A chance to venture to the end of the world and set sail to the white continent is an extraordinary opportunity and very much the Once-In-A-Lifetime experience that should be on everyone’s bucket list. For most people it is their seventh continent, for me it would be my sixth, and whilst I had some trepidation about crossing the dreaded Drake Passage, this was an opportunity not to be missed. So when my colleague Gina Bach who heads our Experiences team asked me to join the group, I didn’t take much convincing. It was also a fantastic chance to see our Experiences Team in action and get to know some of the 130 Exclusive Resorts members that would be on the trip and sharing the experience.

Day 1 – Thursday: Arrival in Santiago

Arriving in Santiago on Thursday morning, we spent the first day touring the city. Santiago is Chile’s capital and largest city and sits in a valley surrounded by the spectacular snow-capped Andes and Chilean Coast Range. After a leisurely lunch, we took a tour of Plaza de Armas, the grand heart of the city’s old colonial core the National History Museum. Returning to the Mandarin Oriental in the evening, we attended a welcome dinner hosted by the Exclusive Resorts team, where we were treated to a performance by traditional Chilean dancers. 

Day 2- Friday: Transfer to Ushuaia and Embark

On Friday we were up at 6:00 a.m. for an early charter flight out to Ushuaia, pronounced: “oo-shwy-a.” Located on the Tierra del Fuego Archipelago, Ushuaia is the southernmost tip of South America, nicknamed “The End of the World.” The windswept town is perched on a steep hill surrounded by the Martial Mountains and the Beagle Channel. As we fly in, we can already see the port with the Cruise ships preparing for their next trips down to Antarctica. We head over to the Tierra del Fuego National Park with its dramatic scenery, waterfalls, and forests surrounded by the spectacular mountains of Argentina on one side and Chile on the other. At around 4:00 p.m. we head to the port and embark on the National Geographic Resolution, which is one of the brand-new expedition vessels in the Lindblad fleet.

We are shown to our cabins that will be home for the next week and after a mandatory safety drill, we head down to the Ice Lounge to meet some of our hosts for the week, Hotel Director Sebastian Guijarro, Ship’s Doctor Bill Gallea, and our Expedition Leader, the fabulous Sheri Bluestein. Our group is already buzzing with excitement and anticipation, and this is clearly reflected by the Expedition team and Crew, of which there are approximately 100 crew and 20 Naturalists, Photographers, and Lindblad National Geographic Expedition trip leads.

Our first dinner is in the Two Seven Zero Restaurant, named for its spectacular 270-degree views, and it is clear that the culinary experience throughout our voyage will be excellent. After a superb dinner, we head back to the Ice Lounge to meet our intrepid Exclusive Resorts explorers and share a cocktail as we head out into the Beagle Channel on a beautiful calm evening. 

Day 3: Saturday: Celebrating New Year’s Eve in the Dreaded Drake

We leave the Beagle Channel shortly after midnight and head out into the Drake Passage, which is the body of water between South America’s Cape Horn, Chile, Argentina, and the South Shetlands of Antarctica. It is where the Scotia Sea, which is the Southwestern part of the Atlantic Ocean meets with the southeastern part of the Pacific Ocean and extends into the Southern Ocean. It is reputed to be “the most powerful convergence of seas” and one of the most treacherous ocean voyages that ships can make. It is also a bit of a roll of the dice as to whether it would be “Drakes Shake” or “Drakes Lake.” 

Sir Francis Drake, the famous English explorer, slave trader, and privateer went to sea at 18 and was soon commanding his own ships. During the years of 1577-1580, Drake, under commission by Queen Elizabeth, became the first Englishman to sail around the world — charting new territory as he went and plundering Spanish ships and the ports of South America. On September 6, 1577, Drake’s 100-ton flagship, Pelican (later renamed The Golden Hind), successfully navigated the Strait of Magellan. The ship was blown as far south as 57°, demonstrating that there was open water south of South America. 

