Adventures on an Antarctica Cruise: Greg Mortimer

Aboard The Greg Mortimer Antarctica Cruise Ship

Debbie Antarctica Expert WildFoot Travel

Debbie Antarctica Expert WildFoot Travel

Wildfoot Travel’s Polar expedition expert Debbie Grainger continues her account of her recent trip aboard the luxury expedition cruise ship The Greg Mortimer.

In my last article, I gave a detailed account of my recent trip to the Antarctic Peninsula along with my amazing kayaking adventures. This time, I continue my write-up of the Greg Mortimer and explain why a small Antarctica cruise ship is preferable to a larger ship.

Greg Mortimer Vessel Facts

The Greg Mortimer was built in 2019 and hosts up to 132 passengers in 76 cabins, as well as between 71 and 80 crew members. Flying the Bahamas flag, this adventure cruise ship travels comfortably at approximately 10-12 knots. Well known to be the first passenger ship to boast the X-BOW® icebreaker hull, a Norwegian design feature that makes for seamless and efficient movement through the water, the Greg Mortimer also has a class 6 rating that allows it to operate all year in the extreme polar environments. The ability to sail further and take on more remote waters, tricky conditions and rugged coastlines sets an adventure on this ship apart from the rest.

Landing Restrictions In Antarctica

The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) – is an industry group that has resolved to set the highest possible tourism operating standards in its effort to protect the local environment. Their carefully implemented rules mean that only 100 people can set foot on land, at any one time. Plus, only one ship is permitted at a landing site at a time, meaning that you still feel on your own in this unique and pristine environment that perpetually surrounds you on your Antarctica cruise.

Greg Mortimer, and her sister ship, the Sylvia Earle (launched in October 2021), only carry an average of 126 passengers. At Wildfoot Travel, when we make a booking, we have to check that non-kayaking spaces are available because Aurora will not take more than 100 “landing” passengers on any one voyage. This enables them to maximise passenger time on land; everyone lands together and group rotation is not necessary, as it is on larger vessels. This is one of the key reasons to make sure that you book as early as possible.

Boarding Zodiacs Aboard The Greg Mortimer In Antarctica

On a typical day, the enthusiastic, experienced expedition team aims to get you all onto land at least twice a day. The team leader makes an announcement letting passengers know what time the zodiacs will start their trips over to the landing point. You are called to the mud room in two groups – starboard side and portside. This is alternated for each landing, giving everyone the chance of being off and on their way to land first.

To access the mud room, you go to the back of Deck 4 and down the steps to Deck 3. Each cabin has their own locker where you keep your outer gear, boots and life jacket. Once you are ready to disembark, you “swipe out” with your room key – this is so the crew have a log of every passenger’s whereabouts, and to keep tabs on the number of passengers landing. The zodiac platforms open out from both sides of the mud room, although only 1 is normally used. The kayakers have their own platform at the back of the vessel, which keeps them out of the way of the zodiacs, meaning that exiting the Greg Mortimer is always quick and efficient, resulting in more time ashore.

What You Will See

For anyone who has ever dreamed of being an explorer, this is about as close as you can get: total immersion in the landscape, whether you are on land, in a kayak, on a zodiac or still onboard the ship. Towering icebergs create the backdrop to your Antarctic seascape and as you travel out into the icy seas on the zodiac, more stunning glacial features drop into the deep blue waters of the ocean. Travelling by zodiac offers the opportunity to reach the tiny hidden coves and bays that remain beautifully undisturbed and untouched. These wonderful pieces of paradise are home to many of the resident wildlife, such as penguins. You’ll also be able to spot seals, whales and a plethora of birdlife, and your expert guide will be on hand to answer any wildlife questions you may have along the way.

The zodiacs flit to and fro, transporting passengers 10 at a time to land. Once you have landed, it’s up to you how long you stay out there. My daughter always tried to be on one of the first zodiacs out and the last one back, to maximise the amount of time given with the wildlife and the landscape.

