Goodbye Antarctica: It’s Been A Fun Dream

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For the past few weeks my head has been in Antarctica.

Earlier this year (spoiler alert) I made it to Longyearbyen, which is the Northernmost city in the world. Frigid, off the beaten path, and otherworldly, I fell in love with the place.

When I saw Starwood auctioning off a National Geographic/Lindblad cruise to Antarctica I knew I had to try for it. How awesome would it be to cross both polar circles in the same year?

I’m a big fan of using miles for once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Earlier this year I played on a DDF softball team in Wrigley Field with Starpoints. A few years ago I burned 25K United miles for 4 box seats to an Indians game. In middle of the game I got to run onto the field and literally steal 2nd base. As a die-hard Indians fan it was probably the coolest use of my miles ever. People around the stadium were shocked to see someone walking around with 2nd base. I got the base signed by several players, including the winning pitcher that night, and it hangs in my office today. It still has the Jacobs Field dirt on it. That story inspired other DansDeals readers to use their miles for some amazing experiences as well.

The idea of a cruise in general has never really appealed to me. I don’t like to travel in a group, I’d much rather march to the beat of my own drum. But when it comes to Antarctica I can’t just use my miles to buy a flight and wind up on the great white continent, so a cruise is a necessary evil.

Antarctica has long been on my bucket list and that was only strengthened when I helped a DDFer book an award ticket to the Falkland Islands in order to catch an Antarctica cruise. He later came back to DDF to say thanks and share this awesome trip report with amazing photos.

I started to get more serious with my own bucket list when my friend, Nadiv Kehaty, passed away last year at the age of 30. I booked and flew on the Island Hopper to Palau with AJK shortly after that happened. Mimi had zero interest in taking over a dozen flights across the Pacific, but thanks to DDF I was able to find someone to travel with so that I wouldn’t fly solo while checking something off my bucket list.

I didn’t have a problem finding a DDFer to come along to Antarctica with me, but of course as an Orthodox Jew there were lots of questions to ask and I started working my way down that list. The cruise would leave Ushuaia, Argentina on a Tuesday and return early the following Friday morning. On Saturday I would be stuck on the boat if it stopped anywhere unless it would stay put until after Shabbos was over. Shabbos near the Antarctic Circle is also problematic, but the cruise doesn’t go too far south, so there would be a sunset, but it never gets totally dark. If the cruise was in Port Lockroy on Saturday I would keep Shabbos from sunset Friday at 10:05PM until 1AM Sunday.

The other traveling obstacle for Orthodox Jews is kosher food. Many Orthodox Jews opt to vacation exclusively where there are kosher restaurants. Some do the exact same Miami Beach vacation every winter. I can definitely appreciate that, but that’s incredibly boring. I wouldn’t have been able to fly to Svalbard, Palau, or Tasmania by limiting myself to kosher food availability. But at the same time I’m not one to rough it. I bring gourmet food with me and have the best of both worlds.

Things are very different on a cruise though.

I called National Geographic/Lindblad about obtaining kosher meals on their cruises and was told that after paying for a cruise they would get in touch with me about kosher arrangements. I wasn’t about to risk my Starpoints without having the details hammered out. So I HUCA’d a few times until I was promised that someone would reach out to me.

They sent me a letter saying they normally can accommodate a “modern kosher diet” but not a “conservative Orthodox diet.” Apparently a modern kosher diet is when they bring kosher supplies from the US but there’s no supervision for what happens to those supplies onboard, which according to Jewish law makes it non-kosher.

I asked if I could bring my own sealed and frozen airline style meals from the US and they said no.

I asked if I could arrange for kosher airline meals from Buenos Aires based Open Kosher, the kosher meal supplier in Argentina, to be delivered to the cruise. I was given a tentative OK and began arranging it based on that. And then out of the blue I got the following phone call where they make it clear that they would not allow perishable kosher meals onto their ship even if I arranged and paid for everything as they state they do not accommodate Orthodox Jewish diets. Full stop.

I got the phone call while getting a haircut before Rosh Hashana, so I was distracted for the first 30 seconds of the call…

Audio of our conversation:

 

 

Despite follow-up requests via phone and email the “boss” that either may or may not exist never followed up with me.

