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Balmoral's Antarctic Adventure


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On 1/15/2023 at 6:46 PM, tring said:

 

All chance, no matter where you are sailing but with the right medication to hand you will be fine.  The wristbands do not work for me, but I know some people use them all the time.  I often find one stugeron settles me and often do not need any more unless the seas are really bad, but we always take a supply in case.

 

The ship is in Bermuda today and not windy there at present.  I have seen some good comments from on the ship.  Mention of various dance classes, shows and the food is apparently back to the original quality, so seas have not been stopping the cruise enjoyment altogether, though a lot of long lazy days out on deck have not been on the cards as yet.  It is unusual to see a S. America going clockwise, but some good ports and they got into Horta, which can be a very iffy port, that is often skipped due to rough seas.  They will be coming back from the East of the continent, so much calmer seas from that direction, but all swings and roundabouts, depending on the route taken and as I said just chance.  We did a round trip to the Caribbean on Aurora in November, which I have heard reputed as the worst month in the North Atlanic by seafarers, yet we did very well, with just a couple of days on the return when we could not access much of the outside decks.

 

I hope the weather is much better for them form now on and that your pending cruise goes through some calmer waters as well,

 

Barbara

  

Thanks Barbara,  I’m really looking forward to this now.  I would love to do a round S America trip but the flights put me off.  The older I get the more I dislike flying.  I would like to visit relatives in Australia and do a NewZealand cruise but again…..the flights.  I will post about my trip, good or bad because even biased information is useful to others!

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Quick Update on the Balmoral

 

25th...  The Balmoral crossed the Equator... hope they had a celebration! Always great fun around the pool! Especially when the Captain and the Officers get involved as well!

 

26th... Very hot day in Guayaquil... 38˚C/94˚F. Chance perhaps for some to do a day trip out to the Galapagos Islands... independents... taxi to airport, return flight about £350 and day tour from about £200.... so £500-£600 per person for the day.

 

27th... Cooler day cruising South towards Lima...  22˚C gentle breeze, moderate seas and lots of sunshine. The Silverseas' Silver Moon is a week or so ahead of the Balmoral and did visit Lima on 21 January but missed out Pisco on 23 January.

 

28th... A pleasant sea-day with temps of 21˚C/70˚F, a gentle breeze and a moderate sea. In our opinion the Balmoral has the best promenade deck of any of the remaining Fred Olsen ships... (nobody in terraced cabins has bought it as a communal balcony as part of their cruise price) and so this looks like a really good day for the Arctic Adventure cruisers to enjoy what looks to be a great day at sea.

 

29th..? Looking ahead the Balmoral is currently due to be in Callao-Lima at noon local time tomorrow. The weather should be good... the forecast is for about 23˚C and mostly clear skies. Although things are still difficult in many parts of the country, much of Lima carries on. Perhaps it will be possible for cruisers on the Balmoral to visit the magnificent displays in the Gold Museum, "Museo Oro del Perú," the Cathedral and the astonishing catacombs... perhaps the amazing stepped pyramid in the city, "Huaca Huallamarca," or some of the Inca sites within easy reach of the Lima. 

 

One of our choices, had we decided to join the cruise, would have been to return to the sensational restaurant, "La Rosa Náutica"... just great seafood and built on its own pier over the Pacific Ocean.

 

For an overnight stay we would opt to go again to the "Witches of Cachiche"... a really cool place, modern decor, great traditional Peruvian cuisine.... quite a change from FOCls' food on board the Balmoral! Expensive but exciting!

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The Balmoral's Changing Itinerary

 

The Balmoral left the port of Callao-Lima at 1.08 am on 30 January and by three and a half hours later was out to sea and heading south on a course of 150˚ at 11.3 knots into a 10-knot wind. A balmy night with air temps at a pleasant 20 ˚C.

 

The Balmoral is now expected to arrive at Arica, Bolivia, at 1.00 am local time on 1 February 2023... instead of the following day... so two days pleasant ocean cruising. On-route... a forecast of goodish weather with temps about 20˚C and wind speeds about 8-12 knots. Port side on the promenade deck is likely to be a popular place to sit and doze, chat, read or enjoy the sea air. Clocks will go two hours forward... we usually find that a wee bit of a shock to the system.

 

Arica isn't a busy cruise port... about a dozen ships in the season between November and April... (The 3000 pax MSC Magnifica is due in the port of Arica later in February and so is P&O's 2258 pax Aurora ... currently making its way there from the Falkland Islands.)


But there are a number of very interesting local tours available from Arica and, with luck, more of these may be secured for those who would like them. Independent tours cost from about £40 for a walking tour of the town to £140 for a tour of some of the most beautiful and historic sites in Arica.

 

As the FOCLs' brochure/press releases state... this "hand-crafted grand-voyage" that FOCLs is so "incredibly proud," allows the company's" smaller "to truly venture away from the well-trodden tourist path, and delve deeper into the history and culture of some truly fantastic ports." So very hopefully, something in Arica for the folks on board the Balmoral to look forward to.

 

Looking further ahead, in the next couple of weeks or so, "guests currently on Balmoral’s 78-night adventure have chances to" cruise the Chilean Fjords" and a few days later, "witness the rugged icy landscapes of Antarctic." But as folks on board will know... best to wrap up warm in Ushuala and Punta Arenas where the temps are more likely to be close to freezing.
 

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7 hours ago, twotravellersLondon said:

 

The Balmoral's Changing Itinerary

 

The Balmoral left the port of Callao-Lima at 1.08 am on 30 January and by three and a half hours later was out to sea and heading south on a course of 150˚ at 11.3 knots into a 10-knot wind. A balmy night with air temps at a pleasant 20 ˚C.

 

The Balmoral is now expected to arrive at Arica, Bolivia, at 1.00 am local time on 1 February 2023... instead of the following day... so two days pleasant ocean cruising. On-route... a forecast of goodish weather with temps about 20˚C and wind speeds about 8-12 knots. Port side on the promenade deck is likely to be a popular place to sit and doze, chat, read or enjoy the sea air. Clocks will go two hours forward... we usually find that a wee bit of a shock to the system.

 

Arica isn't a busy cruise port... about a dozen ships in the season between November and April... (The 3000 pax MSC Magnifica is due in the port of Arica later in February and so is P&O's 2258 pax Aurora ... currently making its way there from the Falkland Islands.)


But there are a number of very interesting local tours available from Arica and, with luck, more of these may be secured for those who would like them. Independent tours cost from about £40 for a walking tour of the town to £140 for a tour of some of the most beautiful and historic sites in Arica.

 

As the FOCLs' brochure/press releases state... this "hand-crafted grand-voyage" that FOCLs is so "incredibly proud," allows the company's" smaller "to truly venture away from the well-trodden tourist path, and delve deeper into the history and culture of some truly fantastic ports." So very hopefully, something in Arica for the folks on board the Balmoral to look forward to.

 

Looking further ahead, in the next couple of weeks or so, "guests currently on Balmoral’s 78-night adventure have chances to" cruise the Chilean Fjords" and a few days later, "witness the rugged icy landscapes of Antarctic." But as folks on board will know... best to wrap up warm in Ushuala and Punta Arenas where the temps are more likely to be close to freezing.
 

 

7 hours ago, twotravellersLondon said:

 

The Balmoral's Changing Itinerary

 

The Balmoral left the port of Callao-Lima at 1.08 am on 30 January and by three and a half hours later was out to sea and heading south on a course of 150˚ at 11.3 knots into a 10-knot wind. A balmy night with air temps at a pleasant 20 ˚C.

 

The Balmoral is now expected to arrive at Arica, Bolivia, at 1.00 am local time on 1 February 2023... instead of the following day... so two days pleasant ocean cruising. On-route... a forecast of goodish weather with temps about 20˚C and wind speeds about 8-12 knots. Port side on the promenade deck is likely to be a popular place to sit and doze, chat, read or enjoy the sea air. Clocks will go two hours forward... we usually find that a wee bit of a shock to the system.

 

Arica isn't a busy cruise port... about a dozen ships in the season between November and April... (The 3000 pax MSC Magnifica is due in the port of Arica later in February and so is P&O's 2258 pax Aurora ... currently making its way there from the Falkland Islands.)


But there are a number of very interesting local tours available from Arica and, with luck, more of these may be secured for those who would like them. Independent tours cost from about £40 for a walking tour of the town to £140 for a tour of some of the most beautiful and historic sites in Arica.

 

As the FOCLs' brochure/press releases state... this "hand-crafted grand-voyage" that FOCLs is so "incredibly proud," allows the company's" smaller "to truly venture away from the well-trodden tourist path, and delve deeper into the history and culture of some truly fantastic ports." So very hopefully, something in Arica for the folks on board the Balmoral to look forward to.

 

Looking further ahead, in the next couple of weeks or so, "guests currently on Balmoral’s 78-night adventure have chances to" cruise the Chilean Fjords" and a few days later, "witness the rugged icy landscapes of Antarctic." But as folks on board will know... best to wrap up warm in Ushuala and Punta Arenas where the temps are more likely to be close to freezing.
 

Hi

 

I have been reading your posts with interest as I am going on a cruise with another cruise line in March which starts in Lima. I was wondering if anyone was allowed off the ship when you docked here? Any information you have would be very welcome as my trip seems to be uncertain. Thank you.  

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16 hours ago, Goaty said:

I have been reading your posts with interest as I am going on a cruise with another cruise line in March which starts in Lima. I was wondering if anyone was allowed off the ship when you docked here? Any information you have would be very welcome as my trip seems to be uncertain. Thank you.  

 

Neither we nor any of the other contributors to this thread, as far as we know, are currently on the Balmoral.

 

Most of the information is picked up by signals from the ship's AIS system, local webcams, a global super-forecast model, published port schedules, bridge-cams on other vessels, FOCLs' own press releases and posts, local tour agents and on, one occasion, another contributor has passed on information from someone on the ship. The details and degree of depth of the operational aspects that folks, like ourselves, are able to pick up distantly in this digital cyber age means that it's more than possible to have more information available than a passenger on a ship where the Wi-Fi is expensive, slow and sometimes sporadic. We have seen one post on a different site that, "It’s a great cruise, so glad I am on board."

 

What's interesting is that two people who post on these threads and who are on the ship, haven't contributed as yet... but that may be more to do with the cost of Wi-Fi on-board rather than anything else. FOCls have posted very little on Lima and certainly no photos of any of the passengers ashore in the city or environs. 

 

It may be worth noting that the Seabourn Sojourn, currently on an 80-Night Pacific Gems & Australia’s Coral Coast, called into Lima as planned on 21 January but only so that joining passengers and staff could go onboard and so the ship could take on fuel and provisions. Guests were not permitted ashore. There is, of course, still a state of emergency in Lima and the military are patrolling the streets.

