Pamela Wade sails aboard Silversea's Silver Explorer, from Ushuaia to the Antarctic Peninsula and beyond.
Silversea's Silver Explorer, a 1-A ice class exploration vessel, built to butt her way through ice floes. Which is not to say she's rugged inside: there are white-gloved personal butlers, elegant dining, super-comfortable beds, and lots of spit and polish.
Maybe not the spit.
Route: From Ushuaia (a chartered flight from Buenos Aires) to the Falkland Islands, South Georgia, Elephant Island, the Antarctic Peninsula and South Shetland Islands, and back to Ushuaia via Drake Passage. The focus is on history, scenery and especially wildlife: penguins, seals, seabirds, whales and dolphins, all in abundance.
Other passengers: A maximum 144 people from all around the world, ranging in age from 9 to 84, couples and solo travellers, working and retired, all of them keen on wildlife and photography. The fit ones enjoyed the hikes; the others channelled David Attenborough.
Crew: Also multinational, it seemed almost every one of the 118 total knew my name by Day 2. Nothing was too much trouble and they were unfailingly cheerful. The expedition team was well-qualified and keen to share.
Cabin: There are no cabins on a Silversea ship. Ours, 703, was a Medallion Suite on Deck 7, just a connecting door away from the opulence of the Owner's Suite. With a veranda, sitting area, proper bathroom and queen or twin beds, it was hard to imagine what more there could possibly be next door. It came with free unlimited Wi-Fi and laundry service, a gorgeous gingerbread house Christmas decoration, a Bose soundsystem, flat-screen TV, ample storage and the personal attention of brilliant butler Ivy. There are nine levels of suite — this was fourth from the top.
Bathroom/toiletries: With a bath and separate shower, Bulgari toiletries as standard and other fancy brands as optional extras, it was impossible to equate these facilities with the rugged reputation of an expedition ship. Except when the shower door got stuck the wrong side of the seal, that is — then I needed my exceptional physical fitness to escape.
Wi-Fi: Throughout the ship; everyone gets a free hour a day; for Medallion Suites and above, free access is unlimited. It was surprisingly reliable, considering our remote locations, and the speed tolerable.
Facilities: Apart from the free sea-sickness pills? Zodiacs for ship-to-shore transfer, a mud room for cleaning boots, plus laundry, gym, spa, salon, library, theatre, restaurants, lounge, shop and even a smoker's room. And of course everything is included: drinks, food, gratuities, so no nasty surprises.
Food & Drink: There's one restaurant, plus the outdoor Grill on the Jacuzzi deck: breakfast and lunch are buffet-style plus, and dinner is five courses with selected wines.
The quality is very good to excellent, and the service is friendly and attentive. All meals are available en suite, which is fun. The Panorama Lounge does drinks and proper afternoon tea, with scones.
Extras: A daily programme of lectures from the expedition staff. Every guest receives a complimentary high-quality parka and padded jacket. Each night brought a little treat or present with turn-down.
Price: Adventurer suites start at around $30,000, including charter flights and hotels, with early booking bonuses available.