Earlier this week, the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) concluded their 24th annual meeting in Punta Arenas, Chile. Topics at the gathering included strategic planning for sustainable tourism in the Antarctic, methods of safe travel that can help protect the fragile ecosystem there and ways of enticing more travel companies to join the Association. During the conference, the IAATO also released its final tourism numbers for the 2012-2013 Antarctic travel season that has recently ended. Those numbers were up sharply over the previous year, indicating that there is still a strong interest amongst travelers to visit the frozen continent.
According to the IAATO, there were 34,316 visitors to the Antarctic last year – up from 26,519 during the 2011-2012 season. The organization noted that much of the growth came as a result of an increase of passengers on small- and medium-sized vessels over previous years as well as a jump in the number of travelers electing a cruise-only option. On those types of trips the visitors never actually step foot on the continent of Antarctica at all, but simply stay aboard their ship the entire time as it cruises about the Southern Ocean.
Looking ahead to next season, the IAATO doesn’t believe it will see nearly as large of an increase in the number of visitors as it did this year. Growth is predicted to be modest at best with most of the gains continuing to come from the cruise-only category. It seems that while interest amongst travelers for visiting the Antarctic is high, most would prefer to just see it from a distance.
Visitors who make the journey to the bottom of the world do seem to have some concerns about the impact of travel on the environment there, however. The IAATO revealed that more than $200,000 was directly contributed to various Antarctic charities by travelers who visited that part of the world with its member companies. That brought the total to more than $2.7 million over the past nine years.
Antarctica draws the dreams of many and the visits of just a few. Located so very far from civilization, travel to Antarctica is the stuff of hearty explorers, burly men of substance and adventure travelers. Luxury cruise ships and their pampered passengers? Not so much. Until now.
Seabourn has a fleet of small ships that travel around the world to amazing locations in opulent luxury, something we rarely talk about here.
After all, does ultra-luxury cruising really qualify as “travel” anyway?
Agreed, but that’s before continuing on to Ushuaia, Argentina, followed by scenic cruising in the Beagle Channel, then on through Glacier Alley and the Cockburn Channel before a stop in Punta Arenas, Chile, which of course you need before passing through the Straight of Magellan followed by scenic cruising in Canal Sarmiento where the ship passes by the Amalia Glacier followed by a day in the Chilean Fjords.
Sound like a bucket-list adventure? Operationally, it’s no big deal for Seabourn. Their small yacht-like ships run itineraries from just a few days to a year-long, around-the-world voyage and have had almost all the luxury cruise travel bases covered.
Now, adding to its destination-focused roster of itineraries, Seabourn is heading south. But make no mistake about it; they are prepared.
Antarctic sailings have traditionally been the exclusive domain of expedition ships for good reason. Fortified ship hulls are extra thick and ice rated, a designation that provides an extra measure of safety in what can be brutal sea conditions. This is not a part of the world where luxury liners float around with passengers lining the decks sipping umbrella drinks to be sure, and that’s not what Seabourn has in store for those they take to the white continent.
To customize Seabourn Quest for these adventures, they transformed the marina built into the ship, normally used by passengers for complimentary water sports, to house and launch multiple Zodiacs.
Who is going on these voyages? Seabourn past-passengers who have been asking for it along with first-timers who want to knock Antarctica “off their bucket list,” Seabourn’s John Delaney told Gadling, as excited about the new itineraries as a kid on Christmas Eve. “It’s the one continent we did not sail to,” explained Delaney.
Each Seabourn sailing to Antarctica and Patagonia includes five days of zodiac landings and expeditions to selected Antarctic locations. As a bonus, Seabourn Quest‘s small size will enable the ship to get closer to land, offering unprecedented wildlife viewing and the photo opportunities associated with Antarctic expedition cruising … with a twist.
Also on board, will be an expedition team that makes up a who’s who of naturalists, scientists, and political and historical experts with decades of Antarctic experience, including experts in wildlife and exploration – adventure travelers who have been there and done that.
Each night, they will choose from hundreds of landing areas for the following day, to bring ships up close and ensure that zodiac landings can happen, based on decades of experience.
Award-winning photographers will also be on board to offer digital photography coaching, helping guests capture exciting wildlife images while sharing their knowledge, guidance and passion for Antarctica.
