Cruise Focus - Luxury Travel Magazine
|By: Andrew Conway, Issue 29- Summer 2007 |
|A VOYAGE TO ANTARTICA REMAINS ONE OF THE WORLD’S GREAT ADVENTURE HOLIDAYS, AND CAN BE DONE IN COMFORT, LUXURY AND STYLE.|
|It’s the coldest, windiest and driest place on Earth. It’s also the highest continent, with more than half of the land rising 2,000 metres above sea level, and its highest peak soaring almost 3,500m. It boasts the greatest concentration of wildlife anywhere in the world, making the annual migration of Africa look like a walk in the park, and is almost permanently shrouded in thick snow and pack ice. |
The ‘tourist’ season lasts just four months between November and February, the sea voyage between South America, Australia and New Zealand can be rough, and there are no hip hotels, luxury resorts, designer boutiques, idyllic beaches or theme-park attractions to speak of. And yet for the thousands of travellers who make the journey each year – and the millions who just dream about it – the Antarctic remains one of life’s ‘must-see’ destinations, and one of the world’s great adventure holidays.
Once the realm of explorers, adventurers and scientists, this vast and extraordinary wilderness is now firmly on the global tourist map with a small flotilla of cruise ships – from large luxury liners to small expedition vessels – making the shorter crossing from Ushuaia in Argentina or much longer passage from Hobart in Tasmania or Bluff in southern New Zealand. The major destinations slide off the tongue like an Emperor penguin off an iceshelf – South Georgia, the Falkland Islands and Antarctic Peninsula, the Ross Sea, Commonwealth Bay, Macquarie Island and Cape Denison – as well as a sled-load of other remote and rugged places immortalized by the legendary heroics of Mawson, Shackleton and Scott.
You’ll see icebergs the size of office blocks, vast colonies of seal, penguins, and rare birdlife, the occasional passing whale if you’re lucky, and on some cruises the chance to walk, dive, climb, kayak and camp in various locations.
With around 30 ships plying the waters of the Antarctic each season, the cruise options are many and varied from superliners operated by Princess Cruises, Crystal Cruises, Holland America Line, Orient Lines and Hapag-Lloyd Cruises to small, intimate and luxurious expedition vessels like the Australian-owned Orion Expedition Cruises or World Explorer Cruises, offered by Abercrombie & Kent, as well as ice-strengthened polar expedition and research vessels operated by adventure specialists like Aurora Expeditions, Adventure Associates and Peregrine Adventures.
Each offers a unique and fascinating insight into the world’s last great wilderness – as well as the opportunity to explore in comfort, luxury and style, if you so choose – but vary wildly in terms of destinations, sightseeing, on-board facilities, shore-based activities and price.
The large liners, for example, provide a more traditional cruise experience but have no access to big-ship docking facilities, so passengers are limited to a ‘cruise-by’ type of holiday. Smaller and more intimate expedition vessels like Orion (carrying just 50 couples) and A&K’s Explorer II (with room for a maximum 199 passengers) offer a combination of luxury and adventure, with visits to remote and rugged destinations in five star comfort.
This is Orion’s third successful season in the region, with Australia’s ‘Antarctic Couple’ Don and Margie McIntyre leading an on-board team of six highly knowledgeable and experienced ornithologists, naturalists, scientists and historians as guides and lecturers. Both Orion and Explorer II come equipped with a small fleet of Zodiacs to transport passengers to settlements, research stations and wildlife or bird colonies – as well as top-drawer accommodation, gourmet food and fine wines.
If you’re willing to forgo some of the creature comforts, a voyage on a polar expedition or research vessel – such as Aurora Expedition’s Polar Pioneer, Peregrine’s Mariner and Voyager, and Adventure Associates’ Professor Multanovskiy and Akademik Shokalskiy – is arguably the most authentic Antarctic experience. Built with ice-strengthened hulls, and designed to withstand the harshest polar conditions, these hardy vessels carry only around 60 passengers, have simple but comfortable cabin accommodation (some with shared bathroom facilities, others with private ensuites), usually a Russian captain and crew, European chefs, a bar, lounge and library with a decent selection of polar books, and a small fleet of Zodiacs for shore excursions.
The strength, maneuverability and ice-breaking capacity of these vessels allows them to travel deeper into the frigid wilderness to areas seen by very few people. Some of these cruises have themes, such as photography, or special activities allowing passengers to hike, camp, climb, kayak or scuba-dive (conditions permitting) in unique locations.
While Antarctic cruises carry hefty price tags, starting from around $5,000 a person for a triple-share cabin, they fill up quickly each year and often well ahead of time. Australia’s leading online cruise company, Ecruising (www.ecruising.travel), has a small number of last-minute specials for this season – notably on board Explorer II, Peregrine Mariner and Orient Lines’ Marco Polo – but most eyes are on next year, starting in November 2007 and stretching through to February 2008.
Orion, which is fully booked for this season, is offering two 18-day Antarctic voyages next year: from Hobart to Bluff, departing on December 12 (a true white Christmas), and the return cruise departing on December 30 (with New Year’s Eve at sea), costing from $12,660 a person (twin-share). Abercrombie & Kent, Aurora, Peregrine, and Adventure Associates have also released their 2007/8 programs, awash with cruise options and special early booking fares. As for the Antarctic, well, it’s standing by to offer a very cold welcome, icebergs and all.
|Orion Expedition Cruises: www.orioncruises.com.au|
|Aurora Expeditions: www.auroraexpeditions.com.au|
|Adventure Associates: www.adventureassociates.com|
|Peregrine Adventures: www.peregrineadventures.com|
|Abercrombie & Kent: www.abercrombiekent.com.au|