A group of adventurers, we flew from around the globe to meet at El Fin del Mondo—the End of the World—to fulfill lifelong dreams of visiting or revisiting, the mysterious and breathtaking land of Antarctica.
As we gathered the evening before embarking on the Island Sky, we shared stories of what brought us to the southernmost city in the world—Ushuaia, Argentina—and our hopes and expectations for the journey ahead.
Tierra del Fuego National Park
Bright and early the next morning, a group of birders went in search of the Magellanic Woodpecker in the forests of Tierra del Fuego National Park while the rest of us headed out to cruise the Beagle Channel in hopes of spotting wildlife. Our hopes were quickly satisfied as we spotted an enormous sea lion surrounded by his harem resting on a rocky outcropping in the sea, as well as hundreds of Imperial Shags nesting on the rocks. Dozens of photos later, we cruised to Tierra del Fuego National Park where we disembarked the catamaran, strolled along the edges of a beautiful lake, spotted orchids and endemic birdlife, and enjoyed magnificent mountain views.
After a delicious lunch of authentic Argentinian cuisine, we loaded into buses to visit the southernmost post office in the world—a tiny little building that sits on a small dock over the waters of Lago Roca—and strolled along the water’s edge and through the forest before heading to the dock to board the Island Sky.
Embarking the Island Sky
Excitement mounted as we checked into our cabins and prepared for our journey across the infamous Drake Passage—600 miles of open waters separating us from the legendary Great White Continent.
By the following morning, a few of us had succumbed to the Drake’s rough seas (even though the seas weren’t nearly as bad as expected). However, by our second day at sea, we had earned our sea legs and learned about the wildlife we would see, listened to tales of Shackleton and other famous explorers, and hung out on deck to view petrels and giant albatross in flight.
The next morning, we opened our cabin’s curtains to greet the world outside; the vast open seas had been replaced by an otherworldly land of snow-covered mountains rising up out of the ocean, which was filled with picture-perfect icebergs of all shapes and sizes.
Our First Landing
Today was the day we would make our first landing! We eagerly climbed into Zodiacs and cruised to Vernadsky Research Base, a Ukrainian Antarctic, for a brief tour of the facility, a trip to the gift shop—and a $3 shot of Antarctic-distilled vodka. Afterwards, a short cruise across the water took us to an abandoned research station that showed us how Antarctic scientists lived 70+ years ago, and we each took a moment to sign the guest book laid out on the kitchen table.
On the Zodiac cruise back to the Island Sky, some guests were lucky enough to enjoy a surprise visit from some humpback whales swimming nearby.
Our afternoon adventure brought us to the Yalour Islands where we were met by hundreds of Gentoo and Adélie penguins, waddling and sliding across the snow. They soon found our path up the hill and made it their own penguin highway, forcing us to happily move out of their way as they went about their business. Afterward, a Zodiac cruise along the islands offered a truly breathtaking look at the spectacular icebergs and the mesmerizing blue/green waters of Antarctica.
Crossing the Antarctic Circle
The next day was truly expeditionary as we hoped to explore Detaille Island, but icy conditions and poor visibility forced us to stay inside and enjoy a day at sea. However, the day was not a loss as we got to do something few others have done before—cross the Antarctic Circle! Laughter and cheers filled the air as we celebrated this momentous occasion, toasting with champagne and mimosas as snow fell outside.
The next morning, we were able to land again and began the day at Port Charcot where we were once again met by penguins waddling about their daily life. The overwintering site of a French Antarctic expedition, we were able to see historical artifacts that still remain on the island including a magnetic hut, cairn, and the remains of a small boat. In the afternoon, we visited Petermann Island and witnessed Gentoo and Adelie penguins and a labyrinth of bright blue icebergs. In the evening, we gathered on deck as we cruised through the jaw-dropping Lemaire Channel, walls of ice and snow jutting up into the sky on either side of the ship, before coming upon icebergs too large to pass through and turning around.
On day four, we finally stepped foot on the continent itself! We explored Paradise Bay and hiked up the mountain for exquisite views of the bay and the surrounding snow-covered mountains. In the afternoon, we made another continental landing at Neko Harbor where we saw a colony of Gentoo penguins and their young, hiked up a mountain for more magnificent 360-degree views, and witnessed the calving of a glacier and heard its thundering boom as ice crashed into the water below, creating a small tidal wave that surged onto shore and sent penguins scurrying up the beach.
In the afternoon, we were delighted by a huge surprise: a pod of killer whales! They swam by the ship, in hot pursuit of a minke whale. As they swam, the young jumped out of the water as if they were playing and falling onto their backs with a big splash. As they swam the length of the ship, there was a chorus of “clicks” as we all tried to get the perfect photograph of the breaching killer whales, and we all ran as one from one end of the ship to the other to keep up with these magnificent beasts.
On our final day in this unreal land, we sailed into the heart of a volcano at Whaler’s Bay, Deception Island. As snow fell, we climbed out of Zodiacs onto the volcanic-sand beach, strolling along the water’s edge past sleeping seals, and exploring the remains of an old whaling station. The afternoon brought us bright blue skies and sunshine—perfect conditions for our final Zodiac excursion—as we landed at Half Moon Island. The island yielded hundreds of Chinstrap penguins that were by far the most vocal of our expedition. And, hiding in the midst of a colony of black and white, we spotted the bright orange plume of a lone macaroni penguin.
As we gathered on deck that evening for dinner, we said goodbye to Antarctica as we reminisced on the breathtaking natural beauty of this dreamlike land, its mesmerizing wildlife, and the way it had touched our souls and changed our lives—forever.