Three 21-day sailings, like the one detailed above, are planned. They are filling up fast and look to be a staple on the Seabourn roster of itineraries in future years as well.
An even longer, 24-day sailing does all of the above plus a stop at South Georgia Island, arguably “as interesting if not more so than Antarctica itself,” added Delaney.
The Seabourn plan promises to be far more than a fancy ship with some extra safety measures slapped on for show too, although they will be running the only all-suite ship in the area. Each passenger will receive an expedition-grade parka (emblazoned with the Seabourn logo) and a backpack. In addition, for those who need the right gear, passengers will have access to an experienced outfitter via the Seabourn website.
So what will it cost to come along?
Prices start at $14,999 per person, a bit over $700 per person, per day.
Yes, you could buy a car for that.
Sissies would buy the car.
A ship in the British navy came to the aid of a stranded cruise ship in the Antarctic last week, helping to clear a path through the ice that had entrapped the civilian vessel. While no one was injured and the entire operation took just a few hours to complete, the incident underscores the challenges of traveling in the Southern Ocean, even in the 21st century.
The ice-breaking vessel HMS Protector was on a regular patrol route off the coast of Antarctica, with the Norwegian cruise liner Fram following close behind. The cruise ship had hoped to safely follow the Protector through the icy waters that were dense with ice floes at the time. But before the boat could navigate out of the perilous region, the large chunks of ice moved in, completely encircling the vessel and preventing it from moving forward or backward.
A quick call to the Protector alerted the first ship of the situation, bringing it quickly around to render aid. It took the icebreaker two hours to crack through the 13-foot-thick ice that had encircled the cruise liner, before it was free to continue its voyage.
The passengers aboard the Fram were fortunate that the Protector was so close at hand or they could have been held in place for much longer. Considering the size of the Southern Ocean and the relatively few vessels in those waters, it could have been hours or even days before another ship could have come to assist. Similarly, had the Protector not been an icebreaker it wouldn’t have been able to lend a hand either.
The Norwegian cruise liner was never in any real danger, but ships running into problems off of Antarctica are a fairly common affair. Back in 2007, the cruise ship MV Explorer sank off the coast of the frozen continent and in 2010 another ship ran into trouble when it lost an engine while crossing the perilous Drake Passage. In 2011, a third ship ran aground on rocks near the Antarctic Peninsula, breaching its hull in the process. In each case, all passengers were evacuated safely from these vessels but some travel experts believe that it is only a matter of time before a tragic accident occurs.
Updated: More Info on this incident
After writing this story I heard from Steve Wellmeier, the Administrative Director of the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO) who filled in a lot more information of what was happening when the Fram became stuck in the ice.
In seems the cruise ship was hoping to make a regularly scheduled stop at Brown Bluff, their scheduled destination for the day, but due to high concentrations of ice in the area, it didn’t seem likely that they would reach that point. The Protector was already heading to the same location and invited the Fram to follow along. The two ships then proceeded to Brown Bluff as scheduled, with passengers from both vessels going ashore.
Later, as both ships were making their way back to open water, the Protector once again took the lead and proceeded ahead. At one point they reached an area of pack ice that was thicker than what they had encountered previously, so the Fram stopped to let the icebreaker do her job. While the Protector nosed ahead, the dense ice moved in quickly around the cruise liner, preventing her from moving forward and trapping her in place.
Realizing what had happened, the Protector then came around and cleared the ice quickly and efficiently from the path of the Fram, freeing her to continue her voyage. We’re told that this was not a rescue per se, but rather a routine assistance of one ship to another, without danger to either vessel or anyone aboard.
It is good to get the full story directly from a source that knows the logistics of what was happening in the Antarctic. The IAATO, and its members, work hard to ensure that travel in that part of the world is safe for both passengers and the environment. Their efforts make it possible for those of us who want to go to Antarctica to actually do so.
Lindblad Expeditions is kicking off 2013 with an excellent deal for travelers planning a visit to Antarctica and the surrounding region later this year. The adventure travel company, which specializes in adventure cruises to some of the most spectacular destinations on the planet, is offering free airfare for anyone who signs up for their November cruise to the frozen continent. That 24-day trip includes stops not only in the Antarctic, but also the Falkland Islands and South Georgia as well.
