"It was the most marvellously amazing experience. "Holiday" is just not the right word and comes nowhere near describing the multi-sensory voyage. I saw 7 kinds of penguin (king, gentoo, macaroni, magellan, adelie, chinstrap and rockhopper), 5 kinds of seal (fur, elephant, leopard, Weddell and crabeater), humpback whales and an iceberg 26 kilometres long. It has its own reference number - B09F - and broke off from an even larger iceberg (the size of Trinidad...) in 1987. It spends its time gently drifting clockwise around Antarctica in the Antarctic Circumpolar Current. Blimey.
The staff were skilled, experienced and friendly. I always felt safe in their hands. I also really enjoyed the various presentations that were given during the trip. They were well structured, informative and enjoyable.
All in all, I can honestly say it well exceeded my hopes and expectations. It was the last "bucket list" trip that I wanted to do. Whilst there are plenty of other places in the world that I would like to visit, and hope to do so, I just had to go to Antarctica.
Thanks so much again for all that you both did towards arranging a truly memorable Trip. I will indeed be back in touch if I decide to visit the Polar regions in the future."
"I had the most amazing time, exceeding all expectations. I really don't know where to start!
Calm seas, even the Drakes Passage. Everything about the ship was great The staff were amazing, Food was good although far too much! The lectures were fascinating.
But of course my highlight was the penguins. I cannot put into words that first landing on Salisbury Plain - the huge number of penguins and fur seals, the noise, the smell - it brought a tear to my eye I was so overwhelmed. After the first trip, I just tended to sit myself down and watch, I was in heaven.
We saw whales (Blue whales - amazing, Southern Right, Minke, Fin and lots of humpback performing for us). On the Falklands we saw albatross and rock hopper penguins nesting. We went to Prion Island where there were Wandering albatross nesting right by the boardwalk. We actually saw a leopard seal catch and kill a penguin, which was incredible to watch .
A huge thank you to Aqua-Firma for everything you did to make my trip so wonderful; I will remember it forever!"
"You did a great job!
Ushuaia hotel - great position with views of harbour and our 6th floor apartment had a huge terrace looking over harbour. The rooms were huge, well-appointed and the staff friendly and helpful. Great position to walk from in town.
The trip was exactly as expected. The Ship is very smart but the people and crew were 'normal' no 'cruise' in sight (ha ha).....we would recommend this ship again. The rear access to the zodiacs was easier than the egress down the side of the ship we have experienced before.
We were provided with excellent staff, the 'experts' were excellent at delivering informative evidence based talks in a way all could understand and gain knowledge from and did it in a funny way. We had our adventure and they made that exciting because they were excited.
We were able to visit Elephant Island which amazed everyone (some staff had tried 27 times to do so). South Georgia was impressive and we made 7 landings, and a couple of zodiac cruises in fjords usually out of bounds because of the weather.
The information Aqua Firma provided was detailed, informative.....spot on. Your service was highly valued especially as we were distracted with home issues.
We have recommended you to others and will use your services in the future. We are considering Greenland next time.
So well done everyone.
"We had an amazing time, the ship was great, food was good, the sea was relatively calm and the weather was mostly good too. We got to see and experience everything we had hoped to and so much more.
Wildlife was just mind blowing, 7 types of penguins, lots of sea birds, seals and whales.
We saw Fin, Sei, Southern Right, Minke, Pilot, Killer and Humpback whales as well as Hourglass and Southern Right Whale Dolphins! We also saw Fur, Crab Eater, Weddell, Elephant and Leopard Seals. Bird life around the ship was great on the way out, all sorts of Albatrosses and Petrels.
Highlights were plentiful: King Penguin colonies on South Georgia were awesome, cruising through icebergs to get to Brown Bluff was amazing and we had an amazing zodiac cruise with a Leopard Seal catching, killing and eating a Gentoo penguin followed by a couple of Humpbacks popping up inches away from us to say hello. The polar plunge was fun too! We even managed to visit a couple of pubs in Port Stanley which was entertaining.
