|Kayak excursions from the Antarctic Dream are one way to get close-up looks at indigenous wildlife.|
True to its name, this small ship is big on comfort, camaraderie and epic sightseeing.
While there are countless reasons why Antarctica deserves to be on every intrepid traveler’s wish list, starting this August, only ships carrying fewer than 500 passengers will be headed that way. This is the result of a heavy-fuels ban issued by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the United Nations agency that oversees maritime safety.
Intended to cut down on oil consumption and pollution, the ban will also keep Antarctica from becoming another overrun port of call. Some predict the change will reduce the number of annual visitors from 33,000 to 24,000. Because prices are expected to rise, a visit to the White Continent is destined to become an even more exclusive experience.
Fortunately, the ban makes the voyage all the more enticing with better access, as smaller vessels provide an enhanced experience with their ability to get closer to shore as well as land excursions that allow passengers to get their boots muddy and mingle with the wildlife.
The M/V Antarctic Dream, originally commissioned for the Chilean Navy, was refurbished in 2002 with 40 double cabins to accommodate up to 80 passengers. With a gross tonnage of 2,000 metric tons and a strengthened hull for polar navigation, the small expedition cruise ship is well fitted to handle the Drake Passage’s notorious rough seas and Antarctica’s unpredictable conditions. An easy-going Chilean crew tends to the international mix of Gore-Tex-wearing adventurers and amateur photographers from all walks of life.
A highlight of the Antarctic Dream is its spacious dining area, where passengers spend most of their time eating and socializing. Complimentary wine served with lunch and dinner promotes a spirit of camaraderie while afternoon tea is available for those still getting their sea legs.
Offering panoramic views of the epic scenery, the dining room includes a bar and several comfortable couches on which to lounge. It’s also the ideal place to ride out the Drake Shake, the catchy name given to describe the Drake Sea when rough seas prevail. Although dining can be an adventure with the ship rocking to and fro, waiters bearing laden trays rarely miss a step. The dining room also hosts its fair share of impromptu dance parties, generally on the last night of the journey.
Although each of the ship’s four types of accommodations is comfortable, Cape Horn and Piloto Pardo suites—two of each—are the most inviting with additional space and windows. They’re also the only rooms on board with bathtubs. The Shackleton Cabins are also more appealing with a bit more space and larger windows than the portholes found in the Amundsen Cabins.
Most passengers will be too distracted by life on board to spend much time in their cabins. Instead, they’ll want to take advantage of the library, which has a collection of books on Antarctica; the auditorium, where various lectures are held; the bridge, the place to watch the captain and crew in action; and the deck, to view Antarctica’s stunning array of glaciers, icebergs and wildlife.