Many travelers regard a trip to Antarctica as the ultimate expedition.
Longtime adventure travel leader Abercrombie & Kent offers voyages to the White Continent onboard Ponant’s luxury expedition ships, and Cruise Addicts was asked to join a trip to find out what these journeys are all about.
There is no doubt that each visit to Antarctica unveils something new and exciting. This pristine part of the world is largely uninhabited and holds a special aura. During our journey, we discovered our five favorite reasons to take an expedition cruise to Antarctica.
All the Eyes (and Your Lenses) Can See
The expedition is all about the photos, and much of Abercrombie & Kent’s onboard programming is designed to help cruisers take their best pictures of all kinds of creatures and the region’s spectacular landscape.
Two photo coaches offered lectures and one-on-one consultation with passengers to show how to best capture images, whether with high-tech equipment or a smartphone. These coaches are also out in the field on excursions with you, so you can always ask questions.
You will do better with a good camera and decent lenses on this trip as you’ll want to be able to take advantage of the chance to shoot a wide range of seabirds and whales. These creatures were frequently within sight while we sailed on Ponant’s cruise ship Le Lyrial. The most prominent birds are the numerous species of albatross and petrel. Killer whales, humpbacks and fin whales also were seen during our time cruising on the ship as well as during Zodiac tours.
Onshore, the wildlife is incredibly abundant, and we found ourselves surrounded by colonies of penguins and seals at nearly every stop.
Sense of Adventure
You can unleash your inner polar adventurer on an expedition cruise to Antarctica. Not only will you get to learn a lot about Sir Ernest Shackleton and other legendary explorers of the Antarctic Region, but you also will get to walk in their footsteps.
Daily excursions include Zodiac tours, hikes and long walks along rocky beaches and amid harsh terrain among colonies of seals and penguins.
We crossed the Drake Passage and spent three days in the Antarctic Peninsula. The passage heads due south from Ushuaia, Argentina (the southernmost tip of South America), and can be notoriously turbulent. We were fortunate to face mostly calm waters on the way down, but it’s a coin flip for whether you will get the “Drake Lake” as we did or the “Drake Shake” with swells of more than 25 feet.
In Antarctica, we stopped at Danco Island, Neko Harbour, Cierva Cove, Mikkelsen Harbour, Yankee Harbor, and Aitcho Islands. In these places, we went on walks on the continent and adjacent islands and took skiff tours in the waters to see gentoo penguins, chinstrap penguins, leopard seals, and Weddell seals.
The scenery is surreal, with mountains, ice floes and glaciers serving as the almost-constant backdrop of your trip. Whales were frequently spotted feeding and spouting alongside our ship as we sailed.
More than the White Continent
Abercrombie & Kent design epic voyages that let you take full advantage of your long trip south. You can start with a few days in Buenos Aires, the vibrant capital of Argentina. While there, you can go on city tours to learn about the culture and history, dig into the food scene with your fill of steaks and empanadas or enjoy the nightlife with tango lessons. A pre-cruise trip to stunning Iguazu Falls is also an option.
They offer Antarctica only trips, but our itinerary called for two other special destinations: South Georgia Island and Stanley in the Falkland Islands.
We departed Antarctica and sailed for two days before arriving at South Georgia, where we spent three days. A nasty storm meant that we had to miss Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands. The schedule typically has cruisers spending one day in Stanley.
South Georgia is a pristine natural wonderland, bursting with wildlife activity. We went ashore at Fortuna Bay to interact with a massive fur seal and King penguin colonies. At Grytviken, an old whaling station site, we were able to see the historic village, which has a museum, gift shop, wrecks of ships run aground and displayed on the shore and a cemetery that is home to Shackleton’s grave. We went on a vigorous hike on a path that goes over the tip of the town and gives amazing views of the bay. Of course, we were amid thousands of fur seals, too.
A skiff tour in Drygalski Fjord put us onto the bluest water I’ve ever seen and up close to sea ice and giant glaciers. One of them calved a couple of times to fill the channel with a thunderous crack and loud splashes.
The sensory overload continued at Salisbury Plain, where we stepped ashore and into one of the largest King penguin colonies in the world, and at Elsehul, a cove where we enjoyed another Zodiac tour amid dozens of species of sea birds and saw our first Macaroni penguins, as well as seals of all types laying on the beaches, rocky cliffsides and playing in the churning waters.
At Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands, you would have the choice of several excursions, including nature walks and visits to a Falkland battlefield. There is also a shuttle service provided so you can explore the region and town on your own. We skipped the port on our sailing, however, because of the storm, which caused 40-feet waves and near hurricane-force winds. (It’s all part of the sailing adventure!)
You Can Sail in Style
We visited the Antarctic region in January, which is during the summer season, and we had a mix of rainy and windy days as well as good stretches of sunshine. Temps are definitely cold, and the conditions are rough, rocky, muddy and smelly (the penguin guano is strong) when hiking around onshore.
But the voyage is not without plenty of comforts. The luxury expedition ship Le Lyrial features delicious French cuisine, room service available 24 hours a day and suites with balconies and butlers.
Staff service is highly attentive and friendly, and ship amenities include a heated swimming pool and a spa facility with massage treatments, a steam room, and a fitness center.
You’ll Have Bragging Rights
Only a select group of travelers get to all seven continents, and Antarctica is typically the final one that they check off. It definitely can be an expensive trip, but if you have a passion for cruising and travel, an expedition cruise like this will mark the trip of a lifetime. You’ll return with more incredible photos and memories than you could imagine.
You’re also likely to be dreaming of penguins and seals for many nights after your return.
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- 15 Things to Know About Ponant’s Luxury Expedition Ships
- Set Sail for the World’s Most Inspiring Continent on an Expedition Cruise to Antarctica
- Viking Expeditions Preview And Viking Jupiter Naming
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