A Couple of Do’s and Don’ts Onboard a Zodiac

  • It is so important to layer up when you head off the main ship. The weather can change in a moment! Pack sunglasses – the glare can be quite debilitating. Also, if it snows, sunglasses or goggles can be a welcome protection.
  • Just take one bag – keep everything together so there is less chance of losing something. Gripping each other by the wrist (sailor’s grip) when manoeuvring on and off the boat is the safest way to help each other.
  • Cameras should always be kept around the neck. Have a lens wipe handy too, as splashing is commonplace. Wear your life jacket.
  • Listen to safety instructions.
  • There is no toilet on board, so make sure you go before the excursion.

The Small Antarctica Cruise Ship Experience

Another reason to choose a small vessel is that you encounter more solitude and greater flexibility if tides, currents, ice or weather dictate a schedule change. Due to thick sea ice, we encountered a couple of itinerary changes, however this had absolutely no impact on our time ashore. Had we been on a larger Antarctica cruise ship, we may not have been able to have had a landing on those days.

Who Was Greg Mortimer?

Greg Mortimer was the first Australian to summit Mount Everest, K2, Annapurna II and Chongtar without the use of extra oxygen. He was an acclaimed mountaineer and adventurer who established many new climbing routes in Antarctica and pioneered ship-based adventure travel to both Antarctica and the Arctic.

Greg’s first mountaineering experience was watching climbers on the Three Sisters in the Blue Mountains and from this moment he knew what he wanted to do. While studying geochemistry and geology at Macquarie University he spent every spare moment climbing in New Zealand, the UK, the Alps and South America. After graduating Greg worked as a geologist and a survival training instructor but also as a Scientific Affairs Advisor for the New Zealand Antarctic Division. Shortly after he began climbing the big peaks he pioneered a new route on Everest that is now known as “Greg’s Gully’.

In the early 1990s Greg Mortimer set up a company to take tourists to Antarctica by ship. Aurora Expeditions hosted the ultimate in adventure travel – an Antarctica cruise, Greg Mortimer style. Trips included mountain climbing, sea kayaking, and scuba diving in both the Antarctic and Arctic. He received three Australian Geographic Society medals and the Medal of the Order of Australia for service to mountaineering.

Luxurious But An Expedition Ship In Every Way

There is no getting away from the fact that the Greg Mortimer and the Sylvia Earle offer luxury. The cabins are large and spacious with great storage facilities, and beautiful soft furnishings and photos decorate the interior. Every meal was well-presented and delicious, and the service from the waiting staff was impeccable; There is a small, but well-equipped gym onboard as well as a lovely sauna.

Facilities on Board

We could wax lyrical forever and day about the incredible range of facilities onboard this Antarctica cruise. Greg Mortimer most definitely has your comfort and convenience at the very forefront of the ship’s design. Here are a select few facilities worthy of note:

It does however, still have the feeling of a true expedition ship; the expedition team mingled with the passengers around dining tables every mealtime and the lectures were always informative and engaging. We were also encouraged to be out on deck looking for wildlife opportunities as much as possible, whilst some of the expedition team explained in greater detail what we were witnessing. Aurora has an “open bridge” policy which means that you can pop into the bridge and have a chat with the crew any time and learn all about the navigational equipment onboard.

State of The Art Features

Designed and built by the Norwegian Ulstein Group of ship builders, the Greg Mortimer is the first passenger carrying ship to feature the Ulstein’s state of the art bow, known as the X-BOW®. The innovative design enables for more efficient, safe, sustainable and stable travel in the tricky waters of the polar regions. The bow, along with the Rolls Royce dynamic stabilisers provide more comfort when sailing through extreme and rough conditions.

Lecture Theatre and Lounge

Throughout the trip we use the theatre to host local wildlife specialists, naturalists and expedition leaders who offer presentations on their area of interest – a wonderful way to expand your knowledge. The theatre is comfortable and well laid out. There are cocktail tables, swivel chairs, and high-backed bar stools to give everyone a chance to have a clear view. There is a state of the art sound system and several screens so you are guaranteed not to miss a thing.

