Antarctica For Sissies? Hardly, As Luxury Cruise Line Turns New Page

Antarctica

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?

Probably so when it’s a 21-night expedition sailing from Buenos Aires, Argentina, stopping by Montevideo, Uruguay, then the Falkland Islands before spending five days in Antarctica, running Zodiac landings to a variety of ridiculously amazing places.

OK, maybe that’s sort of traveling.

Antarctica
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.

Do I have your attention yet? No? Let’s press on.


Up next is a day in Puerto Chacabuco, Chile, then on to Puerto Montt, Chile, for the day just before a day spent scenic cruising Reloncavi Sound. Finally, those left standing will spend a day at sea before disembarking in Valparaiso (Santiago), Chile.

AntarcticaSound 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.

AntarcticaTo 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.

AntarcticaAlso 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.




[Image credit – Seabourn]

The Patagonian Expedition Race: A Hellish Endurance Test In A Heavenly Setting

patagonian expedition raceIt starts at midnight with a 108-kilometer mountain bike ride into the teeth of a biting Patagonian wind. And then, in the morning, there is the brutal realization that there is another 593 more kilometers of mountain biking, trekking and sea kayaking to be completed in no more than ten days. Here’s your map and compass. Now figure out how to survive in the remote, untrammeled wilds of Patagonia.

Two years ago, I covered the Race Across America (RAAM), an insane 3,000-mile bike race that challenges sleep-deprived cyclists to sprint across the country within a 12-day time limit. The winner that year was Christoph Strasser, an Austrian bike messenger who caught a total of just 7 and a half hours sleep while crossing the country in eight days.

Earlier this week, one of Christoph’s friends sent me a message about the Patagonian Expedition Race, and after talking to Pete Clayden, a Brit who moved to Chile in 2011 to help run the race, I no longer think that the RAAM participants are the world’s craziest endurance athletes.


patagonia expedition raceThis year’s Patagonian Expedition Race is a 701-kilometer adventure that involves 300 kilometers of mountain biking, overland treks totaling 320 kilometers, and about 80 kilometers of sea kayaking across rugged, virgin terrain in Patagonia that includes majestic mountains, fjords, glaciers and ice fields. The race, which is considered one of the toughest endurance tests in the world, was the brainchild of Stjepan Pavicic, a Chilean geologist who has mapped out different courses in each of the 11 years the race has been held.

“Some of the areas we go into, we may be the first people to have gone there,” says Pete Clayden, who went to work for the race after his post in the financial sector disappeared during the Great Recession, in a recent Skype interview. “There’s a lot of completely virgin ground here, so we never have a hard time finding a new route. We try to showcase the best of the region while creating a unique, very difficult adventure for the racers.”


This year, eleven teams from around the world set off from Puerto Natales, in Chile, at midnight on Monday, February 11, for the first leg of the race – the hellish, aforementioned 108-kilometer mountain bike ride. Two days into the race, six teams were still active, two were thought to be active but hadn’t checked in, and three teams had already dropped out. Last year, 11 of the 19 four-person, co-ed teams actually finished the race.

Clayden said that this year’s race, which concluded over the weekend, was one of the toughest ever, with fierce winds and a difficult course that only three teams were able to complete in the allotted time. Team Adidas TERREX Prunesco, made up of Mark Humphreys, Sally Ozanne, Nick Gracie and Chris Near, won for the fifth consecutive year, crossing the finish line in Punta Arenas, Chile on February 20. The Japanese EastWind team finished third, with GearJunkie Yogaslackers in third.


Each team has to have at least one woman; one team has two this year. But while the women may be outnumbered, some female racers from previous years proved to be some of the competition’s fiercest competitors. Last year, a Japanese woman named Kaori Waki broke one of her ribs on the second day of the race.

patagonia expedition race“But she kept quiet about it and carried on,” Clayden says. “Her team still managed to come in third place.”

Each team is required to bring their own cooking gear, tents and supplies and there are six resupply opportunities spread out over the course. Clayden says that most teams sleep for just an hour or two per night and some suffer from sleep-deprived hallucinations.

