White Wonderland: The Best Antarctic Cruises
Small ship, adventure and expedition cruising are gaining enormous popularity with travellers who may have never before considered “edgy” travel to far-off places. Many first-time adventurers will have their debut experience in Antarctica, departing the southernmost port in the world, Ushuaia, at the bottom of Argentina. Once the domain of ice-encrusted explorers like Shackleton and Mawson, complete with sled dogs and frostbite, Antarctic cruises have never been easier or more reasonably priced.
Why Antarctica? For many it epitomises real adventure and good old-fashioned exploration. For others, it’s the staggering scenery and amazing wildlife encounters with penguins, seals and whales. Either way, Antarctica will change you.
While the ageing former Soviet oceanographic vessels remain popular with purists craving the harder edge of polar travel, the new wave of modern expedition ships are packed with all the comforts of the big cruise ships, including gourmet chefs, sommeliers, plush cabins with private facilities, wi-fi, gyms, spas and spacious public areas like libraries and lounges.
Itineraries on Antarctic cruises vary from simple, week-long dashes across the Drake Passage to the Antarctic Peninsula, to more extensive voyages that visit the subantarctic islands and remote territories like the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and even the icy Weddell Sea.
The choice of ship and style of cruise also vary. Here are some of the options available to both repeat and first-time adventurers.
This exclusive, luxury line joined the ranks of the world’s expedition fleet in 2008, bringing with it an enviable reputable for quality dining and all-inclusive pricing. Their ship in the Antarctic, the 132-guest Silver Explorer, is among the very best of its type afloat, offering butler service, fine dining and expert shore excursions with experienced staff. Silver Explorer sails a range of itineraries ranging from 10 to 22 days through the Antarctic and Subantarctic.
French-flagged Ponant delivers a highly individual style of cruising aboard some of the largest of the small ships operating in Antarctic waters. These swanky, 264-passenger vessels limit their capacity to 200 for Antarctic operations, making sure all guests enjoy maximum time ashore. Ponant bring three of their five ships to Antarctica, offering 14 sailings on four diverse itineraries of between 10 and 17 days.
Lindblad Expeditions – National Geographic
The Lindblad brand is synonymous with adventure and exploration and now, with the recent addition of the deluxe 102-passenger National Geographic Orion, two vessels are on offer in the region. Itineraries range from 14 to 24 days and Lindblad often enjoy repeat guests, due to their thorough enrichment programs and immersive excursions.
The original luxury expedition cruisers, this German line positions two vessels, the 155-guest MS Bremen and the 184-guest MS Hanseatic, in the Antarctic each year. Their intensive itineraries typically extend to three weeks and are exhaustive in their coverage of the region. Guests enjoy excellent dining and a range of onboard facilities.
Holland America Line
In contrast to their small ship cousins, HAL offers an opportunity to view the eye-popping scenery of the Antarctic Peninsula without shore excursions. Guests instead go ashore on the South American mainland and enjoy the most cost-effective way of seeing Antarctica. As far as big ships go, the 1432-passenger Ms Zaandam is one of the smaller ships and spends the southern summer cruising between Santiago and Buenos Aires over three weeks.