I was pretty dejected after that. It was the first time as a traveler that I had ever received pushback in religious accommodation. Clearly that’s their right as a private business, but it was very disappointing that they weren’t willing to help at all, especially after indicating that it could be arranged.

My DDF partner emailed about bringing non-perishable snacks onboard and was told that generally it should be OK, though they asked to know what kind of snacks. Taking a small leap of faith, we figured we could bring aboard a combination of Tuna, Peanut Butter, and La Briute/Meal Mart shelf stable self-warming meals and survive the cruise. Cabins also have a mini-fridge, so maybe we would bring some vacuum sealed deli or shnitzel as well.

It wasn’t ideal, but we’d survive just fine.

The other issue National Geographic/Lindblad provides a charter flight from Santiago, Chile to Ushuaia on Tuesday returning Friday afternoon after a tour of Ushuaia. The flight is weight restricted which would make things very tricky if not impossible between camera equipment and 2 weeks of kosher food. For the return flight we wouldn’t have weight issues, but we would likely have Shabbos timing issues on the charter flight.

Instead I found award tickets to Buenos Aires. From Buenos Aires I’d be able to tack on a flight to Ushuaia as long as we stayed in Buenos Aires for less than 24 hours. On the return LAN had a flight that would work on Friday with miles, though bizarrely the flight itself kept getting cancelled and then reinstated every 2 days. There were flights from Aerolineas Argentinas that were dirt cheap, though they are intended for Argentine citizens only. Or we could stay in Ushaia for a few days to explore some of Patagonia and then take a LAN flight back to Buenos Aires on Monday or Tuesday. Of course that would mean more days of eating Tuna or finding a hotel to store sealed meals for us while we cruised to Antarctica.

The retail cost of the trip was about $28,000 for 2 people. The Starpoints bidding was at 478K points for 2 people on the morning of the auction’s close.

We figured that maybe we had a shot at 600K and agreed to go as high as 650K.

I have more than 2 million Starpoints, but they were nearly all locked in up in reservations at the S. Regis Maldives due to the price mistake that was found by an eagle-eyed DDF’er. I booked lots of reservations there hoping that one would work out for us as far as dates and flights. I still haven’t figured that out yet and the hotel is unwilling to edit the dates on those reservations, so I was reluctant to start cancelling them without knowing if we had a chance of winning the Antarctica cruise.

Normally Starpoint reservations can be cancelled instantly, but as this was a special rate it had to be cancelled with an agent.

The auction was set to end at 11AM on Tuesday, though SPG auctions get extended by 5 minutes every time another bid is placed.

By 10:39AM the bidding was at 590K. It was time to start cancelling some reservations. Cancelling several reservations took far longer than I thought it would, though other people kept the bidding going. There were times when I was having reservations cancelled that I was worried that the auction would end before I had a chance to bid and then I’d lose the reservations and the auction.

At 11:02AM I made a bid for 641K Starpoints which was outbid. I asked the other DDF member if we should go up higher and we agreed that we would cap it at 770K so I raced to cancel one more Maldives reservation and just in the nick of time I got the points back to bid 770K, which was outbid. I went to the full 771K in my account which also got outbid.

sp1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At that point we were done. I could have cancelled another of the dozen reservations in my account, but the value proposition just wasn’t there once we had to spend more than 770K Starpoints, book award tickets to Ushuaia, and bring along our own food for 2 weeks.

OK, so which of you guys outbid us. You had better post an awesome trip report! 😀

What places are on your travel bucket list?

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45 Comments On "Goodbye Antarctica: It’s Been A Fun Dream"

All opinions expressed below are user generated and the opinions aren’t provided, reviewed or endorsed by any advertiser or DansDeals.

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Yossi

I run a Chabad house and a grad student walked in with a sunglasses tan. I asked her if she’d been skiing, she replied no I’ve just come back from doing research in Antarctica.
Dan, you can try that route.

Nate

May I ask what the winning bid was?

am

what do you use to record your phone calls?

Jacques Cukierkorn

Dan,
Allow me to suggest the “Antartica Research Center” in Christchurch, NZ. Just returned from there. I figured out it was the closest I will ever get to the area and experience without the many many problema uou describe.