Dining Bars and Lounges

Serving everything from breakfast through to dinner, the delightful dining room features tables for different numbers of guests. Dinner is a four-course affair served to everyone at the same time, in order to encourage socialising and the formation of new connections. Menus vary and everyone is catered for. Teas and coffees are available all day and house wine, beers and other drinks are served with meals.

Our bars serve wines, beers, cocktails and Champagne and are the central hubs of the ship’s social scene. With a daily happy hour, it is in the bars that you will find plenty of opportunity to mingle.

Observation Decks

We have several observation decks onboard designed for wildlife watching and photography mainly, although people love to just meet up and marvel at the scenery from them too. The one on deck 5 is sheltered, and an area on deck 7 doubles up as a sun deck. We are also very proud of our hydraulic viewing platforms that expand out from near the bow, offering even more of an immersive wildlife viewing experience.

There’s More

The ship also features a spa, sauna and gym, a library and a mudroom, which is perfect for storing and drying out your boots and waterproofs between excursions.

The brilliant design of the bow means that windows can be located closer to the water than in older ships. Guests can view down into the ocean and straight ahead. Passengers get the incredible opportunity to witness the magnificence of an iceberg as it appears ahead on the horizon.

The streamlined shape of the bow and hull also make for a more efficient use of fuel, more stability and less speed loss in waves. There is minimal spray and less bow impact, therefore not as much slamming and vibration as there would be otherwise.

Photography Workshops

On all of the Antarctica cruises, there is a dedicated photographer. We found the photo workshop to be so educational and informative on our trip – learning lots of little tips on how best to position our cameras, lighting techniques and hints on how to choose the right moment to click, so that you get that unique photo.

Capturing Wildlife Through the Lens

Hard to believe that this is the only continent on Earth that humans have been unable to inhabit. The constantly freezing temperatures and unpredictable ferocity of the storms have made the region quite inhospitable. Antarctica has no terrestrial animals and yet the region is well known as a haven for wildlife photographers. In the sea and on the shores, wildlife prevails and throughout the summer the species that have adapted to make this continent their home become the perfect photographic subjects.

One day you may capture a fighting Elephant Seal, while the next an Emperor Penguin with its tiny chick making their way to the shoreline. The beauty of photographing these species in the wild is the unpredictability of their behaviour. Every photo is a once in a lifetime shot, and with the incredible backdrop landscape of the spectacular untouched mountains and glistening glaciers, your take-home pics will be unique in more ways than one. You may find here too that the animals are quite used to being the centre of attention and have no fear of photographers. They seem indifferent to your presence and so you can click away with no worry they will run or fly away.

During the summer, it never gets dark and the axis of the earth means that even at midnight the ethereal hues of the sun’s rays create even more of a special atmosphere.

Responsible Travel

Such an important factor these days: due to the combination of streamlined Ulstein X-BOW and the Rolls Royce dynamic stabilisers, the crossing of the Drake Passage is more comfortable and stable. The reason for this is that the shape of the X-Bow cuts through the swell so that passengers feel less vibration and disturbance. The shape also makes for a quicker crossing, meaning that you arrive in the South Shetlands by lunchtime on day 2, as opposed to day 3 on other Antarctica cruise vessels. Another bonus, environmentally speaking, is that the shape also helps reduce fuel consumption by up to 60%, and in a world that is constantly thinking of how to protect our planet, the Greg Mortimer boasts the lowest polluting marine engines in the world. Her state-of-the-art engines deliver an 80% reduction in emissions!

The onboard desalination plant even converts seawater to freshwater that’s safe to drink. This means they can carry less freshwater on sea crossings, further reducing fuel consumption. And then there is the virtual anchoring that I briefly mentioned last time. This is a combination of GPS, steering technology, propellers and thrusters, which allow the vessel to hold position. This protects the sea floor and minimises the damage caused by conventional anchors.

Plastic: Most single-use plastic items have been replaced with sustainable alternatives, whilst Aurora’s aim is to eliminate single-use plastic altogether.

