A Chill Chat with Our Polar Expert, Franny Bergschneider

By Jules Torti | April 11, 2023

I sat down (virtually) to chat with WWE’s in-house polar expert, Franny. How does one earn polar expert status? The Wild Women team decided that 80+ Antarctica trips was sufficient experience in all things related to Shackleton and penguin antics.

Photo credit: Denis Minty


Like me, you’re probably wondering what a 21-day navigation looks like. What does it feel like? Taste like? What do you do when there’s nothing to see but sea?

Franny begins logically—”expect the unexpected.” A stormfront with 60-knot winds rerouted the inaugural Antarctica, South Georgia and Falkland Islands Explorer Wild Women crew to the eastern peninsula which only amplified the experience. “The landscape is so geographically different–it’s completely volcanic,” Franny said. The scale of Antarctica and its glaciated moonscape makes passengers feel like they are on another planet. “It’s sensory overload–the sounds, smell and scale.”

On South Georgia Island, for those who love safari-like, fauna-rich experiences, this isle has the largest density of wildlife on the planet. Revisiting the experience, Franny glows when sharing her highlight in the South Orkneys. “We saw a dozen white morph southern giant petrels together which is so rare. They are like the velociraptor of the bird world.” (*A morph occurs when birds of the same species develop more than one plumage colour. It’s a genetic variation, affecting colour.I) I later learn that the petrel is also known as the ‘stinker’ or ‘stinkpot’ of the southern oceans for its greedy, vulture-like behaviour. Franny laughs as she recalls the swarm of more than 50 petrels barking like dogs over a carcass. “There will be carnage,” she promises. This is nature after all, unfiltered. There’s no commercial break.


Happywhales and Burritos

If you do want a commercial break, it’s possible. There are yoga classes, a hot tub to simmer in and a sauna too. While the Antarctic itineraries are far from strenuous, you can remain dedicated to your gym bunny routine on the ship. If you’d like to exercise your mind, there’s that too. Each navigation offers a few citizen science opportunities for Wild Women to become involved in. You can participate in the Happywhale program and submit your photos of humpbacks and other whale species for identification by the scientists. To date, 581,268 photos have been submitted and 87,569 individuals counted. How does this help? Repeat sightings of individuals illuminate movement patterns, population dynamics and survivorship. For a more tangible experience, there might be a citizen science seaweed count or zooplankton and phytoplankton sampling.

Speaking of sampling, what’s for lunch? Franny explains the elaborate affair: there’s a carving station, salad bar, soups, everyday items like fries and specialty stations serving a daily feature like burritos. There are also meatless meals to encourage passengers to reconsider a more sustainable diet, with tempting incentives. Seafood and fish were actually removed from the menu as Intrepid couldn’t find a sustainable source.

Early birds will be pleased with a 6:30am brekkie option and for the birds who like to sleep a bit longer, 7–9am (on expedition days and 7:30-9am on sea days) is designated for a continental breakfast complete with an omelet station, traditional Brit fare, an oatmeal experience, fresh fruit and always purring coffee.


Pull up a Seat!

I ask Franny about the table dynamics. “That’s the best part for an introvert like me. Wild Women has a designated table so you have this built-in community and safe homebase. You can choose your own adventure and design your own day–mingle with other passengers if you want. Then, you always have a table of friends to share meals with. On our trip we had a few extra seats at our table so sometimes we’d have a guest (a staff member), or Wild Women would invite other women they’d met on the ship to join us. We rotate seats so everyone gets to connect.”

That’s what sets Wild Women apart, Franny says. “We have a private Zodiac experience, too. It’s just our Wild Women group experiencing everything together even though we are part of a larger group.”

Photo credit: Espen Mills


What to See on the Sea Days

Sea days are the ideal time to fully disconnect, decompress and feel the remoteness. At sea, there’s space to integrate and digest the enormous experience of visiting the 7th continent.

There is also extensive programming on board–you can choose from several niche lectures and workshops on ornithology, climate change, geology, history, Antarctic history and more. This is a floating university!

And then Franny grows silent. “You know, it’s the silence. This opportunity to not be connected. Live in the unknown. To let go. You gain a deeper understanding of the world’s most delicate ecosystem and become an ambassador for Antarctica.”

If the thought of being disconnected makes you twitchy, there’s wifi (sometimes), but at a premium price. Make every word count! You can expect to pay $20USD for 30 minutes or $50USD for 90 minutes. There’s also an in-cabin TV and scheduled entertainment like open mike, music and trivia nights.


Champenguins and Penguinologists

Every expedition includes a captain’s cocktail welcome (and farewell) and a voyage slideshow by the in-house photographer (near the end of the trip). There’s an auction too featuring “champenguins” who will top up your champers when you place a bid. Money raised during small ship expedition auctions support projects like Greenpeace and Penguin Lifelines. Also, who knew a penguinologist was a thing you could be?

And about those penguins. In Gold Harbour, there are over 60,000 pairs of King penguins! For the recent WWE group, the Adelie and gentoos were just reaching the tween stage of being bossy and demanding. On Brown Bluff (a continental landing *not to be confused with continental breakfast), the Wild Women witnessed the comical antics of chicks chasing their parents and ravenous food exchanges.

So, right about now you should be feeling that nervous energy that comes with enticement. The lure of Antarctica can pull you in when you least expect it. Here are a few more things you should know about pom poms and penguinologists before you say “YES!”


What does biosecurity mean and why does it involve my hat with a pom pom?

In an attempt to stamp out Avian flu transmission, Quark Expeditions has adjusted their animal encounter and safe space measures. Before landing, biosecurity protocol requires a thorough cleaning of boots and velcro (on your jacket or waterproof pants) to remove any invasive seeds. This is not the trip to bring your fluffy, wooly sweater and favourite frayed daypack or hat with a big pompom. These items can harbor transmissibles and you won’t be permitted to wear them during the expedition.


What about money? Do I need cash on board?

You can be cashless on the ship as you will have an onboard account to charge all incidentals and sundries to. Franny does suggest having some cash in your pocket to tip the house stewards and waitstaff.


What about safety?

You’ll be thoroughly briefed on all aspects of sea and Zodiac safety. For your own personal safety, a strong sense of balance and stability is required. You must be comfortable entering and exiting Zodiacs and walking on a ship that may sometimes be topsy-turvy due to sea conditions.

Intrigued? You can tune into our recorded webinar with Franny, as we chat about what to expect on an expedition to Antarctica, below!

Ready to book? We can help with that too. Check out our Antarctica 2023/2024 itineraries here [click me!] and contact a Polar Expert at adventure@wildwomenexpeditions.com or call at 1-888-993-1222.