 Ralph Grizzle

The spirit of camaraderie was particularly apparent during one episode at lunch today. Lou, the ship’s friendly Filipino musician, was playing Christmas music (only eight shopping days remaining!) and other melodies on a stand-up Yamaha piano. At one table, a Swiss woman, a Chinese couple and American man were singing, “Oh when the saints go marching in.” If only the world could live in such harmony.

Butlers On Board

The age of the passengers, the liveliness of the experiences and the mix of nationalities combined with the majestic landscape of Antarctica, its amusing wildlife (penguins and seals) and the superb Silversea product make for quite an adventure.

Moreover, our journey in Antarctica is a lavish one, even if a bit surreal. We have a butler, for example — in Antarctica. All guests do. Butler service for all guests is one of the things that differentiates Silversea from other cruise companies. You may think that having a butler is superfluous to the experience. Perhaps, but the little luxuries that Silversea offers makes the trip more comfortable.

There is tenuous historical precedent for such luxury in Antarctica. Though the circumstances were dire, one section of the doomed expedition vessel Endeavour was named “the Ritz” by crew who were shipwrecked on ice. More than two dozen men lived on the ship for several months before being forced out by ice crushing, and eventually sinking, the ship. That was in the early 1900s, and the story of survival and eventual rescue is one of history’s greatest survival stories.

Well, that was a stretch to justify doing Antarctica extravagantly, I know, but consider today’s experience at Cuverville Island. At around noon, we had just returned from climbing a mountain covered with snow and ice, ascending nearly 1,000 feet in 45 minutes to reach the summit. Silver Explorer’s expedition team had characterized the hike/climb as “difficult,” and unlike many shore excursions on other cruise lines that are labeled the same, this hike really was difficult. Some of the ascents were nearly vertical, as we trekked up through ice and snow.

I recall saying to no one in particular: “I am 56 years old, I have had a good life, if this is it, there could be no better ending.”

As evident by the fact that you are reading this, I made it up (and back) unscathed. The view from the summit was as stunning as anything I have ever seen, so beautiful that I had forgotten all about the few rough hours of crossing the Drake Passage. I could have never guessed it at the outset of this voyage, but now, having experienced Antarctica, there was no question that I would endure whatever Drake could throw at me — 30-foot-plus waves — to experience the White Continent again.

On our way down from the mountain, the expedition team took good care of us, and they were there to assist anyone who needed help descending. For the last 300 feet or so, the team members suggested that we slide down on our rumps. Nearly everyone did, an ebullient ending to a hike that had elated all who I spoke with afterward.

Icebergs and Burgers

On the zodiac back to Silver Explorer, we zigzagged through bergy bits (floating chunks of ice). It was an adventure in its own right.

With such a beautiful day, blue skies and cotton ball clouds, Sujith Mohan, the friendly and always visible hotel director, had decided to host lunch at the Outdoor Grill, aft on deck six.

As lunch was served, Silver Explorer motored along to give us a scenic dining experience past icebergs. The moment called for a glass of champagne, which I cheerfully accepted. And what better with bergs than burgers? Famished from the hike, I ordered a classic burger with cheese. There was little left that one could have wished for.

So to recap the day thus far: We woke up on a luxury ship, with fine linens, an expansive veranda, marble bathroom with fine European bath amenities, a butler — then boarded zodiacs to hike at Cuverville Island, returned to the ship for lunch on the pool deck under a warm sun — in Antarctica.

Lou performed his melodies, prompting spontaneous sing-alongs. The atmosphere was one of merriment — and a bit surreal. Here we were at the end of the world, sipping champagne and living the good life. I would not have been surprised had someone began yodeling. Careful, there are four Swiss on board.

Glaciers Galore

In the late afternoon, we set out on zodiacs again to explore Paradise Bay. We spent about 90 minutes exploring beautiful glaciers. Some of the formations resembled cathedrals, and the light blue ice (so colored because it had been exposed to air, I am told) appeared as Marc Chagall works of art, which coincidentally I saw just last week in Heidelberg, Germany.

Antarctica is grandeur on a super-sized scale. It is one of the most amazing places I have visited in my 56 years of living on this planet. I am absolutely awe-struck, and I know this will sound like a commercial, but I can’t imagine doing it any other way than on Silver Explorer.

The vessel’s 132-guest capacity, its excellent expedition team and the world-class Silversea service, make Silver Explorer the perfect choice for seeing Antarctica. I realize that butlers, suites, complimentary champagnes (and all beverages) may seem like overkill to some, but I enjoy the luxury trappings on Silver Explorer.