The Drake Passage, which stretches between Cape Horn and the South Shetland Islands, is the narrowest body of water between land and Antarctica, and this restriction creates an extremely powerful mixing of ocean currents. Furthermore, the lack of land masses at this latitude allows for an unimpeded eastward flow of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (also known as the West Wind Drift), which makes for an exciting couple of days at sea. 

Getting up the dulcet tones of our Expedition Leader on the loudspeaker and heading up for breakfast, it took some time to zigzag along the hallways getting used to the rolling movements of the ship.

After a hearty breakfast, we make sure we headed down to the Base Camp on Deck 3, which is the staging area for all the disembarks and shore excursions to organize our gear and then headed back to the Ice Lounge for a day of lectures by the National Geographic Photographers and Naturalists on board. Legendary National Geographic photographer Nick Cobbing revealed some of the tips and tricks he uses

in his presentation “How to Shoot Like a National Geographic Photographer” and Naturalist Chelsea Behymer gave us a presentation on “Seabirds of the Southern Ocean.”

In the evening, we were hosted by Captain Martin Graser who introduced his team of Officers on board and hosted a Welcome Cocktail party, followed by dinner and then back to the Ice Lounge to ring in the New Year with drinks and entertainment! By this point, our group, clearly fortified by Champagne and cocktails, was no longer intimidated by the Drake and the partying went on into the early hours as the occupants of the dance floor seemed to cascade from one side of the lounge to the other with the rolling of the ship.

Day 4: Sunday: Arriving in Antarctica – Lemaire Channel and Pleneau Island 

As we headed further South the days were getting lighter with the Sunrises at 0231 and with Sunset at 0008. Having gotten our sea-legs and after some late night reveling, the ship had a slower start as we welcomed in the first day of the New Year. 

Our first session of the day was by Penguinologists Catie Foley and Clare Flynn with their presentation: “Penguin Watch – The Penguins of Antarctica and How We Spy on Them.” Which was a fascinating overview of the different penguins we would expect to see on the voyage. This was followed by a mandatory Antarctic landing briefing on protocols for landings and biosecurity decontamination.

After a light lunch, I headed up to Deck 8 for a relaxing massage as we continued our journey South. In the capable hands of the excellent Spa team on board and with the gentle rocking of the ship, it was an extraordinarily serene experience. At around 2:00 p.m. as we arrived at the incredibly scenic Lemaire Channel, I awoke from my dreamy state to see the spectacular vistas of Antarctica and icebergs floating past the window. What a fantastic way to start the New Year. 

With the long daylight hours, after an early dinner, we had the opportunity for our first zodiac tour and Antarctic landing at Pleneau Island, which was named after Paul Pleneau, a member of Jean- Baptiste Charcot’s French expedition of 1908-1910, for walks and viewing of Gentoo penguins. 

With almost 24 hours of daylight and crisp blue skies, I spent the rest of the evening walking around the deck until almost 1:00 a.m. taking in the long light, majestic vistas, and ice. It felt like a very different world. I finally understood why Antarctica is really such a unique and special experience that is so hard to describe.

Day 5: Monday – Crossing the 66th Parallel & Dipping Below the Antarctic Circle

With 24 hours of daylight, I eventually retired to my cabin and realized this was not going to be a week where I would get much sleep. On Day 5 we continued south from Pleneau Island and headed to the Antarctic Circle. 

Built in 2021 during the Pandemic, the National Geographic Resolution is one of the most modern and capable explorer ships in the world. Its X-bow design enables the ship to cut through waves providing a smoother ride. As a fully stabilized vessel of the highest ice class (PCS Category A), she is able to venture into areas where many ships are not able to travel. Powered by four General Electric Gas Turbines that can produce 10,000 hp and with a pod drive system, she is also capable of almost 17 knots. In a one-week trip, it gives Captain Graser and our Expedition Leader Sheri Bluestein the opportunity to take us considerably further down the peninsula into areas where other ships are unable to reach.

With excellent weather we crossed the 66th parallel into the Antarctic Circle and the narrow channel known as the Gullet. 66 ̊33’ South latitude, this line demarcates the northernmost location where, on the longest day of the year, the sun does not set at all. The Gullet was first discovered during Charcot’s second French Antarctic Expedition (1908-1910) and was named in 1948 for its constricted nature by the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey (which later became the British Antarctic Survey). 

