Stories from Antarctica: Nothing Compares to This Family Vacation
As told by A&K guest David Jacobson
When our boys were seven and nine, my wife and I took them on a seven-month trip around the world and visited 21 countries and six different continents. Antarctica was the only one we didn’t hit. We recently got back from A&K’s Antarctica, South Georgia & the Falkland Islands with our now 13- and 16-year old boys and consider it one of our best trips ever — in the top two to three for sure.
The driving force to go wasn’t really about Antarctica being our seventh continent, but more about the chance to experience the novelty and uniqueness of this place that we imagined in our minds — and that proved to be true. Antarctica is so different than anywhere else we’ve been. None of us had seen an iceberg or a penguin up close. And then we went and saw penguins, and realized the experience is so much richer than that. It reminded me of the plains of Africa in that it’s one of those places that make you feel like you’ve punched through to an alternate reality.
One of the best moments happened on New Year’s Day, when we were approaching the Antarctic Peninsula on a Zodiac and came across five or six humpback whales. They were bubble-net feeding and, I mean, just right there in front of us. Our naturalist driver turned off the motor so we could watch and listen as they blew bubbles and jumped up. It was a bright sunny day, so we could see them clearly, plus we could hear everything. It was an amazing, full-sensory experience.
There were some really special highlights for us as parents, too. On South Georgia, we sat down on the beach and seals came right up to us and sniffed us with their whiskers. We walked a little further down the beach and sat down to be surrounded by penguins that were just as curious about us as we were about them. Our big thing is that we want to give our kids experiences that help them appreciate the world we live in. Watching them light up and smile, and be engaged and in awe, just as we were — those shared experiences are so salient. Children grow up fast and the days can feel like they’re running together with car pools, homework and such. But none of us will forget standing on South Georgia and looking out over 200,000 mating pairs of king penguins. That’s the stuff that sticks.
The added bonus we didn’t anticipate was meeting new people. When you’re on a ship like that with a small group, you’re already likeminded to some extent. You share a certain mindset, sense of adventure and love for travel. We got to sit down to long dinners with these other families, and had so many conversations and more relaxed time with them than we usually get with people that we’ve known for many years. We actually just came back from New York where we stayed with another family that we met on our A&K cruise; I’m sure we’ll be lifelong friends.
Our ship ‘Le Boreal’ was phenomenal as was the experience of cruising somewhere so far away. We absolutely wanted a balcony, and every room on ‘Le Boreal’ has a balcony. We weren’t on a tour bus jumping on and off or running from airport to airport, but unpacked once and got to see a lot of really remote places. Though Wi-Fi was available, we didn’t indulge our boys with it and I loved the fact that they were offline. Walking into the common area and seeing all the kids playing cards and board games, participating in hanging out, and laughing — actually interacting and making their own new friends — was great.
At the end of the day, though, it still comes back to the uniqueness of Antarctica as a family destination. To be in this place with A&K staff who make you feel safe and taken care of, and just possess this tremendous amount of experience, and then cruising in a Zodiac around icebergs one moment or exploring the inside of a volcanic caldera on Deception Island or seeing animals you can’t see anywhere else on the planet in their natural environment. It’s truly amazing and in contrast to anything else we’ve ever known. I have no doubt my kids will remember it for the rest of their lives.