You probably wouldn’t immediately associate the coldest and remotest place on Earth with a Six Star Cruise, but the truth is, all the luxury lines offer a choice of Antarctica itineraries, so they’ve clearly realised that quenching the cruisers’ thirst for adventure as they travel in six star style is the way to go.
Of course, mankind’s first forays into exploring the world’s most distant continent were far from luxurious to say the least. Ever since Egypt’s own Greco-Roman geographer Ptolemy suggested the existence of a southern land mass to balance the northern continents, great minds continued to speculate over its size, even its very existence.
Things began to change when Captain James Cook came within just 75 miles of the Antarctic coast during his crossing of the Arctic Circle, but it was in 1820, when the Russian Navy Captain Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen made the first confirmed sighting of the coast, that interest in this far-off land was truly sparked.
The early part of the 1900’s saw a number of fabled attempts to explore the inhospitable continent. Ernest Shackleton’s 1908-09 explorations saw his party become the first human beings to ever cross the Ross Ice Shelf and the first to step foot on the South Polar Plateau, though it would be the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen who would win the race for the South Pole in 1911, beating the ill-fated Scott expedition by a month. Douglas Mawson would make another memorable attempt between 1911 and 1913 and would go on to lead expeditions until his retirement in 1931.
Since the days of those arduous quests, we’ve seen a number of plane journeys to Antarctica, though no-one would set foot on the South Pole itself again until 1956, when a US naval group led by Rear Admiral George J Dufek successfully landed an aircraft there. Certainly, David Henry Lewis would’ve had a harder time getting to Antarctica than today’s luxury cruisers do, when he managed it single-handedly in 1972, sailing in his 10-meter sloop and becoming the first person to do so.
So what is there to see when you get there and why are Antarctica cruises so popular? The awe-inspiring scenery is obviously an attraction in itself, but a number of lines offer itineraries which pay tribute to the age of Antarctic exploration, visiting sites first discovered by history’s greats.
If you find yourself in the Cape Dennison region, you’ll visit Douglas Mawson’s hut, still remarkably intact though it is over 100 years old and perhaps the Dumont d’Urville Station, a French scientific research base which opened in 1956 and which is still in use today, largely to study the region’s Emperor Penguins. The Ross Sea coast is synonymous with the expeditions of Shackleton and Scott and a number of itineraries explore it.
You can see for yourself why traversing the colossal Ross Ice Shelf must have seemed such an impossible task and you’ll likely visit such other key stops as the Drygalski Glacier and Inexpressible Island, a site made famous by Robert Falcon Scott’s Terra Nova expedition between 1910 and 1913.
When it comes to natural wonders, Deception Island should certainly be on your agenda. It’s an active volcano where you’ll travel through the appropriately-named Neptune’s Bellows, a naturally-formed gap in the volcanic caldera. You’d better have your camera at the ready if you sail the Lemaire Channel too, as it’s regarded as one of the world’s most picture-perfect waterways.
Then of course, there’s the abundance of unique wildlife you’ll encounter throughout your cruise, from regal Emperor Penguins and playful sunbathing seals to awesome whales, breaching the surface. Whatever your interests, there’s always a wealth of shore excursions to choose from and there’s a good chance that an Arctic excursion will lead to a few firsts for even the most seasoned cruiser.
Antarctica cruises are not just about ice though, as many luxury itineraries begin or end in Argentina or Chile. Compagnie Du Ponant cruises typically include the evocative Argentinian capital Buenos Aires, bursting with everything Latin American, from fine food to lively Tangos in the night. It’s a common experience to try this timeless dance yourself when visiting and a trip to the Teatro Colon theatre is certainly a memorable experience.
Chile’s capital Santiago is awash with cultural and architectural wonders, but head down the coast and you’ll be en route to the awesome spectacle of the Chilean Fjords – every bit as beautiful as their distant cousins in the northern hemisphere.
Whatever your itinerary, and no matter how you decide to fill your days, cruising Antarctica from the comfort of a luxury vessel means you’ll enjoy all the comforts of home and the very best service as you travel from port-to-port. As six star lines offer a wide choice of suites, there’s a greater chance that you’ll be able to take in the stunning views from your panoramic window or even better your very own balcony.
Because cuisine is so important too, you can choose from lavish menus and satisfy your wildest culinary desires and, because many dishes are often sourced locally, you’ll have every chance to keep dinner in keeping with the Antarctic theme.
By Simon Brotherton