I want to give an enthusiastic write-up for Cheesemans Ecology Safaris for trips to the Antarctic, South Georgia and the Falklands.
It is a small, family-run company so does not have so many travellers to recommend it – but we do - very much so.
My husband and I (Norwegian and English) travelled to South Georgia and the Falklands with them in October-November 2012 and were blown away!
So, guess what? - we are going back with them again this December-January for the whole works – South Georgia, Falklands and Antarctica.
I don't really need to say how wonderful the area itself is. You will all know that.
So what is special about Cheesemans? They have all the good points mentioned about other companies. Also……..
Being family-run, with family members involved in the trips, they have a personal approach which allows you to be informal about asking questions and they are really helpful to the first-time South Atlantic traveller with 'stupid' questions (I tried not to be too 'high maintenance'.)
They are also clearly passionate about giving the best possible experience.
They chartered the whole ship – the Ushuaia last time and the Ortelius when we return this year. This meant that they had complete control and flexibility to adapt and change the itinerary according to weather and circumstances. If it was a bit rough in one area we would go somewhere else.
We were able to circumnavigate the whole of South Georgia (unusual) because conditions allowed.
We were able to spend very long days on shore.
The ship was small so the landing places were not overwhelmed and there was no need for staggered landings.
We were able to make landings in areas where visiting is limited, such as at Steeple Jason island with its over 200,000 nesting black-browed albatross pairs – the world's largest colony.
There was an emphasis on the longest possible time spent on shore.
If you wanted to, there were occasions when the first zodiac went to shore at 5.30 in the morning and it was possible to stay there until 7.00 p.m.!) (You didn't have to, of course. That was for the maddest enthusiasts.) You could either come back to the ship for lunch or stay on land – if the ship was not moving somewhere different for the afternoon.
Many of the participants were keen photographers so stayed around the shore but, what initially attracted us most, was the fact that they made provision for more active people.
For example, we were able, given the time of year, to go cross-country ski-ing on South Georgia and trek (on skis for us) over the last part of the 'Shackleton Route' or from Ocean Harbour – not often visited – to Cumberland Bay East (Grytviken). Both of these were over passes 300m high – not particularly high but giving better than normal views of the fantastic scenery of South Georgia. When we visited New Island in the Falklands, some went back to the ship for lunch as it repositioned; others walked the length of the island (about 13km/8m) to meet the ship at its new anchorage.
At the end we were sent a photobook-log of the whole trip. I don't know whether that is common but it was a great souvenir or exactly what we did, using photos from the participants.
The staff were clearly so enthusiastic about the area that their own pleasure was infectious.
They paid incredible attention to detail for the whole trip, and dealt with complications with obvious skill. (It must be something of a logistical nightmare to manage such trips flexibly.)
They obviously cared very much for both the participants and the wildlife.
I can't see the exact trip we took last year on their list, but we are going with Cheesemans again in December 2013 and they have just announced a December 2014 Antarctic tour.
So if anyone is thinking of going to the area we really recommend that you consider Cheesemans as an option.