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  • Suzanne Carmel

Discover Antarctica’s Magical Landscapes and Inhabitants

Travel on the adventure of a lifetime with Scenic Cruises.


Gaze out of your cabin window day and night at icebergs calved from glaciers thousands of years old. On some, penguins and seals laze atop, taking a break from their aquatic endeavors. Watch penguins gracefully porpoise out of the water, and humpback whales bubble feeding at the surface, just off of your balcony. You can hear the whales’ forceful exhales as water sprays up into the air. Overhead, cormorants, skuas, and giant petrels soar – just some of the bird species that thrive in this wonderland of sea and ice.


A penguin in Antarctica on rocks. A cruise ship is in the distance.
Photo credit: Scenic Cruises

 

This is a place few are privileged to explore. Exhilarating, enthralling and captivating, it will move you and change the way that you feel about and relate to nature and wildlife. It is a place few ever reach, yet one trip is not nearly enough to explore its treasures. You will most certainly leave a piece of your heart behind when you return home.

 

Antarctica is a continent of superlatives – the coldest, driest, windiest and highest continent, almost entirely covered by ice. It’s only possible to travel here as a tourist during the summer season, opposite that of North America, November through March. To do so, you’ll need to either sail from the southern tip of South America, crossing the formidable Drake Passage, sail from New Zealand or Australia, or by flying first to King George Island and then taking a cruise from there.

 

The two-day Drake Passage crossing in each direction, encountering waves recorded up to 50 feet high can often be “Drake Shake” rather than “Drake Lake.” Scenic Eclipse I and II mitigate much of that motion with stabilizers that are 50 percent larger than those on similar sized expedition ships and are only 30 percent smaller than those on the largest cruise ship. On our crossing, the highest waves reached about 22 feet, but the experience was nowhere near as bad as I had anticipated.

 

Though you’ll definitely feel some of the motion, Scenic Eclipse’s stabilizers make it manageable, combined with prescription scopolamine patches or OTC seasickness medication. You’ll simply need to remember to be careful navigating the ship and in your cabin during rough seas. It’s all part of the adventure, one considerably safer and more comfortable than that of the first explorers who ventured here in the 1800s and early 1900s. Once you reach the Antarctic Peninsula, things calm down considerably and what you’ll find when you get there makes it all well worth the journey.

 

Sailing aboard Scenic Eclipse I or II to Antarctica is definitely a luxury travel experience, with a steep price tag attached to it. That said, many of the a la carte and additional expenses incurred on cruises are absorbed into the initial cost and luxury is never at the expense of the fragile environment you are exploring.


A small boat cruises in front of a glacier in Antarctica
Photo credit: Scenic Cruises

Pricing includes one hotel night at the Alvear Palace Hotel pre- or post-cruise, chartered flights to and from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia (in the case of cruises from Argentina), kayak, paddleboard and zodiac shore excursions, all meals, including at specialty restaurants onboard, wine and spirits (except for select rare vintages) and all gratuities. Guests also receive a complimentary expedition parka and water bottle and use of special boots that are great for getting in and out of zodiac boats without getting wet and for hiking on land. Spa treatments and gratuities, and helicopter and submarine excursions are at an additional cost.

 

Even the smallest cabin on board is an ample 344 square feet (the two owner’s penthouse suites are a whopping 2098 square feet), with a well-appointed bathroom featuring a glass-enclosed shower, a king-sized adjustable bed, a designated lounge area with a sofa and a flat screen TV and a balcony. The in-suite minibar situated between a desk and closets is stocked with personalized water, soft drinks, wine and spirits, as well as coffee and tea.

 

Though we spent little time on our balcony in this polar region, I appreciated the ever-changing, floor-to-ceiling view of icebergs, wildlife and, during the Drake Passage, impressive waves. Favorable weather during our January sailing gifted us with several sunny days and temperatures in the mid to high 30s for much of the time. The majority of daylight hours are spent outside so this was a huge bonus.

 

During our crossing and at times when excursions were not available, in-depth sessions led by Discovery Team experts covered everything from mandatory safety and biohazard briefings to shipboard technology, and all things Antarctica – from its weather and history to glaciology and specific wildlife. We listened to these talks, enhanced by accompanying slides and video, from the comfort of swivel or fully reclining chairs in the theater.

 

This destination necessitates that days be fluid and flexible, with daily excursions and even stops dictated by ever-changing weather, wind and ice conditions. The skilled bridge crew and expedition team amend the itinerary to provide the safest and best experiences possible.

