By LINDA CARTER
Some people dream of visiting the South Pole, while others simply dream of seeing whales and penguins. For the adventurer it may be the thrill of going somewhere few people get to visit. Whatever your reason a trip to the Antarctic is far more affordable this year due to an oversupply of new luxury cruise ships visiting this region. A good starting point for planning is to remember that our winter is their summer; the full season is October til March.
When people refer to the Antarctic, they are generally referring to the area made up of the Antarctic Peninsula, the South Shetland Islands, the South Sandwich Islands, South Orkney Islands, Falkland Islands and South Georgia. The Antarctic is separated from the coast of South America by the Drake Passage, named after Sir Frances Drake. While Drake never actually sailed this passage, in 1578 his ship drifted farther south after crossing the Straights of Magellan, leaving sailors to speculate that there might be a connection between the Atlantic and the Pacific.
PHOTOS BY AURORA EXPEDITION SAILING
Before you book your cruise here are 9 things to consider:
1) October to early November is the best time to see the most pristine icebergs with very few footprints in the pristine snow.
2) By December the average high reaches 30 degrees, and you are most likely to see hatchling penguin chicks and elephant seal pups. This is the height of the summer with nearly 20 hours of daylight.
3) By January and early February, a high of 37 degrees melts the ice further, so you can journey further south. You can watch penguins interact with their young, with February being the best time to spot many varieties of whale. By March the season winds down and wildlife is leaving, whales are still active, and you will have fewer ships.
4) The Drake Passage can be rough, sometimes affectionately termed the Drake shake, and at other times the Drake Lake, like rounding the horn, there is no way to predict the weather. Some companies offer one-way, or round-trip flights instead, but those can be canceled due to bad weather, leading to a cancelled cruise vacation.
5) There are four different size ships that can explore the Antarctic. The smallest is a sailing motor yacht for up to 12. Cruise ships from 13-200 guests can do two or more landings a day. Ships with 201-500 guests can typically make one and possibly two landings in a day. Ships with over 500 guests cannot make landfall on the Antarctic Peninsula. Instead, larger ships typically visit the Falklands’ and just cruise by the Antarctic.
6) The IAATO is a member organization whose mission is to advocate for a practice of safe and environmentally sound practices in the Antarctic. They regulate the number of people allowed on the continent at a time. It is for this reason that only 100 guests are allowed onshore at a time in any location. The remaining guests would either be doing tours via zodiacs kayaks or even snorkeling.
7) If your bucket list is a specific penguin, such as the famous emperor penguin, this will dictate your destination choices. The rock hopper penguin is found only in the Falkland Islands. The emperor penguin is found in the Falklands and South Georgia, and the macaroni is found in South Georgia Island. The Antarctic Peninsula and South Shetland Islands, and the South Sandwich Islands are home to the gentoo, the chinstrap and the adelie penguin. You will find penguin colonies in South America, as well as numerous destinations around the world.
8) For seabird spotting most of the bird species are found on one of the islands rather than the peninsula, and while sailing in between you may see more than five species of whales and six species of seals.
9) The level of luxury service varies between cruise lines. Since to some extent the cruise lines choose their own description terms this can be subjective. Some descriptions include: Contemporary (Linblad,) Premium (Celebrity and Holland America and Hurtigruten) Ultra Premium (Viking, Oceania), Luxury (Swan Hellenic, Atlas Ocean and Aurora), Ultra Luxury (Seabourn, Silversea, Scenic, Quark, Ponant, and Hapag Llloyd) The level of luxury amenities varies, including butlers, inclusive alcohol and excursions, inclusive Wi-Fi, specialty dining, and even a submarine on Seabourn Cruise Line.
The Antarctic land mass is 1.5 times the size of the US, and in the winter its size doubles as the ice builds up around it. For the explorers among us, this is just one more continent just waiting to be visited. If this is on your bucket list, and you have time to spare, then this is the year to visit; unlike the usual advertising hype, some fares are truly half off.
Linda Carter is Luxury Cruise & Travel Inc and she can be contacted at 850-556-9881.