When you decide to travel to Antarctica, choosing the right company will make all the difference to your experience. Here is why we recommend One Ocean Expeditions.
If you’re anything like us, there is no other destination on the planet that is as mysterious, appealing and desirable as Antarctica.
While every other continent is easily accessible, Antarctica proves to be the elusive ‘bucket list’ destination for most people. A place millions dream of visiting, yet few will ever take the plunge to visit the isolated continent.
Up until recently travel to Antarctica was something reserved for scientists and intrepid explorers. That has all changed though with a limited number of quality tour operators now offering expeditions to the White Continent, departing on ships from Ushuaia in Argentina, or New Zealand.
Just like anything though, not all companies are created equal. Some offer far better experiences than others, and who you choose to visit Antarctica with can really affect your time down there.
Antarctica will always be beautiful, but having an overall positive experience is not something you want to leave to chance.
Choosing The Best Operator To Travel to Antarctica
In 2017 we travelled to Antarctica with One Ocean Expeditions; a dedicated polar exploration company operating out of Canada.
The reasons we chose to trust our once-in-a-lifetime experience with them are quite significant. While it is true we partnered with them during our journey, they were not the only company we had that opportunity with.
We said no to all the others who also invited us to work with them, and with confidence headed south with the true experts in polar adventures.
After our own research, and based on personal experience, here are our top reasons why you should choose to travel to Antarctica with One Ocean Expeditions.
Commitment To Protecting The Environment
Antarctica is one of the most fragile ecosystems on the planet. With climate change severely threatening the polar regions, choosing a responsible operator for your Antarctic adventure should be at the very top of your checklist.
Luckily all the companies that are given permits to travel to Antarctica adhere to the strict protocols put in place, and that is good news for the continent.
One Ocean Expeditions takes it a step further though, and has built their entire business platform around protecting the environment in the two regions they visit, Antarctica and the Arctic.
By operating research vessels they can conduct groundbreaking scientific studies at the same time as showing passengers these phenomenal landscapes. Scientists and researchers are also granted exclusive access to their tours, helping to further their progress in environmental and wildlife conservation.
A portion of their profits are donated to various polar conservation enterprises, as well as social charities in the Arctic. No other company is as dedicated to the environment as these guys are.
The Best Crew In The Industry
One Ocean Expeditions takes great pride in selecting their professional crew. Working on one of their polar adventures isn’t something that just anybody can apply for. You need to be the best of the best in a very targeted field.
As we started to get to know the crew during our 11 days aboard the Akademik Ioffe, we couldn’t believe just how advanced they all were in their chosen fields. This staff biographies read like a ‘who’s who’ of marine research and polar destinations.
To give an example we had Glenn Stein, the acclaimed polar historian, giving talks about polar exploration and leading tours to research bases.
There was Boris Wise, the expedition leader who had worked as a captain of the highest level in the US Coast Guard before dedicating his life to the polar regions. He was the person in charge of all logistics once the route had been confirmed by the ship’s captain. The landings, activities, safety and itinerary was all under his capable hands.
Mark, who ran the sea kayaking, was once a world champion in open canoe. Simon, the ornithologist (bird specialist) is world-renowned for his penguin research.
What makes all this even more amazing is that this kind of calibre of crew is standard on all One Ocean Expeditions.
While you’re crossing the Drake Passage, and in between the shore excursions, these experts give detailed presentations on a variety of relevant topics. They tirelessly and passionately impart their knowledge to anyone who cares to listen.
Besides the One Ocean Expeditions staff, the unsung heroes are the ship’s crew. The captain and his officers have decades of experience sailing in the polar regions, and you couldn’t be in safer hands.
Our experience in Antarctica was greatly enriched by all these world class experts, and we walked away with a greater understanding of the history, environment and wildlife because of the best crew in the industry.
Best Quality Equipment On The Market
Antarctica is an extreme destination in every sense. Its location, its climate and its topography makes it a place that is harsh beyond words, despite the beauty.
However few people realise that in the summer, the Antarctic Peninsula can actually be quite pleasant, with average temperatures hovering above freezing. Still, the weather can change rapidly and it’s important to be prepared.
When you sign up for a One Ocean Expeditions adventure to the polar regions, you are guaranteed that every piece of technical clothing and safety equipment is the best on the market.
All passengers are provided with insulated and waterproof boots, pants and jackets to keep them protected from the elements while out on excursions.
The zodiacs that take people from the ship to shore and around the bays are designed for polar conditions, and have multiple bladders so that even if one receives a puncture, the boat will stay afloat. Life jackets are also supplied (and mandatory to wear), and these are regularly tested and meet all international standards.
If you sign up to go sea kayaking in Antarctica, then you’re also given dry suits to protect you from capsizing or splashes. The kayaks are designed for cold water, and you will wear rubber skirts to add extra protection.
The final adventure that comes with high quality gear is camping in Antarctica, which of course is the one thing that most people are the most nervous (and excited) about.
Winter-grade bivy sacks and sleeping bags are provided, as well as thermal mats to add extra insulation between yourself and the snow. When we camped the night on Antarctica we were completely warm and slept surprisingly well.
The crew always have the final say on activities though, and if conditions look too unsafe (storms, rough seas, unusually cold weather, etc) they will switch up or cancel the excursions. Safety is always number one here, so you have nothing to worry about.