We loved the whole trip and are so glad we made the decision to go.
Thanks to you and the team for helping us to organise it all.
Gareth and Bekka Joseph
"It was for some time that I had wanted to visit Antarctica and the southern half of the world. I had not realised that a journey to these Latitudes was possible, until I started to make enquiries.
The thought of a visit to see the Penguins, seals and the huge Icebergs of the Southern Ocean was getting more and more possible. My call to Aqua-Firma was met by an enthusiastic response, by people who were prepared to help. My concerns of how to get there was soon explained away by their confidence in arranging flights through South America to the embarkation point in Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands.
The Staff at Aqua-Firma were always ready to offer advice of any request concerning the adventure. Advice concerning suitable clothing for above and below the Arctic Peninsular was easily given, clearly from professionals and experienced people at their work. The arrangements made, and the advice given by the staff were clear and looked after my every need. Linking Flights and taxis to and from airports were all expertly arranged, even in foreign countries as Chile, nothing was overlooked. From boarding the expertly chosen vessel, where again the expedition and accommodation staff were superb, offering advice, talks on history and wildlife - our care were second to none.
I cannot find sufficient words to do justice to the experience of the Antarctic adventure. Suffice is to say it is a journey that everyone should experience, and arranged by Aqua-Firma."
"We had a fantastic trip, everything worked out exactly as planned. All our transfers were on time and we were never kept waiting. We liked all 3 hotels you arranged for us. The hotel in Buenos Aires was in such a good location for walking round the city centre for the brief time we were there. The hotel in Ushuaia was quite quirky and it was lovely to wake in the morning, look out of the window and see our ship at the dock. The hotel in Iguazu was a lovely place to return to after the crowds at Iguazu falls. We ate the hotel both evenings we were there and had lovely meals. The animal sounds at dusk were incredibly loud. Iguazu was very busy especially after the quiet and solitude of Antarctica, but the falls are amazing. I enjoyed the Brazilian side where you get to see the scale of the falls. It also seemed quieter on the Brazilian side.
It lived up to all our expectations and provided exactly what we hoped for. The expedition crew on board were excellent and very knowledgeable, as were the hotel staff and crew. Going at Christmas meant we got to see lots of penguin chicks and young seals so definitely a good time to go. South Georgia was definitely the highlight for me. We were lucky with the weather and managed to do all our landings including a 5.30am one on Christmas Day to see the macaroni penguins. The wildlife was amazing, especially the King penguin rookeries. Being able to visit Grytviken to understand the history was also an important part of the trip for me. We had a good presentation from staff of the South Georgia Heritage Trust about the rat eradication programme.
I've now just started looking through my 1500 photos to select a small number to show to colleagues and family."
Lindsey & George Lucas
"What a trip!
I have so many wonderful memories, it is difficult to summarise. The combination of the stunningly vast wilderness of Antarctica, the glacial icebergs and the beautiful King Penguins stand out, however so many other things will live in my memory. The awesome albatross, the majestic leopard seal, the beautiful humpback whale, the cheeky macaroni penguin, ice camping in minus 20, the fascinating and educational daily lectures, the zodiacs. The magnificent team, led by Alex, full of fascinating specialists who not only knew their subjects but worked incredibly hard. The same is true of the ships crew, including the excellent Jay and Joel in the bar, they all worked very hard.
Ensure you do include The Falklands and South Georgia, they are both fascinating and stunning in their own right. Limit your time in Ushuaia, it has limited appeal for more than a couple of days. If you suffer from sea sickness then be prepared for this, although we did have a doctor on board for those who did suffer. As it was my friend and I both decided to 'get our sea legs' and took no drugs, and it worked out well.
The food on the ship was incredible, 4 meals a day if you wanted it, and way better than I would have thought. Fresh fruit, salads etc etc. Thank god for the gym, which I used every (yes really) day. Funny running on the treadmill in heavy seas. Gym was in reality open 24 hours a day."
