Just Back From Jan. 20, 2015 Antarctic Expedition

Just got back from Antarctica and we wanted to provide a little more insight for those who will challenge themselves to the expedition in the future.
First, take walking sticks. Folding, extending, or whatever. No matter how good you think you can walk on the rocks and in the snow, or on the ice, the walking sticks will DEFINITELY help you from falling. The penguin colonies are on the rocks and pebbles be their design. To get there from the landing sites may mean walking in soft snow. Walking sticks help with balance, and exploring drifts to see how deep they may be. DEFINITELY take walking sticks. There are none on board to rent or borrow. Ushuaia does not seem to have a supply of them. Both times we were in Ushuaia, the stores were closed except for a few opportunities for postcards and chocolates.
Second, rent the boots, as TAUCK suggests. It is less bother, they will not have the "odor" when you take them back, and if there is a sizing problem, it is resolved on board ship right now. We saw some comments about getting wet getting out of the zodiacs. That is only a problem if you disembark incorrectly. If you follow the instructions and directions of the expedition and ships crew, you will not get water in your boots. There are always two crewmen in dry suits standing in the freezing water to help you avoid making errors in disembarkation. Trust them.
Thirdly, do take medications for colds, lozenges for coughs, and patches for the potentially rough seas of the Drake Passage crossing. I believe the Drake Passage has the worst reputation in the World, but there can be exceptions. Captain was very good in explaining what the crossing would be like, and the ship and crew are prepared to help us in anyway that they can. Some of our fellow passengers decided to bring their colds with them and share. So, we had a lot of coughing and colds going on. But, take a few precautions, and use a mask on the flight down to Ushuaia. Also remember the cardinal sailors rule, "one hand for the ship." Use this rule, and crossing the Drake Passage will be a lot safer for everyone.
Lastly, a word about weight limits. Yes, 44 lbs. is the limit on the checked luggage down to Ushuaia. TAUCK has made arrangements so that the over limit items (weight) can be checked in at the hotel in Buenos Aires, and the Tauck support team in Buenos Aires will arrange to have it at the airport in Buenos Aires when you return from the Antarctic. We were allowed to use the laundry bags in the hotel, and there was time to re-pack at the airport before checking in to the flights going home. On the way out of Ushuaia back to Buenos Aires, the weight limits are 17 lbs on the carry-on, and 12 lbs on the personal item. These were strictly weighed and checked at the airport in Ushuaia before we were allowed to board. Everyone in our group managed to meet the restrictions and still pack their red parkas.
It was a good idea to have something comfortable to wear back to Buenos Aires since the temperature there was in the 80's.
Otherwise, the expedition was like an out of this world experience. The naturalists were excellent though they tended to speak with a French accent in most cases. The food on board ship was excellent, and the accomodations were very good. We were never cold while on board ship.

Comments

  • Thank you. Very timely for me as I am about to decide on booking Antarctica trip for next Jan. Although I am in good shape and have no problems walking, I do need to avoid jolts to my back such as may be caused by falls. A fall onto a hard surface could have bad consequences for me. Was there a lot of walking on ice, and if so, did people on your trip slip and fall? Thank you.
  • We did some walking on the snow. However, we never knew for sure what was under the snow. A couple of times I stepped where there was an uneven surface under the snow I was walking in, and the poles helped to avoid falls. Walking carefully, and slowly helps, but then you miss opportunities. There was not a lot of walking on ice, but I avoided any obvious ice, and walked on the rocks or snow. Even walking in rocky areas, the poles really helped to keep balance, and prevent off-balance moments.
  • edited March 2015
    I was on the February 9th trip and have some thoughts on the walking sticks. I never used them....they took up luggage space. Yes, there are areas that are tough to navigate, usually for very short distances and most often immediately upon leaving the zodiacs. I think use of them depends on your ability to maintain your balance. If you have some difficulties with that then I suggest you use them. I would venture to say that less than a third of the people on our trip used them. You obviously know your limitations better than anyone else. The problem is knowing those limitations and honestly responding to them. Randall and Donna seem to have handled that well.