We stop in a calm inlet with crystal clear, calm water and blue skies and after a presentation by one of the Naturalists Chelsea Leven on Seals, we head up for a superb barbecue lunch out on the deck and take in the beautiful vistas of the ice on the mountains.

The afternoon activities involve kayaking around the inlet and zodiac tours. I opted to do a zodiac tour with my new friends Keith and Ronda Philpott, who are avid global explorers. Keith was a professional photographer and photojournalist for 30 years and they have traveled to over 100 countries, and this is the last continent on their bucket list. As an amateur photographer, I find myself stalking Keith and the Nat Geo photographers and trying to replicate the photographs they take. However, to my great surprise, their photos continuously seem to turn out way better than mine.

Cruising around the Gullet we have an opportunity to see humpbacks feeding, and the silence and serenity of the water are mesmerizing. 

Returning to the ship the excitement is palpable as the crew is organizing for the polar plunge, where we had a record number of participants leaping into the frigid Antarctic waters and then rushing into the sauna.

In the evening I head up to the Tupaia Lounge and into Cooks Nook for a special eight-course dinner prepared by Chef Ruslan and his team. This is clearly my kind of exploring with incredible culinary experiences and fine dining with deliciously prepared dishes that tell the story of our expedition. The main course was interrupted by a group of humpback whales off the side of the ship and our group raced out on deck to get a glimpse and some photos. 

We then retired to the lounge to hear the end of Nick Cobbing’s presentation, “Confessions of a Nat Geo Photographer: What a Professional Photographer Tells His Therapist.”

Day 6: Tuesday – Marguerite Bay and Pourquoi Pas 

One of the wonderful things about Lindblad is that they have an open bridge policy, where guests on board are welcome to spend time on the bridge. I found this becoming a regular part of my day. I think I became the most frequent visitor; it was fun checking out where the ship was and reviewing our course. Heading up to the bridge on Tuesday morning, we were holding position in the middle of Marguerite Bay.

Marguerite Bay was discovered in 1909 by the second French Antarctic expedition led by Jean-Baptiste Charcot. As a result, the majority of the sites in this area were named by this expedition, often after crew members or people associated with them. Marguerite was the name of Charcot’s wife. 

Captain Martin and First Officer Johann had found fast ice and were preparing to drive the Resolution directly into the ice so we could disembark directly on the ice. This was one of the parts I was most looking forward to about the trip and everyone was out on deck as the Captain expertly drove the ship into the ice, with the reinforced X-bow design and 10,000 hp it was like a knife through hot butter. Before we knew it the crew was dropping the gangplanks and heading out directly onto the ice.

We were greeted by a welcoming group of chinstrap penguins and ventured out onto the fast ice for a stroll and photographs. After we were all back on board the Captain reversed the ship out leaving a huge ship-sized hole in the ice.

As the weather started to turn in the afternoon, we headed over to Pourquoi Pas Island, (well why not?), to visit the Adelie Penguin colony. The Pourquoi Pas was a three-masted ship designed and built in 1907 for polar exploration, equipped with a motor, three laboratories, and a library. From 1908 to 1925, Jean-Baptiste Charcot led exploratory scientific voyages on the ship. From 1925 onwards, limited by age, Charcot lost command of the ship (though he remained on board as head of the expedition) for her many voyages around Antarctic and Arctic glaciers.  This was our last opportunity to step ashore south of the Antarctic Circle. 

We spent the afternoon photographing the colony of nesting Adelie Penguins and once again I was on the last Zodiac back to the ship. As the early evening came it was incredible how quickly the ice had accumulated and though we were only a couple of hundred yards from the ship, it made navigation through the ice hard going in the zodiacs. It felt a little nerve-racking, but thankfully our expert expedition leads remained cool, calm, and collected, and we knew we were in good hands. Though it was definitely a great excuse for a fortifying glass of scotch back on board. 

