Seabourn Cruises to Antarctica

| Tuesday, 12 Feb. 2013

The 24-day itinerary to Antarctica by Seabourn Quest

Seabourn, like many luxury cruise lines, has a very loyal following, and one of the biggest challenges for the line is finding new destinations for its loyal, returning guests. After all, the vast majority of cruisers put "destination" at the top of their list of reasons for selecting a specific cruise.

So, as a change of pace, the newest Seabourn itineraries are not to the apogees of luxury and civilization, just the opposite, they will take you to some of the most untouched vestiges of natural beauty in the world, the remote islands and ice bergs of Antarctica.

The cruises commence in late 2013. All Seabourn ships already have special platforms built onto the back to allow passengers to get into landing craft, but most often those are used in warmer waters for water skiing and banana boats. But Seabourn chose one of its newer ships, the 25,000-ton Seabourn Quest, to be retro-fitted with an ice-strengthened hull to accommodate encounters of the ice variety. The ship will also be loading rubber Zodiac boats to take passengers into the most remote areas; places inhabited only by the penguins, for example. These Zodiac boats are specially designed to get passengers into tiny inlets - and to allow people to land in places with no docking facilities. The boats run right up onto the beach, or ice, as the case may be.

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The Seabourn Itineraries

The rather adventurous routes to be offered during Seabourn's inaugural Antarctic Season of 2013 and 2014 include five full days of fairly deep polar exploration. The ships are scheduled to visit King George Island as well as the Antarctic peninsula, but not just visiting and touching the tip of the peninsula like many other Antarctic cruises, but rather Seabourn plans to head further even deeper along the peninsula, reaching the Gerlache Strait, Paradise Bay and the Lemaire Channel.

Seabourn, like all Antarctic cruise providers, is very careful to point out that this itinerary is what they hope to accomplish, however, ice conditions in the most southerly continent can be very unpredictable from one season to the next; and sometimes these channels will close. Nevertheless, any cruise to the region will offer the opportunity to see fantastic ice formations as well as wildlife such as whales and vast colonies of penguins.

The Polar Experience

I have not been to Antarctica but I have done a great deal of research. There are many different options for both polar regions, which are vastly different. The biggest difference is that Antarctica is a land mass, although you will mostly only see ice, but this means you cannot penetrate the Antarctic circle to the same degree as you can the Arctic circle, which is almost all open ocean except for the ice cap.

Still, both regions are extremely cold, and although you can still see plenty from the ship alone, considering the ambitious itinerary Seabourn has planned, if you opt to go out in nature on the rubber Zodiacs I strongly urge you to investigate the proper clothing for such a trip.

Zodiacs are open vessels with nothing to protect you from the natural elements. You merely sit along the sides of the boats and hold on a rope. No, you won't fall out, but you can easily get wet as the boat cuts through the sea water and if there is any wind at all the combination of water, wind and low temperatures can be pretty painful. You must have fully waterproof clothing; from your neck down, including your pants, gloves and boots.

Wildlife

For those who have been to Alaska, this is a very different experience. Antarctic experts have told me the main attraction is penguins, which only live in Antarctica (not in the Arctic). There are vast colonies of many different varieties of penguins living in various regions. Chances are you will get in the midst of a few different colonies. Penguins have no natural fear of land predators (only water-borne ones) and so they do not fear human beings at all. Basically, they will treat just like another penguin, bumping into you and possibly cursing at you for getting in their way. There are also many different species of whales in the area. You will not see any kinds of bears, however, especially Polar bears which also only live in the northern Arctic.

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The Expedition Team

Seabourn says it has contracted some of the most skilled naturalists, scientists, political and historical experts to guide you along these cruises. The expedition leader is Robin West, who has taken over 40 Antarctic voyages.

"Antarctica is a place like no other," said West. "Taking guests to see two-mile-long tabular icebergs, thousands of penguins, leopard seals and blue whales - the largest animals to have ever lived on the planet - it is a place that makes you realize just how insignificant we are and at the same time makes you feel bigger than life itself. Antarctica cannot be put into words - it has to be experienced to be understood."

Cost of the Cruise

In addition to the Polar adventure, these itineraries offer more of South America than the average Antarctic cruises. Typically a cruise will depart from Ushuaia, Argentina, the most southerly port in South America with an international airport, and will last anywhere from eight to 12 days; heading directly through Drake's Passage to the islands and peninsula. But Seabourn has chosen to make the cruises longer, beginning and ending in Buenos Aires, Argentina or Valparaiso, Chile. The cruise length options are 21 or 24 days.

This means that in addition to the five solid days of pure "Antarctic Experience" included in the cruise you also get several days to explore other ports such as the Falkland Islands, and several days in the Chilean Fjords, said to be among the most beautiful in the world.

These are luxury cruises of three weeks or longer. The prices start at about $15,000 per person for the 21-day cruise, and $18,000 for the 24-day cruise. The main difference is a visit to South Georgia Island, which is famous as a whaling station and as the place where Ernest Shackleton finally found civilization after 18 grueling months stranded in the Ross Sea. If you decide to take this cruise you will undoubtedly already know the story of this infamous expedition by the time you leave.

Other Antarctic Options

There are many cruises going to Antarctica every season. Keep in mind that the warm season down south is during our winter months. Another luxury option is the ice-strengthened Silver Explorer operated by Silversea Cruises, a ship that is older and smaller than the Seabourn Quest but that also has excellent cuisine and service.

Non-luxury vessels also go to both polar regions every year. Most of them are far more focused on expedition and less on luxury, but on Seabourn the advantage is that you know you can still see plenty of the beauty of Antarctica even if you are not fit enough to get into a Zodiac. As I said, riding in these rubber boats is not for the faint of heart.

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