    We had a couple of people with colds, but it didn't seem to be a big issue. I figure that changes with each trip. I didn't take cold stuff (should have), but did take seasickness patches. I never needed them, but I wouldn't have gone without them. I think our passage through the Drake was relatively easy (although we did get bounced around a bit). Having been onboard a ship in the Navy, the trip wasn't all that terrible.

    OK, some individual thoughts on this trip. I have some concerns about the structure and organization of the trip. First, let it be known it was a excellent trip overall. The state room on the ship is very nice, the food was fantastic, and the service was top drawer. The coordination between the captain and his bridge officers with the land crew was commendable. We had a problem with a passenger falling and injuring an arm (on the ship, not on land). They took charge immediately and changed the plan so we could take her back to an airport to be medivaced to a hospital.

    Usually, on a Tauck tour (I've been on six of them) the Tauck tour directors are the star of the show (after the sites, of course). There were three TD's on this tour and around 120 Taucktourians. I just wasn't sure what the TD's did on the ocean part of this trip. Everything important on the ship seemed to be taken care of by the ship's crew and tour guides. I thought I might be just not looking hard enough. When I talked to other people on the tour (veterans and first timers) they felt the same. One newly asked me, "What do the tour directors usually do?" I told them how great all of my TD's had been on the other trips. I think that the TD's got the sense that people were thinking that way and became more visible as the cruise went on. We were told that the TD's had a hand weighing scale for our luggage and if we needed it to come to their room and get it. When I asked for their room number at the desk I was told I couldn't have it. TD's on all my previous tours gave us their cell phone number if we needed to contact them...not this one. Communication was just not up to snuff.

    One of the marketing tools on this trip was the use of BBC equipment. When asked about it at one of the meetings, the response was that the equipment was here, but "it usually doesn't work anyway." That didn't excite anyone! Eventually, the equipment was brought out to share with us. I don't know how much the BBC connection raised the cost of this trip, but it isn't worth it. It's a great marketing tool and sounds good, but it leaves a lot to be desired in reality.

    As far as the TD's and the hotel and flights are concerned, they were GREAT!!! They let us know how to handle the flight to and from BA and what to do with our bags. It was perfect. Listen to their advice and you won't have a problem. They made sure anything you wanted to leave at the hotel would be returned when we got back to BA. Mine wasn't at the airport, but they went back and found it and brought it to the restaurant. They do put out all the fires on the land part of the trip and make things go smoothly.

    I don't think their lack of input on the cruise is all their fault. It is the ship's responsibility to design the landings and provide the informative sessions. The land guides do a great job of that. I don't know how much they coordinate with the Tauck folks which I think is an issue.

    One big concern is the bar situation. This tour is inclusive of all liquor, which is great. However, other tourists on the ship figure that out quickly and I saw several of them hang out with the Taucktourians, thus drinking for free. I am not a big drinker and didn't come close to consuming what was probably budgeted for my alcohol consumption. That didn't bother me, but people who didn't pay for the trip drinking on Tauck's bill was a concern and not a good one. We were all given small, magnetic Tauck signs to put on our shirts, but all you had to do was tell the bartender you forgot yours. The bartenders got to know us, but if someone hung around with us, it was assumed that they were one of us.

    Overall, this was a good tour--not the best one I have been on. I am more than happy to "rate" my six tours in order if need be. Just having been to Antarctica was fantastic. I was disappointed on how disgusting the penguins are. I used to think they were cute little animals. Now, they rate somewhere around pigeons. But, seeing them was fun. The whales, seals, and sea lions were great. The ice formations were amazing to see and the material learned by the ship's tour guides was superb. The other Tauck guests were great and I have plans to meet with some of them later this month and next month. With a few tweaks this could be a top tour for Tauck.

    OK, those are my thoughts, for what they are worth.



  • Thanks for the detailed observations and comments.