By Tuesday we had definitely found the rhythm of the ship, most of our Members had gotten to know each other and it was fun to retire to the lounge after dinner to share stories and our experiences of the day. I was finding that one of the most fun parts of the trip was meeting everyone, sharing stories, and creating new friendships.

Day 7: Wednesday – Stonington Island & The Gullet Sailed Again & Orcas

On the morning of day seven, we rose to spectacular blue skies and winds looking out over Stonington Island, a rocky island surrounded by huge-majestic glaciers. Stonington Island was chosen as the site for the East Base of the US Antarctic Service Expedition (1939–41) and named after Stonington, Connecticut, the home port of the sloop Hero in which Captain Nathaniel Palmer sighted the Antarctic continent in 1820. 

The Island was also home to the British Antarctic Survey Base, Station E, which was occupied until February 1975. We had an opportunity to visit the main building known as Trepassey House, which is a protected site under the Antarctic Treaty. The building still contains jars of Bovril and canned foods and a small library. It’s difficult to imagine the hardships that these intrepid explorers went through to inhabit such a remote place. From the highest point of the island, we could see the vast Glacier fields and hear the eerie sounds of the occasional crashes as the ice melted into the water.   

Heading back to the ship, we have a leisurely lunch and set sail back up the Gullet, where we pass cathedrals of ice that are bigger than the ship and majestically floating in the channel.

As I head up to the bridge in the early evening, I could hear the Captain communicating with another ship further North and they were talking about “black and whites” referring to Orca whales, so we set a course and followed a pod of Orcas with their calves as they were hunting seals.

I stayed up on the bridge late in the evening as the crew skillfully maneuvered the Resolution through the fields of ice in the long light, it was incredibly tranquil and really quite therapeutic.

Day 8: Thursday – Yalour Islands and Petermann Island 

On day eight we arrived at the Yalour Islands. These islands lie just south of the Lemaire Channel. They were named by Jean-Baptiste Charcot during the 1903-5 French Antarctic Expedition for Lt. Jorge Yalour of the Argentine Navy and an officer of the corvette Uruguay, which rescued the stranded members of the shipwrecked Swedish Antarctic Expedition in 1903. We take a tour around the islands and the Vernadsky Research Base, which is a Ukrainian Antarctic Station on Galindez Island in the Argentine Islands. Ukraine acquired the base in 1996 from Britain for the symbolic sum of one pound. 

Our enterprising crew delivered some fresh vegetables to the Ukrainians and in return we got some Antarctica-produced Ukrainian Vodka, which seemed a very fair trade to me. I finally got my photograph of a porpoising penguin airborne, after many, many attempts – they are so fast! The gloomy overcast day was considerably brightened up when we were brought hot chocolate and schnapps by the amazing crew. 

With better weather in the afternoon, we visited Petermann Island with its colonies of Adelie and Gentoo Penguins, the occasional Chinstrap Penguin, and Imperial Cormorants, which is a fancy name for Antarctic Shags.

The island was discovered by Eduard Dallman, a German whaling captain who was the first to navigate Antarctic waters under the German flag. His vessel, the Gronland, was the first steamship to reach the Antarctic. Dallman named the island for August Petermann (1822-1878), a noted German geographer. The small cove where we landed the zodiacs is called Port Circumcision. The name was given by Jean-Baptiste Charcot. He discovered the cove on January 1, 1909 (the feast of Circumcision) and over-wintered there. 

In the evening after another excellent dinner, we retired to the Ice Lounge where Captain Martin Graser gave us an excellent presentation on the building, features, and capabilities of the National Geographic Resolution.

Day 9: Friday: Skontorp Cove and Neko Harbour 

Over the course of the night, we made our way back North on the west side of the Antarctic Peninsula to the Gerlache Strait and then into Paradise Harbour and further into Skontorp Cove. The Gerlache Strait was named after Adrien de Gerlache, the leader of the Belgian Antarctic Expedition of 1897. This is a popular area for cruise vessels and the first time we encountered another ship. 

