Antarctica - Day 1: Finally on the Way!
Updated: May 21
Hello from the Ocean Diamond! After 5 canceled trips due to COVID, part of me wondered if I would ever get here!
Our voyage across infamously turbulent Drake Passage was quite milder than I had anticipated, but was still quite an experience – especially before I got my sea legs (and sea crutches) under me. A lot of people that have gone to Antarctica refer to the Drake Passage as the “Drake Shake” because it is so unpredictably bumpy that it is like you are dancing the whole time. I think I actually may have had a slight advantage over some of the other passengers because I have four points of contact with the ground – four legs! Regardless, it was something that I had to be careful with – especially when I go up and down stairs. I was pleasantly surprised that the ship had an elevator, but it is shut down during periods of inclement weather for obvious reasons.
Taking a few steps or, in my case, hops back, we boarded the Ocean Diamond at about 4:00 PM in the port of Ushuaia on the day we embarked. Quark Expeditions, our tour operator, made arrangements for our bags to be picked up from the hotel earlier that morning so they could be delivered right to our cabin. Even though we could walk to the boat on the dock, we were bused from the parking lot to the boat. The Quark staff were fantastic as we boarded the boat, which hosts ~180 passengers and ~120 staff.
During boarding, the ship’s doctor (Ann) introduced herself to me. As part of the booking process, I submitted medical paperwork letting the company know that I had a disability and used crutches to walk. My doctor had to submit a form saying that I was fit for travel, I had to sign an additional waiver, and I spoke over the phone with the head Quark Expeditions doctor before I was a “go” for the cruise. Once we were on board, we met the ship’s Guest Services Manager, Gilda, who helped us with a last minute arrangement to get the three of us all into one cabin - crisis averted. Gilda arranged for one of the cabins the ship sets aside for quarantining passengers, which coincidentally has three beds in it, to be made up for us. It was a fantastic way to start the cruise.
Since our bags had to be moved from our other cabins, we left our cabin and walked a bit around the ship before we met up in the main lounge for our disembarkation briefing. The Expedition Leader, Shane, introduced himself to our excited group of ~180, gave us a quick overview of how the next two weeks will work, and we had the chance to meet some of his senior staff including some of the subject matter experts that would be leading lectures throughout the journey including an ornithologist (birds), glaciologist (glaciers & rocks), historian, marine biologist, and photographer! I liked the fact that we will be learning as we go instead of just seeing things and being told what things are when we see them.
When COVID came up, we got a quick overview of the ship’s rules when it came to health and safety. We had received an overview document before we left, but all passengers had to be vaccinated and boosted. In the event that you got COVID, you would be quarantined in a cabin for five days. Your roommates would still be able to participate in all activities, but would be asked to wear a mask at all times and eat all meals in their cabin.
We then had our muster drill, where we had to go to our cabins, get our life vests and meet at the muster station. We then walked to where the two lifeboats are so we knew what to do just in case we had to abandon ship.
After having a few minutes to unpack our bags, we explored the ship a bit and went out on deck to wave bye to South America as we embarked on our journey to my seventh continent!
We then headed down to the dining room for dinner. All of the meals are included – breakfast and lunch are a buffet style and dinner is sit down. Given the hectic nature of the first day, the dinner was buffet style to expedite the process. While it is encouraged to sit with fellow passengers, the three of us decided to get a table by ourselves to try to avoid getting COVID at all costs. This is a very expensive vacation to just sit in a cabin and look out the window while you are in quarantine.
The dinner was quite good. We met the Maître D’, Johnny, who was very nice and welcoming. I didn’t get any pics of the food the first night, so you’ll have to take my word for it that it was filling and plentiful. The thing I got a kick out of was that each of the chairs around the tables were chained to the floor. The tables on ships are usually fixed to the floor, but I’ve never seen the dining room chairs. It was definitely a sign that things may get rocky!
We then went up to the “Parka Party” to get the famous bright yellow jackets that Quark gives all of it’s passengers for their trip and we keep them after. They are great quality – very heavy and warm, with an embedded liner for the warmer days. They also have reflectors built in, so it is definitely something that I will use when I get home – even if it is just to put in my car and have in case I need to walk on the street if my car breaks down.
After the parka party, we ventured down to a sitting area for a quick cup of coffee before hitting the sack. We all took sea sickness medicine before going to bed as we were expected to hit the Drake Passage around midnight. It is a whole lot easier to take medicine early to keep you from getting sea sick than taking it once you’re under the weather because it doesn’t kick in for a while and it is hard to reverse that initial feeling.