To Do: Plan Next Year's Antarctic Cruise Now
Now is the time to start planning a trip to Antarctica, the Great White Continent. It's perhaps one of the last untouched patches of nature on the planet. If you love wildlife you'll be amazed by the variety of animals that make their home in a location with such an inhospitable climate. You'll see everything from seals and penguins to whales and albatross.
It's not easy to get to Antarctica, but it is well worth the trip. You'll need to board an expedition ship with ice-class reinforced hulls and topnotch communications equipment. These days, a variety of ships—including a few that target the luxury demographic—sail itineraries in the region.
When to Visit Antarctica
Cruise ships visit the South Pole every summer, which in the southern hemisphere runs from November through March. It will be coldest in November but landings will be more pristine since the season is just beginning and visitors haven't yet muddied the most popular sightseeing spots. Expect up to 20 hours of daylight during December and January. These are the months when penguin chicks begin hatching. If you're most interested in whales, it's best to visit later in the summer, in February and March.
Where You'll Go
Most Antarctica expeditions begin and end in Argentina with embarkation/debarkation in either Buenos Aires on the northeast coast or Ushuaia on the island of Tierra del Fuego off the southern tip of the country.
From Ushuaia you'll sail the Beagle Channel and then make your way into the Drake Passage that's known for its rough seas before arriving at the Antarctica Peninsula. Here are a few of the highlights on the peninsula...
Aitcho Islands: In the South Shetland Islands at the entrance to the English Strait. You'll encounter gentoo and chinstrap penguins as well as annual seabirds like the Southern giant petrel. Watch for leopard seals and southern elephant seals in the water.
Brown Bluff: On the Tabarin Peninsula. This ice-capped, 2,200-foot flattop bluff on the Continent is impressive. Adelie and gentoo penguins live here amid pintado petrels and gulls.
Cuverville Island: In the Errera Channel. Travelers often see Weddell and Antarctic fur seals here as well as gentoos and petrels.
Paradise Bay: Known for its mountains, glaciers, and icebergs as well as its Argentinian research station, dubbed Base Brown. This is where you'll actually set foot on the Continent. Watch for Minke whales and crabeater seals.
Paulet Island: Get your cameras ready to snap pictures of those impossibly blue icebergs that seem to glitter like diamonds in the sunshine. The island itself is home to an estimated 80,000 Adelie penguins.
Petermann Island: On the Wilhelm Archipelago. Travelers encounter more penguins—Adelie and gentoo—as well as blue-eyed shags (birds related to the cormorant).
Port Foster: Whalers Bay on Deception Island. Have you ever sailed inside a collapsed volcano? You will on your tour to Deception Island. Some ships enter the caldera through a narrow entrance called Neptune's Bellows.
Port Lockroy: On Goudier Island. The British erected a listening station here during World War II and it was then used as a research station intermittently throughout the years. There's a museum and gift shop here as well as gentoos and snowy sheathbills.
Who Cruises Antarctica
Now that you're revved up and ready to sail to Antarctica you'll need to select your cruise line. Here's a look at who's currently offering itineraries aboard expedition-style vessels.
Hurtigruten's MS Fram is a well-priced favorite that welcomes 256 travelers aboard each voyage.
The 148-passenger National Geographic Explorer is the ship Lindblad Expeditions takes to the Great White Continent every summer. Lindblad's been visiting Antarctica since 1966. Knowledgeable naturalists and National Geographic photographers sail each voyage.
Then, Orion Expedition Cruises is a good bet for anyone approaching Antarctica from Down Under. This Australian cruise line offers several round-trip voyages out of Bluff, New Zealand as well as itineraries between Hobart, Tasmania to Dunedin, New Zealand.
Silversea Silver Explorer is one of the expedition ships geared toward the luxury market. The vessel accommodates 132 guests with a crew of 117.
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DON'T CHOOSE OCEANWIDE Company for ANTARCTICA or ARTIC : NUMEROUS SAFETY PROBLEMS and more. I just returned from a cruise in Antarctica with Oceanwide (Dutch Company - http://www.oceanwide-expeditions.com ) and i never get so small value for my money and it was my 2nd time in Antarctica. Oceanwide had an incredible behavior with security issues and organization :
- Fuel surcharge : when you book a cruise, there is a point about "fuel surcharge" : you need to know the reference level of fuel value. In case of fuel rate increase, you have to pay a fuel surcharge for the difference and i did for all cruises in the past because fuel was increasing. With the spectacular drop of fuel price in 2014 : you are thinking you can get a refund. Not with Oceanwide : no mention of any reference rate on booking confirmation and Oceanwide is really unlucky : when the fuel is cheap, they forget to buy it in advance, but when the fuel is expensive, they just rush and sign a contract with such high rate : so they said they are still paying the fuel at the highest rate !. So despite a 50% rate drop on fuel, nobody have been refund for any "full decrease". Guess who is the winner ? and the nuts ?
- Extras on the ship (bar, drinks, shop, wifi cards) : In any hotel (and a cruise ship is also a hotel) in the world, if you don't pay directly : you have to sign a bill and pay at the end. With Oceanwide, they innovated with a very efficient system. You order, no signature and you pay at the end your bill without any discussion. I don't say they are dishonnest : mistakes can happened with waiters and also some people can give the wrong number for "their" room. So for me, i disagreed for 1 bottle of wine, but it was just a small drop in a wide ocean of money losses with Oceanwide and the litigious amount paid was not an issue compared to this very bad and expensive experience. The way this company is managed is interesting : the staff is always right, there is no tracking of anything, and the passengers are always wrong or lying and i will relate more cases to confirm the Oceanwide policy about it.
