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Le Boreal (A&K)
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Le Boreal (A&K)
Reviewed by Chris Dikmen and Rickee Richardson
A cruise review of Abercrombie & Kent Le Boreal (A&K) in Antarctica
 
 
 
Abercrombie & Kent Review  
Classic Antarctica With A&K  

 
by Chris Dikmen and Rickee Richardson
December 2012
 
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Editors Choice Award 2013"Why would you want to go there?" "What is there to see there?" "Where is it?", or simply "Why?" These are just a few of the reactions you get when you tell your friends and family that you are planning a trip to Antarctica. You might even hear one or two "Why go all the way up there?" Yes, Antarctica is THAT misunderstood.

When we were invited to experience Abercrombie & Kent's 12-night Classic Antarctica aboard Le Boreal, we jumped at the opportunity. Rickee has been wanting to visit Antarctica for years and, I must admit, I had more than a little curiosity about the frozen continent.

A&K and COMPAGNIE DU PONANT



Abercrombie & Kent is one of the most respected names in travel. They specialize in exotic destinations, unique travel experiences and high-end service for discerning vacationers. Compagnie Du Ponant is a French cruise line with a growing fleet of sleek, modern small ships. During the short Antarctic summer season, A&K partners with Compagnie Du Ponant by chartering Le Boreal, one of their three newest vessels, for four consecutive Antarctica itineraries. The onboard Expedition Crew is staffed by A&K while the ship's officers and crew are Companie Du Ponant employees. During these special sailings, all of the guests on board are A&K clients. The partnership seems to work very well, even synergistically.

WHY ANTARCTICA?



Let's go back to the question most often asked. A simple answer could be: "because it is there!" But that is not good enough for most people. First of all, most people who visit Antarctica are not necessarily "cruise people." In fact, most of the other guests we met on this sailing had never cruised before. It might be better to portray this trip as an "expedition" or an "adventure" instead of a "cruise." In Antarctica, much like Galapagos, the ship is really just a means to the end. Ironically, in the case of Antarctica, that literally means the "end of the Earth".

Antarctica is unquestionably the most remote, untouched place on Earth. That alone makes it interesting. There are no cities in Antarctica and it is not a country. While several countries have research stations located there, the Antarctic Treaty prevents any one country from laying claim to Antarctica. It might be helpful to know the difference between Antarctica (South Pole) and the Arctic (North Pole). Antarctica is a continent, or land surrounded by water. The Arctic is water surrounded by land, albeit frozen into ice for much of the year.


Incredible icebergs

Antarctica is much more remote, much colder and has a much harsher environment than the Arctic. Temperatures at the South Pole can reach -70c. That's cold. Antarctica is at the center of much scientific research pertaining to the effects of global warming on sea life, the ocean and humans.

During the summer months, the landscape of Antarctica changes dramatically with the breaking up of the sea ice which creates massive icebergs that are carried by the ocean currents out to sea where they eventually break up and melt. Some of these icebergs can be miles long weighing hundreds of thousands of tons.

The Antarctic Peninsula, the northernmost point of the continent, is the easiest to reach by ship as it only takes about 2½ days sailing from Ushuaia, Argentina, to reach. In the summer, the peninsula and the surrounding islands are rich with sea life. Penguins, which are only found in the Southern Hemisphere, are the most prolific residents. However, 80% of the world's whales come here to feed in the krill-rich waters surrounding Antarctica. Penguins also feed on krill, a small shrimp-like crustacean. Leopard seals can be found here, too, and they feed on the penguins. In fact, penguins have no land predators. But, when they enter the water to feed, they can fall prey to leopard seals and even killer whales.


WHY ABERCROMBIE & KENT?



Once seeing the frozen continent has made its way to your bucket list, you will need to decide how you are going to see it and with whom. A cruise to Antarctica is not simply a "cruise to Antarctica." To fully experience this exotic destination requires experienced expedition staff who know the changing landscape and wildlife of Antarctica. Nobody in the industry is more respected when it comes to expeditionary travel than A&K.


Richard Harker conducted an excellent series of lectures on photography in Antarctica

In all honesty, Antarctica was on Rickee's bucket list, not mine. Even though I was curious about Antarctica, I questioned whether or not I would find it interesting or appealing. However, I was confident that with A&K we would see Antarctica as it was meant to be seen. Based on past experience, I looked forward to traveling with A&K regardless of the destination.