 

The Balmoral is far from full. There were cabins throughout the ship only a couple of days before if left Portsmouth. FOCLs were also offering via an Australian company a 54 Night cruise on the Balmoral for passenger joining in Lima on 26 January 2023 and traveling all the way back to Southampton. 

 

The fact that the Balmoral left Lima about one o'clock in the morning might just suggest that it was waiting for passengers off the late flight from Australia to land and be shuttled to the ship from the nearby Jorge Chavez International Airport.

 

FOCLs is also advertising for passengers to join the Balmoral in Buenos Aires and spend 25 nights cruising back to Southampton... with the offer of being able to learn the tango in Argentina!

 

However cruisers currently on the Balmoral... as FOCLs' "Head of destination experience and itinerary planning" is recently quoted by FOCLs as saying... have the chance to "witness the rugged icy landscapes of Antarctica." We were certainly taken initially by FOCLs' advertising that, "Cruising the Antarctic Peninsula is An experience like no other. Our epic voyage allows you to witness awe- inspiring natural beauty of one of the world’s most spectacular regions and its wonders, wildlife and waters. This vast stretch of land, ice and sea is an example of nature at its most astonishing. When it comes into view, you can’t help but be staggered by its overwhelming size, the might of its snow-capped mountains and the sheer volume of icebergs and glaciers." 

 

HAL's 1718 pax "Vollendam," (Just a little bit bigger than the Balmoral) is on a very similar route around South America as the Balmoral but is about two weeks ahead. Just today, there are 18 cruise/explorations ships cruising the Antarctic Peninsula and the "Vollendam," is on its way to join them through a strong breeze and rough seas. Our favourite expedition ship, The Sea Spirit, is one of the ships that is already there and is currently just off Enterprise Island.

 

This is a photo taken on the Sea Spirit's deck at close to midnight one evening (sadly not Enterprise Island/Antarctica). It's from when we were on board in 2019. I'm one of the people in the red Arctic parkas! Just a indication/taste what the folks on the Balmoral might be able to look forward to in a couple of weeks' time... in the other land of the midnight sun in the Southern Hemisphere! 

 

SSD_7911-2.thumb.jpeg.0be0164894e55e769a7d4a164eb57d2d.jpeg

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On 1/30/2023 at 7:49 PM, Goaty said:

 

Hi

 

I have been reading your posts with interest as I am going on a cruise with another cruise line in March which starts in Lima. I was wondering if anyone was allowed off the ship when you docked here? Any information you have would be very welcome as my trip seems to be uncertain. Thank you.  

 

I am following comments about this Balmoral cruise elsewhere and someone I know has said in a post that there were shuttle buses into Lima when they were in port, but that some areas were considered no go, so restrictions on where passengers could venture.  Excursions to Machu Pinchu were formally cancelled and refunded a week or so ago, which was a big disappointment to some, but no option of course.  I do not knowing about any other excursions.  I understand new passengers did join the ship at that port.  Aurora is going round South America in the other direction and has just rounded The Horn, but I have not seen any mention of the call they have scheduled for Lima, but I could easily have missed an update.  As am American owned ship, I would not be surprised if they do not call at all and of course circumstances can change.  Both cruises are going well.

 

UK cruise lines normally take their cue from the Foreign Office, with any advice against travel being the main decision maker on cancelling a port if there is unrest.  I have noticed at times the US lines tend to shy away from ports before the UK based lines have, but perhaps not a hard and fast rule and my observations have been limited.  A lot of cruise lines seem to be cancelling ports in recent months as well in all parts of the world.

 

Edited by tring
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Arriving in Arica Early

 

On 1 February the Balmoral arrived at Arica, Chile early in the morning in light seas, a moderate breeze and temps of about 23˚C.

 

 It had missed out the southern Peruvian port of Matarani and so was a day early... so a day in hand with ample opportunity to find some exciting alternative over the course of the remaining voyage. Certainly off the "away from the well-trodden tourist path"... not another cruise ship within 1,000 miles. But size isn't everything... the larger Aurora (2,258 passengers), Costa Deliziosa (2,712 passengers) and the MSC Magnifica (3,007 passengers) are all due in Arica in the next month or so.

 

Although surrounded by desert, Arica is a pleasant place, a bit of a local resort with surfing beaches, nice cafés and even a McDonalds. Saint Marks' Cathedral is only a couple of hundred meters from the port. There are pleasant parks with swaying palm trees and some nice local shops. Not exactly what might be expected in one of the driest places on the planet... less that 1/10th of an inch of rain in a year... it once went for well over two years without a single drop of rain!

 

It would be great if anyone on board could post some more details especially about sea days on the Balmoral. We know that Thea was teaching an art class but what else is there available?

 

It would be good to see pics of a daily menu and even more so of FOCL's taste of the region dishes. And... what are the house wines on offer?

 

Perhaps also let us know who the guest entertainers have been, what enrichment activities are being offered in addition to the commentary from the Bridge during the panama Canal transit...  and what lectures have been given so far? (we've been lucky enough on a number of occasions to hear Simon Weston speak at charity dinners and we know that he's due to speak later on the cruise.)

 

We know that the Balmoral did Burn's Night in the Neptune Lounge and Crossing the Equator on the Lido deck but has there been anything else... such as BBQs, a celebration of the Chinese New Year... and suchlike. 

 

A short live video from the ship's decks of people enjoying the sunshine, watching out for wildlife one sea-day or just saying, "hello" would be great and photos of the wonderful wildlife would be fabulous. 

 

And...has there been a tea-dance, a James Bond Evening, a Martine Cabaret, a Jazz evening with the band or anything similar?

 

Info on what excursions have been available and how much they cost would also be really interesting and appreciated... especially to those contemplating a long cruise of this nature with FOCLs.

 

 

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Meanwhile... reasons to be cheerful... 1, 2, 3!

 

While FOCLs Balmoral overnighted in Arica... two other ships of s a similar size and vintage to the Balmoral gave a stunning indication of what passenger on the Balmoral might experience in a couple of weeks’ time.

 

Firstly... P&O's Aurora which left the UK the day after the Balmoral and is doing a clockwise circumnavigation of South America. The Aurora is 270 m long (52 m longer than the Balmoral) can carry 2,268 passengers (only about 550 more than the Balmoral when full)  and was built 1999 (only 11 after the Balmoral). While the Balmoral has been in Arica, the Aurora, well over two thousand miles further South, has delighted passengers by a full transit of the stunning 150-mile-long Beagle Channel. Late yesterday the Aurora turned southwards and made a 50-mile run virtually due South towards the South Pole, cruised in international waters before turning northwards and transiting through the Chilean Fjord complex to anchor at Punta Arenas.

 

Secondly... there are a couple of dozen expedition/cruise ships cruising Antarctic Peninsula today and another half-dozen on the Drake Passage. The weather there is good, just above freezing, a light breeze and moderate seas. Even better... the advanced forecast for the next week is similar. Long may it continue!

 

Thirdly... At the same time... and this is really something to look forward to as the experience of a lifetime... Holland America Lines' Vollendam (originally a sister ship to what's now FOCL's Bolette and Borealis) only 29 m longer than the Balmoral, carrying only about 300 more passengers than the Balmoral when full and built 1999 only about 10 years after the Balmoral is currently in the Southern Ocean. The Vollendam is cruising the Antarctic Peninsula... just about 100 miles North of the Antarctic Circle. It's spent the entire night making transect after transect back and forth along the wildlife rich waters and is now in the spectacular Dallmann's Bay, Anvers Island, in the  Palmer Archipelago... mountains rising to over 9,000 feet, spectacular wildlife... what's not to like about such a breath-taking experience! Passengers must be staggered by nature at its most astonishing... its overwhelming size, the might of its snow-capped mountains and the sheer volume of icebergs and glaciers.

 

Truly something for passengers on the Balmoral to look forward to!

 

 

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More new News of a slow cruise down Chile

 

Late on 2 February the Balmoral set a new course for the Chilean port of Iquique, about 100 miles further south. The Balmoral left Arica about 6.00 pm local time under the direction of the local pilot. She was due to arrive at Iquique at 4.00 am (later changed to 10.00 am) local time on 3 February. Iquique was not on the original itinerary... so an extra goodie! The weather for leaving Arica was good; 23˚C, gentle breeze and moderate seas. Charles Darwin, during his voyage on the Beagle, travelled to Iquique In July 1835 and described it as a town "very much in want of everyday necessities, such as water and firewood"... times have changed... it's now considered a nice place, modern hotels, good beaches and a growing tourist industry. For anyone on the Balmoral who fancied a dip on one of the beaches... water temp. was 24˚C!

 

Early on the afternoon of 3 February the Balmoral set to sea again. This time for Coquimbo about 680 miles further South... again and extra port: not on the Balmoral's original itinerary. Estimate arrival time there is about 7.00 am on Saturday morning... Balmoral doing about 10 knots.

 

Meanwhile the Aurora had cruised the North in the Chilean Fjord system by Isla Emiliano Figueroa and was due to pass the Balmoral in a few days’ time. The Vollendam... had done what was promised in Holland America's advertising... it was cruising the Antarctic Peninsula...  including close to Astrolabe Island just off the coast of mainland Antarctica... at an amazing 62˚ 53' South... the same area where the Balmoral promises to be on the 17, 18 & 19 February. 

 

And, almost as an aside, the Celebrity Infinity was in Paradise Bay earlier in the day... sounds like a really sun-soaked, laid-back Caribbean beach with conch on the BBQ and rum-punch being mixed on the bar but... it is 64˚ 54' South, part of the Antarctic mainland... just an awesome place. So if the 21-year-old, 294 metre long, 260 passenger Celebrity Infinity can make it through the archipelago to the Antarctic mainland. The smaller size of FOCLs' Balmoral should be a great advantage in also allowing it "access to more interesting places."

 

Anyone who wants a view of where the Balmoral is due to be in a couple of weeks might like to check-out the state-of-the-art webcam on Hurtigruten’s MS Fridtjof Nansen while that ship is still cruising the Antarctic Peninsula.

 

 

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A snap the we caught of the  MS Fridtjof Nansen just a few months ago.

 

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On 2/3/2023 at 7:05 PM, twotravellersLondon said:

 

More new News of a slow cruise down Chile

 

Late on 2 February the Balmoral set a new course for the Chilean port of Iquique, about 100 miles further south. The Balmoral left Arica about 6.00 pm local time under the direction of the local pilot. She was due to arrive at Iquique at 4.00 am (later changed to 10.00 am) local time on 3 February. Iquique was not on the original itinerary... so an extra goodie! The weather for leaving Arica was good; 23˚C, gentle breeze and moderate seas. Charles Darwin, during his voyage on the Beagle, travelled to Iquique In July 1835 and described it as a town "very much in want of everyday necessities, such as water and firewood"... times have changed... it's now considered a nice place, modern hotels, good beaches and a growing tourist industry. For anyone on the Balmoral who fancied a dip on one of the beaches... water temp. was 24˚C!