“But a lot of the racers tend to enjoy their hallucinations,” he says. “They call them the sleep monsters.”

Teams are required to stay together, leave no trace in the pristine wilderness, and assist other teams if they are in distress. (Time spent helping other teams is deducted from a team’s race time.) Each team gets a GPS and a satellite phone but they can only use them if they’re in deep trouble and are no longer vying to win the race. Weather conditions are often brutal; on a few occasions Patagonian winds of more than 100 mph actually knocked riders off their bikes (see footage below!) and temperatures can dip below freezing.


“But the thing that really gets the racers is the terrain,” Clayden says. “For the first third of the race, they’re trekking across a glacier, working their way alongside a long section of mountains and lakes, with many river crossings. And there’s one iceberg-filled lake they’ll be crossing on a kayak. It’s an adventure playground.”

patagonia expedition raceIt costs $1,000 per team to enter the race, which attracts an eclectic mix of adventurers from around the world who work 9-5 jobs as teachers, tradesman, entrepreneurs, guides and almost any other job you can think of. And what is the prize for enduring this brutal, self-guided race?

“There is zero prize money,” says Clayden, who had just started his own sports massage business when he got the phone call that lured him down to Patagonia to work for the race. “The race is run in the Olympic spirit, solely for the honor of winning it. But there is a trophy and those who finish get a medal. People make enormous sacrifices to compete.”

A British team called Adidas TERREX Prunesco has won what is often referred to as the “Last Wild Race” four years in a row but there’s a plucky quartet of Americans who has also been in the running for the last four years. Gear junky Yoga Slackers are a husband and wife led team comprised of yoga instructors from Bend, Oregon (see videos). In most cases, however, spouses refrain from competing on the same team.

“Generally speaking this is not something you want to do with your life partner,” Clayden says, with a laugh.

When the racers reach the finish line, their feet are sore, they haven’t had a shower in a week or more and they want beer – sometimes, several beers. But Clayden says that more often than not, they come back for more, year after year.


“For most people, it’s to have a great adventure and to have it here in Patagonia,” he says. “They love the wildness of the country, the savageness of it, the intense weather and the way they are immersed in nature. It’s the world’s greatest race, because you compete in mind-blowing scenery and with three of your best friends.”

[Photo credits: Alex Buisse, Chris Radcliffe, Ulrik Hasseman and Alex Karelli from the Patagonian Expedition Race]

Chile’s Valle Nevado Resort Launches Early Bird Promo For North American/UK Skiers

valle nevadoOne of South America’s top ski destinations is Valle Nevado, located just 20 miles east of Santiago, Chile. Already the largest ski resort in the Southern Hemisphere, Valle offers access to over 7,000 acres of Andean terrain, as well as a full-service, self-contained resort.

North American and UK skiers can get in on some serious savings with purchase of Valle’s Early Bird Promo packages before March 15. The savings include up to 35% off on lodging, lift tickets, half-board and après ski activities.

Accommodations include three hotels ranging from budget to luxury, dining at all price points, boutiques, a spa/fitness center, and South America’s most modernized lift system, as well as a new gondola.

Valle also offers the continent’s best heli-skiing, with up to 5,000 vertical feet in one run. The resort season is June 28 to late September, so if you’re already mourning the advent of our spring, get in on this deal. Savings include 35% off stays of a minimum of three nights during specific dates; 25% off seven-night stays from July 12-19 and September 13-20; and 20% off minimum three-night stays August 2-16 (at neighboring Tres Puntas Resort only), and August 16 to September 13. Other restrictions apply.

To book a reservation or for more information, contact Valle Nevado reservations at toll-free at 1-800-669-0554 (U.S.), or 1-888-301-3248 (Canada). You can also email reservas@vallenevado.com, or click here.

[Photo credit: Azure PR]

Get inspired watching this heli-skiing clip of Valle Nevado, courtesy of PowderQuestTours:


Video: A Sublime Disruption

A Sublime Disruption” from Gareth Nolan on Vimeo.

