Out There: The Antarctic Trip of a Lifetime

The Antarctic is a bucket list trip for so many and it is no secret why. The last continent to be discovered is covered in breathtakingly undisturbed landscapes that have been seen by so few. Seeing glaciers and penguins up close on this remote, ice-encased island is a truly unique and special experience.

Andrea Bernier, Director of Financial Systems in Finance and Accounting here at AAA Northeast, recently experienced the seventh continent with Hurtigruten and has shared her experiences with us.

For Andrea, vacationing in Antarctica was a dream for over 10 years.  Then, in late 2019, it was finally time to start turning that dream into reality. She started researching cruise itineraries and found the one! The trip of, literally, a lifetime – on Dec 4th, 2021, a total solar eclipse occurred in the waters off Antarctica, and the cruise planned on being there to see it!
She was ready to book the trip and it was the perfect time with the AAA Travel Marketplace quickly approaching in early 2020. This is when she met Melanie, her AAA Travel advisor.

Shortly after, the COVID19 pandemic began, causing changes to her 2020 travel plans. The Hurtigruten trip to Antarctica and the Falkland Islands trip was scheduled for more than a year away, so she was still hopeful that it would be occurring as planned and she would be able to see the solar eclipse.

The pandemic did not soften her anticipation and excitement for this trip. During this time, Andrea kept a close eye on Chile’s travel policy since that was the port of entry for her trip. Thankfully, Chile’s borders opened for travelers like her in time for her trip.

Of course, planning such an elaborate journey during the pandemic left a lot of uncertainties. For Melanie, this meant having her AAA Travel advisor as a resource was extremely important.

“Our trip was now the first sailing for our ship since 2019 and it was confirmed only weeks prior to the sailing.”, Melanie told us.

“There was very little time to review the ever-changing requirements for the flights and cruise. Having Melanie by my side during that time was invaluable. She helped me quickly navigate the paperwork and ensured all our questions were addressed by the cruise line.”

Other passengers she spoke to weren’t so fortunate. They found the pre-departure process to be very frustrating when they weren’t getting timely responses to their questions directly. Unfortunately, several passengers missed out on the cruise because they didn’t get everything submitted in time, highlighting the importance of a reliable and accountable Travel advisor like Melanie.

To enter Chile, passengers needed a negative COVID test taken 3 days prior to leaving, to fill out a health questionnaire, and proof of vaccination. This was all sent online before departure and checked by Chilean authorities when we arrived. Another test was then taken at the airport.

Once in Chile, Andrea was required to quarantine at her pre-night hotel before getting on another flight the next day to embark on the cruise. From this point on, the cruise line took care of all the additional testing needed. Then, it was on to Antarctica at last!

The first two days of her cruise were filled with lectures on wildlife and the history of Antarctica., She got to witness the stunning solar eclipse as the cruise made its way across the Drake Passage.

In regard to her experience aboard the cruise ship, Andrea told us that “Life on board the ship was quiet and calm. COVID protocols required a medical mask to be worn in indoor public areas as well as hand washing and temperature checks prior to every meal. At times, it felt as if we had the whole ship to ourselves with the passenger capacity at less than half of what it normally was.”

At last, Andrea arrived at the Antarctica peninsula, and it was a majestic sight! “We were surrounded by towering white mountains, flowing glaciers, penguins swimming in the water, and seals sunning on icebergs,” Andrea said. “It was truly a scene that needs to be experienced.”

New, secluded locations were selected for landings and the wildlife viewing was spectacular. In our time there, we encountered four different types of penguins, their penguin chicks, countless bird species, seals, panda dolphins, and sei whales.

After a stop at the Falklands Islands, the cruise started its journey back to Chile. The cruise line kept up with the changing regulations and took extra steps to make sure her COIVD test was scheduled to meet the current US entry requirements.

She received a printout of her negative test results as we disembarked and headed to the airport. Andrea uploaded the results to the VeriFLY app. This app is used by American Airlines and many others to walk through travelers with entry requirements and make sure they have all their COVID documentation in order prior to their departure. Since the app even validates your documents, it even speeds up your check-in at the airport!

This made the check-in process at the airport seamless and before we knew it, we were back home.

It was an incredible three weeks and the trip a lifetime at the bottom of the world. I am very grateful for the opportunity to have traveled to such an amazing place and I am looking forward to future travel adventures.

Want to go on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure cruise like this one? Check out some of Hurtigruten’s offerings here. Whatever the travel experience you are interested in, your AAA Travel advisor has the details, know-how, and latest deals. Contact yours today.