 

Early on the afternoon of 3 February the Balmoral set to sea again. This time for Coquimbo about 680 miles further South... again and extra port: not on the Balmoral's original itinerary. Estimate arrival time there is about 7.00 am on Saturday morning... Balmoral doing about 10 knots.

 

Meanwhile the Aurora had cruised the North in the Chilean Fjord system by Isla Emiliano Figueroa and was due to pass the Balmoral in a few days’ time. The Vollendam... had done what was promised in Holland America's advertising... it was cruising the Antarctic Peninsula...  including close to Astrolabe Island just off the coast of mainland Antarctica... at an amazing 62˚ 53' South... the same area where the Balmoral promises to be on the 17, 18 & 19 February. 

 

And, almost as an aside, the Celebrity Infinity was in Paradise Bay earlier in the day... sounds like a really sun-soaked, laid-back Caribbean beach with conch on the BBQ and rum-punch being mixed on the bar but... it is 64˚ 54' South, part of the Antarctic mainland... just an awesome place. So if the 21-year-old, 294 metre long, 260 passenger Celebrity Infinity can make it through the archipelago to the Antarctic mainland. The smaller size of FOCLs' Balmoral should be a great advantage in also allowing it "access to more interesting places."

 

Anyone who wants a view of where the Balmoral is due to be in a couple of weeks might like to check-out the state-of-the-art webcam on Hurtigruten’s MS Fridtjof Nansen while that ship is still cruising the Antarctic Peninsula.

 

 

IMG_0959.thumb.jpeg.0e2f122dc4fb5ee11f125523a0b6415a.jpeg

 

A snap the we caught of the  MS Fridtjof Nansen just a few months ago.

 

 

There have not been a lot of posts about Balmoral elsewhere, but they have been some.  The speaker who covered the Panama canal apparently disembarked in Callao and yes, they have had a number of different theme nights.  In our personal experience Fred has returned to more pre-covid types of cruise (e.g. things like Captain's welcome parties and other activities, than has been the case on Princess and P&O, though that has varied according to our individual cruise and a number of people have felt the lack of some things on P&O as more to do with cut backs than any real concerns about infection.   

 

The extra ports for Balmoral you mentioned for Balmoral have apparently been put in to replace two lost port days in Peru due to the events there, so they should be back on the original schedule now.  An Aurora report mentioned that they have now been told the ship will dock in Callao as they will be picking up supplies as well as having some crew join/leave the ship there.  However no passengers will be allowed to leave the ship in Peru and all shore tours are being refunded, so they will loose that ability to go ashore in Peru over a two day call, though of course hardly unexpected.  They have been told it is hoped that two day call in Callao may be a replaced with another port day in Ecuador, though that cannot be confirmed yet.  Aurora's passage of the beagle channel and following fjord stretch was indeed referred to as spectacular, though sadly it was mentioned that there was mist coming and going during that day and that there was fairly constant light rain as well as rough seas as they emerged into open water (the poster had been there a few years back when it was sunny, so of course a much more impressive experience then),  but the weather is what it is and always chance, though at least they got there to experience it.  Some lovely pictures of Punta Arenas have also been posted during their recent call, showing a really clear, sunny day.  They were then heading north into the Chilean Fjord system there.

 

What I have noticed is that the few people posting appear to be repeat travellers to South America, (so comparing previous calls), which makes sense to me as I feel, like us, people thinking of doing a first, (and quite possible only), round S. America cruise, will have decided to leave it a bit longer to ensure the COVID disruption is truly over, or at least minimised.  That is the reason I have had particular interest in these journeys this year, but I have not seen any comments suggesting there has been any problems due to that, or indeed any infection, so my interest has largely been fulfilled at this stage, though I do hope both cruises continue well and that a good time is had by all.  

 

 

 

 

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A Bit of an Update

 

4 February: Just Cruising

 

The Balmoral spent Saturday cruising south along the west coast of Chile... 20˚C, 15 knots, a light breeze and moderate seas. Port side the best for sunbathing in the afternoon. Not another cruise ship in sight... Chilean coast about 25 miles off the starboard side.

 

Wonder what the dish of the region was? Could it have been something like Empanadas de pino (Traditional baked turnover pie with a meat and onion filling), Ensalada a la chilena (Chilean style tomato salad) or Chorillana which originate in the harbour at Valparaiso...  beefsteak, spicy sausage, finely cut onion... topped with a couple of lightly fried eggs. 

 

5 February: Coquimbo

 

An early Sunday morning arrival at the Chilean port of Coquimbo in a light breeze and cooler temps of about 17˚C. The Balmoral left Coquimbo after 4ish in the afternoon and put on 15 knots to meet an ETA of 7.00 local time at Valparaiso.

 

The secret of Coquimbo is that it's on the Pan-American Highway... 19,000 miles long and all the way from Prudhoe Bay on the North Slope of Alaska to Ushuaia in Argentina. Highway was a bit if a euphemism for "washed out dirt-track" when we covered part of the South American section a few years back. But it's a really attractive idea for many young Americans who stop off at the long surf beaches, bohemian cafes and atmospheric night clubs of Coquimbo on their way South... and party with their growing network of new friends met on their travels. 

 

The Balmoral docked by the old "English Quarter" where the harbour dominated by a "Christ the Redeemer" type cross. Lots of bars, cafe and shops open on a Sunday. 

 

6 February: Valparaiso 

 

Lots of things to do and places to see, The Jewel of the Pacific... Latin America's LA... a backpacker paradise. Cafes and bars a plenty, sea-lions at Playa Caleta Portales, wine tours (independents from about £150), cookery masterclasses (independents from about £65), some great museums.

 

The Balmoral is currently being bunkered by the Agunsa Capella tanker.

 

And... the Aurora.... hot-foot (or perhaps cool keel) from not "rounding of the Horn" but a complete circumnavigation of the Cape Horn Archipelago including the Capo de Hornos National Park and the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve is currently cruising Northward on a course of 10˚ to San Antonia, Chile, in temperatures of about 15˚C in a strong southerly 23 knot breeze and rough seas is due to cruise past the Balmoral in a few hours-time... "Ships that pass in the night?"

 

 

The Promise of Things to Come

 

Looking forward a week to when the Balmoral reaches Puerto Arenas for 13 February... the weather forecast suggests dry weather, temps of about 9˚C and an 8-knot breeze from the North-West... 321˚. The Balmoral is due to be the only ship in port on the 13th but will be replaced by the 3,241 passenger Sapphire Princess  the following day. ( 2 ½ times the number of possible passengers on the Balmoral)

 

Looking ahead ten or eleven days to the 17-19 February... when the Balmoral is due to be cruising the Antarctic Peninsula should be fascinating... one company that we've sailed with does regular expedition cruises along the Antarctic Peninsula and publishes detailed trip reports and photos. (Most of the ships follow IAATO protocols and begin the passage between the South Shetland Islands and the Antarctic Peninsula in the South-West by Anvers Island and then make their way along the 100-120 mile or so long passage to the North-East through the Gerlache and Bransfield Straits. The Balmoral will be expected to follow IAATO protocols.)  Looking at a trip report from the MV Ortelius from only a few weeks ago, passengers saw Adélie, Gentoo and Chinstrap Penguins, nine types of Petrel, Gulls, Skuas and Terns almost every day. They also saw Leopard, Crabeater, Weddell and Elephant Seals as well as having really good sightings of Minke, Humpback and Fin Whales. And... some of their photographs are just stunning. Not too difficult to find on the net for those who are interested

 

 

Here's one or two whales to look out for... even for those seemingly very few passengers on the Balmoral who are using the onboard WiFi.

 

This little one is about 7 meters long, can weigh up to 3.6 tons and can live up to 60 years... it's a Pilot Whale.

 

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This one is about 25 meters long, can weigh up to 120 tons and the oldest recorded is 114 years old... it's a Fin Whale.

 

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This one a bit of a rarity is about 33 meters long, can weigh up to 150 tons and may live up to 90 years... it's a Blue Whale... just cruising through its own rainbow coloured breath.

 

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Now the interesting thing about all of these snaps is... that they were taken from the deck of a FOCLs ship... not in the Antarctic but around the coasts of Spain and Portugal from the foredeck of the Braemar. 

 

 

Edited by twotravellersLondon
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7 February: Just Cruising

 

The Balmoral spent Tuesday cruising at 16 knots South along the west coast of Chile... rough 2.5 m seas early morning but a gentle breeze from the South with the air temp at about 15˚C so feeling a little bit colder on open decks... for any insomniacs. Weather for the day... blue skies, bright sun. Sadly the Balmoral bypassed Robinson Cruise island but most ships the size of the Balmoral do... just far too big!

 

As the Balmoral neared Isla Santa Maria much, some on board may have become aware of smell of smoke from the Punta Lavapie wildfires close to Rumena on the mainland. These have been serious... at least a couple of dozen homes destroyed, people being evacuated by boat. Other fires near the coast as well.

 

Not many of the Balmoral's passengers seem to be using email on any regular basis. The additional charge of £120 for each 14 days may well be a bit off putting to some... as a couple the charges for us would have been well over £1,300 for what can be a pretty ropy service at sea. But being laid back detached and resting those thumbs may well result in a far more relaxing cruise!

 

 

8 February: Just Cruising

 

The early-birds on the Balmoral woke to a cool 16˚C on Wednesday morning with  a moderate Southerly Breeze... slightly rougher seas this morning... but cruising at about 11 knots. The Balmoral was just outside Chilean territorial waters off the small community of Totén. About 60 miles to the south was the 3007 pax MSC Magnifica cruising North at about 19 knots. 

 

Good chance today for those on board the Balmoral to muse about their excursion into the desert from Arica and to the Tutelar Figures about half an hour's drive from the town. Although only about 20 years old, these are really popular tourist attractions... as featured in Celebrity cruise guide and by Seaborn Odyssey. Great place for surfers on the Pan-American Highway road-trip to have a quick picture/selfie!

 

Looking forward a couple of days

 

The next stop for the Balmoral is Castro, Chiloe Island, Chile.... ETA is by breakfast on Thursday 9 February... weather forecast for Castro for the 9th... 14˚C-21˚C, partly cloudy and an 80% chance of rain.... for Puerto Chacabuco on the 10th... 9˚C-16˚C, cloudy and a fair chance of rain. For the couple of days after that and the passage down to Punta Arenas... a good prospect of a Northerly wind of about 35-40 knots and temps as low as 10˚C out at sea but as the promise was that the Balmoral would be "Cruising the Chilean Fjords" it's far more likely that it will experience a far gentler15 knots or so protected by the islands. 

 

But after all... the cruise is "Exploration of South America and the Antarctic" and by 11 February it will have reached its midway point.

 

And Antarctica?