Dining: All onboard seafood is sourced in accordance with the Marine Stewardship Council guidelines

Cleaning products: Biodegradable, phosphate free and non-bioaccumulative products are used as much as possible.

Recycling: Bins are provided onboard to separate waste and recyclable items to help reduce landfill

Beach Clean-ups: A proud member of the Sea Green – a new waste recycling initiative at the Port of Ushuaia. Other beach clean-up initiatives such as Clean up Svalbard are also supported.

We are excited to announce that Aurora Expeditions also runs cruises on the Greg Mortimer’s sister vessel, Sylvia Earle. Aptly named after the first woman to become Chief Scientist of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, this Antarctica cruise ship offers fuel efficiency, smoother crossings and an enhanced forward viewing experience for its passengers in the form of a glass atrium lounge in the bow.

Hosting 126 passengers Sylvia Earle has an A1 Ice Class rating. Following in the footsteps of its sister ship, this Antarctica cruise vessel boasts the lowest polluting marine engines in the world and virtual anchoring too. On board facilities are stylish, modern and of the highest quality so you can expect the very best when you book an Antarctica cruise aboard the Sylvia Earle.

Check out these Expedition Cruises Aboard The Greg Mortimer with No Solo supplement

South Georgia and Antarctica Odyssey

Join in the fun on this exciting Antarctica cruise. Greg Mortimer’s innovative designers created a ship tailormade for making the most of an adventure wildlife trip in this incredible part of the world, that can be as extreme as it is beautiful. There’ll be opportunities to kayak, snowshoe and explore on a zodiac, as well as visit historical and scientific sites. Boarding the ship in Stanley in the Falkland Islands, you’ll set sail on the most amazing adventure through this unique and humbling wildlife paradise.

Spirit of Antarctica

One of our most exciting expeditions onboard the polar vessel, Greg Mortimer, is a classic. Everyday, amid the backdrop of the most breathtaking scenery, you’ll fully immerse in the very fabric of the Antarctic Peninsula. The zodiac excursions are a highlight but you can also try your hand at kayaking, snowshoeing or even camping on the ice plateaus while onboard, spotting wildlife from the decks or attending lectures in the theatre are just a couple of the huge number of activities to look forward to. Stepping foot on the most magnificent continent on Earth is humbling enough but when you witness the spectacular wild landscapes and the majestic wildlife, this becomes a truly unforgettable experience.

Antarctic Explorer
By missing out the crossings of the Drake Passage this fly/sail tip offers maximum time to explore the Antarctic continent. Joining the Antarctic cruise, Greg Mortimer – a ship custom built for your comfort and safety in this majestic wilderness, you’ll discover the stunning wild heart of this most remote and untouched continent. Towering icebergs and jaw-dropping natural formations form the backdrop to your every day, while before your very eyes wildlife abounds. From the vantage points of the ship or from a kayak or zodiac you can really immerse yourself in the lives of all the wonderful creatures that have made this place their home. Trips to historic and scientific sites are also included and the resident photography guide is onhand to help you preserve the memories you make on the most unforgettable of trips.

Travel Photographer of the Year Results

The results are out, revealing the winners of Travel Photographer of the Year 2019.

The awards were judged by an international panel of imaging experts which included Panamanian double Pulitzer Prize-winner Essdras M Suarez and Lawrence Jackson, a former official White House photographer under the Obama Administration.

Travel Photographer of the Year co-founder Chris Coe said: “Judging these awards, whilst arduous with so many excellent images to choose from, is always a joy and it is both exhilarating and stimulating to see the wealth of creativity evident from around the world. This year’s winning entries are outstanding in all categories, elegant and sometimes thought-provoking and gritty. The portfolio from the overall winner Katy Gomez Catalina is beautiful, sensitive and diverse. Only the second-ever female overall winner of Travel Photographer of the Year, Katy is an amateur photographer and a very, very worthy winner.”

You can find the results for every category listed here on the Travel Photographer of the Year website.