    I haven't been, and probably never will, so I can't comment on your trip, but have had suspicions and questions about "Earth Journeys" and what value they add. I'll see how it goes on our upcoming K&T trip and a future tentative Peru & Galapagos" trip. Could it be mainly advertising, to sound a little more like the pricier Lindblad/Nat Geo trips, or does it really add to the experience?
  • Please let me know what you think. Even the trip to Yellowstone, although it was a great trip and the TD's were excellent, all it seems you get from the addition of Ken Burns is a couple of videos that are already on YouTube. I will be leery of this type of marketing tool again....even by Tauck. Having spent a large amount of money to Tauck over six trips....four with two of us and two solos....I am beginning to wonder about their new marketing techniques. I would love to be able to take my grandchildren on a couple of their trips but I am wondering about the overall extra expense for a Bridges trip. I have read some very positive reviews on those trips and am still looking into them. I'm sure I'll get some feedback from others in here.

  • edited March 2015
    Here are my thoughts on the BBC connection. when I read about the new partnership, I was initially sad that my tour to Africa would miss out, but I quickly realized by reading further that all it offered was the use of specialist camera equipment like night vision stuff. I thought this would have been particularly useful to the two of you as you are such great camera buffs. ALAN, when you go to Africa, be sure to ask about use of the equipment while you are there, at the beginning of the tour, in case it has not been popular and has been put on one side. From what i recall, the trip prices were similar.
    I found your review very helpful Ndvb. I have been intrigued when others have said it was their most favorite trip ever. For me, it is not a place I think I would want to go, but I think my husband might like to go because he has such a great knowledge of birds in general. Of course he knew penguins would be stinky just from General knowledge, I just did not think of it. And then this past weekend we got to see a wildlife program we had on the DVR about an island or part of the most northern peninsula of Antartica called--- well it begins with L. I forgot the name but there is a famous post office there run by seasonal volunteers. It's a very popular tourist spot to view the Gentoo penguins that march up and down nearby. The volunteers were extensively interviewed, they mention the terrible smell that they soon stop noticing and then every morning they wash down the pathways so the tourists don't slip on all the poop.
    The only Tauck boat trip I have done with them is the Galapagos tour, but that boat is small, twenty cabins and completely a Tauck trip. Essentially the boat does other tours and Tauck charters the boat for their tours, so of course the regular crew run everything and the Tauck tour director is there for the extras. I remember thinking that it is easier as a tour director on that trip because apart from beginning and end there are no changes of hotel and luggage collections. But if anything goes wrong or for more personal attention, the tour director is invaluable. On our particular tour there was one single very demanding lady who kept him really busy and then she managed to fall down the boat stairs. So really the directors are there in these type of trips more to babysit us and keep up Tauck standards. While I would prefer to go on a boat that just has Tauck passengers, I realize that cannot happen to all destinations.
    Not finding out the Tour Director's room number--- they never give out their room numbers on any tour I have been on, this is standard Tauck practice for the secrity of their Directors, which unfortunately in the world we live in, is perfectly understandable. If they do not give you their phone number then they always explain at the beginning of the tour exactly how you can get a hold of them day or night. On all our tours, I believe we have only had to contact the director twice, once when our luggage went astray on a hotel change, a big search was organized and it was eventually found in another room. It never ceases to amaze me how demanding some clients can be, pestering the directors for the most crazy things, I don't think they realize how much is done behind the scenes to make things run smoothly, imagine how much harder this was before reliable cell phones and texts when they had to fax numbers onto the next location, I certainly remember those days not long ago. I noticed one time seeing a director running around because people left their passports and computer on the bed at the previous hotel, another time when a woman left her large bag of silver jewelry on the bed when we left the hotel, no don't bring a different piece of jewelry for every day, it really isn't necessary. I get the feeling the directors are not as accommodating about these kind of situations these days and it is up to the client to sort it as they would have to do if they were traveling independently.
    Others stealing alcohol. I am appalled to think that non- Tauckers are stealing drinks. I hope you brought it up on your Hope and Trust form Ndvb. There has to be more strict protocols to be put in place. Clearly both boat staff and customers need to abide by the rules however embarrassing it may be. I realize Tauck has had to make drinks inclusive of the price on boat trips to come in line with other competitors but I do not like it. When I see the amounts of drinking that goes on on the land tours by some clients, I am really glad that I am not paying for it.
  • Sorry I didn't respond to your great post, British. I haven't been coming in here much and missed it. I put my thoughts on my evaluation but am yet to hear back from Tauck. Usually, I get a response right away, and I thought I'd hear from Tauck Tim also, since I included it in here, but nothing to this point. It is just easier to ignore it that to make it an issue people read about in here.