 

Of course, this is the time... the long sea-days that we would be looking forward and checking out our pre-cruise research on just what we might see on the FOCLs Antarctica cruise... including Chinstrap Penguins... some of the most grumpy and argumentative of the Penguin family! And there's an estimated 8,000,000 of them... this is not "Happy Feet!" However the Chinstrap is a bit of a traveller and can be found in all sorts of places. A captive couple in Central Park, New York, even hatched an egg and reared a chick called Tango about 20 years ago! Interesting the "parents" were both male and the chick was hatched from a fertilised egg slipped into the next by a keeper! Main problems of the species... depletion of krill that they feed on... reason? ... overfishing to provide fertiliser for stuff like organic asparagus and tomatoes grown in Europe.

 

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The British Antarctic Territory

 

It's only about a week now before the Balmoral is due to leave Ushusia in Argentina for the Antarctic... or, to be more precise, the waters around the British Antarctic Territory. As per itinerary... allowing a day or so (16 February) to cover the 600 miles or so across the Drake Passage, three days to cruise the Peninsula (17-18 February) and two days to reach Stanley on the Falkland Islands (20-22 February).  

 

This was one of the most exciting aspects of the Balmoral's itinerary for us (and that's perhaps because we've travelled extensively and independently in Peru as far as the borders with Brazil and Bolivia). To our minds, Antarctica just defies the ability of superlatives to describe it.

 

The British Antarctic Territory is a huge area... stretching all the way from 60˚ South (half way across the Drake Passage) to the South Pole, encompassing 40˚of the circumference of the earth, covering 660,000 square miles (more than twice the size of the British Isles) and has icy mountains over 10,000 feet. It even has its own post-code, BIQQ 1ZZ. And it's one of the least environmentally damaged regions on earth.

 

This is the wilderness that attracted men like; Scot, Shackleton, Fuchs and Ranulph Fiennes to undertake some of the most awe-inspiring and heroic feats that have inspired generations. As a boy, I've spent many a night hidden below the bedcovers with a torch reading about the expeditions of these men... and a good few years or so later in life, I've stared, in great respect, at their names inscribed on the walls in the Royal Geographical Society. 

 

The British Antarctic Territory has its own Commissioner, its own legislative framework and is covered by the Antarctic Treaty... and its key aim is the comprehensive protection of the Antarctic environment. Among other things, the Act establishes a permit system for vessels entering Antarctica. Essentially all human activities, including tourism, have to go through an Environmental Impact Assessment by a competent authority. Only if a proposed cruise meets all of the criteria, will it be allowed.

 

The Antarctic Treaty doesn’t prevent tourists visiting Antarctica but every single person and every operator/cruise-line needs to have a permit issued by an Antarctic Treaty Member country... this often needs to be done months in advance but is all usually arranged by the tour/cruise operator.  (Although the Balmoral is registered in Nassau, the Bahamas isn't a member of the Antarctic Treaty Organisation.) British expeditions/ships cruising to Antarctica usually need a permit from the Polar Regions Department of the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office. A British expedition can be one organised in the UK... even if the ship sails under a flag on convenience. An ‘Expedition’ is a tour or journey of any purpose including a cruise. As FOCLs say... "We are travellers more than tourists." 

 

Without a permit, it's illegal to take a ship into the Antarctic Treaty Area. It's also illegal or to breach a condition of a permit. Antarctic cruise/tour operators are usually members of IAATO, International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators, and their ships and protocols meet the Treaty and other regulations.

 

This will be a first for FOCLs... and for the great majority of the passengers on board the Balmoral. "Once in a lifetime experience" is an overused phrase but in this instance, few if any on board the Balmoral will have visited the Antarctic Peninsula before and very few of the passengers will ever do it again. As stated in the FOCLs' brochure, "Cruising the Antarctic Peninsula" really is "an experience like no other."

 

Two things are for certain there will be no landing and no local fokelore group dancing to welcome the Balmoral to the Earth's sixth and most amazing continent. 

 

However for those, a bit like us, who just can't wait to see the photos and hear the stories from the Balmoral, it really is worth looking back on this site to, "Back from M/V Discovery - Voyages of Discovery" September 2002 by CruiselsGood from Los Gatos, California, who cruised Antarctic on the M/V Discovery over 20 years ago. There's a blog about the same cruise with some stunning pictures. It's called, "Journey to the Bottom of the Globe: A Remembrance of Antarctica" by Ed Boitano.

 

If anyone doesn’t know the M/V Discovery... she was launched in 1971 as the Island Venture for cruises in the Caribbean (and became the understudy for the MS Pacific in the US TV serial "The Love Boat" which ran on ABC 1977-1986). By the time the M/V Discovery was retired and scrapped in 2016 she had explored every corner of the globe and reached as far North as Disko Island, off the coast of Northern Greenland at 69˚ 53' N and as far South as the Gerlache Straits at 64˚ 57' S. The M/V Discovery was a much-loved little ship with a loyal following. She was about half the size of the Balmoral, only half of the tonnage and half of the number of passengers The Discovery was a little more leisurely... 18 knots max compared with the Balmoral's original 22 knots. But Discovery was about the same age as the Balmoral is now when she cruised the Antarctic Peninsula.

 

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There was always a sense of expectation, exhilaration and excitement on the Discovery... cruisers wanted to travel, to experience the local culture and to see the world. In this picture that we took of the Discovery almost 10 years ago... (Arctic not Antarctica... but it was so cold that it made little difference!) just look how packed the decks were with people as the Discovery sailed up the coast of Norway. Let's hope that the Balmoral has the same good weather cruising the Antarctic Peninsula!

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Balmoral's Sudden Change of Itinerary

 

The Balmoral was due arrive at Puerto Chacabuco (Chile) early this morning and to tender passengers ashore. It arrived early this morning but not long afterwards turned around while still about four miles away. The Balmoral then left the anchorage port and retraced it's course back along Fordo Aysén. The sea was calm, there was only a gentle breeze at 4 m/s... overcast and a hint of rain. 

 

The Balmoral was certainly not lingering... and was cruising at 17 knots.... by 10.30 local time she was thirty miles away and cruising at speed towards the Canal Moraledo strait. About 11.30 am, local time, the Balmoral turned South into the Canal Moraledo. Then took the Canal Darwin, between Isla Quemada and Isla Luz, which is only about half a mile wide at the narrowest point. Canal Darwin gives access directly out into the Pacific. 

 

Weather forecast for the area offshore and just clear of Chilean territorial waters is winds of over 30 knots and temperatures of about 14˚C later on this evening.

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Report from ship yesterday said 40 knot winds expected and also loose fishing nets at the entrance to the bay, so tendering a no go.  They were battening down hatches as expecting to leave the fjords, straight into a storm.

 

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11 February 

 

We were really sorry for passengers on the Balmoral when the ship turned away from Puerto Chacabuco early on Friday morning and cancelled a precious port day at the very last minute. The 803 pax Oceania Insigna (pretty close to the same age and size as the Braemar... was able to; cruise in, anchor and tender passengers this morning.  FOCLs often says "smaller is better" and so it may have been in this case!... The Oceania Insigna is currently on a 197 day-world cruise with 104 ports... her passengers really are going to see the world!) 

 

This is a snap that we took of the Oceania Insigna a few years ago. A beautiful little ship.

 

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Just a short bus ride away from the quay at Puerto Chacabuco was the really sensational scenery of the snow covered Nevado de los Palos, mountain lakes, the Rooster Tail waterfall and the Maca and Cay volcanoes. Had we booked on the Balmoral, these are most certainly places that we would have liked to have visited... and more especially as the weather in Puerto Chacabuco all day yesterday was calm; with only a gentle breeze and a hint of rain.

 

By about 4.00 pm local time on yesterday afternoon (10 February) the Balmoral had cleared the Chilean coastline travelling at 14 knots. The destination was given as Puntas Arenas (Chile). The Balmoral was due to reach there on the evening of 12 February... (the day before given on the itinerary... the day before originally expected in the port.) The Balmoral hit high seas (4.4 m) and windspeeds up to 14.2 m/s... (just above a strong breeze and into a near gale) so a bit choppy. This weather only lasted an hour or two and had the Balmoral reached the open sea only a couple of hours earlier or later and the Balmoral would have missed that weather all together.

 

Overnight on 11/12 February the Balmoral cruised South, crossed the Golfo de Penas, entered the fjord system and cruised at 17 knots south through the 120-mile-long Canal Messie in the hours of darkness... certainly a place that we would have liked to see in the daylight. By sunrise at 5.59 am local time, the Balmoral was already about half-way down Canal Messie and cruising towards the island of Gronda. Weather forecast for the morning... "Periods of rain. High 10˚C and Low 5˚C.  Winds NNW at 10 to 15 mph. Chance of rain 100%. Rainfall possibly over one inch.

 

The Balmoral completed the transit and reached the open sea by 8.00 am local time... still doing 17 knots in poor weather and in rough seas with waves of 3.6 m.

 

By 10.00 am local time, the Balmoral had cleared the coast and was at 49˚39' South 76˚03' West and was just outside Chilean territorial waters cruising South at 16 knots. The ship was experiencing a strong breeze with gusts up to 28 mph, temperatures of about 10˚C, high seas and 4.4 m waves... so a bit "rough" again. However the ship turned towards land again and by the end of lunch was making its way into the Golfo Trinidad between Park Nacional Bernard O'Higgins and Isla Madre de Dios and towards the Canal Concepción... and picked up speed to 18 knots! By mid-afternoon the Balmoral was speeding South along the Canal Concepción... but again towards the open sea... time will tell... "Is it to sea or not to sea. That is the question!?"

 

Guests on board the Balmoral are just about half-way through their cruise and so it would be wonderful if the Captain was to lay on a "once-in-a-lifetime" experience for them this afternoon and early evening.

 

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A fond memory of the Balmoral cruising towards the gloaming one evening

 

 

Signature Experiences and Scenic Discoveries?

 

As an aside... we're not sure what "Journey Guides" the Balmoral has on board but we 

hope that guests on the Balmoral are given an insight into the lifetime of dedicated work on South America, and the landscape of Patagonia in particular of a truly remarkable man, the late Chalmers Clapperton. If anyone wants to know what formed such a spectacular landscape, how glaciers carved out these tremendous fjords... what geo-tectonic and glacial forces came together to create the Antarctic Peninsula, the South Shetland Islands and the Falkland Islands, the work of Professor Chalmers Clapperton of the University of Aberdeen is the place that other researchers start. He was a brilliant teacher and he certainly would have enthralled the guests on the Balmoral for days... both those who had significant prior knowledge and those who just couldn't believe their eyes! 

 

We also very much hope that, in the Antarctic, guests on the Balmoral are introduced to some of the work of Professor David Sugden FRSE, FRSGS, emeritus professor and senior research fellow at the University of Edinburgh and one of the most celebrated and awarded British Antarctic scientists... a man who knows and understands more about the Antarctic, the Antarctic Ice Sheets, and the impact of climatic change on global sea-levels that most others on the planet. He is a glaciologist and glacial geomorphologist. Some of our best-known TV environmentalists/presenters, sit in a studio, whispering scripted voice-overs to bought in video by freelance videographers. Prof. Sugden, on the other hand, has been there, done that for half a century.