Jannie Cloete, our excellent A&K Cruise Director

You get a lot of little extras with A&K that you won't get with other tour operators or cruise lines. From the time you book your trip until you arrive back home, A&K is there to make sure everything goes smoothly. Their customer service is second-to-none. We saw this first-hand a few years ago when we were returning from a Kenya safari with A&K. Our flight from Nairobi to London was cancelled right before we left for the airport due to snow in London. After being re-booked on a different airline, an A&K representative picked us up at our hotel and drove us to the Nairobi airport. She even walked us through security, something we would have never figured out on our own at that confusing airport. And, as it turned out, we needed A&K's great service again on our Antarctica trip, as you will soon learn.

GETTING THERE


The Classic Antarctica itinerary begins with a day and night in Santiago, Chile. Most international flights arrive in Santiago early in the morning. Our American Airlines flight was scheduled to arrive in Santiago at 9am. The operative word being "scheduled." Our outbound flight was cancelled at around midnight. Without hesitation, we called A&K and immediately got a representative on the phone who assured us they were already aware of the cancellation and our delayed arrival and not to worry, someone would be in Santiago to meet us whenever we managed to arrive there.

I could go into more excruciating detail about our experience with American Airlines on this trip, but I will hold off for now. My only suggestion to you is, if you have any other airline choice, take it! We finally arrived in Santiago the following evening around midnight. This meant that we missed A&K's Santiago city tour and cocktail reception. However, as promised, the A&K representative was waiting for us when we arrived in Santiago. She escorted us to the line where we paid the required $160 'Reciprocity Fee' charged by Chile for foreign visitors. Then, she escorted us to the proper line for immigration and Customs. She had a mini-van waiting for us to deliver all nine of us to our hotel, the Grand Hyatt Santiago. By the time we arrived at the hotel, it was 2:00am and we were informed that we would need to meet in the lobby at 6:30am for the bus ride back to the airport. Three hours of sleep? Thanks AA.

The next morning, we met the rest of the group, about 150 people, in the lobby of the Grand Hyatt and boarded the motor coaches for the 20-minute ride back to the Santiago airport for the chartered flight to Ushuaia, Argentina. The difference between the chartered flight from LAN airlines and our AA flight was night and day. The aircraft was a shiny new A320 with leather seats. The flight crew was young, enthusiastic and very personable. They came through the aisle no less than four times with the beverage cart on our 3-hour flight.

We arrived in Ushuaia, Argentina, around 1:30pm. Ushuaia is the southernmost city in the world at the very tip of Argentina. Ushuaia is located in a wide bay on the southern coast of Tierra del Fuego, bounded on the north by the Martial mountain range and on the south by the Beagle Channel. Ushuaia is where most cruise ships destined for Antarctica embark.

THE SHIP

Le Boreal is probably the sleekest cruise ship we have ever sailed on. She was launched in 2010 and she is already racking up a number of awards for small ship cruising. She is capable of carrying from 224 to 264 guests in 132 outside staterooms but for Antarctica voyages, A&K limits the number of passengers to a maximum of 199 guests. Le Boreal is the perfect size ship to fit into the tight areas of Antarctica and has the required reinforced hull to handle ice. Big ships just don't work too well in this remote destination. Le Boreal is owned and operated by Compagnie Du Ponant, a French company with which we were completely unfamiliar. However, after 12 nights aboard Le Boreal, we quickly became impressed with the level of service and personal attention. I see why A&K chose to partner with Compagnie Du Ponant.


The marina on Deck 2 aft makes boarding Zodiacs a breeze

Le Boreal has six decks accessible by guests. Deck 2 is dedicated to the La Licorne Restaurant. Deck 3 is the main lobby deck with Reception, gift shop, staterooms, Medical Center (with doctor and nurse) forward and the Grand Salon aft. On Deck 4 you will find more staterooms and the ship's theater located aft. Deck 5 has even more staterooms, the ship's bridge and the Ponant Yacht Spa located aft. Deck 6 is home to the Observation Lounge forward, staterooms and the La Boussole Restaurant located aft. There is also a pool deck aft of the La Boussole Restaurant. Deck 7 is basically a sun deck with an open-air bar which is not usually used when the ship is in Antarctica. Rickee did go up to Deck 7 to make a satellite phone call and she reported it was very cold up there!

Le Boreal has a single staircase amidships connecting all decks. There are two elevators amidships and one elevator forward. The ship is very logically designed and easy to navigate. There are lots of ramps and facilities to accommodate those with mobility issues. Perfectly suited for Antarctica is the marina located aft on Deck 2 where guests can easily board Zodiacs for the twice daily included excursions.


