Ortelius on my mind
Imagine having an alarm clock that didn’t wake you with the usual BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! but instead purred gently into your ear, “Good morning. This is your wake-up call. The weather is beautiful, the traffic light, and your breakfast is ready whenever you are.”
Wouldn’t that be just the perfect way to start the day?
Up with the Day – on the Ortelius
Well, mornings aboard the Ortelius aren’t too dissimilar. Not only does that friendly, soothing voice speak of clear blue skies and a punctual breakfast, it also promises amazing vistas and exotic wildlife – colossal icebergs, calving glaciers, polar bears and penguins and blankets of bright white snow unrolling into the horizon.
Oceanwide and I Go Way Back
I’ve travelled with Oceanwide Expeditions five times so far: twice around Svalbard, twice in West Greenland, and now – on my “jubilee” trip – I’m headed around the Antarctic Peninsula and Weddell Sea.
I have to admit, my previous Oceanwide trips spoiled me a little: reindeer, bowhead whales, and polar bear sightings for breakfast. (Though one time I slept through the wake-up call and stumbled out into a completely deserted dining room, nothing but chocolate cake left for breakfast, while my fellow passengers had a close encounter with a polar bear cub.)
Boredom? No Such Thing
But on this cruise, I find I am still regularly impressed. Almost every morning comes with a new surprise: a wandering albatross, a pod of whales, lounging leopard seals, diving chinstrap penguins. And to think a friend actually asked me before I left, “Aren’t you afraid you’ll get bored?”
Thankfully I had a lot of experiences to offer as proof of how impossible boredom is on these cruises. I told her about the outings we would make by helicopter and Zodiac, about the vessel’s well-stocked library and bar, about all the interesting stories fellow passengers shared – not to mention the friends I’d made on previous expeditions, friends from Argentina, Australia, Germany, Taiwan, and the United States.
Never a Dull Moment
In all honesty, though, I hardly have time to read or play a card game aboard these cruises, and this one is no exception. There’s just too much to experience outside. Staring over the floating icebergs is so relaxing it may as well be meditation, and watching birds with a pair of good binoculars is fascinating.
Even if you can’t tell an albatross from a penguin, the guides and fellow passengers are happy to explain the difference. And always there’s the sound of the waves, the pungent smell of the salty sea air speaking of adventure in the ancient, wild places of the Earth.
Polar Regions with a Side of Soup
And did I mention the food? Between excursions and the time spent on deck, another main attraction is the dining room: fresh fruit and bread rolls, magnificent breakfasts and lunch buffets and three-course dinners, and a spot-on serving staff – imagine walking hot soup across a rocking boat!
But I’m particularly impressed with Charlotte, the bartender. How she manages to keep her smile up while serving drinks on a Drake Passage crossing I’ll never know.
Bridge for Adventure, Cabins for Comfort
When the weather is too rough to stay on the front deck, my favorite place is the bridge. This is where the magic happens. The captain and his officers stand watch here 24/7, and the great thing is, visitors are welcome – except under severe conditions, of course.
Since the ship’s rocking is worse on the bridge than in the cabins, people prone to sea sickness might want to avoid it. Still, keeping your eyes on the horizon can help with the sickness, not to mention afford you some breath-taking views.
A Taste of the Explorer’s Life
When the waves are high, you get that butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling better than in a rollercoaster. You start to understand the wanderlust of the great explorers, the passion that drove them to brave the dangers of the sea, and all of a sudden the memory of your couch back home seems to belong to another life and another time.
In the Event of Sensory Overload
One other nice place on board is the lecture room. If your senses grow a bit overwhelmed, this can be a calm location in which to sit back and listen to an interesting talk about wildlife or geology by one of the guides. During the polar summers, it’s also a good area to seek some real darkness away from the midnight sun.
Seeing the Antarctic the Zodiac Way
During a previous expedition, I wrote about the helicopter trips. But the Zodiac cruises are great fun as well, both the scenic outings as well as the landings. Setting foot on shore in a remote strand of the polar terrain truly defies description. It’s like a new world has opened up right in front of you, no matter how many times you’ve seen it before.
Looking Back, Looking Forward
Coming back from a Zodiac trip, we all often have a healthy appetite. But before we hurry off to the dining room, it’s time for a daily “recap” in the bar. There the staff gives us an overview of the day’s highlights, coupled with a short overview of the next day’s plans. Once done, dinner’s on. Time to exchange tales of high adventures with the other passengers, all while enjoying a delicious starter, main course, and dessert.
Afterward, if you’re anything like me, chances are you’ll be so tired you’ll go straight to your cabin and fall face down onto the bed, drifting into pleasant dreams of that pristine, ice-bedazzled world – until you wake to see it again the next day.