 

 

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13 February

 

"Fred did what he promised!" But...

 

On the night of 11/12 February the Balmoral did what FOCLs' promised in the brochure; it certainly cruised some of the most impressive, spectacular and awe-inspiring Chilean Fjords.

 

These fjords are at the western edge of the Southern Patagonian ice-field and include numerous impressively breath-taking glaciers, including the Glacier Amalia and the spectacular tidewater Glacia El Brujo with an enormous two-kilometre-wide ice wall... some of the most amazing places on earth for scenic cruising. Sunrise and sunset can be magnificent as can be views of the soaring snow-capped mountain peaks miles beyond. The fjords' waters are the home of Peale’s dolphins and sea lions. Terns, albatrosses and other seabirds are about as well. The weather is nothing if not atmospheric. For anyone with any interest in maritime history... there are over 40 historic lighthouses.

 

The Balmoral left these fjords by way of the spectacular Sarmiento Channel which starts at the Guía Narrows and finishes at the southern edge of Victoria Pass, where Sarmiento Channel joins the Smyth Channel. The Sarmiento Channel was named in honour of the Spanish explorer, Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa, who first navigated it between 1579 and 1580. The rugged coastline is set among snow-covered mountain ranges and, in many places, there are glaciers reaching the sea. This would have been a good place in daylight for folks on the Balmoral to look out for Magellanic penguins, southern elephant seals, dolphins, orcas and smaller whales.

 

However, the Balmoral made the transit in one night and mostly during the hours of darkness 11/12 February when the great majority of the passengers were fast asleep in bed. The Balmoral left the Chilean Fjords, still doing 16 knots, at the Strait Of Magellan before sunrise on 12 February. The Balmoral travelled most of the 350-mile-long Strait, which is up to 20 miles wide in places, on the route that Portuguese sailor Ferdinand Magellan discovered in 1520. The Strait is a good place to look out for pods of humpback whales and schools of Commerson’s dolphins.

 

For companies like Oceania, Asmara and Holland America this is a two-day cruise on their itineraries. This is to give their guests every opportunity to see the area, listen to commentaries from expert local guides and to take the photographs of a life- time experience... but the Balmoral sped through at night in darkness (doing 16 knots for most of the time)... and there was no commentary that we're aware of... not even in the Balmoral's Observation Lounge for those who wanted to see, experience and gain a little understanding of one of the most unique places on earth... just "in the dark with Fred."

 

Holland America's Oosterdam and Zaandam both cruise these spectacular fjords and include the Amalia and Brujo Glaciers as well as Glacier Alley, the Antarctic Peninsula and the truly  dramatic Danco Sound in their itineraries. The Zaandam's upcoming 73-day Grand South American Voyage... price about the same per day as the Balmoral's current cruise... will do these sights!

 

Today... the very day that the Balmoral had a "spare day"... FOCLs elected to have their ship parked on the quay by the tourist market in Punta Arenas. While...  the smaller Oceania Insigna went up Peel Fjord at 1-4 knots in a light breeze, flat calm, temperatures of just on freezing to a viewing point of the Amalia Glacier as it descends from around a dormant  Volcano. It’s a tremendous sight; the current ice front is over 2,500 meters wide where it reaches the water, there's ice well over 100 meters from the ice front and there are ice-bergs 5 kilometres down into the fjord. The top of the glacier as it reaches the water is over 200 meters high, the bluffs on either side reach up to 1,000 meters and the mountains, 20 km in the distance, are over 16,000 meters high. From very considerable personal experience.... this is just about as good as it can get from the deck of a cruise ship. 

 

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This is a different glacier (one we  took a little while ago!) but it's about the same scale and shows what the Balmoral rushed past in the middle of the night. The small dark object on the sea just to the right of the middle is about the same size as the Balmoral would appear from the same distance!

 

FOCLs say "Rather than sailing the fastest routes, we prefer to sail the most fascinating way. Our Scenic Discoveries are designed to allow you to enjoy seeing the world from the unique perspective of our ship as you take in all the islands, ports, waterways, lochs and lakes, fjords and interesting seascapes that are out there." But in this case, with a day in hand, the Balmoral had set a course to arrive in Punta Arenas a day early... and even then, it arrived at the quayside 20 minutes earlier than expected... 4.51 pm local time.

 

For whatever reason... perhaps the chance to have a bite in a local restaurant, see another local dance troupe or whatever... we would have much preferred to experience one of the most unique sights on earth that we might have spent tens of thousands of pounds to travel thousands of miles, for week after week to see.

 

But all may not be lost... on the same quay as the Balmoral has docked FDS, runs a series of fast tourist boats to "see" the penguins on Magdalena Island about 20 miles north from Punta Arenas. The journey takes about an hour and a half each way, the current cost for independents is about £70 (including entrance fees) and usually about one hour is allowed for tourists to wander around the lighthouse and take selfies with Magellanic penguins or go looking for the odd visiting seal. Each boat can hold 120 people. Today might be a reasonable day to do the trip... about 10˚C, cloudy and dry... as the webcam shows.

 

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Most certainly, the Balmoral had some wonderful morning light about 7.00 am local time on 13 February and had a bright day ahead with high of about 13˚C... so a chance for a coffee on the quay, a little bit of shopping in the Artesian Craft Market. (The ship is just to the right of the two towers blocks down by the coast.

 

For more insights into cruising the area... check out some of the brilliant photos and comments by "Splice the mainbrace" on the P&O Board in the thread " P&O Cruisers - What are things like where YOU are?"

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Monday 13 February: Later on

One of the most important Sub-Antarctic Evergreen Rainforests on the planet

 

On Monday 13 February the Balmoral left Punta Arenas at 13.51 local time destined for the port of Ushuaia in Argentina. The Balmoral was expected there at 5.25 am local time on 15  February. The ship left Punta Arenas at a speed of 10 knots and set a course of 118˚ towards the Strait of Magellan. The sea distance between the two ports is only 315 nautical miles. 

 

The Balmoral was due to cruise the Magdalena and Cockburn Channels (Locally known as; Canal Cockburn and Canal Magdalene) on 13 February. These channels connect the Strait of Magellan with the Pacific and cut through the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve of the Alberto de Agostini National Park. This is a landscape of soaring peaks and deep fjords and it's where the Andes meet the sea. 

 

The Highest Peak is the 2,580-meter-high Mount Darwin named by Captain Robert Fitzroy of the HMS Beagle to celebrate Charles Darwin's 25th birthday on the 12 February 1834... and 189 years later, almost to the very day, the Balmoral and it's passengers were there. What an opportunity to celebrate such an historic event and the voyage of a man whose work was to completely transform our concept of evolution and still today is a fundamental cornerstone of our concerns for the environment of the world!

 

The Biosphere Reserve of the Alberto de Agostini National Park is one of the most important Sub-Antarctic Evergreen Rainforests on the planet. The Forest began to grow 10,000 years ago as the last ice-age came to an end at the glaciers began to retreat. It's most certainly a place to see beavers, elephant seal colonies, the southern pudú (the world’s smallest deer) and the endangered southern river otter. Sometimes the magnificent Andean condors, with wingspans of over 3 meters (Much bigger than a Golden Eagle) can be easily seen from the decks and balconies of cruise ships.

 

Surely that would have been something quite exceptional for FOCLs' on-board "Journey Guides" to help passengers to spot, appreciate and just simply be awed by. Certainly our first sightings of Condors in the Andes... (after having sat in the mountains for an entire morning just praying for the sun to burn through the mist in the canyon below us) wasn't only exciting but one of the most wildlife encounters that we've ever had... we watch for hours... they were often only 20 or 30 meters away from us. A close encounter... South America's wildlife at its very, very best.

 

The Balmoral moved from the Canal Magdalene into Canal Cockburn just as first-sitting passengers we waiting for their evening show to begin in the Neptune Lounge and just as second-sitting guests were waiting for their starters in the Balandaroch, Avon and Spey Restaurants.

 

Overnight... as soon as the Balmoral reaches the Pacific again... 18 knots of wind SW 250˚ WSW about 3˚C but moved into Desolation Bay and the shelter of the off-shore islands again before taking the Canal Ballenero, part of the official route between Puerto Williams and Strait of Magellan.

 

The Balmoral cruised Eastwards in the hours of darkness to the spectacular snow-covered 2,469 high Cero Yogan and then at 4.30 am local time had turned South into Bahia de Cook (Cook Bay), which was visited by Captain James Cook in December 1774  during his second voyage.at the entrance to the Beagle Channel.

 

Conditions reported by the ship...17 knots gentle breeze calm waters and 5˚C air temperature. What a great pity that passengers were whisked through this historic area in the middle of the "wee sma hoours" with no chance to see anything... such a missed opportunity. 

 

 

Tuesday 14 February

A busy day at Cape Horn

 

By 6.00 am local time the Balmoral had reached the open sea, and had set a course for Cape Horn and was racing towards it at a rate of 18 knots through a fresh breeze from the West, moderate seas and temperatures of 6˚C.

 

Valentine's was a busy day at Cape Horn. As well as the expected sail past by the Balmoral, the World Traveller (200 pax) , the Silver Cloud (303 pax) and Le Boreal (264 pax) are also paying a visit.

 

Cape Horn has gone into legend as one of the most dangerous places on earth to sail: well-known as the most treacherous ocean waters on the planet: as the graveyard of over 800 ships and the resting place of over 10,000 lost lives. It's regarded as a place of storms, tempest, hurricane force winds, summertime blizzards, savage currents and 100' high waves. A place to be feared, even by the hardened bravest of the brave adventurers.

 

But times, maritime technology and information systems have changed these once terrifying waters into a playground for adventure-yachts, a must-see for passengers on expedition boats and sight to behold from the considerable comfort of a cruise ship for folks on world-cruises and grand-voyages. 

 

When the Balmoral reached 55˚ 99 South 67˚27' East, the ship slowed to 4 knots, turned and pointed the bows towards Cape Horn from a mile or two... then turned to Port, put on 12 knots and sped on Eastwards on-route for Ushuaia. All done right in the middle of lunch! But there was a change to see the Eastern side of Hornos Island from the Starboard side before the Balmoral turned away in time for afternoon tea and made for Argentina and Ushuaia.

 

Dinner on board on Valentine's Evening? Could it possibly be "Patagonian Roast Lamb"... (Locally known as "Asado"... one of Argentina's signature barbeque dishes?) Perhaps served with carrots, beans & parsnips. And perhaps washed down with a glass or two of FOCLs' rich plummy Vina Casa Silva’s Merlot? Perhaps a recipe from FOCLs to give a clue how to replicate such an experience!

