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A Typical Day at Sea by Pam Mandel

Posted March 24, 2011 @ 6:34pm | by TravelWild

Disclaimer: I traveled on the M/V Plancius and this is what my days were like.  Yours may vary—weather and other conditions, even other ships in the region (rare, but it happens!), may change what your day looks like.

0700: Wake-up call! The ship was equipped with an internal public address system.  No need for that alarm clock while on board—every morning we heard the voice of our expedition leader saying, “Good morning, friends and neighbors, good morning!”  Though once, we also heard, “Come on up in your pajamas—the whales are very friendly today!”  And then, there we were, watching a pair of humpbacks watch us.

0730: Breakfast. Our buffet-style breakfast had freshly-baked bread for toast, fruit, cheese, and sometimes yogurt or eggs or sausage or bacon.  The basics were always available, accompanied by hot items for those who favored a cooked breakfast.  The dining room ran like clockwork, though.  I was late one morning and had to find the kitchen staff (they were kind and helpful to sleepyheads).  It’s best to be on time.

0900: Daily briefing. We were often sailing during breakfast, so we’d watch glaciers or brash ice out the windows while hearing about our plans for the day.  We’d hear about our landings—what was there, what (if anything) was tricky about the landing, what the terrain was like, what kind of options were available (hiking, history, quality time with penguins) and how much time we’d have ashore.

1000: First excursion. Getting ready for landing never quite became routine, probably because of the gear involved.  I’d give myself about 20 minutes to dress.  Full long underwear, good socks, snow pants, t-shirt, down shell, rain shell, hat, neck gaiter, glove liners, waterproof mitts, boots, backpack (with camera gear) and life vest.  By the end of the trip, I could gear up quite quickly, but I still waddled in the hallways and onto the Zodiac loading dock.

Sometimes the excursion would be cruising in the Zodiac to see the ice and the surroundings; sometimes, we’d go to land.  On land there were short hikes (never anything too strenuous), historic sites to visit—and wildlife, wildlife, wildlife!  I never felt rushed—there was plenty of time for me to experience what there was to offer.  Typically, I headed back to the ship only because I was hungry or wanted the facilities.  I never waited long for a Zodiac, either, as the expedition crew was waiting at the shore, ready to take passengers back to the ship.

1300: Lunch. We had a hot lunch every day.  Often there was soup—warming after being off the ship.  Sometimes it was a buffet, sometimes it was table service.  As a vegetarian (mostly), there were options for me (and I could request them from the staff if it wasn’t immediately apparent).  While we dined, the ship sailed to our next stop for the day—we saw spectacular landscapes while we had our midday meal.

1500: Second excursion and/or lecture. The ship was staffed with experts on marine mammals, penguins, global warming, Antarctic history—you name it.  Our expedition crew gave lectures and answered questions during cruising times—and while crossing the Drake.  We had a bilingual trip, and often there would be a lecture in French in the observation lounge while a lecture in English took place in the dining room.  When the weather was less than ideal or we were out at sea, the lectures were an excellent way to pass the time.

If we had a second daily excursion—which was often—the process would be just as the first.  We’d gear up, board the Zodiac, have plenty of time to explore, and then return to the ship for the evening.

1900: Daily recap. We’d meet on the observation deck to discuss what we’d seen, get reminders of place names—so easily forgotten in the activity and wonder—and learn a little more about the wildlife.  Once, we saw a wounded Weddell seal on the beach—our marine mammal experts checked her out and decided that, yes, an orca had gotten to her but, upon closer inspection, it seemed her injuries would heal.  Our guides were brutally realistic about our surroundings—a penguin with a beak deformity was given a very bad prognosis, as were many of the chicks we’d seen, so I was relieved to get good news about the injured seal, for a change.

2000: Dinner. Dinner was table service, and followed by dessert.  Once I had a stuffed baked onion, once I had fish.  We had pasta and steak and polenta—and all of it was quite good.  There were always fresh vegetables of some variety.  Dinner was social.  I tried to sit at a different table every time to hear stories about what people had seen during the day.  And I tried to get a seat near a window, because you never knew when you’d see whales or seals resting on ice floes or when a glacier would calve into the channel.

2230: Off to bed. While some passengers spent their evenings unwinding in the observation lounge, talking and having drinks from the (full) bar, I typically spent half an hour or so making some notes about my day and flipping through my photos.  And, then, climbing into my bed, completely exhausted.  Sometimes, I would close my eyes to a mental slide show of penguins and giant icebergs and black stone peaks covered with snow.  I would replay my day, and all the things I’d seen, until I fell asleep.  And then, the next morning, it would all start over again.

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