Because of its IAATO designation, Silver Explorer (category 1) has access to more landing areas in Antarctica than larger ships (category 2), and some ships, those carrying more than 500 passengers, are allowed only to cruise through Antarctica, with no landings. In addition, Silver Explorer ranks A1 ice classification, only one level below being ice-breaker.

Also because of its small size, Silver Explorer can offer multiple activities and landings each day (two so far on each day of our voyage). The Antarctic Treaty further restricts landings to no more than 100 guests at a time, so if each group of guests is allowed two hours, Silver Explorer would spend four hours in a particular place. Larger capacity ships must adapt, either by cutting down on time ashore or the number of landings.

Ships aside, I am grateful to be one of the 40,000 visitors who venture to Antarctica each year. Tomorrow Silver Explorer takes us cruising through ice-choked Lemaire Channel, another slice of heaven on earth, no doubt. I am not sure how the experience will pan out — in fact, I am told we may not make it through, depending on the ice. Whatever happens tomorrow, though, I am sure that it will be “friggin’ awesome.”

Below, our day in pictures …

Cruising Silver Explorer to Antarctica. © 2013 Ralph Grizzle
The view from our veranda. © 2013 Ralph Grizzle
From our veranda — Cuverille Bay. © 2013 Ralph Grizzle
From our veranda — Cuverille Bay. © 2013 Ralph Grizzle
Cuverville Bay on a beautiful day. © 2013 Ralph Grizzle
Cuverville Bay on a beautiful day. © 2013 Ralph Grizzle
A lot of people participated in a hike that was characterized as difficult — and lived up to the claim. © 2013 Ralph Grizzle
A lot of people participated in a hike that was characterized as difficult — and lived up to the claim. © 2013 Ralph Grizzle
With a good eye, you can see Silver Explorer, a tiny dot among the ice-strewn bay. © 2013 Ralph Grizzle
With a good eye, you can see Silver Explorer, a tiny dot among the ice-strewn bay. © 2013 Ralph Grizzle
Steep and slow going up the slope. © 2013 Ralph Grizzle
Steep and slow going up the slope. © 2013 Ralph Grizzle
Those who became too warm were told they could cache their parkas — partially submerged under the snow so that the wind would not blow them away. © 2013 Ralph Grizzle
Those who became too warm were told they could cache their parkas — partially submerged under the snow so that the wind would not blow them away. © 2013 Ralph Grizzle
We climbed for about 45 minutes. © 2013 Ralph Grizzle
We climbed for about 45 minutes. © 2013 Ralph Grizzle
Can you spot Silver Explorer in the photo? © 2013 Ralph Grizzle
Can you spot Silver Explorer in the photo? © 2013 Ralph Grizzle
An uphill climb. © 2013 Ralph Grizzle
An uphill climb. © 2013 Ralph Grizzle
On top of the world. © 2013 Ralph Grizzle
On top of the world. © 2013 Ralph Grizzle
At the top. © 2013 Ralph Grizzle
At the top. © 2013 Ralph Grizzle
The easy way back. Sit down and slide. © 2013 Ralph Grizzle
The easy way back. Sit down and slide. © 2013 Ralph Grizzle
Descending on our tushes for the steepest parts of the climb. © 2013 Ralph Grizzle
Descending on our tushes for the steepest parts of the climb. © 2013 Ralph Grizzle
A perfect way to celebrate a good hike. © 2013 Ralph Grizzle
A perfect way to celebrate a good hike. © 2013 Ralph Grizzle
Only the best, Dominic. © 2013 Ralph Grizzle
Only the best, Dominic, the head waiter on Silver Explorer. © 2013 Ralph Grizzle
Seal. © 2013 Ralph Grizzle
Seal. © 2013 Ralph Grizzle
Glacial face dwarfs two of Silver Explorer's zodiacs. © 2013 Ralph Grizzle
Glacial face dwarfs two of Silver Explorer’s zodiacs. © 2013 Ralph Grizzle

Also see …

DAYPORTARRIVEDEPART
December 12 Ushuaia, ArgentinaCharter flight from Buenos Aires; Embark Silver Explorer5:00 PM
December 13Sailing The Drake Passage
December 14Crossing The Drake, Day 2
December 15Cruise & Explore the Antarctic Peninsula
December 16Cruise & Explore the Antarctic Peninsula
December 17Cruise & Explore the Antarctic Peninsula
December 18Cruise & Explore the Antarctic Peninsula
December 19Cruise & Explore the Antarctic Peninsula
December 20Sailing the Drake Passage, Redux
December 21Sailing the Drake Passage
December 22Ushuaia, Argentina8:00 AMDisembark Silver Explorer; return charter flight to Buenos Aires.
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