- Fill the cruise at any condition - business first before passengers security : On board, there was a very kind french gentleman and his wife. He was 89 years, and his wife a bit less, and they were courageous to decide such cruise. But the gentleman had a lot of difficulties to simply walk and also he was needing assistance for embarking/Disembarking operations for Zodiac cruises and landing. Oceanwide is requesting a medical status before booking. It seems the couple had good medical certificates : what did they said to the doctor - a confortable cruise in Caribbean ? or an exploration cruise on rough seas in Antarctica ? This couple has been accepted by the staff and all guests were very surprised. The lady falled, had one broken rib, and stayed in her cabin almost all cruise. For my knownledge, the captain is the master, and have the duty to refuse anyone which might be a danger for himself, in case of bad accident in those remote areas (days from an hospital by sea). The statement of the company is "It is extremely hard for us as a company to discriminate due to age. It is all about the passengers themselves realizing their own capabilities." which means we can't, we don't refuse any booking and anybody ready to spend around 10000 dollars for a cruise is welcome. They don't understand is not a matter of discrimination at all, but a matter of safety in order to avoid problems with any person of any age with insufficient physical condition for such cruise.
- And security has been a big problem for that cruise : the Zodiac pilots are so sure of themselves than they don't use the deadman's cord (i took the pictures and they can't denied) and the answer was "The drivers in the 2 pictures did not follow our standard operations procedures which have been in place for years. We acknowledge the need for a Deadman's cord and even have two in each boat, so if the driver falls out and rips it out, the boat can be started by the back-up cord." And also there was few chances that anybody on Zodiacs knew what is the back-up cord and how to use it and there wasn't any information about it. Oceanwide get another important problem in Grytviken in South Georgia : when we board, one of the 1st point explained was the weather and the quick weather change. But between the evidence and the prevention, there is a big gap for Oceanwide. More than 100 passangers and guides landed at Grytviken to visit the tiny capital of South Georgia. Our expedition leader didn't have a lot of experience in the job and he decided, as always, to wait the last passenger to start the operations to return to the ship. There was only 4 zodiacs (when the ship has 10), and with 10 persons per Zodiac : it takes time to get passengers back to the ship anchored far aways. The wind had started to blow very strongly for hours but the expedition leader didn't understood something was getting wrong. And when the operations started, it was too late to send all passengers to the ship on a rough sea with impressive waves. Only few Zodiac reached the ship, and after it was impossible to send them back against a strong wind to load new passengers. And 2 Zodiacs missed the ship and had to get out of the bay to find a relative "shelter" on the coast and wait for the ship. The consequence was 66 passengers spent the night on shore and they were lucky because Grytviken is the only village with "lodging" possibilities and the passengers have been rescued by the local people : night in the museum or the post office and food. In any other landing we had during this cruise, there was no shelter at all and a night outside is very probably a long nightmare in the cold. When i mentionned the problem to the management, they answered : "We cannot control the weather and it does change incredibly fast at times. It is one of the things that we and passengers have to accept when going to these remote places. No one would have lost their life even if it had happened in an uninhabited area. It would have been very unpleasant and cold but that is it. That is why it is called an emergency and we are fully prepared if it had happened anywhere away from uninhabited areas. " I don't agree with them : the expedition leader refused to see the very strong wind which starts earlier as a possible clue for something worst, he waited until the last passenger arrived to start operations, as usual, and loose a precious time, and he wasn't prepared : there was not enough Zodiacs outside (4 on 10) and pilots (zodiac pilots were the guides involved in the visit of Grytviken) for any emergency evacuation. Nobody was fortunately injured, but many people were very scarred by the zodiac cruise in so rough conditions. Oceanwide didn't anticipate a very fast change of weather conditions despite clues and they were very lucky it happened in Grytviken.
Another happened before Grytviken : the expedition leader decided, as always, to wait the passengers of the "long walk", so passengers of the "short walk" were waiting for a while the transfer to the ship. So it was becoming a long wait for many people ready to go back to the ship, and i asked to the expedition leader if it was possible to go back to the ship to go to the bathroom. He answered it was not possible and this "gentleman" tell me to go behind a big rusty propellor on the beach, so an open space. As a woman, i was very chocked about such disrespectful proposal and by the behavior of the expedition leader : who wants to pay thousands of dollars for such rude proposal ?. Now, he said he never make such proposal, but he did, and i am not a lyer.
I spent the most stressful and most anxious holidays in my life and i consider Oceanwide as a company AT RISK for passengers because Oceanwide don't respect the safety rules and it's obvious they will have a major problem in the future if they don't change. I can't understand why the captain of the ship or the expedition leader can't impose the mandatory safety rules to their staff when they have more than one hundred passengers under their responsability in very remote and rough area. It can't be any discussion or compromission with safety issues, and there was a lot on this ship.
I paid such expensive rate to have a confortable and safe cruise, but now i don't trust your company anymore for safety, because laxity was everywhere on that cruise and i won't recommend Oceanwide to anybody. The others companies i had for expeditions cruises were more serious.
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