 

"Splice the mainbrace" on the P&O Board in the thread " P&O Cruisers - What are things like where YOU are?" is currently on the Sapphire Princess which visited Cape Horn only a couple of days ago and has posted a picture from the ship.

 

 

Wednesday 15 February

Ushuaia... the end of the world?

 

Neither Ushuaia, Punta Arenas, nor Cape Horn are in the Antarctic. Far from it. Ushuaia is the same distance from the Antarctic Circle as Edinburgh is from the Arctic Circle. Ushuaia is a little over 933 miles... as the Albatross flies... from the Antarctic Circle.

 

The Balmoral arrived at Ushuaia and anchored in the bay well before dawn on 15 February at the beginning of what FOCLs describe as her "Remote Exploration section of her South America and the Antarctic cruise".

 

Any passengers looking take in the sunrise at Ushuaia this morning should have been up and about at 6.28 am local time... it was a bit overcast though! The forecast for today is 2˚C - 5˚C, with bright spells, winds up to about 16 km/h and showers of sleety snow were expected.

 

The Balmoral had been followed up the Beagle Channel by the Ocean Diamond (251 pax) which was just returning over the Drake Passage after having cruised the Antarctic Peninsula. Le Boreal (264 pax,) Sylvia Earl (160 pax) and the World Traveller (200 pax) were already on the quay. The Silver Cloud (302 pax), which had rounded Cape Horn shortly before the Balmoral, had docked further down the Beagle Channel at Puetro Williams (The place that really, really is the most southerly city on earth).

 

The Celebrity Infinity (2,604 pax) was on its way from Buenos Aires and had just entered the Eastern end of the Beagle Channel and the Oceania Insigna (803 pax) and the Oceania Marina (1,447 pax) were both approaching down the Western branch of the Beagle Channel.

 

Ushuaia's commercial pier has four well-used berths by smaller expedition cruises and the anchorage is great demand by tourist ships in the main season. It's not unusual to see Princess, Holland America, Regent Seven Seas and Celebrity in port as well as, Albatross, Global Maritime, Hurtigruten, Lindblad, Orient Lines and Quark Expeditions.

 

There's quite a tourist infrastructure in place. Apart from cruise visitors, Ushuaia has the major draw that it's at the end (or is it the beginning?) of the Pan-American Highway... (we've not done it all but some parts are spectacular.) and is one of the main bases for people exploring the Tierra del Fuego National Park. The cruise industry has generated all sorts of excursion-type activities that can be fun but are hardly "authentic", "remote" or "exploration".

 

The old logging train has been transformed in to the tourist honey-trap of the " Train of the End of the World" and certainly the engines were steaming up at 7.30 am local time this morning in a particularly sharp shower of sleet that obscured the Mirador Laguna del Caminante with its light snow covering.

 

Luckily it had cleared by an hour later, two engines were in operation, the mountains were visible at times, the three trains were waiting at the platforms and were being swept out and the windows cleaned. BY 9.00 am local time the first passengers were loading.(The web-cam is pretty easy to find... but isn't always on line)

 

The Balmoral's tenders No 9, 11 and 12 were already out at 7.30 am this morning and by 8.30 am local time they were plying to and from the tourist port. The Celebrity Infinity (2,604 pax) did moor on the quay and so it seems a pity that the Balmoral didn't have a booking... there are a fair number of folk on board that may have found that easier and tendering can reduce precious time enjoying a port.

 

There are lots of excursion operators, an "End of the World Sign" for selfies, a local history museum called... "the End of the World Museum," quaint signs by the port to the effect that "English Pirate Ships" are banned, some goodish tourist shopping... "get your Inca souvenirs here" type of thing and, of course, an eatery claiming to be the restaurant at "the end of the universe world.".. aka...the Hard Rock Café.

 

For independents... a full day trip into the National Park, with a trip on the train to the "End of the World" and a view over the Beagle Chanel is currently about £155 a head.

 

Significant as tourism is to Ushuaia, isn't the be all and end all. The city is about the same size as Guildford, Redditch, Scunthorpe, Burnley and Chatham in the UK... only Ushuaia has two local newspapers, two TV channels, is a winter ski destination, has a valuable fishing industry and is the centre for natural gas and oil extraction.

 

Ushuaia normally receives about 4,000 regular flights a year at the "Ushuaia – Malvinas Argentinas International Airport" these link Ushuaia with El Calafate, Buenos Aires and Santiago, Chile. The airport deals with about 400,000 passengers in a normal year... that's more than Jersey and quite a number of the UK regional airports!

Edited by twotravellersLondon
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15 February:

Later on leaving Ushuaia

 

The Balmoral left Ushuaia at 7.30 pm local time and was due to arrive in Port Stanley on the Falkland Islands (510 nautical miles away) at 7.30 am local time on 22 February... to continue what FOCLs describe as the "Remote Exploration" section of her South America and the Antarctic cruise. 

 

16 February

A Busy Route South

 

The Drake Passage was very busy this morning. In addition to the Balmoral (1,420 pax), the Celebrity Infinity (2,604), Oceania Marina (1,447 pax), Oceania Insignia (802 pax),  MS Roald Amundsen (600 pax), Le Boreal (264 pax), L' Austral (264 pax), Ocean Diamond (251 pax), Hanseatic Spirit (230 pax) and the Sylvia Earl (160 pax) were making their way South... so potentially almost 8,000 tourists making the trip south in just one day... certainly well over 10,000 people when crews were also included. 

 

Joining up to 17 ships already cruising Antarctic Peninsula

 

These tourists and crews were destined to join the approximately 3,500 tourists and over 1,000 crew already cruising the Antarctic Peninsula on board the MS Fridtjof Nansen (600 pax), Viking Polaris (378 pax), Viking Octantis (378 pax), Le Lyrial ( 264 pax), World Navigator (200 pax),  Quark Ultramarine (199 pax),  Hanseatic Nature (230 pax), Silver Endeavour (200 pax), Greg Mortimer (160 pax), SH Vega (152 pax), MS Expedition (134 pax), Ocean Adventure (132 pax), MV Plancius (116 pax), Hebridean Sky (120 pax),  MV Sea Spirit (114 pax), MV Magellan Explorer (100 pax) and the Ocean Nova (78 pax). Seventeen ships in just one day! And that's not counting up to 66 passengers on board RRS Sir David Attenborough in the Weddle Sea.

 

Eleven Ships on the Return voyage

 

Potentially a very good day for ship spotting from the Balmoral. As well as being within sight of many of the ten ships on the outward trip across the Drake passage... there were eleven ships, carrying about  2,500 tourists returning from the Antarctic Peninsula. Returning in the opposite direction were; the Ocean Endeavour (450 pax), Silver Wind (355 pax), MS Fram (318 pax), Seabourn Venture (317 pax), Scenic Eclipse (224 pax)  World Explorer (200 pax), MS Seaventure (164 pax), National Geographic Explorer (162 pax), National Geographic Resolution (148 pax), Island Sky (118 pax) and MV Ushuaia (90 pax).

 

And passing through the Drake Passage on the way to join two other ships at Cape Horn... the Viking Jupiter (930 pax) on-route to the Chilean city of Pueto Williams which is, despite all of the selfie sign posts and claims by the Hard Rock Café over the border in Argentina, is 9.19293939 miles further South than Ushuaia.

 

What a busy place!

 

So on 16 February the Balmoral was one of. 40 ships... either on the way to the Antarctic Peninsula, cruising the Antarctic Peninsula or returning from the Antarctic Peninsula... in only one day...that's seven more ships and as many people than Nelson could muster for the Battle of Trafalgar! On the same day there were more cruise ships operating to, from and by the Antarctic Peninsula as there were in the Caribbean between Grenada and Purto Rico! Put another way... as many cruise ships on the Antarctic Peninsula route than are operating along the coasts of France, Spain Portugal... and the entire Mediterranean combined.

 

Is "Smaller Better?"

 

Of the thirty-nine ships going to, from or cruising the Antarctic Peninsula today... only four or five, including the Balmoral, will be not allow passengers ashore.... the Balmoral is just too big... almost three times the size permitted. So, as passengers on the Balmoral's rail possibly watch tourists from almost all of the other ships go ashore...is that proof positive that smaller is better? 

 

 

A Polar Regions experience from an small expedition ship that can go where the bigger cruise lines can't. We took these snaps just before Covid when we cruised on the Sea Spirit in the Northern Hemisphere to place that the Balmoral is too big to go..... the Sea Spirit is cruising the Antarctic Peninsula today.

 

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And the a la carte three course dinner back on the ship wasn't at all bad.

We had an Italian Starter...

 

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Followed by an excellent Surf and Turf.

 

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All finished off with a dainty pudding! 

 

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Where does the Antarctic Begin?

 

Just to make things a wee bit more complicated... those of us brought up in the days that there was 240 pennies in a pound may know that the Antarctic Circle is on Latitude 66˚ 34' South... however the Antarctic Treaty Zone begins at 60˚ South... about 240 miles further from the South Pole. That's half way across the Drake Passage and any ship aiming to cruise the Antarctic Peninsula must cross over 60˚ South into the Antarctic Treaty Zone hundreds of miles before it even reaches the off-shore South Shetland Islands. Even Elephant Island, that was displayed so prominently in FOCLs' advertising for the cruise, is at least 70 miles beyond the Antarctic Treaty Zone boundary.

 

 

 

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17 February 

 

Really good news for the passengers on the Balmoral this morning. We're so pleased for them! The Ship has negotiated the Drake Passage and is now only about 40 miles from the entrance to Dallmann Bay in the Palmer Archipelago. 

 

The Balmoral's doing about 16 knots in a moderate breeze, and rough seas. It is a bit overcast and there is some mist but the temps are about 3˚C.

 

And right this very moment.... it's snowing in the bay

 

On the front of the Balmoral... about -2˚C.

 

If the mist lifts soon, the dome shaped mountain on the portside when the ship gets closer is "The Hump!" In the bay below the Hump is the Viking Octantis with an amazing 360˚ webcam... available at 

 

https://viking.panomax.com/octantis

 

This is a webcam grab from a slightly different spot yesterday... it's even possible to the the Viking Octantis passengers out in the zodiacs on the starboard side (left).

 

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Edited by twotravellersLondon
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17 February: Later

The Last Souvenir Shop to the South Pole?

 

The Balmoral made its way slowly through Dallmann Bay in the Palmer Archipelago with Brabant Island on the Starboard Side and Anvers Island on the Port side. When it reached the Gerlach Strait it turned towards the South-West and followed the Insigna at about 5 knots down the Neumayer Channel. The MS Roald Amundsen, one of the most advance exploration vessels on Earth was already just North of the Wienche Island Anchorage and had its zodiacs out and a big party of about 100 on shore hiking through the snow... and best of all for the passengers on the Balmoral, who were not permitted to land, the weather had cleared a good bit and at least the coastline was visible. 

