Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Cruise Weekly Comment: Life in the Freezer

These are interesting times. For the first time in many years, there is availability on deep Antarctic cruises. A quick phone around yesterday turned revealed most operators still have a few cabins to fill.

NZ’s Heritage Expeditions were the fortunate recipients of most of Aurora’s passengers from their cancelled program. I’m predicting these two established niche operators will be working closely over the next few years at least.

Spirit of Enderby
Dave Bowen, new GM at Heritage, said there were still some opportunities for last minute bookings. Heritage operate “Spirit of Enderby”, a 50-berth ex-Soviet oceanographic vessel of the same class as Molchanov and Shokalskiy.

“Historically, Heritage has been oversubscribed for all their Antarctic expeditions. We still have one or two cabins available for this season’s Ross Sea, but I expect they will fill shortly.”

The 4.5 star Orion, whose departures are always guaranteed, still has a couple of spots left for the Commonwealth Bay and Ross Sea voyages departing Invercargill NZ and Hobart.

Kapitan Khlebnikov
Quark Expeditions, newly partnered in Australia with TUI stablemate Peregrine Adventures, are sending the mighty icebreaker, Kapitan Khlebnikov, south as usual. Their Emperor Penguin safaris are always heavily in demand, but long-time Quark representatives Adventure Associates assure me there is still space available for the Weddell Sea and the month-long Epic Antarctica voyage, which would have to be the prize sailing for 09/10.

Luxury adventurers, Hapag-Lloyd, make occasional diversions to the deep south with either of the expedition vessels, Bremen or Hanseatic. Gerd Wilmer of Landmark Travel tells me neither will be back there until 2011/12 at earliest, having made their last trip in 08/09.

You’ve seen it written here before, but I’ll repeat it again; Deep Antarctic is not for the faint hearted. It’s a full-on expedition crossing some of the wildest oceans on the planet. Travellers will need to be hardy and determined to make this voyage, but the rewards are enormous.

Emperor Penguin and chick
The ‘excursions’ to the Peninsula, while rewarding on their own, pale by comparison. You’ll sea wildlife like Emperor Penguins, Leopard Seals and whales normally reserved for coffee table books. ‘Life-changing’ is a term becoming overused, but this is where it started.

If you’ve dreamed of this ultimate voyage, this year may be the only time you can make a spontaneous decision. I won’t list prices because you may want to do some arm twisting, but expect starting prices in the region of US$15,000 per person. Interrogate each operator thoroughly, choose your ship and itinerary carefully and set off on the journey of a lifetime.

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