Are you sure you want to go? Of course – and I don’t blame you. It is one of the most majestic places on the planet, with snow-capped mountains, deep ice fjords, icebergs the size of six-storey buildings and so much sea ice in winter that the continent doubles in size.
There are hundreds and thousands of cute penguins waddling around awkwardly on land or lazing on passing icebergs. There are also formidable orcas, humpback whales, seals, albatross and other seabirds to look out for.
Not so long ago, a cruise to Antarctica meant roughing it on research vessels but ships have become increasingly luxurious over the past few years. And now, the soon-to-launch Scenic Eclipse promises to, eclipse the very best.
The world’s first discovery yacht built by river cruise line Scenic enters service in April 2019 and will have all-suite, all-balcony accommodation (not that you’ll want to sit outside much in Antarctica as it is a bit chilly!), butlers and so many places to eat that over the course of a week you can try a different one every day.
But it’s the exciting things you can do off the ship that make Eclipse extra special. Paddle kayaks among icebergs, go snowshoeing, get a bird’s eye view of the continent from a helicopter, even dive below the ocean in a seven-man submarine and, walk through penguin colonies on trips ashore.
Under the regulations protecting Antarctica, only 100 people are allowed on land at any one time, and all landings have to be made by inflatable Zodiac, often stepping into the water or onto rocks because there are no ports. Wellington boots and waterproof trousers are a must, and whilst on the subject of packing, you’ll also need jumpers, woolly hats, scarves and gloves. Plan for layers and you can’t go wrong.
Once ashore, you’ll likely be walking in snow. You must stay in marked areas, try to walk in tracks made by the expedition team so you all leave as few footprints as possible and keep a distance from the penguins. That’s easier said than done, as they are curious little creatures that come waddling over to inspect you. Collecting stones or other souvenirs is strictly forbidden, as is dropping litter.
Ships with up to 500 people can take passengers ashore but Scenic is restricting numbers to a comfortable 200 (outside the Polar regions Scenic Eclipse will carry 228 passengers), so landings can be quick and efficient. If weather conditions allow, they may even be able to offer two landings a day.
Ah yes, the weather. Scenic has voyages in the Southern Ocean that link Antarctica with South Georgia and the Falklands or the Chilean Fjords. As well as 16 night cruises that spend six days in the Antarctic Peninsula but don’t be surprised that the itinerary only gives you a taste of the things you’ll do during your time there.
It’s because the actual route the ship will follow depends on ice or wind conditions, and these can change by the hour. Pack a sense of adventure and rest assured that the Captain and expedition team will work together to ensure you have the best holiday – ever.
- Blue Horizons
- Jane Archer