"The weather was unusually good which meant that all but two landings were possible. The penguin colonies of South Georgia were spectacular and provided plenty of photo opportunities. There were many different birds that I haven't seen before, including several species of albatross, petrels, skuas and fur, weddell, elephant and crabeater seals and we had good opportunity to watch whales (mainly humpback and fin; commerson's dolphin). The organisation of the ship was very good and meals were always well prepared - I don't think we had the same meal twice on the voyage. The ground staff were very knowledgeable and covered a wide range of subjects - wildlife, history, geology, photography. The trip is definitely good value."
"The trip was spectacular – everything we were hoping for and more! We had tremendous weather – we were able to make all 8 landings/excursions in South Georgia, and of the 18 planned excursions, we only missed 2 due to weather (swell and ice).
Here are some of my highlights:
- Our first encounter with thousands upon thousands of breeding King penguins at Salisbury Plain
- All the seals – it’s hard to pick a favorite between the Elephant, Fur, Crabeater, Weddell or Leopard seal
- Seeing the spot on Elephant island where Shackleton’s men spent 5 months. This was a bonus spot, since we couldn’t stop at the South Orkney islands
- Unexpectedly enjoyable Stanley – so full of character and personality… and the sunshine made it even more special
- The terrific museum director at Grytviken, who vividly recalled the whaling days and made it all come alive
- Spotting countless whales breaching and fluting in Charlotte Bay at the Peninsula
- Spotted 6 of the 8 possible penguin species (Magellanic, Gentoo, King, Macaroni, Chinstrap, Adelie)
- Spotted 3 whale species (Fin, Minke, Humpback) and multiple times saw Commerson’s dolphins play around the stern in the Falklands
- The staff of the ship was outstanding – the expedition team was first class, end we enjoyed their insights, knowledge, lectures and personalities tremendously. The one standout was Victoria Salem – our historian. I’d go as far as to say I’d book another voyage based purely on her presence
- The food!!!! Starting with breakfast, lunch, 4 PM baked goods, dinner…. All spectacular. And the hospitality staff went out of their way to make Christmas and New Year’s truly special.
As you can see, our superlative experience was heavily influenced by the incredible staff on board. Antarctica will always be awe inspiring, and spotting wildlife is always dependent on the luck of the draw – and no crew can control that. But when it comes to the things that are under their control, this crew excelled.
It was the trip of a lifetime, and I wouldn’t hesitate recommending Aqua-Firma to anyone. In fact, if I ever go back (or go to the Artic), I will look no further than booking again with Aqua-Firma."
What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?
"South Georgia is an amazing place. The beaches were packed with tens of thousands of penguins and they weren't afraid to come right up to us. The scenery in Antarctica is beautiful. There were so many highlights - penguin chicks, baby fur seals, spectacular icebergs, stunning scenery, whale watching, a polar plunge, and so much more!"
What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?
"Don't forget to pack sunscreen and take twice as many SD cards as you think you will need!"
Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?
"The holiday definitely raises environmental awareness through a series of informative presentations about wildlife, conservation and global warming. The expedition staff were experts in all areas and advised how to reduce the environmental impact via methods such as decontamination of boots, kit etc between shore visits."
Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?
"Fantastic - it's more than a holiday and is so different to anything else I have ever done. Book it now!"
"The trip was most enjoyable.
No matter how large the penguin colonies were, there was always enough to enjoy.
We had some excellent sightings of Humpback whales and Leopard seals which was for me the high point of the trip."
"Really, the whole trip could not have been better! I gather you can go three weeks and only make one landing and we did so many ...
Very impressed by the expedition staff. Good variety of informative lectures, worked hard to get us ashore, always ready to answer questions. Involved us in 'citizen science' if we wanted to take part. Also impressed that the bridge worked as part of the team to get us our wildlife sightings and landings."