 

We never made it onto a two-person kayak, as the list of interested participants meant our slotted time (which changed during the day it became available) conflicted with dinner reservations; instead we embarked on our first-ever paddleboard excursion on a quiet, calm grey morning in Flandres Bay.


A group of people explore land in Antarctica, with penguins walking around them and a cruise ship in the distance
Photo credit: Scenic Cruises

After a bit of brief instruction, our guide took to the front of the group, pointing out nearby ice and wildlife, while I shakily brought up the rear, followed by our zodiac boat and driver. Whether standing or kneeling, going at any pace comfortable, it’s possible to learn a new skill, even in Antarctica.

 

It’s also possible, on a Scenic Eclipse voyage, to soar above the glaciers in one of two Airbus H130-T2 helicopters or explore up to 656 feet beneath the ocean’s surface on a state-of-the-art, custom-designed submarine. Explore by water on one of 12 zodiac boats, which are also used to ferry guest to and from shore. Since the boats are stored in a garage just a few feet from the waterline, it’s a very quick turn around (less than half an hour) from the time the ship stops and unloads zodiacs and crew, to heading ashore with guests and out on helicopters and in the submarine.


With only 100 passengers permitted on shore at any one time, and just five-and-a-half hours for a ship to be in any one location, timing is essential and the Scenic Discovery Team has perfected this. Timing is staggered and passengers get off the ship in color-coded groups.

 

On one memorable sunny afternoon, instead of exploring off ship, the crew hosted a polar plunge. Those brave enough to test the almost freezing water signed up by cabin and, shivering in bathing suits and bathrobes awaited their turn jump in. A quick and safe process, as guests went in two by two, tethered to buoyancy belts and buoyed by the cheering support staff, and guests watching from an upper deck. Warm towels and hot (spiked, if requested) drinks awaited stalwart swimmers returning onboard.


A cruise ship in Antarctica, with a helicopter flying over
Photo credit: Scenic Cruises

 

Another day, we embarked on a spectacular zodiac cruise around Spert Island. This was a rare treat, as conditions must be perfect for drivers to navigate narrow passages around open water, with ever-changing conditions. We began with a glass of champagne served to us by captain and crew awaiting us in a boat just off the ship. Caverns and tunnels into rock and ice, amazing glaciers, fur and Weddell seals, southern giant petrels, and snowy sheathbills made for an enchanting afternoon.

 

For times when guests are not otherwise occupied, Scenic Eclipse I and II offer a fully equipped fitness room with weights and cardio equipment, and a small yoga/Pilates studio that features yoga, TRX and Pilates classes daily; sign up for the limited spaces in advance.

 

A full-service spa includes everything from hair and nail treatments to facials, massages and wraps. There are also men’s and women’s changing rooms. Each has a steam room, sauna, infrared sauna, and salt relaxation room. Just outside beyond these is a co-ed jetted pool, where you can soak with a distant backdrop of glacier-covered mountains.

 

Throughout the day and into the evening, guests can read and play games while grabbing coffee or tea and fresh made cookies in the observation lounge, watch the journey from the bridge (open to guests for much of the sailing), chat with fellow passengers from the ample seating in the lounge, or grab a cocktail from the bars in the lounge or (weather permitting) sky bar and several of the restaurants.

 

All-inclusive dining includes in-suite room service; a casual breakfast, lunch or dinner in the Azure Café; breakfast and lunch buffets in the Yacht Club (with some made to order options), and dinners in either Elements or Koko’s, with their Italian and Asian flair, respectively. Specialty restaurants for dinner require a reservation in advance, and include Lumiere for fine, French dining, Koko’s sushi bar, and the Nightmarket, located in the back of Koko’s, where up to ten guests watch the chef prepare a set menu of Asian, Indian or Mediterranean cuisine.

 

In the summer the sun barely sets, so cabin blackout shades ease early evening turndown, which we opted for most nights in our eagerness begin each new day as early as possible. You won’t want to waste a minute of treasured time on this journey, even if you spend some of those minutes simply gazing out your cabin window at those passing icebergs, wildlife and waves.

 

It’s a bucket list dream to experience Antarctica, one that cannot be fully conveyed by either word or images. A cruise on Scenic Eclipse II ensures that every moment is enjoyed to the fullest, every experience in this enchanting landscape as meaningful and memorable as possible, leaving fortunate passengers rich with memories and a yearning to return.

 

For more information on Scenic Cruises visit www.scenicusa.com.  


Cover photo credit: Scenic Cruises

 

 

 

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