Travelers will depart the U.S. for Ushuaia, Argentina, on November 7 before setting sail aboard the National Geographic Explorer, a ship specifically outfitted for safe travel in the Southern Ocean. Over the course of the following three weeks, they’ll spend four days visiting the Antarctic continent itself as well as two days in the Falklands and five days on South Georgia. The remainder of the itinerary is spent at sea traveling between those destinations.
While aboard the ship, passengers will be able to attend lectures given by a variety of specialists, including legendary oceanographer and Honorary President of the Explorers Club Don Walsh. A National Geographic photographer will also be aboard, capturing stunning images from the journey and travelers will even be able to take advantage of a special documentary film workshop. Given by Nat Geo photographer and filmmaker Cotton Coulson and David Wright, that workshop will provide instruction on how to make their own personal documentary of the voyage.
Anyone who registers for the November 7 departure between now and March 31 will receive complimentary airfare for the trip. Additionally, travelers who sign up for either the November 27 or December 7 departure of Lindblad’s shorter 14-day White Continent itinerary will also get free airfare for either of those voyages as well.
If you’ve always wanted to visit Antarctica, 2013 could be the year that you make that dream come true.
Travelers can know more about biology and photography by sourcing knowledge in a variety of ways. Online research leads to entire websites devoted to teaching us both. Locally, area colleges and universities will have lab-grade biology experiences as well as hands-on classes on photography for all ages and abilities.
Still, nothing quite beats the thrill of capturing an image of a bear in the wilderness.
This winter, adventure travelers into marine biology or photography can choose a themed cruise catering to their interests aboard 36-guest Safari Explorer or 86-guest Safari Endeavour. InnerSea Discoveries and sister-line American Safari Cruises has added themes to ten Un-Cruise sailings in the Hawaiian Islands and Mexico’s Sea of Cortés.
“Themes bring together people with common interests and adds one more benefit for booking these dates,” said Tim Jacox, executive vice president of sales and marketing.
Themed cruises come in every shape and size, bringing together like-minded travelers to spend up-close and personal time with a star of their shared addiction.
The new Un-Cruise photography- and marine biology-themed cruises come with an expert guest host along for the ride. Special presentations will be held on the ship or ashore and passengers are free to interact with the host throughout the voyage.
Kids in Nature departures are for families traveling with kids 12 and younger. The expedition team gears the program to a variety of ages and activity levels with a focus on educating. Hiking excursions, kayaking trips, skiff explorations and snorkeling all provide hands-on learning in a fun environment. Active explorations in nature and wildlife sightings engage all ages.
2013 Theme Cruises in Hawaii
Jan 5 – Photography and Whales with Flip Nicklin, highly-regarded whale photographer.
March 9 and 30 – Kids in Nature, a focus on spring break departures for the whole family.
April 6 – Photography with professional photographer/world traveler Peter West Carey.
2013 Theme Cruises in the Sea of Cortés
Jan 12 – Marine Biology with La Paz resident Rodrigo Rocha Gosselin, a local with passion about conservation and nature.
Feb 16 – David Julian, a 30-year veteran professional photographer.
March 16 – Ellen Barone, traveler, freelance writer and photographer.
March 30 – Marine Biology with Giovanni Malagrino, an oceanologist and professor of marine biology.
March 9 and 23 – Kids in Nature, spring break departures for the whole family.
Safari Explorer sails seven-night cruises between Hawaii, the Big Island and Lana’i with two days of activities on Moloka’i. Flexible yacht itineraries focus on explorations of four islands: Lana’i, Moloka’i, Maui and Hawaii.
Safari Endeavour sails Luxury Adventures round trip to La Paz, Baja, Mexico. While the sailing may be themed, an unstructured itinerary explores hideaways such as Isla Espíritu Santo, Isla San Francisco, Bahia Agua Verde, Los Islotes and Loreto.
In the Hawaiian Islands and the Sea of Cortés, guests can be as active as they like and activities include trekking, kayaking, paddle boarding, snorkeling and skiff excursions. On-board naturalists provide interpretation on guided excursions ashore and at sea. The unstructured itinerary allows time for viewing wildlife such as whales and dolphins.
Sound like fun? Passengers aboard the Safari Explorer got the opportunity to jump in and swim with a whale shark last week as we see in this video: