Will Abbott is the Head of Antarctic Operations aboard the Ocean Endeavour, Chimu’s favourite Antarctic expedition cruise vessel. After taking part in over six Arctic and Antarctica seasons as an expedition guide, he’s a true expert when it comes to travel to Antarctica! A geologist by trade, Abbott brings years of polar knowledge and experience to the team and played a vital role in designing the current expedition experience onboard the Ocean Endeavour.
For travellers looking for an immersive expedition, with plenty of opportunities to get off the ship and onto the ice each day to take part in incredible activities like kayaking, photography, and guided zodiac expeditions to shore, they’d love the fun and adventure of the Ocean Endeavour!
However, as you might imagine, running and managing an Antarctic ship is no small feat! We talked with Will to learn more about the Ocean Endeavour experience.
What is expedition cruising?
Expedition cruise ships are smaller than traditional cruise liners, with the Ocean Endeavour taking a maximum of 199 guests. On an expedition cruise, it’s all about the experience of exploring a rugged and remote place, with zodiac vessels available to take you on shore frequently throughout your journey. The Ocean Endeavour is our top choice for expedition cruising in Antarctica, as Will explains below, due to the amazing opportunities for travellers to immerse themselves in the wild, rugged, and surreal environment.
“It is such a privilege to be able to travel down to Antarctica, and for clients who travel down and don’t want it to be just a holiday, we want to really maximise the opportunity to have them down there”, he says.
Why is the Ocean Endeavour a top choice for anyone who wants to travel to Antarctica on an expedition cruise?
“On the Ocean Endeavour, the way that we deliver our expedition is all about the destination. Antarctica is the focus. We have 20 zodiacs on the ship, meaning that all clients can get off the vessel at any given time, and capitalise on a beautiful whale migration experience, or they can go to shore.
But there is no one waiting on board the ship, and no one has to do an extra presentation when somebody else is off the ship and experiencing Antarctica. Our whole philosophy, in the way that we deliver our product is the purpose.
It doesn’t have the submarines or the helicopters, or the shows or entertainment, but it’s a great place for like-minded, and often solo travellers to get together to experience a place that they’ve dreamed about for so many years and they’ll be led on this expedition with some of the best guys in the industry.”
With an 8:1 passenger-to-expedition crew ratio, one of the industry’s highest, and a wide range of activities including kayaking, snowshoeing, ice camping, photography, and citizen science programs, there are always so many things happening onboard, helping travellers immerse themselves into the great white continent.
If you’re thinking of travelling to Antarctica, how do you know if the Ocean Endeavour is the right ship for you?
“I’d say, certainly, the active clients who would like to experience Antarctica in an immersive experience, this is the trip for them. We pride ourselves in the ability to get as many passengers off the ship as much as possible.
We welcome all our clientele from around the world and it’s fantastic for couples and fantastic for young professionals too. With many options onboard for single cabins, we have a fantastic option for solo travel, because we’ll have a lot of other solo travellers together. We have a really casual and warm environment at the bar to meet other like-minded travellers and form friendships”, says Will.
Can you tell us about the onboard expedition guides? What are their backgrounds and what sort of interaction will Antarctic travellers have with them?
“Our guides are truly the captains of the guests’ experience down in Antarctica. We have several onboard experts, including a marine biologist, a geologist, glaciologist, even a penguin-ologist! They share their passions during the presentations and educational program that we have on board the ship.
But expedition guides also play such an important part in delivering the experience from dining with clients that evening, sharing stories, getting to know each of the guests, and guiding and interpreting the wildlife and what they see. Every hour aboard the ship is an opportunity to engage with our clients and guides and a highlight for many people is that kind of connection with the exhibition team. And their passion and enthusiasm is really the highlight of their experience on board.”
Why did the Ocean Endeavour introduce citizen science programs onboard?
“Our expeditions weave in citizen science and true science throughout the experience in order for guests to go down there and learn about Antarctica. They can experience it, but then they can actually get involved in giving back by supporting science. We really worked to integrate it completely seamlessly into the experience.
We have a partnership with the Polar Citizen Science Collective that does five or six fantastic citizen science projects in Antarctica. So the reason why I think that’s important is that people feel engaged. We realise when guests return home, one of the first things that they talk about is their chance to be part of Antarctic citizen science.”
Learn more about Chimu’s polar citizen science programs. From helping to count seabirds or photographing whales for scientific tracking, there are plenty of ways to explore nature and get involved!
Will, you have extensive experience in the polar regions – how did your background help you develop the Ocean Endeavour’s operations?
“That’s a really good question! I think having about six or seven years in the industry, I could see what works from an operational sense and also from a team dynamic sense.
So, my focus from the beginning was to hire a team of really incredible individuals that work well together. Because I think the team is our most important asset. So we spend a lot of time, sleuthing through the industry, saying no to people, interviewing literally hundreds of people to select the team that we have today. And we are so proud and so happy with the current team, it’s all been exceptional.
From experience, seeing what works and what doesn’t work, you know, and from an activity perspective, perfecting our kayaking programme or offering a photography programme, unique dedicated photography guides.
We could cherry-pick what really worked and what delivered value to our clients in previous years and build them into one-stop shop Antarctica experience on board. This is really, really exciting!”
What is a typical day like onboard the Ocean Endeavour?
“Once you wake up, I always recommend just jumping outside and seeing where we are. And hopefully, the ship is just arriving at our morning’s destination. So, it’s a great way to kind of get a lay of the land.
And because the sun doesn’t necessarily rise per se, but hangs quite low on the horizon, you can often see some beautiful light on the peninsula. So get outside, get a coffee and experience the sunrise before a lovely buffet breakfast in the dining room.
You’ll hear an announcement about our morning excursion around 8:30 am. We’ll invite you down to the mudroom to gear up and head into the zodiacs. Then, we’ll do a morning excursion, which might be a land-based excursion or might be a zodiac cruise, and will often experience a penguin colony, seals, or whales.
And then you’ll come back in, take your jacket off, and have a nice cup of warm soup from the mudroom to heat back up. Then you have a little bit of downtime on board the ship before lunch. I always encourage people to do a bit of a turn on the outer decks to kind of see where the ship is heading off to next. Enjoy a lovely lunch before another afternoon excursion.
And then we’ll invite you to the bar for a recap where our exhibition team will share something that they have experienced today. We might have the marine biologist talk a bit about some of the whales that we saw, and then it’s your chance to ask a few questions of our team.
Then you head off to a lovely multi-course dinner in the dining room. Evenings are a bit relaxed with soft music playing in the lounge, chats at the bar over a beer or getting to know our exhibition team a bit better. We often have some games and trivia to play as well. Otherwise, if that’s not for you, then you can have a read in the library or again typically like a late night walk around the outer decks to see the kind of evening colours of the sky.”
Want to find out more about travel to Antarctica onboard the Ocean Endeavour? View all upcoming trips or get in touch with one of our friendly Destination Specialists.