 

About 4.00 pm local time... just in time for "complimentary" afternoon tea on the Balmoral... finger sandwiches, savouries, cakes and scones with jam and cream! As Jack Buchanan sang "Everything stops for tea!"

 

The Balmoral and the Insigna, which have buddied up, cruised through virtually side by side (only about 100 yards apart at times) with a brilliant view of the MS Roald Amundsen against the snowy, craggy backdrop of Wienche Island and a good view of the MS Roald Amundsen's passengers on shore and being ferried back and forth by zodiac while others in the bright red and yellow Arctic parkas, provided by Hurtigruten, were on the aft viewing decks.

 

The state-of-the-art MS Roald Amundsen and her identical sister ship the MS Fridtjof Nansen are the world’s first battery-hybrid powered cruise ships and are some of the most advance and sustainable vessels on the oceans. They use

new and environmentally sustainable hybrid technology that reduces fuel consumption, allows the ships to travel by battery power and with virtually zero emissions. These ships also use emission and water purification systems, limitations on operations, and disposal of waste to reduce their environmental impact. The ultimate goal of Hurtigruten is to operate completely emission free. Both ships are Polar Class six... this is the future of cruising... by comparison even on the web-cam two miles away on the MS Roald Amundsen, we could see the brown tint of the Balmoral's exhaust rising from the funnel and lingering in the cold air... sadly the Balmoral's days are numbered. International legislation is already in place which will ban her from more and more waters every year unless there is substantial investment! 

 

At about 7.00 pm local time. The both the Insigna and then the Balmoral dropped into Port Lockroy Bay (Population four... in season)... there tourists can discover the unexpected! It was used by the British Antarctic Survey for about ten years at the turn of the millennium. It's now a conservation site, staffed by four researchers this season... and... it has (drumroll needed!) a museum, a post office and... even a small souvenir shop! Is it busy? An estimated 18,000 tourists visit the post-office in each season (it's the most visited place on the entire Antarctic continent) and over 70,000 pieces of mail are sent by those tourists! And at this time of the year the site and the beach are often covered with some of the 380 pairs of Gentoo penguins. Balmoral passengers weren't allowed to land.

 

The sea was moderate, the light was good, the breeze was light, the temps were just on freezing and the Balmoral was doing a steady 8 knots. The Balmoral eventually sailed on across the Bismark Straight and about 20 miles further South across to almost Pléneau Island where there is a well-known Gentoo penguin colony... a popular spot with many of the smaller expedition boats whose passengers are able to kayak in the bay while the penguins swim and dive around them as the passengers paddle between the ice flows. The  Balmoral reached as far South as 65˚31' but not as far as the Antarctic Circle on Latitude 66˚ 34' South... the Antarctic Circle is almost 100 miles further South and there are more challenging ice and sea conditions to get there.

 

 

18 February

So near but so far!

 

The Balmoral then turned for the open sea and after forty miles milled about a bit, taking a few sharp turns before turning back towards the Antarctic Peninsula and the US Antarctic Base at Palmer on Anvers Island at a little before 6.00 am local time. Conditions... below freezing, moderate breeze and rough seas. But... signs of the Southern Lights from the north... picked up by both the MS Roald Amundsen and Fridtjof Nansen at about 6.00 am local time... just about dawn... to watch this live on webcam was an amazing experience... to have seen it from the deck of the Balmoral would have been awe-inspiring! Wonder how many people were up and about to see it?

 

After dawn...

 

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The Balmoral was a few miles away at the time when this Hurtigruten ship cruised through

 

Weather in the morning... a bit mixed... some amazing sights in shafts of bright sunlight but some very, very dull moments as well. By 8.00 am local time the Balmoral was back in the Gerlache Strait sailing along the Danco Coast of Graham Land. Then a very quick peek into Paradise Harbour but not too far... about four miles from the anchor point... possibly due to the ice conditions. 

 

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The Balmoral? In the far distance, on the horizon on the right... not allowed in any further.

 

 

The Balmoral wasn't able to take the channel between Paradise and Neko Harbours because of the ice conditions although other ships were able to make the transit. A little later, about 12.00 noon local time, the Balmoral took the long way around and sailed in towards Neko Harbour at 5 knots. It was only about -2˚C but would feel like -8˚C.

 

Neko Harbour is an interesting site with calving glaciers, Gentoo Penguin colony and visiting Weddell Seals, nesting Kelp Gulls and Skuas. It's also a place to find Snow Moss. The main environmental dangers are disturbance of wildlife. Only three ships a day are allowed. The Hanseatic Spirt was already there with zodiacs out exploring glacier and the remains of an Argentinian hut. There was even what looked to be a Weddle Seal, which is common in the harbour, hauled out on an ice flow only yards from the ship and in full sight of the webcam! The Balmoral had a look from about four miles away and then turned and left. So near but so far. 

 

It was then onwards and northwards into the Errera Channel and Danco Island, where the MS Roald Amundsen was landing a shore party at the site of the old UK 'O' base where passengers were able to visit the Gentoo Penguin colony about 200 meters from the landing spot on the beach. They were also on the lookout for nesting Snowy Shellbills Antarctic terns, Blue-eyed Shags, Kelp Gulls, Subantarctic Skuas and for Crabeater and Weddle Seals hauling themselves out on the beach and the ice-flows. Meanwhile... lunch in the Balmoral was just ending.

 

A short time later the Balmoral passed Cuverville Island where the Hanseatic Spirit was landing passengers by zodiac at the North of the island. (Like the vast majority of ships, the Hanseatic Spirit equips passengers with boots and gives them top quality Antarctic parkas... nobody gets cold!) The landing beach is only 50 m. away from the Gentoo Penguin colony and close to the Antarctic Tern Colony. There are scattered Skua nesting sites about 200 meters. inland. There are also Blue-eyed Shags, Cape Petrels, Snow Petrels and Wilson’s Storm Petrel breading on the island. Just by the landing site close to the remains of the whaling industry... Leopard seals. Antarctic Fur Seals, and Weddell Seal's regularly haul out... sadly all have Gentoo Penguins as part of their diet.

 

By mid-afternoon, the Balmoral had moved further North and was passing the entrance to Charlotte Bay. It's a spectacular place in good weather with mountains towering above the entrance, Mount Johnston, the Foster and Herbert Plateaus in the distance... and the spectacular Wellman tidewater Glacier.... but again the Balmoral didn't go into the anchorage... Again so near but so far. Then... back again into the Gerlache Strait.

 

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The Balmoral passing through early in the afternoon.

 

By the beginning of afternoon tea on the Balmoral, the ship was set to leave the Palmer Islands and cross the Bransfield Strait to Deception Island...150 miles further Northwards

 

Throughout the day, passengers on the Balmoral missed out on the real Antarctic experience. They weren't allowed to land anywhere because the Balmoral is just too big. Almost every one of the other ships cruising the Antarctic Peninsula were landing passengers so that they could to see the wildlife, experience the Antarctic and have the holiday of a lifetime. Even at a tiny island that will welcome 18,000 visiting tourists this season, folks on the Balmoral weren't even permitted to get off for a few moments to; buy a souvenir, post a card, or have their picture taken with the penguins. 

 

We know from personal experience that these exploration ships make sure that  folk who aren't as agile and mobile as they might have once been and using a pair of walking poles off the ship, onto the zodiac, onto the beach and then they can be just yards away from the wildlife. It is a wonderfully exhilarating experience... something far, far better than another "tick on a list", another snap to swipe through on the phone or another chat over another afternoon tea on another cruise.

 

The Balmoral can't land passengers because it doesn’t have the facilities, the zodiacs and doesn’t carry the specialist guides and crew necessary and the ship is just too big. 

 

 

But it's not only that the Balmoral can't land folks on shore... it's not even allowed to sail within miles of many of the most interesting sites. That is why the Balmoral has gone towards a harbour or a bay, looked in from the distance, turned away and then left. 

 

Under the Antarctic Treaty, there are guidelines and specific instructions on the conduct of activities at the most frequently visited Antarctic sites. This includes practical guidance for tour operators and guides on how they should conduct visits in those sites, taking into account their environmental values and sensitivities. Although the Balmoral is far too big to land passengers, it can under strict guidelines, visit sites but usually a maximum of only three ships in any day are allowed at any site, one at a time, by prior agreement. Ships landing passengers have priority... that's why the Balmoral has to stand off miles away and often can't even get close enough to see a beach let alone penguins on the beach, the seals on the ice flows or the historic cultural artifacts on the sites. Today it was so far away from the harbour at one site that, had we been on board the Balmoral we would have been hard pressed to see the ship already in the anchorage.

 

There's also the problem of environmental pollution. The Balmoral, perhaps because of its age and size, emits more atmospheric pollutants than almost any other ships in the Antarctic today. Even on webcams it's more than possible to see the orange-brown exhaust from the Balmoral's funnel. Most Antarctic tourism is self-regulated by the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators which includes the expedition ship operators, including Hurtigruten, Oceanwide, Poseidon, Quark and Swan Hellenic and a number of cruise lines, including Silversea, Noble Caledonian, Princess, Celebrity, Viking Expeditions and Holland America. However it's only vessels meeting IAATO's stringent health, safety and environmental protocols which are IAATO vessels. The only Holland America ships are the Volendam and the Oosterdam,  the only Seabourn ships are the Seabourn Quest and the Seaborn Venture, The only Princess ship is the Sapphire Princess, the only Hurtigruten ships are the MS Fridtjof Nansen, MS Roald Amundsen and the Fram.

 

The Balmoral is just too big for the Antarctic and it prevents the tourists onboard from getting close to what they have been promised that they might see. They just travel from one place to the other. 

 

In the Antarctic... "smaller is better!"

Edited by twotravellersLondon
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19 February: Later

Machu Picchu, Metallica and the last Souvenir Shop in Antarctica

 

Late yesterday, the Balmoral visited Maxwell Bay at the South West of King George Island and approached within about two miles of the Stars Town. The settlement at the end of the bay is "unexpected." It's where Metallica gave a heavy rock concert sponsored by Coco-Cola ten years ago. Hits from the album Death Magnetic "entertained" the local Adelie, Chinstrap and Gentoo Penguins, Skuas and Southern Giant Petrels. Virtually the entire 150 population of Villa Las Estrellas, the local Chilean town, attended, including the school kids and staff from the town's hospital, bank, hotel, gym, grocers and airport. By all accounts it was a pretty cosmopolitan crowd at the gig... people arrived on foot, boat and by road from all over the island; folks from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, China, South Korea, Peru, Poland, Russia, Uruguay, and the United States as well as other nationalities made the most of the biggest (only) Heavy Metal concert ever to have been staged on the Antarctic continent. What the clergy of the churches of St Mary Queen of Peace and Trinity churches thought of a Metallica concert... is not recorded!