The Observation Lounge is a great place to enjoy a drink with a view

Le Boreal is very well suited for duty in Antarctica. While the reinforced hull can easily deal with large chunks of ice, the ergonomics of the ship lend themselves to sightseeing. Most of the staterooms have balconies, a great place to take in the Antarctic landscape without even leaving your room! There is plenty of open deck space for those wishing to don their red parkas provided by A&K and brave the elements.

Dining on Le Boreal begins at 6am with an Early Riser continental breakfast in the Grand Salon on Deck 3. Full breakfast is served in Le Licorne and Le Bousselle restaurants at 7am on most mornings. Both restaurants offer buffet, self-serve selections with Le Licorne also offering full-service menu items cooked to order. Lunch is served in both venues at 12:30pm and dinner is usually served around 7:30pm. All meals are open seating. Provisioning a ship for a 12-day Antarctica sailing is no easy task. Basically, whatever is loaded onto the ship in Ushuaia is what you have for the entire trip. There are no ports along the way where more provisions can be loaded. As a result, fresh fish and fresh meat is virtually impossible. For this reason, I am not sure it would be fair to judge any cruise line's cuisine based upon an Antarctica journey. That said, nobody went hungry. A few things really stood out as exceptional. All breads and pastries were amazing. The baguettes were fresh and crusty every day and the chocolate croissant in the morning was to die for. Complimentary red and white wine were offered at lunch and dinner and all of them we tried were good. An afternoon tea service was set up each day in the Grand Salon with a variety of tasty snacks and sweets served with a variety of hot teas and coffee. Soft drinks, bottled water, cocktails and wine were always complimentary.


Plentiful buffet selections on Le Boreal

Attire on board is very casual. Some did dress for the Captain's Reception and Captain's Farewell Dinner, but most did not. Since you had to take heavier clothes for the cold climate of Antarctica, baggage weight was an issue so anything not entirely "essential" was left at home. A&K did provide an opportunity to rent rubber boots which you picked up on the ship and then left them there when you departed. We purchased inexpensive but good rubber boots and took them with us then left them on the ship after the trip since they smelled a little bit like penguin guano! As mentioned, A&K provided a really nice, warm parka for each guest so you did not have to worry about packing a coat. The parka was ours to keep as were the water-resistant backpacks. One of the Expedition Team members even gave us a demonstration on how to fold the parka to make it easier to pack to take home.

DAILY BLOG

To read about our experience day-by-day, click the links below to read our blog entries:


CruiseReport.com Blog


THE ANTARCTICA EXPERIENCE



Antarctica is like no other place on Earth. Having been to Alaska on several occasions, I was expecting Antarctica to be similar. It wasn't. Antarctica is much more remote, more raw, more unspoiled, and notwithstanding a few small research stations, completely uninhabited.

Most journeys to Antarctica begin with a 2.5 day crossing of the Drake Passage, the body of water between the southern tip of South America at Cape Horn, Chile, and the South Shetland Islands of Antarctica. It connects the southwestern part of the Atlantic Ocean with the southeastern part of the Pacific Ocean. "The Drake" has a reputation as one of the most turbulent bodies of water in the world. Twenty-foot high sea swells are not uncommon and guests are well advised to bring motion-sickness medication with them. When seas here are rough, it is referred to as the "Drake Shake." We were more concerned than normal about crossing The Drake since our stateroom was located on Deck 5 at the very front of the ship! That's where the most motion is on any ship. However, we were very fortunate to get the "Drake Lake" on our sailing with silky smooth seas on both the outbound and return trips.


Zodiacs get you up close to the action

The first evidence of Antarctica was when Captain Garcia came over the PA on Day 2 to announce a huge iceberg in the distance. He said it was very unusual to see one this far north. As we got closer, everyone scurried to a window or an outer deck to snap photos of the berg which had to have been at least three times as large as our ship. It would be just a small taste of what was to come.

Once we arrived at the Antarctic peninsula, our days were filled with Zodiac excursions, insightful lectures and unmatched sightseeing. Both amateur and professional photographers benefited from Richard Harker's excellent lecture series on photography in Antarctica. And, everyone was made much more aware of the impact rising temperatures globally are having on our environment and our own lives. Abercrombie & Kent and Compagnie du Ponant take preserving the environment very seriously and there is a lot of emphasis placed on green technologies and practices throughout the cruise. Antarctica is perhaps the most pristine environment in the world, and A&K is committed to keeping it that way.