"The trip was truly amazing - exceeded all my expectations! We were exceptionally lucky with weather - all landings possible in South Georgia, best day the guides had seen in Antarctica, and a following wind blowing us from the Falklands to South Georgia (so we arrived early!) and back up the Drake Passage (so not unduly rough).
We saw rock hoppers, gentoo, Magellanic, king, chinstrap and Adelie, visiting colonies for all but Adelie. They are endlessly fascinating creatures - and infinitely photographable! We saw a southern right whale breaching off the South Orkneys. We also had a dozen or so crabeater seals playing around the ship at anchor in Antarctica for about half an hour - behaving like dolphins.
All staff were very friendly and helpful. The bridge was a good place to watch for whales/seabirds.
Thanks for your help and advice.
"I wanted to thank you and the rest of the Aqua Firma team for organising such a wonderful trip for me to Patagonia and Antarctica - and at such short notice.
Being a regular commuter on Southern Rail, I am not used to all my connections working out every time and on time. And there were a lot to make: over thirty destinations in five weeks - each one unmissable and unmissed!
Could you consider taking over the running of the rail network in the new year?
Patagonia is a natural starting point for the Antarctic as you can see how ice has forged (and still forges) this landscape, its flora, fauna and people. It's a beautiful, remote and wild place and hints that the further south you intend to travel, the more beautiful, remote and wild it shall be; and so by the time you board ship bound for the Antarctic, it is with a sense of excitement, but also slight trepidation - how much remote and wild can it get, for it surely will?
The Spirit of Shackleton Expedition was perfect for me as it combined the history of the heroic age of polar exploration with stunning wildlife. We were blessed with surprisingly clement weather throughout the expedition so fears of seasickness were replaced by an onboard epidemic of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out): even on days spent at sea there was so much to see and do (lectures, briefings, on board science and documentaries only to be regularly interrupted over the tannoy by announcements such as "Blue whale off starboard bow!" which would precipitate a mass mutiny to the deck.
The amount of wildlife in the Antarctic was a revelation for me. I expected to see here and there penguins, whales and albatrosses etc. But not in the draw dropping numbers we encountered. Indeed our only cancelled shore landings were not due to adverse weather, but because the zodiacs were not able to find a few square feet of beach which wasn't covered with wildlife. Island hopping from one stunning bay to another, it becomes hard to take it all in. Every landing and every cruise offered a sight you'd never seen before or sometimes even imagined existed. Indeed, soon, thousands of miles from anything that can be remotely described as civilisation, in your own self contained vessel arriving and stepping off into new unusual worlds, one felt rather like one was travelling through space. The sublimely forbidding landscape and the need to 'suit up' in strange garb in order to explore it, only accentuated the feeling that you were a spaceman exploring new alien worlds. Indeed, a trip to Antarctica maybe the closest most of us will get to space travel.
The Falklands and South Georgia are not to be missed either. For me, South Georgia was the highlight of my trip - with its abandoned whaling stations set amongst towering glaciers and mountains, it has a haunting beauty of its own. I suppose it's triply haunted: by the whalers themselves, the whales that once died there in devastating numbers and by Shackleton and his own expedition. And yet, there is now life there, in astounding numbers. Sitting in lightly drifting snow on a tussock of grass at Gold Harbour, surrounded by thousands of baying seals, curious penguins and Albatrosses swooping like low flying cutlasses it was if nature had conspired to jointly set a stage for you as of to say 'here, look, this is how the world was always meant to be'. That was a magic moment of pure joy for me.
The whole expedition ran like clockwork with very professional staff and crew. Yet it is an expedition, not a tour - on a daily basis an intention is announced by the expedition staff, but if that doesn't work out for some reason (high seas, territorial fur seals etc.) there is always a plan B and C (we once got to plan G - and that was Gold Harbour!). Accommodation on board is very comfortable and the great quality of food a welcome surprise (five course dinners every night!).