BarryLincoln

Wow… winning bid was 771,500… so close…

Dan

@Yossi:
What am I researching exactly?

@Nate:
Well it was 500 points more than I bid. But there’s no end to that, someone will always win by 500 points.

@am:
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.toxsl.totalcallrecorder&hl=en

@Jacques Cukierkorn:
Have a link?
Either way, I doubt they take Starpoints 🙂

@BarryLincoln:
With 2 people bidding it will always be close.

bob

I think you’re getting a little too pushy on the phone. Why’s it so shocking? They are a company doing business for the clientele they have. It’s not right to demand they fit every religious need. I think you were polite but a little too demanding. It’s not shocking.

Michael

Sorry you were outbid. Quick question – what did you use to record your conversation with the travel rep?

Bracha

It’s also been my dream to go to Antarctica. I was really surprised with the phone call (just seemed like she had never done this before and the idea of something new was mind boggling to her). I’m sorry it did not work out this time but don’t give up, it could still happen. Would you ever consider paying for a cruise? I’ve heard you can get really great last minute discounts.

Dan

@bob:
Perhaps, though if I’ve learned anything in this game it’s that you go get anywhere without being a little pushy.

I also didn’t think I was asking for too much. She told me I could find a supplier for the airlines, and I did.

Then she backed out without giving a good reason.

Obviously that’s their choice. But I was shocked that she would have me do that work and then just back out without a valid explanation other than not accommodating Orthodox diets.

@Michael:
See previous comments.

@Bracha:
I’d pay if the price was right. Though I;d always rather use my miles if the value is there.

Ak

Link for recorder isn’t working for me. Getting s message: “Sorry, we’re not in your country yet” or something along those lines.

Cornelius

Great post Dan!
As a side, what app do you use for call recording. That’s some great quality recording for a phone call.

Dan

@Cornelius:
See previous comments.

Joey

Dan how do you have 2million SPG points? Please teach us!

Nate

Hmm, Bucket List.
Let’s see…
New beds
Better Etrog

But for real, now I want to go to Antartica

Sam

@bob: I agree that it’s pretty surprising – he wasn’t demanding that they provide anything, he was offering to take care of the logistics and get everything delivered, he offered to pay for it!

He was saying, “can I bring my own food, and please heat it up for me?” And they said, “no – you’ll eat the food WE provide, or you’ll not eat at all.”

What would the rationale be for that?

Like he said, they have the right to make that choice, but that doesn’t take away the surprise.

USERNAME

@Nate:
[LIKE]

Redbull3

@Nate
[LOVE]

Lukas

If you LITERALLY stole the 2nd base, why are you publicly advertising this THEFT and why did anyone sign STOLEN PROPERTY? Oh, that’s right, that’s because it *wasn’t* LITERALLY stolen 😉 Wish people used the word properly, it’s been widely misused everywhere these past couple of years and it’s been driving me nuts (not literally, of course ;)).

whYME

@Dan:

Thanks for the link, I finally installed it. 🙂

am

Thank you!

noah32

@Lukas:

He meant “literal” as in he literally was able to pick up the actual base and take it with him, as opposed to “stealing” second base as a player. So…correct use.

Anonymous

@Lukas: People don’t use the word “literally” literally. 😉

EZ

I’d be very curious to know if they treat Muslims in the same fashion, in regards to Hallal dietary restrictions. The organizers really should try to cater towards everyone’s diet.

Dan

@Nate:
Isn’t that the beauty of this game though?
Being able to explore the world even if you don’t have the means to pay cash for it?

@Lukas:
A baseball player figuratively steals 2nd base. I literally stole 2nd base.
Figuratively speaking.

@whYME:
Lol

@noah32:
Yup

@Anonymous:
It’s hard to explain puns to kleptomaniacs because they always take things literally.

@EZ:
Ask and let us know.

j

people actually listened to the phone call?!?!

Jack

Dan, at any point do you plan on exiting the globe for travel outside of the international community (Earth)?

I know there is the International Space Station, which I believe used to be known as Mir – not to be confused with the yeshiva that shares that name.

No idea if they accept visitors but it would totally qualify as a once in a once in a lifetime experience….

