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Sailing to Antarctica on the Silver Endeavour with Mary Jean Tully

By Tully Luxury Travel | 07-13-2023 |

An Insider's Look Cruise Mary Jean Antarctica

It is not unusual to see Mary Jean Tully, Tully Luxury Travel’s founder and CEO, in Africa, ankle-deep in red clay giving rescued baby elephants a mud bath, or having breakfast with giraffes in a luxury hotel. Mary Jean is passionate about Africa and about the community of like-minded conservationists that protect its wildlife.

Engaged in a destination is part of the company’s philosophy, and one of the reasons to book with Mary Jean and her team. Another? Earlier this year, Tully Luxury Travel was named one of the first ever Forbes Travel Guide-endorsed agencies globally.

Late last year, I was fortunate to sail with Silversea on its newest expedition ship, Silver Endeavour, to Antarctica. Mary Jean followed a week later. Here, we compare notes.

Mary Jean: Antarctica is a bucket list destination for a lot of people. They’ll say, “Oh, I would never go on a cruise – no, that’s not my vibe.” But places like Galapagos, Alaska, Antarctica and the bespoke ships, once they go – and once they go on a ship like the Silver Endeavour that’s so fabulous, it ticks all the boxes.

Vivian: How many times have you visited Antarctica?

Mary Jean: Three times; once a number of years ago, and then this past December, on the Silver Endeavour. We did ‘the bridge,’ flying over the Drake Passage; and Seabourn Venture, where we sailed across the Passage. People are completely fearful of crossing it. But, if you take Silversea’s ‘bridge,’ you can do a six-day cruise. And six days is more than enough to experience Antarctica; if you don’t do the bridge you add two sailing days there and back.

Vivian: The Silver Endeavour is a remarkable ship. But it was not originally built by Silversea ?

Mary Jean: It was built by Crystal as the Crystal Endeavour; there has never been another ship built like this, and Silversea will admit that. Silversea added some cabins, removed the casino and updated the ship to its standards. The tech is completely amazing, Endeavour is a Polar Class 6 ship; an icebreaker that can turn on a dime without putting down anchor; it carries the zodiacs down below in the marina so there’s no waiting for them to be lowered into the water from up top; all of which saves time when disembarking for a landing; and the ship’s solarium with the pool, it’s magnificent. You just won’t find another ship like it. One day, the ship was rocking but not so much that people would feel sick. That was amazing, and we were thanking the icebreakers for that – but later, the captain apologized for rough seas, because he wasn’t able to lower the icebreakers! The captain is specially trained for expedition cruising, and the Endeavour’s captain was captain when Crystal first created the ship.

Vivian: And the public spaces: the Arts Café, the Observation Lounge and the Pool Deck! There was something about having lunch in the sunshine without feeling the bite of the cold outside. This ship is designed so people can still have an amazing experience even if they don’t go on every landing.

Mary Jean: There are incredible sightings from the decks of the ship: whale watching, penguins, Petermann Island, the Lemaire Channel. The expedition team is so knowledgeable, so there are lots of good lectures on board. The fine dining at La Dame is fabulous; as is the main dining room, and hot chocolate in the Arts Cafe – really good. Antarctica is unpredictable, but it’s also spectacular and that’s what I love about it. You have to be prepared for surprises. It can be bad weather and then an hour later, it’s beautiful, so let’s go! But the expedition team always has a plan. There was never a day that we were stuck, and they kept us well-informed. We had to go a day early, and stay a day later – so always use a travel agent and have them always book the air with the cruise line, so that any changes are on the cruise line. If I had booked my own air, I would have had trouble getting home trying to rebook flights. And for the bridge, Silversea charters Antarctica air, so it’s flexible.

Vivian: I also appreciated the spacious mudroom, and the cupboards for stowing gear and the laundry room next door.

Mary Jean: And having walking sticks that can be borrowed, plus the supplied jackets that are long enough to cover your seat, makes a difference in the overall experience. And the crew is so conscientious of the bird flu; how you had to step in cleaning solutions as you re-board the ship after an expedition, and how they would scrub the bottoms of your boots before going into the mud room. They really follow the rules.

Vivian: What about any environmental impact cruising to Antarctica might have?

Mary Jean: The Antarctic's governing body, the Antarctic Treaty system, is shared by a global group of countries, and is extremely strict about the number of ships and cruise lines that are allowed there, and where they are at any given time. You’ll never go on a landing in the same place as another ship; there’s no dumping of cargo or even cargo ships. They’re very careful; but again, I always advise people to go with companies that have a good reputation. If any of these companies break the rules, they are booted out. No questions asked. And Tully only deals with cruise lines or safari lodges that have sustainability models that really take care of their people, the community and the animals/wildlife.

Vivian: We can’t ignore the risks of travelling to remote areas like Antarctica. We saw a few unfortunate accidents happen last year. How do you allay any fears your clients may have?

Mary Jean: It can happen anywhere; but it is very rare. What is so shocking is that it happened all during one week. Follow the rules, use your head. When you look at the money spent by these companies to ensure safety, it’s not about price; it’s about the integrity and the people that are running the expedition. Fortunately, there have not been any incidents since that time. A ship like the Silver Endeavour is a game-changer, especially to the Antarctic. It might be a bit more than others, but between saving four days via flying the bridge, the service on board (and the butlers), and the excellent expedition team, it’s worth it.

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