Interested in the southernmost continent? Here’s a roundup of some of the new ships and itineraries planned for the bucket-list destination.
By Nora Walsh Jan 1, 2020
As the number of travelers cruising Antarctica swells, polar expedition companies are launching sustainable vessels designed for these bucket-list trips.
According to the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators, approximately 56,000 tourists visited Antarctica in the 2018-2019 season, a 53 percent increase from the 2014-2015 season.
“Climate change is a chief reason for the increased interest in visiting Antarctica,” said Mary Curry, a small ship cruise specialist and travel planner at Adventure Life. “We truly don’t know if the region will ever be as magnificent as it is now.”
“Antarctica itineraries often sell out one or two years in advance, so travelers should be prepared to book early,” she advised.
Interested in seeing the southernmost continent? Here’s a roundup of some of the tour operators planning itineraries for this year and next.
In November, Antarctica21 debuted the world’s first vessel purpose-built for Antarctic tourism: the 73-passenger Magellan Explorer, equipped with ice-detecting radar technology, a heat recycling system and a fleet of 10 Zodiac boats. A forward-facing observation deck and glass-enclosed lounge offer prime wildlife viewing, while designer guest rooms feature balconies and single cabins.
Most itineraries, including the 8-day Classic Antarctica Air-Cruise, bypass the turbulent waters of the Drake Passage by flying from Punta Arenas to King George Island. From there, travelers cruise the South Shetland Islands and west coast of Antarctica to spot penguins, whales and other marine wildlife. Full board rates begin at $13,995 per person and include Antarctic flights and activities.
The cruise operator Hurtigruten in March will unveil the 530-passenger MS Fridtjof Nansen, the sister-ship to the just-launched MS Roald Amundsen. Both vessels feature science centers and citizen science projects, and both are hybrid electric-powered with low-emission engines.
“We want to take conscious travelers closer to nature with a footprint we’re proud of,” said Daniel Skjeldam, the company’s chief executive.
The MS Fridtjof Nansen’s Highlights of the Frozen Continent, a 12-day journey, explores some 20 sites across the Antarctic Peninsula, where guests can take a polar plunge and enter a lottery to camp overnight on the ice. Prices start at $7,875 per person with eight sailings from November 2020 to January 2021.
In April, Lindblad Expeditions’ new National Geographic Endurance vessel will hit the seas featuring 69 cabins, a science command center and a PC5 ice class — it’s the strongest ice-breaking expedition ship of its kind based on an international rating system for polar vessels. Additional amenities include two observation “igloos,” a spa with infinity Jacuzzis and a permanent polar art installation. The new 35-day Epic Antarctica voyage traverses the Antarctic Peninsula, the 200-foot Ross Ice Shelf and UNESCO sites on Australia and New Zealand’s sub-Antarctic islands. Guests travel with a crew of veteran naturalists, a certified photo instructor, and an undersea specialist equipped with a hydrophone and underwater video camera.
“Travelers will encounter almost every imaginable form of ice and observe endemic species found nowhere else on earth,” said Trey Byus, the company’s chief expedition officer. All-inclusive rates from $48,800 with departures on December 27, 2021 and January 26, 2022.
Astronomy buffs should keep their eyes on the 93-cabin Ocean Victory, launching this December. The travel outfitter Adventure Life is taking guests to witness next year’s total solar eclipse on Dec. 4 at a prime position just east of South Orkney Island. (The rare celestial show won’t happen again in this part of the world until 2061.) Other trip highlights include viewing breeding penguins on South Georgia Island, Weddell seals on Cuverville Island and Lemaire Channel’s orca whales.
“There will always be a team of experts on board from historians to biologists to glaciologists to help educate guests on their surroundings,” said Ms. Curry, Adventure Life’s travel planner. The 15-day voyage starts at $13,000 per person on a full-board basis.
Next year, Quark Expeditions will christen the 102-suite Ultramarine, and its two twin-engine helicopters and 20 easy-access Zodiac boats. Guests will be able to test their mettle on a variety of heli-adventures from hiking to flightseeing, all of which explore areas only accessible by air.
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Outdoor enthusiasts can also cross-country ski, paddle polar waters with stand-up boards and camp out in the icy wilderness. The tour operator Scott Dunn will be offering 11- to 23-night full-board trips to Antarctica on Ultramarine in 2021, starting at approximately $15,000 per person.
The expedition cruise company Ponant plans to bring together travelers and scientists on a new electric hybrid vessel, the 135-stateroom Le Commandant Charcot, launching in May 2021. Fitted with modern oceanographic equipment and a research laboratory, guests will be able to assist scientists in research activities.
“A team of scientists can do a survey on the sea ice in an hour, but 200 passengers can do it 10 times more quickly,” said Nicolas Dubreuil, director of expeditions and sustainability.
The ship’s bevy of polar toys, including hovercrafts, electric snowmobiles and a tethered hot air balloon, give guests a privileged vantage point of Antarctica’s indelible and fragile beauty. All-inclusive prices for the 15-day Expedition to Charcot & Peter I Islands start at $16,480 per person for trips departing next fall and winter.