Adelie penguins are curious and cute

Of course, Antarctica is much more than icebergs and snow-capped mountain ranges. There is an abundance of wildlife to enjoy here as well. When you think of Antarctica, you immediately think of penguins, at least I do. If you love the tuxedo-clad, chubby birds, you will not be disappointed. Nearly every day you will enjoy watching hundreds, or thousands of Adelie, Chinstrap and/or Gentoo penguins go about their nesting duties.They are pretty uninterested in humans and have no real fear of people. If you sit near a group of penguins, it probably won't be long before one or more will waddle up to you for a photo op. They are irresistibly cute and you cannot stop taking pictures of them. There are a variety of other sea birds here as well. Petrals, Gulls, Skua, Blue-eyed Shags and many more can all be found in the skies around the Antarctic peninsula.


Chinstrap penguins are one of the three varieties of penguins we saw in Antarctica

We were very surprised by the number of whales we saw. We saw Humpback, Fin, Minke and even Orca. Well, we did not actually see the Orca, but some in our group did. When whales are sighted, you really become aware of the advantage of cruising on a small ship like Le Boreal. Captain Garcia announces the whales' location over the PA and the ship slows down to follow the whales as close as possible allowing everyone on board an opportunity to get a good look, or a good photo. No matter how many times you see whales, it is always special. And the fact that Captain Garcia had an open-bridge policy gave everyone an opportunity to experience the best views on the ship! This worked well for us since we were right next door to the bridge.


Thar' she blows! Whale sightings are common in Antarctica

The most dramatic wildlife event of the trip was when our Zodiac came upon a leopard seal hunting, catching and killing an Adelie penguin. We were literally a few feet from the action as the huge leopard seal, larger than our Zodiac, gripped the penguin in his teeth and violently slapped him against the water surface in an attempt to kill him. He succeeded. I caught most of it on video (below).

VIDEO




PHOTO SLIDESHOW

CruiseReport's Antarctica 2012 album on Photobucket

A&K ADVANTAGE


There are several options when choosing an Antarctica journey. Compagnie Du Ponant even offers Antarctica salings over and above the ones contracted with A&K. However, the only thing in common is the ship. You get a lot of extras with A&K.

  • A&K Expedition Team
  • All English-speaking guides, lectures and tours
  • All guests on board are English-speaking
  • Complimentary wine with lunch and dinner
  • Complimentary bottled water, soft drinks
  • Complimentary cocktails
  • Signature A&K red parka
  • A&K backpack
  • Daily Lattitudes Newsletter delivered to stateroom
  • Daily recap briefing/cocktail party each evening with hors d'oeuvres
  • Airport transfers and meet & greet
  • Pre-cruise night in Santiago

In our opinion, these extras are well worth any extra cost of an A&K expedition.

CONCLUSION

Antarctica is a unique and fascinating destination that should be on every adventure-lover's bucket list. If you love the environment, wildlife, or just enjoy amazing landscapes, Antarctica will deliver. As with any exotic destination, Abercrombie & Kent really shines with exceptional service and value. Our recommendation? Book your 2013 Antarctica cruise now while you still can. These cruises sell out early, so don't wait! For more information, go to http://www.abercrombiekent.com/travel-destinations/antarctica-cruise/



It is common in the travel industry for journalists to be provided with complimentary cruise accommodations, and in some cases, hotel accommodations, for the purpose of a review. While it has not influenced this review, CruiseReport.com adheres to a strict policy of full disclosure to all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, please refer to our Ethics Guidelines
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7 Comments
PHILIP R
We just did Antarctica with Silver Seas (big mistake) the ship is outdated, food was horrendous, and we were envious as we saw Le Boreal in port, if we go again we would go with A and K!
Saturday, February 22, 2014 6:34 PM  
DAVID HOCKING
Hello Chris and Rickee. I am a researcher in Australia studying leopard seal behaviour and I was wondering if I could contact you to ask some questions about your encounter with the hunting seal? You can contact me via my web page DOT David-Hocking DOT com. Kind regards, David Hocking
Sunday, July 28, 2013 7:02 PM  
SHEILA MONROE
Wonderful review. My husband is going to Antartica on the LeBoreal in January 2014. I love reading all your reviews. Keep them coming.
Tuesday, June 04, 2013 10:07 AM  
MARY L. SMITH
I never considered Antarctica before but your reports and video put it on my wish list!
Tuesday, May 28, 2013 9:04 AM  
B THOMAS
I was completely unaware of A&K until reading this. We were planning to do Antarctica with Celebrity. Time to rethink things.
Thursday, January 17, 2013 9:44 AM  
SALLY JOHNSON
Excellent review. We are definitely putting Antarctica on our bucket list after reading this!
Friday, March 01, 2013 6:24 AM  
PETER WARD
Thanks for sharing a great adventure!
Monday, February 04, 2013 2:43 PM  
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