With an overcast day and very calm waters, we headed out on the zodiac tours around Skontorp Cove in Paradise Bay. We were surrounded by lots of Humpback and Minke Whales. Imperial Cormorants were nesting on the volcanic rock, which had spectacular bright blue and green minerals. It was incredible to hear the whales breaching across the calm water and they came so close to our zodiacs that you could almost touch them. 

We attempted a final landing in the afternoon, but with almost 50-60 knot winds from the starboard side, our Expedition leader decided against it. Though it was impressive how the Resolution held its exact position with the skyhook against the buffeting winds. 

Our last evening in Antarctica was the crew show, where we the talented crew each performed a series of acts. It was super fun to see all these wonderful crew members that we had been with all week enjoying themselves and showing off their musical talents. The crew on the Resolution were all superb, they were the epitome of five-star hospitality, they all had great attitudes, and were incredibly fun. It was also remarkable how they all remembered our names, food preferences, and favorite libations. 

Determined to make the most out of our last night in Antarctica, we partied with the crew until the early hours as we headed back into the Drake Passage for our voyage home.

Day 10: Saturday – Northwards in the Drake Passage crossing the Drake

Just after midnight, we entered the Drake Passage. On our final full day at sea, the Expedition team, Naturalists, and Photographers gave us a series of presentations on Krill, the impact of Commercial Fisheries (also why they don’t serve Shrimp on Lindblad ships), life at an Antarctic research station, and a briefing by the Penguinologists on their findings during the trip. It was also an opportunity for us to review our photographs in group sessions as well as get some one-on-one coaching.

Another excellent dinner was followed by the highly acclaimed Trivia night.

Day 11: Sunday – Drake Passage to the Beagle Channel

As we travel further North, the days start to get slightly shorter again, with sunrise at 0330 and Sunset at 2116. We seemed to get lucky on the return voyage back through the Drake and enter the Beagle Passage in the early afternoon, on a clear and windy day.  The Beagle Channel was named after the voyage of the H.M.S. Beagle and its circumnavigation of the globe between 1826-1836. On board was the young naturalist, Charles Darwin, who went on to develop the theory of evolution based partially on observations he had made in South America. 

We spend the day relaxing on board, enjoying the views of the Channel, and getting organized to get back to port, returning our gear, and packing. In the afternoon we listen to a presentation from the Undersea team with their undersea footage, and cold-water scuba gear demonstration, followed by a wine tasting and empanadas (as if there is not enough food on board), and then we head to the lounge for a presentation on “Paleontology in Antarctica 1800” by Naturalist Jesse Humbert followed by Captain Martin’s Farewell Cocktail Party where we spend the evening viewing the 200+ of our best photographs that were submitted.  

Day 12: Monday – Ushuaia & Return Home

On our final day, we disembark and say our goodbyes to the Crew, who have really made this trip so unique and special. I knew this trip would be great, but the Lindblad Expedition team and Crew of the Resolution really made the difference — their hospitality and organization truly exceeded my expectations. Captain Martin Graser, First Officer Johan Bernekorn, Hotel Director Sebastian Guijarro, and our Expedition Leads the fabulous Sheri Bluestein, Dan Olsen, and Alexandra Kristjansdottir, as well as Photographers Nick Cobbing, Lisa Hornak, Jose Calvo, and the entire team of Naturalists really went out of their way to make this a special and memorable trip for all.

It was also impressive to see our leads Moni Szabolcs and Ashley Geiger in their element as they made it look effortless when there are so many moving parts to navigate on these complex trips and itineraries.

Most of all, it was fun to spend a week traveling with our fabulous Exclusive Resorts Members and getting to know them, hearing about their fascinating backgrounds and stories, and creating genuine connections with our incredible community, as this is what makes The Club so unique. 

I am already planning my next Once-in-a-Lifetime trip to Svalbard to see Polar Bears on the same National Geographic Resolution Ship and a Seabourn Cruise in the Mediterranean in 2024. Hopefully, I will see some of you there.

More information on the Exclusive Resorts Once-In-A-Lifetime Journeys can be found here.

Photographs by James Henderson.