    As I said, it was an interesting trip. I can say I've been there (even though it cost a fortune to say that). I just need the Australian trip to finish off the seven continents goal. I don't know if I'll use Tauck for that trip, but I'll see. Also, as I said, I am headed to London for June and July and will look at future trips when I return. I had the family over last night to start looking at the Disney cruise we are going on right after Christmas, so that is a priority right now.

    OK, let's look at the points you bring up on your post.

    1. Tauck Director's room. I have never asked, or expected, them to give me their room numbers. However, I was told to come to their room to get the luggage scale. That is why I was a bit miffed when I couldn't get it. I am not a demanding client. The first thing I tell the tour directors is, "Tell me where I have to be, and when I have to be there, and I'll be a happy camper." I don't expect much else. Although on this trip I was an idiot and left my phone on one of the planes that they recovered for me. I was embarrassed, to say the least. Like I said, on land they are superstars.

    2. Penguins. I guess I knew they were smelly and dirty, I just didn't realize HOW dirty and stinky they are.

    3. BBC. I shared your concern for what the value added for them was for this cruise, but thought, as you say, being a camera buff, it would be nice to use that stuff. It was not real impressive. I don't know what the use of the BBC name and equipment added to the cost of the trip, but it wasn't worth it. I thought the same thing about the Yellowstone In Winter trip. Ken Burns gave no value to it. The videos they show are on YouTube and was mostly National Park propaganda. Before anyone blows up at me. I have a lifetime membership to the National Park service and every time I leave a National Park I drop a $100 bill in the donation box. They are a great investment, but I don't pay for a private tour to get lectured on their worth.

    4. The lack of safety on the ship. As I said, one lady fell when rushing outside to see a whale. You could blame her for running out there, but the fact is they lay a rug on top of their carpet to keep things clean when people return from the land portion of the cruise. It gets pushed up and has large wrinkles on it making it easy to trip on when walking, let alone running, on it. I know we are not in the US, but I know for safety reasons, this carpet would have to be taped down or attached by some other method to keep that from happening. Even after she fell there was nothing done to make it safer. Now, let me make it clear that I believe we are responsible for our own situation and am not a bleeding heart liberal who thinks we should make things so good that we are living in a bubble, but this carpet was dangerous.

    5. Most important, drinking. I understand the need for the "open bar" concept in order to be competitive with other tour companies. However, as you said, it needs better monitoring. You said you are glad you aren't paying for it, but you are!!! Anything that raises the cost of the trip for Tauck and is included in the cost is passed on to EVERYONE on the trip. It is Economics 101. I am not a tea-totaler. I have a glass of wine or two with a dinner on the cruise (I rarely drink anything at home.) and I might have a beer, or two, at the bar in the evening. I am not driving the ship (thank goodness for the rest of the passengers) so a couple of beers is OK. However, seeing non-Taucktorians drinking (heavily, by the way) for free (well, not free...we, not Tauck, are paying for it) when they are supposed to be paying is unacceptable. I know some of the people I was on tour with drank much more than they are budgeted for. I didn't, so I paid for part of their liquor. I knew that going in and it didn't bother me. But to pay for other tour company's clients isn't part of the deal. This issue has made it so I will NEVER go on a Tauck trip that is shared with others. If the trip is 100% Taucktorians I'll make the trip. Tauck has to find a new way of monitoring this. Most people figure it is Tauck's problem, but it is theirs. Anything that is a cost for Tauck is passed on to the customers. Again, Economics 101.

    Thanks for the feedback. I appreciate it.
  • edited May 2015
    I just got off the phone with Kathy at Tauck and she called me to discuss my concerns. She said there have been others with similar issues and that Tauck is working on cleaning them up. It's nice to know that people are paying attention to what is put in here.