But here, we turn our attention to one specific category. The category we, as Wildfoot Travel chose to sponsor and support. The One Shot – ‘Ocean, Seas, Rivers, Lakes’ category

One Shot. Oceans, Seas, Rivers, Lakes

Winner: Ignacio Palacios

Parque Nacional dos Lençóis Maranhenses, Brazil
A lonely tree survives the elements among the sand dunes. This image was shot from a light plane with the doors off.
D850, Nikon 70-200mm, f8, 1/1250, 400

Winner’s Biography

When it comes to photography and travel, few can rival Ignacio Palacios’ experience, skill, and passion. A third-generation photographer, Ignacio has been honoured with over 100 prestigious photography prizes and awards from around the world and has travelled to over 90 countries in his 22 years career. Born in Spain, Ignacio now calls Sydney Australia home – through his unmistakable Spanish spirit continues to influence his work and define his signature style.
Combining his love of travel and photography has proved a powerful combination, and today Ignacio leads photography tours to incredible destinations around the world. As an
AIPP double Master of Photography, Ignacio shares his insight, experience, and technique with his clients to help them find their own success and joy on their photographic journey.

Ignacio’s distinct, award-winning style can be defined by his mastery of composition, colour, and light. With his minimalistic style and unique ability to connect with his audience through storytelling. Through his images, Ignacio invites his audience to experience the subject not as how he captured, but how he experienced it, evoking an emotional connection between the viewer, subject and artist. Photography and travel will always be Ignacio’s passion, and he is dedicated to helping others ignite their passion too.

Runner up: David Alpert

Aegean Sea, Island of Skiathos, Greece
My son and two of his friends decided to do a bit of free diving. I set them a task and enjoyed the youthful banter as they set about trying to co-ordinate their efforts. It was amazing the good time we had – doing something so simple – no gadgets, electronics or high value spend. Just fun…
Canon 5D Mkiii, Sigma 15mm fisheye, f/8, 1/1600sec, ISO-1600

Highly Commended: Paul McKenzie

Lake Logipi, Kenya
I made this image from a light aircraft with the doors removed on one side. It shows a huge grouping of Flamingos standing and feeding in the shallow water lake.
Canon 1DX MK 2, 100-400mm lens, f5, 1/8000s, ISO 200

Highly Commended: Nicola Young

Inle Lake, Nyaungshwe, Burma
I took this shot from a boat and was fascinated at that moment of attention five Intha fishermen were paying to their task, surrounded by the beauty of the lake.
Nikon D600, 150mm lens, f6.3, 1/2500s, ISO 200

The Best Time To Visit The Galapagos

Unlike most other wildlife destinations, in The Galapagos has few migratory species, so the same animals can be seen all year round and being on the equator, the weather is more than pleasant throughout the year.

But the truly astounding thing about the Galapagos is the human connection with wildlife. Evolving without seeing man as a predator, the wildlife have little fear of humans. This leads to closer, more intimate wildlife encounters and endless photo opportunities.

Although there is never a bad time to visit the Galapagos, animal behaviour varies according to the season so if there is a particular wildlife spectacle you’d like to witness, it’s best to pick your time accordingly.

The two long, yet distinct seasons in The Galapagos are the warm/wet season and the cold/dry season.

The warm, wet season (Late December to June)

The warm and wet season stretches from Late December to June, with March and April usually being the hottest and wettest months. The trade winds fall and the air temperature rises.

The rising warm air results in daily afternoon showers. Which can be most welcome as the temperature regularly reaches 30oC and above.

The water temperature is warmer and the sea tends to be calmer, making this an ideal time for snorkelling where a rich variety of exciting marine life can be seen all year round.

The start of the year is when the turtles lay their eggs. As a result, December to March is considered to be one of the best times to visit.

For bird lovers, February to May is packed with mating rituals and new birth for the many species of impressive birds.

If you want to see albatrosses, late March to early April should give you a good chance of seeing their spectacular courtship ritual.

Another natural spectacle on the Galapagos is the famous courtship dance of the Blue Footed Boobie, which happens in May and makes a truly unforgettable sight.

The cool, dry season (Late June to December)

The cool season runs from late June to December, when you can expect it to be relatively cool and dry with more overcast skies and occasional drizzle or mist.