You do have to bring your own thermals and general clothing (we recommend Kathmandu gear), but the technical equipment is taken care of.
Travel On An Active Research Vessel, Not A Cruise Ship
There are a few different styles of ships that you can visit Antarctica on, but the main ones the average person can use are research vessels or luxury cruise ships.
The team at One Ocean Expeditions operate two ships in both Antarctica and the Arctic – The Akademik Ioffe, and the Akademik Sergey Vavilov (with a third ship joining the fleet in 2018).
As the names suggest, these are Russian vessels and have been designed and constructed purely for polar exploration and scientific research.
While the two Akademiks ply the seas they are collecting data on ocean currents, water temperatures and a host of other important information that is then forwarded to climate agencies around the world.
If you’re interested, you can even spend time in the bridge and get a tour of the ship to see how it all works first hand.
In our opinion a trip to Antarctica screams adventure, and by going on a vessel that is designed for polar exploration and scientific research, it adds an entire new element to the expedition that you’ll love and appreciate.
Don’t be fooled though – the ships are still incredibly comfortable with all the amenities one could imagine (including a hot tub and sauna). But you will feel like an intrepid explorer by being on a Russian research vessel charging through the Lemaire Channel.
Less Than 100 People Per Expedition
There’s an international law in Antarctica that few people know about – It’s illegal for more than 100 passengers from the same ship to make any kind of shore landing at the same time.
So what does this mean?
That means if you are on a ship that has over 100 people on board, you will need to take turns to go on these excursions. The passengers will be split into two (or more) groups, and while one group is walking around the continent, the other group is sitting on the ship waiting for their turn or doing zodiac tours.
One Ocean Expeditions’ journeys to Antarctica are limited to 96 passengers, which results in more time spent actually on Antarctica. After all, you’ve travelled a long way to visit Antarctica; you want to spend as much time as possible there!
The other benefit of being on a small cruise means that you get a chance to know all the other passengers and crew. After our 11 days we knew every person onboard by name, and also became good friends with the crew as we spent so much time with them throughout the day, and at night.
Small groups, big experiences. That is the core of One Ocean Expeditions’ style.
Assisting Science During Their Journeys
While One Ocean Expeditions operate sensational passenger journeys to Antarctica, they also make room for science on as many trips as possible.
The company realises that conducting studies and research is just as important, or even more important, than filling up every spot with paying customers. So when you travel to Antarctica with One Ocean Expeditions don’t be surprised if you meet some scientists onboard as well.
On our particular journey there were two members from the Australian Antarctic Division tagging and monitoring minke whales. This was a project that had been running for a few months, with the whale expert Ari Friedlaender also taking part during previous trips.
While we were on the Antarctic Peninsula the ship picked up four women who had been stationed at Port Lockroy for the entire summer.
It’s amazing to see a company that is still putting science as a priority on these trips to Antarctica, and having the chance to see firsthand the work they are doing is quite a unique experience.
Ok, we said that One Ocean Expeditions don’t run luxury cruises, but that doesn’t mean the food quality is subpar. In fact we ate some of the best food of our entire time in South America right there on the Akademik Ioffe!
Award-winning chefs are on every voyage and are constantly dishing up a wide variety of fresh, delicious and exotic cuisine. No matter your preferred tastes or restrictions, everyone is catered for.
As you’re out exploring every day, you really do build up a hunger, so it’s nice to have amazing food to look forward to after the excursions. We actually talked about the food for weeks after we left the ship!
Plus if you’re really lucky you might even get the chance to have a barbecue out on the deck. We had 5 days of sunshine down in Antarctica, and on one of the days the chefs set up a huge barbecue for everyone at the stern of the ship.
Sitting outside, sipping on champagne and eating steak while wearing a t-shirt and being surrounded by icebergs is a moment we’ll never forget.
Photographer In Residence
It’s almost impossible to take a bad photo in Antarctica. The place is just that damn beautiful. But most people will still want to get the most out of their images, and that’s why you’ll be accompanied by a professional photographer on your adventure.
One Ocean Expeditions works with a number of award-winning photographers such as Paul Zizka, Ira Meyer and Daisy Gilardini, who join every expedition to not only take their own incredible shots, but also give tips on how you can improve your photography.
We were extremely lucky to have the Canadian legend Dave Brosha on board with us during our Antarctic adventure. He selflessly gave free workshops, helped people with their camera settings during excursions, and snapped amazing portraits of the passengers on the continent.
Having the opportunity to see one of the best photographers in the world work his magic helped inspire us with our own craft. No matter what trip you choose with OOE, you will have an iconic photographer there by your side to make sure you get the absolute best pictures possible.
A Wide Variety Of Adventures And Itineraries
There isn’t ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to choosing your Antarctic adventure. Some people prefer to focus on getting to far-flung coves and peninsulas, while others want to try their hand at as many activities as possible.
The team at One Ocean Expeditions runs a variety of tours to Antarctica, from getting beneath the Antarctic Circle to visiting the Falklands and South Georgia islands.
Early on in the season they offer skiing on the continent, and later on you can camp beneath the stars. Sea kayaking is available on most of their trips, and you can even choose to go for a swim in the caldera of an active volcano.
The choice is yours, depending on your style, budget and length of time available.
[box] This article was created in partnership with One Ocean Expeditions. All thoughts, opinions and bucket list experiences are, as always, our own.[/box]