At the end of the trip, you become conscious that when you eventually get home, people are inevitably going to ask a cripplingly simple question of you 'so how was your trip to Antarctica?', to which there is no adequate answer. So now I'm back, I borrow from Cherry Gerard who said in his account of Scott's last expedition "an expedition to Antarctica is the worst way in the world to have the best time of your life".
Thank you again for your helping to make this dream trip come true for me. And thank you do the neck warmer which was a bit of godsend."
What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?
"The sheer breath-taking beauty of Antarctica ,the massive tabular bergs and the incredible wildlife and the penguins in all varieties were definitely the highlight-amazing birds endlessly entertaining to watch yet incredible survivors in such extreme conditions. We were also lucky enough to see breaching humpbacked whales, 4 types of seal and numerous other birdlife and marine life at close quarters. It is a wildlife enthusiasts and photographers heaven.
The additional highlights for me were to have been able to follow the route 0f the Irish explorers Shackleton and Crean and by camping out for a night-part spent in a snow hole and part in a tent I really appreciated the harsh conditions which they endured but for me thankfully only for one night. Also by visiting the old whaling station on South Georgia and Shackletons grave and trekking part of the Shackleton route down to it I felt a sense of history-which was also keenly felt when we managed to get so close via zodiac to the place that the men left behind had camped on in Elephant Island. Finally swimming in the Antarctic was a first (surprisingly not much colder than a dip off our southern shores here in Ireland) and also being held on shore for a couple of hours because the pack ice had blocked our return to the ship all added to the sense of adventure and power of nature which this incredible place throws up daily. This trip will forever stay in my heart-and Antarctica truly is a gem which i feel incredibly fortunate to have had the chance to visit."
What tips would you give other travelers booking this holiday?
"Read about the history and the wildlife in advance and bring a really good camera but more importantly a good pair of binoculars - mine were hopeless. Also the jacket you are given is incredibly warm - I hardly used my down jacket-except for the camping."
Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?
"It certainly supported conservation because we were reminded daily to leave no trace and a lot of the money raised on board supported different conservation programmes like the rat eradication programme in South Georgia and also one of the museums.Money was also given to a Phillipino project since most of the crew were from the Phillipines."
Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?
"Incredible. I would go again tomorrow if I got the chance. It is expensive and I felt really guilty about that initially but it really is only the fortunate few who can go there and every single hour of overtime which i did for the previous 18 months to pay for it was money and time well spent. From the booking of the trip through Aqua-Firma who were so easy to deal with-to the staff on the trip i could not speak highly enough of my experience."
"I had a great/fantastic journey - like a dream! We were very! lucky with the weather and the number of landings we did, particuarly South Georgia. The staff were great very, experienced and able to take fast and creative decisions if we were not able to "follow" the itinerary.
I would do the journey again definitely so thanks a lot for helping me out with this:-))))"
Anne Lise Borsheim
"The voyage was outstanding and the ship brilliant. Antarctica was unbelievable experience. South Georgia was also fantastic with its history and wildlife and wild terrain. We did the Shackleton hike (well part of). Falklands was also different and it was great stopping at Stanley before completing expedition to two great Westerly Islands."
Jane & Peter Edsall
"We had a terrific time. I would like to give special praise to Monika who stood out of all our guides. She did an excellent job and briefings were both interesting and humorous.
We were very happy with our accommodation and the ship. The Russian crew worked extremely hard and were most pleasant, cheerful and helpful; not always under easy conditions. The lectures on board were very good and we most certainly had a lot of expertise available to us. The log provided at the end of our cruise, detailing each day’s events and sightings, was excellent and very much appreciated.
Boat handling and support for getting on and off the zodiacs was very good. Excellent zodiac rides amongst the icebergs with enjoyable landings, whale sightings etc."
David and Jennifer Gascoyne
"We had a marvellous trip and a great experience, lucky us! Lucky too with the weather: a lot of sunshine and most of the time clear views of humpbacks, penguins, albatrosses, seals and beautiful icebergs.
We want to thank you for your service and help"
Jan de Groot & Hans Oord