Virtuoso Travels: Antarctica

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My Trip to Antarctica

A Virtuoso traveler takes an adventurous cruise to Antarctica.

Virtuoso traveler Cheryl Zane.

As told to David Hochman, by Virtuoso traveler Cheryl Zane
All photos courtesy of Cheryl Zane
No Place Like Antarctica
I have traveled all my life. In my 20s, I did one of those 29-European-cities-in-60-days sort of deals and kept going from there. I love different cultures, seeing different ways of life – arriving with a set of assumptions and leaving with your eyes opened to new things. Still, there’s no place like Antarctica. When you see pictures of how tiny your ship is against the frozen shoreline, it really puts things in perspective.

A Love For Penguins
The first thing you need to know is that I love penguins – they’re absolutely adorable. I love the way they waddle. I love their little tuxedos. I honestly could watch March of the Penguins 100 times and not get bored. A few years ago, my dad and brother took separate trips to Antarctica, and I went crazy over their photos. I thought, “I want to go there.” My next thought was, “Who the heck is gonna go with me?” As the chief financial officer for the Houston Ballet, I can only get away a few times a year. Plus, Antarctica is a very expensive trip – not to mention that the people I travel with tend to enjoy plush amenities and warm-weather destinations. It’s not exactly known as a place for fun in the sun. But still: penguins!

Finding The Right Cruise
My family has worked with Virtuoso travel advisor Yannette Edwards from Palo Alto for a very long time. We sometimes travel with her, and she was with me on a cruise in Norway when she mentioned Zegrahm Expeditions’ Antarctic cruise. It’s more like sailing on a private vessel than on a traditional cruise ship, with up to 100 passengers cared for by 67 crew members and a dozen expedition staff. Yannette told me she and her husband had booked a trip, and after a few other pieces fell into place, I said, “Sign me up.”

Between Cape Horn and the South Shetland Islands, the Drake Passage is infamous for rough water, but I didn’t get seasick at all, which was kind of funny. The night before, only a few people ate dinner, and the crew put barf bags along the railings. The Sea Spirit was doing what they call a “corkscrew” motion, but I felt absolutely fine – keep one hand on the railing at all times and you’re good to go.

Spectacular Scenery
Once you’re across, you realize how worthwhile the trip is. Antarctica is pretty spectacular, and so few people ever get to visit. You see these gleaming ice formations rising out of that blue, blue water. There are fur seals, leopard seals, birds, and oh-so-many whales – that was the biggest surprise. I’ve gone to Hawaii, where you see a whale for two seconds but then have to wait ten minutes to see another. Here, they were up all the time, feeding and playing and coming right up to our Zodiac. We had a whale expert with us who told us not to be afraid and explained all about their incredible sonar and that they were as curious about us as we were about them.

The penguins appeared almost as soon as we saw icebergs, and I couldn’t get enough: Adélies, gentoos, chinstraps ... This might sound ridiculous, but even when I was in Antarctica, I kept thinking, “I need to book another trip to come back – maybe next time to South Georgia Island, so I can see even more.” They don’t smell very good, but something about them makes me happy. My only advice is to always be prepared: Yannette and I stood on the shore one day waiting for our Zodiac when two cute penguins jumped out of the water, looked straight at us, and hopped back into the sea. Would you believe I didn’t have my camera ready?

Originally appeared in the August 2016 issue of Virtuoso Traveler.
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