Have an inspiring sukkos

Dan

@j:
Seems like it.

@Jack:
Lol.
Based on the track record of Jews in space I think I’ll stick to exploring this planet.

Fidelsky

There is a great kosher ice cream shop in Ushuaia called Freddo. Non Cholov Yisroel though

Dan

@Fidelsky:
Yup, they’re all over Argentina. They have parve ices that are delicious.

Caviar kugel

Hey Dan I gave up on Antarctica years ago so I settled on an industrial walk in freezer It’s similar experience plus kosher food 😀

Dan

@Caviar kugel:
And no need to go to Miami, just go to your local shvitz!

Andy

I’m not surprised the cruiseline refused to allow you to bring your own food. You’re asking the cruise line to take a huge legal risk in preparing food that is not their own. If you get a good illness the cruise line will have absolutely zero legal defense. This is just like going to an auto mechanic and asking him to repair your car and you supply your own parts. No mechanic I know would take that risk either.

in jlem now

Really inspiring post! I did 53 countries so far, still some more to go….
Most exciting trip was Dubai/Abu Dhabi all on miles/starpoints. Panama is coming up so happyfor input from other readers

Abby Prince

Very interesting. I also wonder if a person called “as” a Muslim, wouldcoukd halls meals be brought in by the passenger, and warmed. To answer your question about bucket list. I want to go to Galapagos. I don’t want to sign up for a cruise. I wznt to go with a small frum group and self cater. Can we get an interest meeting about this?

Dan

@Andy:
Actually they wouldn’t be preparing my food at all.

They would be taking a commercially sourced double sealed airline meal, the same that every airline out of EZE uses, and warming it up in their oven or microwave while it’s still double sealed.

@in jlem now:
@Abby Prince:
Try posting on http://forums.dansdeals.com/

Andy

Dan. I get your argument and you are trying to make things simple for the cruise line while maintaining a kosher diet. But there are still many elements of the food preparation that are outside the cruiseline’s control. That is unacceptable in today’s sue happy society. I would never allow that in my restaurant and I’d be surprised if any cruise lines would allow this as well. A simple Google search showed that Carnival Cruiseline does not allow this. https://help.carnival.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/2261/related/1

Please don’t blame the cruiseline, blame the lawyers.

Dan

@Andy:
You are wrong. Carnival sources kosher airline meals from an outside vendor and warms them up onboard.
http://www.cruisin.me/info/carnival-cruise-lines/kosher-dining.php

All I did was connect them to the local kosher airline meal source and arranged that they could ship the meals to Ushuaia.

I’m not sure what the connection is between a restaurant and a cruise. I would never assume a random restaurant would warm up my meal.

Hello

It’s really surprising to me that they won’t accommodate orthodox Jews, given the fact that they have partnership with B&H photo, since they joined national geographic and NG was for years partners,i am sure it was the representative that did it on her own…

Harry

@Sam: The rationale seems pretty clear to me. They don’t want “obvious” Jews on board their ship. Any Jew who considers their “modern kosher diet” kosher is unlikely to look too much like a “Jew”. On a small cruise like this they obviously want to keep people happy and not having those weird “Jews” on board will go some way to achieving that. Of course it is not that they dislike Jews it is just that their lawyers have told them that they need to be careful about outside food issues.

Anonymous

“We don’t have a problem catering for kosher, but we need to do it our way.”

Wow, does she have any idea how ridiculous and ignorant she sounds?

Yaakov

Years ago I went on merkaz shlichus to Ushaia. We used the hotel balcony for our fridge. Right side was meat and left for dairy 🙂
BTW we found a bunch of jews living there.

Jonathan Bachrach

Dad – off topic but I need to ask you. Does Dans Deals reach everyone close to 5 pm each day, or only me. Can anything be done?
Thanks for publishing.

Anonymous

@Dan:
I’m about to take my 15th cruise, 14 of which were on Carnival. Not only do they offer kosher frozen airline meals, they also let me bring on board my own Pomegranate meals, and they store them in the freezer for me and reheat and serve them to me in a timely manner each day! They are amazing…

Morris Hersko

Well this post hasn’t aged well 🙂

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