August is the coolest month. But to put The Galapagos ‘chilly’ weather into perspective, you can expect day-time temperatures to range from 19-26 oC

In the cool season, the sea comes into its own. The annual plankton bloom makes it an ideal choice for divers. If you are hardy enough to take on the lower water temperatures, you’re likely to be treated to an impressive underwater display including sea lions, penguins, whale sharks and diving sea birds.

This annual plankton bloom also attract whales. Between June and September there are possible sightings of all kinds of whales including blues whales, humpback whales, sperm whales, orca and of course you can always expect to be joined by the occasional pod of playful dolphins

Because the temperature is not too hot during this season, it is also the breeding period for many sea birds and shore birds, marine iguanas, sea lions and fur seals.

In August the unbelievably cute baby sea lions are born November sees the young sea lions take to the water for the first time and swimming with these playful, inquisitive animals is a true delight.

Visit The Galapagos In Your Own Way

We have vessels the Galapagos, ranging from as small as 12 passengers right up to 200. But rest assured, which ever ship you choose, you will always be accompanied by an experienced and qualified guide.

Whether you want to enjoy a truly memorable family adventure or a wildlife holiday with other adults, we can find the perfect Galapagos cruise for you.

Now you have a few ideas of what time to go and what to see, feel free to give us a call and chat through your plans. Our travel experts will be happy to give you a few pointers or suggestions to help get the most out of your Galapagos adventutre.

Check out all our adventures in The Galapagos here

Promoting Sustainable Animal Welfare Practices

Wildfoot Travel's Micheal Gardiner

Michael Gardiner, Strategic Partnerships Manager at Wildfoot Travel explains how you can decide whether an animal attraction or experience is operating in an ethical and responsible manner.

As a travel provider, at Wildfoot Travel we have a duty to enlighten and educate our clients. To help them understand the importance of supporting and encouraging fair animal attractions and experiences.

The travel industry has been working hard to combat animal welfare for many years but there is still a huge amount of ambiguity and misunderstanding surrounding these issues. So, we’ve put together a simple set of guidelines, to help you decide whether or not to pay to visit to, or participate in, an animal attraction or experience on your next trip.

Can You Touch?

Can you physically touch the animal? Facilities which allow the touching of non-domesticated animals by the public should be viewed with extreme skepticism. Wild animals do not naturally seek out the company of humans unless conditioned to do so.

Are They Performing Tasks Or Tricks?

Is the animal required to perform tasks which are not part of their natural behaviour? Training animals to behave unnaturally can involve punishment or withholding of food.

Are the animals performing unnatural tasks? In a confined space?

Is There Enough space?

If animals are in an enclosure, does it provide significant space and enrichment and are there areas of privacy? Size can be difficult to judge but enclosures should offer a varied environment for the animal to interact with while areas of privacy allow them retreat to safety if anxious or stressed.

Do they Have A Choice?

Is the animal in a position to make a choice if they want to interact or not? Even animals that have been raised in captivity and are habituated to humans can feel stressed if they are not able to leave. The best animal encounters will operate on the basis of the animal coming to the visitor if they’re interested and leaving when they’ve had enough.

Are There Set Feeding Times?

A responsible facility will have a set time at which they feed the animals in their care. If this time is dictated, changed or supplemented to suit visitors, the welfare of the animals is not their primary concern.

How Regularly Do The Animal Experiences Take Place?

If visitors can arrive at random times and take part in the experience then, as with feeding times, the concerns of the guests are being placed above those of the animal.

How Old Are The Animals?

How old is the animal concerned, particularly if it is the young of a predator species? Assuming they are otherwise in good health, young animals can be rehabilitated and released into the wild but not if they have been habituated to humans. By handling or petting a healthy juvenile you ensure its long-term captivity.

Whilst this is far from the perfect checklist, it does give you a quick-reference guide to help you identify and avoid unscrupulous operators. The same set of rules should help you discover, support and enjoy the more ethical and conscientious wildlife attractions or experiences.

Check out our trips to the Galapagos here

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