 

Yesterday, the state-of-the-art expedition ship, the Greig Mortimer, was already at the anchorage. This was the first expedition ship to pioneer the groundbreaking X-BOW technology that pierces the waves making for a smoother overall voyage. It carries 132 passengers and is designed to make landing by zodiac as easy and as smooth as possible. The vast majority of the cabins have balconies There's a panoramic observation deck with floor to ceiling windows, great outer decks, wonderful food and all mod-cons. This is one of the ships that will take tourists across the Antarctic Circle, to see vast icebergs, King Penguins chicks learning to swim and so much more... including getting into and landing at all of those places where the Balmoral has had to keep at a permitted distance. Facilities on board the Greig Mortimer,... are far better than some cruise liners. Entertainment/films/lectures by specialist explorers every evening. The level of hospitality is great... starting with the official Captain's welcome, a range of different menu options and courses for each meal, 24/7 complimentary coffee, tea and snacks, varied buffets for breakfast and lunch, waiter served generous dinners with all-inclusive wine, beers and soft drinks and a special farewell cocktail party and four-course dinner.

 

The Balmoral... cruised to about two miles away from the landing point, and passengers on deck with binoculars may just have seen containers on shore and perhaps even the spire of the Russian Orthodox Church... but again... the Balmoral had no permission to land passengers... not even to allow them to visit the town's souvenir shop, post office or to take advantage of the brilliantly fast free WiFi... and so the Balmoral turned away and left the bay.

 

Later, the Balmoral cruised past Machu Picchu! Not the Inca's last city... the Peruvian research base on King George island! It was only ten miles away and could never have been seen from the ship. 

 

 

 

20 February

There are Elephants on Elephant Island!

 

Overnight Balmoral cruised North-West and by 5.00 am local time it was cruising towards Elephant Island at 9 knots. (The island was named after the Elephant Seals which are everywhere on Elephant Island.) The temperature was 1.2˚C, the seas were rough and there was a fresh breeze. Overnight and into Monday had been mostly cloudy so there had been little or no chance of seeing the Aurora Australis.

 

As dawn broke, the Balmoral was about three miles off the Southern coast of Elephant Island doing about 9 knots and it was just above freezing. The Balmoral cruised past Elephant Island just about when folks on board were about to waken up or having breakfast.. The clouds began to give way by daybreak to give a mixture of cloudy and sunny skies in the region. 

 

By just before breakfast... the Balmoral sailed to within about three miles of the Island and towards the Endurance Glacier. A little later, at about 8.30 am local time, the Balmoral was doing ten knots passing between Cape Valentine on Elephant Island and Clarence Island. Temperatures were just above freezing but with windchill that would have felt more like -5˚C! There was a fresh breeze and the seas were rough (3.5 meters). The weather forecast was better than might be expected at this time of the year.

 

The Balmoral did a quick cruise about 10 miles along the North Coast of Elephant Island towards Point Wild .. about three or four miles out to sea and too far away to have seen the monument to Captain Luis Pardo, who captained the rescue ship that returned to save Shackleton’s men after the failure of the Imperial Trans-Antarctica Expedition in 1916. (And way, way too far away to see the penguin colony at the base of the monument!) Then the Balmoral turned Northwards,  putting on 17 knots on a course for Port Stanley on the Falkland Island... the Balmoral's Antarctic Adventure" had come to an end.

 

One of the great attractions for us would have been to see the little visited Elephant Island which was shown so prominently in FOCLs' brochures. Anyone who's seen Kenneth Branagh's brilliant "Shackleton" or read the new book by the truly remarkable Ranulph Fiennes, (in our opinion one of the world's greatest living explorers) will know that Elephant Island is where Shackleton and his men sought refuge after his ship, "The Endurance," was crushed in the ice of the Weddle Sea in 1916. 

 

 

"Remote Exploration..."

 

So as this "Remote Exploration" section of the Balmoral's "South America and the Antarctic cruise" and the "Balmoral's Antarctic Adventure" come to an end... the Balmoral only reached as far South as 65˚31'... about 1,690 miles from the Pole. It didn't cross the Antarctic Circle. It was mainly restricted to well used channels and it cruised past some of the most visited tourist destinations in Antarctica... but often miles away from the interesting sites where the vast majority of ships would land their passengers. From the beginning... folks on board were not permitted to land or even set foot on Antarctica: they weren't even allowed to visit a souvenir shop or to post a card in a well visited settlement.... that had hosted a Metallica Heavy Metal concert!

 

 

Can do better?

 

But can other cruise ships provide a better experience in Arctic/Antarctic Regions? We looked back at our experience on other cruises... and one on particular with "Fred" on the Braemar.

 

In the summer of 2014 we were at the opposite end of the Globe and reached 80˚00" North.  Although unverified, we think that's a world record for an ordinary cruise ship with no ice classification. We were only 690 miles from the North Pole... that is 1,000 miles closer to the Pole than the Balmoral was on its current cruise. We were on a beautifully elegant small cruise ship: not an exploration vessel. We saw spectacular mountains, stunning glaciers, amazing wildlife. Decks were always busy with interested, excited and knowledgeable people... who didn't have tick lists and just wanted to experience the wonders of nature. 

 

On a Gala Evening... menus included lobster, rack of lamb and beef Wellington for dinner. On one of these evenings when almost everyone had dressed to impress, we watched the midnight sun with a glass of real champagne in our hands... while one couple (postgrad research students at Oxford) waltzed on the foredeck in their formal outfits while we hummed the "Blue Danube" as an accompaniment! The whole scene set off by the brilliant light of the midnight sun which shone from directly above the North Pole.

 

A picture tells 1,000 words...

 

Astonishing mountains and Glaciers well above the Arctic Circle...

 

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Folks on deck to see the amazing sights...

 

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Now this is a real glacier! The people on the spit are from an expedition boat.

The Walrus are on top of the sand coloured moraine.

 

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Amazing wildlife... hour after hour and day after day... including Humpbacks! This was taken from the ship's foredeck: no excursion was purchased to photograph these whales!

 

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And six dolphins out at once!

 

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Where else do Walrus do synchronised swimming? We missed afternoon tea with fresh scones watching these!

 

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And we were able to land and see the wildlife including this Tern with two cute camouflaged chicks.

 

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The food on board was exceptional!

 

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And how about the Polar ice sheet from the open deck of the ship with bigger ice bergs here and there... all lit up in the middle of the night by the "Midnight Sun!" The "Blue" Danube" has had a special meaning for us ever since that wonderful Polar night!

 

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So having now dedicatedly followed the Balmoral's journey for some time and in great detail so that we've been able to see exactly what the ship was doing and what passengers might experience of the "awe-inspiring natural beauty of one of the world’s most spectacular regions and its wonders, wildlife and waters" we are far less than impressed. We certainly won't be choosing to cruise the Antarctic with FOCLs. 

 

 

 

 

Edited by twotravellersLondon
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The Photographs of a lifetime?

 

Just seen some really nice pictures of the Antarctic Landscape taken from the bridge of Balmoral before breakfast on 18 February... just as the Balmoral followed the MS Fridtjof Nansen, one the world’s first battery-hybrid powered cruise ships, North along the Neumayer Channel, and past the MS Roald Amundsen, which was on station while some of its passengers spent a night camping on the Antarctic ice.... not far from the post-office and souvenir shop on Port Lockroy island... where the Balmoral had not been permitted to land the day before.

 

We watched the scene live at the time from the MS Roald Amundsen's HD 3D webcam... and have since looked back at the archived pictures. It really was a spectacular break in the clouds on an otherwise dullish day and we posted a picture previously, from a little while before-hand, of the same scene with the MS Fridtjof Nansen in the foreground.

 

Now we've seen the super high definition photos from the Balmoral... the question is... Where is everybody? There are about half-a-dozen people on the Marquee deck by at the side of the funnel (exhaust visible against the pristine snow on the landscape in the background)) but on the starboard side of the Highland deck, where there are 13 suites, there are only a couple of people and on the Bridge deck, where there are 37 suites and cabins, there are only another two people. Even on the Port side, are only more two people!

 

Certainly it was around about the beginning of breakfast on board the Balmoral, but for a very short period the lighting and the views were spectacular. And... if so many folks seemed to have missed such fantastically fabulous morning light... how many people were up and about to see and "Enjoy!"  the Southern Lights, the Aurora Australis, just a few hours before?

 

Do hope that everyone was warm and cosy, wrapped up well and sheltering from the freezingly cold air on the open aft decks... it must have been an awesome experience for those who were! We bet that they really appreciated a warm cooked breakfast in the Avon and Spey later that morning!

 

 

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  • 1 month later...

 

The Cruise of a Lifetime?

 

The Balmoral has returned, the passengers have disembarked, the end of cruise survey has been sent out to the trusted customers who'd been onboard and almost 50 replies from passengers have been published on the FOCLs web-site.

 

Many didn't like the cruise... they loved it! Superlatives abound... "Superb," "Great," "Fantastic," "Amazing," "Enjoyable" and "Brilliant!" One trusted customer praised the professionalism of the restaurant staff despite difficult times. A number of trusted customers are looking forward to the next cruise with FOCLs.

 

Others were delighted to tick another place off on their list of things to see before they kicked the bucket... as the cruise "got to places" that they didn't think they'd ever see. (And without doubt the scenery in the Arctic regions can be stunning... we took this photo off the coast of Norway just a few weeks ago.)

 

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Other trusted customers were less enthusiastic... and there were complaints that... 

 

The embarkation was a shambles, staff on board lacked training and were over-stretched, cabins were worn and shabby, there were leaks in public areas, flooded bathrooms, a smell of fuel and that the ship was in "bad condition."

 

The food, especially at dinner, came in for considerable criticism as... in need of improvement, sub-standard,  often cold, way below par, dinner service always slow, hit and miss,  poor, too spicy, too much vegetarian and at least one suggestion that the ship "ran out of a lot of things." However... others said that they loved the food!

 

The entertainment was described as not always that good, mediocre, repetitive and second rate. 

 

There are comments that the cruise was spoilt by too many extras, that drinks were exorbitant and Wi-Fi was still not included.

 

Excursions were described as ... very expensive, disappointing in general and the events at Ushuaia  were described as a shambles.

 

A number of people commented that the port information for independents was poor and about the lack of  shuttle buses. 

 

Several people commented that the ports left a lot to be desired...  too many were cancelled and that there were more tender ports than they had expected. Several trusted customers commented that too many ports visits were on Sundays when everything was closed.

 

Some commented that there were quite a lot of disgruntled passengers on board. 

 

While some trusted customers have already further cruises booked with FOCLs, others wouldn't recommend sailing with FOCLs and perhaps... and at least one respondent was exceptionally unhappy.

 

But... others loved the cruise!

 

So the question to those who were on the cruise and who loved it... how about some details/photos of what was it that made it so "Superb," "Great," "Fantastic," "Amazing," "Enjoyable" and "Brilliant?" 

 

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