One member checks off a bucket-list item in Antarctica.
By Maria Lenhart
The Seventh Continent
In her 70-plus years, real estate broker and intrepid traveler Linda Coite has checked off an impressive roster of experiences on her travel bucket list. A big one that remained was taking an expedition-style cruise to Antarctica, one that would allow her to not only sail close to the Great White Continent, but to feel its frozen surface crunching beneath her feet.
In November, Coite achieved her dream. Working with AAA Travel Agent Deedra Chandler (firstname.lastname@example.org) at the AAA Wilmington, N.C. office, she booked a thrilling journey to the only one of earth’s seven continents she had yet to visit. Her magic carpet of choice was Hurtigruten Cruises’ new MS Roald Amundsen, a hybrid powered expedition ship equipped to navigate through icy polar waters with ease.
“The main challenge with Antarctica is that many of the tours don’t actually make land,” Chandler said. “Linda’s goal was to set foot on every continent and a lot of cruises we looked at would not let her do this. This journey let that happen.”
Before Coite travels, she spends weeks researching every available option and detail in advance, something she did in advance of the Antarctica trip. Despite this, Coite, a steady customer with AAA Travel for over 20 years, always books her trips through a travel agent.
“I had researched the whole trip myself, but I like knowing I have a person watching my back,” she said. “Deedra teases me that I ought to be a travel agent myself. I’m a control freak in my own way. Still, I listen to her options about when and how I should go. I will change my mind if I agree.”
Coite appreciates the fact that her travel agent has a relationship with airlines, cruise lines and other travel suppliers that she does not.
“An agent has a rapport with the companies involved and can communicate and work with them much better than a layman can,” she said. “Setting up the flight itinerary is especially helpful.”
For the Antarctica trip, Coite had found a group tour operator, offering a three-week trip combining the Hurtigruten cruise with time in Santiago and Valparaiso, prior to boarding the ship in Punta Arenas, Chile.
The trip included a lot of walking and hiking, which presented some physical challenges. “I had never used a walking stick before, but I was glad I had one when we climbed up a mile-and-a-half volcano,” Coite said. “One day, I walked eight miles. We also got to stop at Cape Horn and walk to the top of it, something the weather doesn’t always permit.”
A bigger challenge turned out to be the political protests that had broken out all over Chile. Fortunately, Coite found that her tour guide throughout the trip, Patricio Thijssen, was adept at protecting the group from trouble spots along the way.
For Coite, the high point of the trip was when the Roald Amundsen churned through solid ice over three feet thick to enable the passengers to disembark and walk on sea ice — an extremely rare opportunity.
And, of course, there were the penguins.
“We got to see a lot of rookeries with so many different penguin species,” Coite said. “We saw them slipping, sliding and walking, and we listened to them. It was a blast.”
Coite, who views travel as a learning opportunity, was especially impressed with the scientific knowledge of the ship’s crew. She relished the chance to gain knowledge of the region’s unique environment.
“The crew interacted with everybody and we had educational classes where you could look through microscopes and learn about ice formations and volcanoes,” she said. “We learned about the different penguin species, the birds, dolphins and whales.”
Much to her delight, Coite was able to share her experiences with family and friends while on the ship. “It had a GPS system where people could go on their computers and see where we were hour by hour,” she said. “They could track us and feel like they were there.”
For Chandler, booking trips to Antarctica is becoming a bigger part of her business, fueled by growing interest in adventure travel as well as the advent of a new generation of expedition ships outfitted with luxury amenities and state-of-the-art features.
“The cruise lines are building ships for the Arctic and Antarctic with over-the-top features like helicopters, Zodiacs and even submarines,” she said. “We’re getting a lot of interest from people who have already been all over Europe and to Alaska. It’s the trip of a lifetime.”
Unleash your inner explorer with an Antarctica expedition! Visit AAA.com/Travel or call your local AAA Travel Agent at 800-750-5386.
(Traveler Summer 2020)
(Photos courtesy of Linda Coite)