An Antarctica cruise is usually part of a larger South America itinerary, or it can stand on its own; Ushuaia, the world's southernmost city located in Argentina, often serves as a jump-off point for an Antarctica itinerary. Ships traversing the Antarctic landscape have certain features that are different from normal ships. Many are icebreakers or have ice-hardened hulls. Also, advise your clients to book a ship that is equipped with Zodiacs, which are inflatable raft-like crafts used for landings.
If your clients really want to experience Antarctica, persuade them to book with a smaller ship. The bigger ships cruise the region but usually do not offer landings, which, basically, defeats the purpose of the trip. Standing beside a penguin is certainly more exciting than eyeing one through a pair of binoculars.
So while this year's Antarctica season recently passed, here's what some cruise lines have planned for 2008/2009.Crystal Cruises (www.crystalcruises.com) offers an 18-day Grand Holiday Passage cruise from Valparaiso to Buenos Aires on Crystal Symphony, departing December 22. A highlight includes cruising Elephant Island, named for the native elephant seals. Rates start at $11,000 per person.
Hapag-Lloyd (www.hl-cruises.com) offers 19-to 36-day itineraries. Most are round-trip from Ushuaia and start at just a shade under $9,000 per person. The line uses two ships, the MS Bremen and MS Hanseatic, and features all the major Antarctic attractions. (Note: Hapag-Lloyd prices its cruises in Euros, with rates starting at 7,770 for the 19-day itinerary, and 16,930 for the 36-day cruise.)
Holland America Line's (www.hollandamerica.com) Amsterdam is one of the biggest ships operating in Antarctica at around 1,300 passengers. It offers 20-day cruises beginning in December with departure points at Santiago and Rio de Janeiro. Pricing begins just under $4,000 per person for an inside room.
Hurtigruten (www.hurtigruten.us) has a robust Antarctica schedule with nine different options for trip length. Its season kicks off early, in October, with a 22-day program from Puerto Madryn on the MS Nordnorge.
The line's newest addition, the 268-passenger MS Fram, conducts a 13-day program, which, weather permitting, offers landings at such must-sees as Half Moon Island (home to a community of chinstrap penguins), Deception Island (known for its black volcanic beach and warm spring) and Port Lockroy, a British base that's notable for selling postcards with Antarctica postmarks.
Lindblad Expeditions (www.expeditions.com) offers intimate 15-and 25-day itineraries on its National Geographic Endeavor ship, a collaborative operation between Lindblad and the National Geographic Society, which provides photographers and experts on each sailing. The exploration line offers three separate itineraries: Antarctica-The White Continent (rates start at $10,250 per person); Antarctica, Falklands and South Georgia (starting at $17,590); and South Georgia & The Falklands (starting at $12,740). The line also has an online store called LEXgear (www.lexgear.com), where passengers can purchase clothing and gear suitable for the Antarctic climate and terrain before their trip.
Princess Cruises' (www.princess.com)
Star Princess will sail two 16-day Antarctica itineraries in 2009, departing on January 17 and February 14 from Buenos Aires and returning to Santiago. At 2,600 passengers, Star Princess is by far the largest ship being deployed to the region. That being the case, don't expect to get up close and personal with the wildlife. Days seven through 10 will be spent scenic cruising through the Antarctica Peninsula.
Pricing begins at $2,515 per person for an interior room, while a suite will cost $5,655 per person.
Regent Seven Seas Cruises (www.rssc.com) offers back-to-back 11-and 14-night cruises respectively, round-trip from Ushuaia on its expedition-built ship, the 300-passenger Minerva (formerly the Explorer II), beginning January 14, 2009. The cruise circles the South Shetland Islands and traverses the Drake Passage.
Fares start at $10,495 for the 11-night itinerary, and $12,895 for the 14-night trip, which adds a call to South Georgia Island. The packages include round-trip airfare and exploration gear.
Silversea Cruises' (www.silversea.com) HSH Prince Albert II was named in tribute to Prince Albert of Monaco, himself an avid explorer, and, perhaps, because Monaco is Silversea's world headquarters. The ship is ideal for Antarctica with a 1A ice-class rating (powerful enough to cut through ice-covered water) and capacity for only 132 passengers, which makes the ship quite intimate.
The Prince Albert will carry eight Zodiac boats and begin its inaugural Antarctica season on November 14, offering an initial 16-day voyage round-trip from Ushuaia and calling at such ports as South Georgia and the South Orkneys. Thereafter, the ship will operate six 11-day itineraries (interrupted by another 16-day voyage departing on February 9) also round-trip from Ushuaia, which feature the Antarctic Peninsula. The last voyage of the season is set for February 25 from Ushuaia and visits the Chilean Fjords before finishing up in Santiago.
Fares for the 16-day cruise begin around $10,000 per person for the lowest class room, Adventurer Class, and $37,600 for an Owner's Suite. The rates for the 11-day cruise begin around $8,000 per person for an Adventurer Class room, and $30,000 for an Owner's Suite.
Travel Dynamics International (www.traveldynamicsinternational.com) operates 10-night Antarctica cruises beginning in December aboard the 114-guest, all-suite Corinthian II, which offers everything from 24-hour room service to satellite TV in the rooms. The ship's expedition leader, John Frick, has logged over 25 Antarctic voyages and he is joined onboard by staff naturalists and lecturers. Travel Dynamics' program includes all shore excursions, which are carried out on Zodiacs and are fully guided. The line also provides each guest with a complimentary parka, which is key for the cold weather.
The longest stretch of the itinerary is spent cruising the Antarctic Peninsula for five days with calls that include Cuverille Island, with its large contingent of Gentoo penguins, Deception Island, which is a sunken volcano caldera, and Hannah Point, notable for its bird and elephant seal colonies. There are Zodiac excursions whenever possible, depending on the prevailing weather conditions.
Rates for the voyage begin at $8,795 per person, but can go as high as $15,795 for a 400-square-foot deluxe penthouse suite.
Voyages of Discovery (www.voyagesofdiscovery.com) has the 650-passenger MV Discovery, which begins its Antarctica season in November and operates there through February. The line offers an array of itineraries that bring its passengers into close contact with the wonders of the region.
The 38-night Voyage to Antarctica itinerary starts at $8,000 with pre-and post-cruise hotel stays included in the price. — David Eisen