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Q & A with Crystal Endeavor’s Antarctica Expedition Leaders

All new luxury expedition yacht Crystal Endeavor is set to depart from Ushuaia, Argentina on November 18th for the first of eight inaugural journeys exploring Antarctica. From sea kayaking to Zodiac landings, immersive expedition adventures will offer guests up-close encounters with penguins, seals and whales, in a land of ice and snow.

Adding insights and meaning to Crystal Endeavor’s intrepid expeditions will be a team of expert naturalists including marine biologists, ornithologists, geologists and more, all directed by Expedition Leader Sam Gagnon and Assistant Expedition Leader Rashidah Lim. We asked Gagnon and Lim to share some experiences from their previous explorations in Antarctica as they prepare to lead these exciting new adventures.

Sam Gagnon, Expedition Leader – Crystal Endeavor

When was your first trip to Antarctica?

SAM: My first voyage to Antarctica was in December 2008. Since then, I have completed about a hundred voyages over the years.

RASHIDA: My first trip to Antarctica was in 2014. I’ve been back to Antarctica around 30 times.

Rashidah Lim, Assistant Expedition Leader – Crystal Endeavor

What was it about Antarctica that made you fall in love with it and want to return?

SAM: For me it was the never ending sense of adventure.  The unique nature of the place, barely spoiled by man.

RASHIDA: There is so much of it to love, but for me I must say I especially love its amazing wildlife! You get to witness an abundance of wildlife up-close, and get to experience nature at its best. Not only do you get to see different kinds of wildlife such as penguins, seals, whales, and seabirds, but also the beautiful landscape and the icy waters of the Antarctic.

Zodiac cruise watching for whales and seals, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

What do you think would surprise people most about Antarctica?

SAM: How vast the place is and how far from civilization it actually is.  Also, the fact that during the Austral summer there are quite a lot of places where you can set foot on shore in the peninsula, that it is not all glacier cliff faces all over.  The abundance of wildlife all around.

RASHIDA: I am not sure if I can point out one single thing, but after seeing so many of our guests’ faces when they arrived in Antarctica, I would say every single person had a ‘WOW’ jaw dropping expression. I think it is a combination of everything; of the landscape, wildlife and just being there in general, surrounded by its pristine nature.

Penguins and Seals of South Georgia Island

Is there a specific place or experience that seems to make the most profound impression on expedition guests in Antarctica?

SAM: Deception Island where you can sail the ship inside a volcanic island.  The Lemaire Channel is also always a classic. Cruising in Pleneau Bay among the icebergs can be quite memorable. And more generally the first landing site can be very emotional for some. 

RASHIDA: For some, it’s standing on the 7th continent, the continent that only a few fortunate ones are able to experience.  For others, it’s the experience of just being in a very special place where humans are the guests, and the wildlife the host.

A pod of Orcas in Antarctica display unique behavior by bow riding in Antarctica.

Can you share a favorite experience that happened in Antarctica? Something that you encountered or that happened to you or a guest that you will always remember.

SAM: One of my favorite experiences was to encounter a large group of orcas, 40 something individuals, playing with the ship.

RASHIDA: It was a nice clear day and we were doing our usual landings in Antarctica. As we were going back from shore to ship, a humpback whale suddenly appeared out of nowhere right in front of us! This humpback was playfully giving us a beautiful dance performance. Everyone enjoyed it and it was such an amazing once-in-a-lifetime experience that I will always remember. 

King penguins in South Georgia

There are so many different species of penguins in Antarctica – which is your favorite and why?

SAM: I quite like the Chinstrap penguin because of their feisty nature.

RASHIDA: My favorite has to be the king penguins in South Georgia. They are so pretty and appear in such vast numbers that it is breathtaking.

Chinstrap penguin in Antarctica

Is there a special camaraderie that develops on an Antarctic expedition?

SAM: Very much indeed.  The guests usually develop strong friendships and camaraderie among themselves over the profound experience shared together, the good meals taken together.  These friendships may last a lifetime.

RASHIDA: Yes, I would say so.  First of all, experiencing a Drake crossing is something special that brings people together. When you start feeling the waves moving the ship up and down, everyone moves a little closer together. Secondly, after sailing for over 30 hours, when you start to see the first iceberg, everyone shares the same feeling of having reached a new wonderful world. However, the real connection between the guests and the crew comes after 2-3 days of landings and cruising in Antarctica looking for wildlife and enjoying the scenery. Everyone has their own story to share.

Antarctic Peninsula

Are there any other special thoughts about Antarctica that you wish to share?

SAM: The time spent on the open deck between landing sites is special.  It is during these moments that things happen spontaneously, glaciers calving, whales popping up.  These moments are authentic and unique to each individual. 

RASHIDA: Even though I have crossed the Drake so many times, every trip is special and truly unique. When we arrive back in Ushuaia, I feel a little sad that I have to say goodbye to all our guests, but also happy that everyone had an awesome time.

Expedition Lounge On Crystal Endeavor

Crystal Endeavor launches her inaugural Antarctic season with eight incredible voyages, November 2021 through February 2022, ranging from 11 to 19 nights and departing round-trip from Ushuaia.

All Antarctica voyages include complimentary non-stop chartered air from Miami to Ushuaia and luxury hotel accommodation in each city pre- and post-cruise, providing an effortless and worry-free vacation experience.

Say “yes” to expedition adventure today!

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