    Thanks, Kathy (or is it, Cathy, Cathie, Cathi, Kathie, Kathi.....???)

    I appreciate it.
  • Hello ndvb,

    Apologies that you have not heard back from Tauck. I have escalated your concerns to our Guest Relations team, they will reach out to you shortly. We value our guests' opinions and use the feedback to improve our itineraries.

    Thank you for your patronage and please feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions or concerns.

    Best,
    Emily
  • edited May 2015
    ndvb wrote:
    I just got off the phone with Kathy at Tauck and she called me to discuss my concerns. She said there have been others with similar issues and that Tauck is working on cleaning them up. It's nice to know that people are paying attention to what is put in here.

    Thanks, Kathy (or is it, Cathy, Cathie, Cathi, Kathie, Kathi.....???)

    I appreciate it.

    Just in case anyone else is interested, apart from you as you say, ndvb, Ponant ... the shipping line Tauck partners with on these trips, now has an all-inclusive policy. That means all-inclusive, for all passengers. I don't know when this policy was implemented, but it is certainly what they are selling now. So, fears of subsiding free-loaders in the future need not be a concern.

    As for penguins ... I know people comment on the smell and I have really tried to remember how a flock (that doesn't sound right!) how a posse of Royal and King penguins smelt to me. I can honestly say I have no recollection. I was too busy being stunned. What I do have is a memory of busy creatures, doing busy things. Strolling and waddling up and down and talking to each other, and to me, as they solved the problems of their world. And no, that wasn't just a vision of the other humans!

    I shall now take my bleeding, Irish Australian heart, and my humanistic concern for other people and closet it. Perhaps I will turn my concern to those people who put themselves in danger by their own "simplicity". I often wonder how they manage to successfully leave their own front doors, let alone how they "negotiate" the differences they meet on their journey.

    ;))

    Cheers,

    Jan
  • ndvb wrote:
    I just got off the phone with Kathy at Tauck and she called me to discuss my concerns. She said there have been others with similar issues and that Tauck is working on cleaning them up. It's nice to know that people are paying attention to what is put in here.

    Thanks, Kathy (or is it, Cathy, Cathie, Cathi, Kathie, Kathi.....???)

    I appreciate it.


    Hi ndvb,

    Glad Cathy was able to connect with you and address your concerns. Once again thank you for your feedback, they are very important to us.

    Best,
    Emily
  • edited June 2015
    LAU review was an excellent for those who will be going. I did the trip last year and scheduled for Dec 2016 again. May I add a couple thoughts. Lots of people getting sick with colds and flu including myself. Be sure to prepare for that. Internet not very good BUT better than nothing. I have Verizon Wireless and did not have my phone in the "Airplane Mode" and was able to get text messages through easily. Of course, when I got back there was a surcharge of over $100 but I'll know better next time ALWAYS put your phone in "airplane" mode out of the USA. The Parkas are heavy and cumbersome. Next trip I'll layer and wear warm but comfortable clothes off the ship. One day it was almost 40F and much to warm for parkas. Service was fine and food OK. A lot of repeats for breakfast and lunch. Drake Crossing can be dangerous even in moderate waters. ALWAYS hold onto something even in your room. Capt. said it was smooth but not in my cabin so beware. Scheduled events change at a moments notice based on wind and weather. Land excursions of an hour per time may be shorter if you like. Plenty of boats to/from ship all the time. I brought my boots but I suggest renting them since they seem to take luggage weight seriously.

  • Signed up for Jan Antarctica trip and wanted to make sure that my packing and to-get-reay lists didn't miss much from reading the comments from previous travelers.

    One item not mentioned on these posts are a way to communicate with family back home. My children want to make sure that I got some way to communicate with them while on this trip. Is there wifi access on the ship at least to send and receive emails? Did any of you had cell phone services while on ship? My cell company tells me that I can receive and send text or talk while on ship even near Antarctica but no access to wifi. Have had bad experiences with what they claim were not accurate in the past so need to know how it works.

    Any information on that matter would be very much appreciated.
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