Gareth Nolan shot this short film, “A Sublime Disruption,” during a trip around the world he took in 2011. “This video is not about the places I visited, but merely an attempt to evoke the feeling of wonder and excitement in seeing as much as I was lucky to,” Nolan says on his Vimeo page. Indeed, this video captures the wonder of travel well. With footage from Belize, Bolivia, Cambodia, Cook Islands, Chile, China, French Polynesia, Guatemala, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, Nepal, New Zealand, Peru, Russia, Tibet and The United States, from what I can tell, Nolan spent the year 2011 well.

3 Mistakes to Avoid on Round the World Trips

10 Big Travel Adventures For 2013

Travel adventures to Denali National Park in AlaskaThough 2013 may only be a few days old, it is never too early to start planning our travels for the year ahead. If you’re looking to put a healthy dose of adventure into your life this year, then Gadling is here to help. We have ten suggestions for big travel adventures that are sure to challenge and delight in the months ahead. These journeys are not for the faint of heart, however, as they will carry you to the very ends of the Earth in pursuit of a true once-in-a-lifetime travel experience.

Backpack Through Denali National Park
Even in the 21st century, Alaska remains a wild and untamed frontier that is quite simply the perfect playground for outdoor enthusiasts and adventure travelers alike. At the heart of that beautiful landscape is the incomparable Denali National Park, which is essentially 4.7 million acres filled with breathtaking scenery and spectacular wildlife. Alaska Alpine Adventures offers both seven- and ten-day backpacking excursions into the park, taking travelers across massive glaciers, high into mountain passes and along remote rivers that few people ever see. These trips are a backpacker’s dream come true in one of the last great wildernesses on the planet.

Explore Namibia’s Skeleton Coast
Located along Namibia‘s northern-shores, the Skeleton Coast is so named for the smashed hulls of ships that have washed up on its beaches. More than a thousand vessels have come to rest in those sands, giving the place an otherworldly feeling that is difficult to describe. Desolate, yet incredibly beautiful, the coast is home to an array of wildlife including sea lions, baboons, elephants and even rare black rhinos. The region is inaccessible by land, but several adventure travel companies, including Audley Travel, can arrange for safaris to this remote corner of the world. This is a destination for those who truly want to get away from it all, as it is seldom visited and far from the traditional travel crowd.Travel adventures in the Himalay with Sacred RidesMountain Bike The Himalayas
For decades, one of the staples of adventure travel has been trekking in the Himalaya. But for those looking for a completely different challenge amongst the tallest mountains on the planet, Sacred Rides has a fantastic alternative. The company, which specializes in unique mountain biking tours around the globe, gives travelers the chance to pedal their way through Nepal on a 12-day tour that is truly unique. This adventure takes riders into the remote Mustang Valley, through the shadows of both Annapurna and Dhaulagiri, and into the deepest mountain pass on the planet. Along the way, they’ll catch their breath in ancient Hindu temples, Buddhist monasteries and rustic mountain villages.

Whitewater Raft The World
We’ve told you about Mountain Travel Sobek’s amazing new rafting excursion before, but it is so ambitious and grand it’s worth mentioning again. The company’s Six-Continent Whitewater Adventure is unlike any other, offering travelers the ability to experience Class III-IV rapids in California, Ecuador, Spain, Kenya, India and Australia on a single 25-day whirlwind journey. If you’re a fan of whitewater rafting, it simply doesn’t get any bigger or more adventurous than this.

Trek The Atlas Mountains
Already hiked through the Andes, Alps and Himalaya but still find your feet are itching for an adventure? Why not hit the trail in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco? Stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Sahara Desert, the Atlas Mountains offer unexpectedly rugged routes that wind through verdant valleys, across sparsely populated alpine meadows and over snow-capped summits. Travelers are treated to breathtaking vistas and are welcomed by the friendly locals who inhabit the tiny villages that are sprinkled throughout the region. Explore World Wide offers a variety of travel options to the Atlas Range, including short climbs to the top of the 13,671-foot Toubkal Peak and extended 15-day treks across the region. Like all great hiking excursions, these options provide a good mix of scenic landscapes, physical challenges and unique cultural immersion opportunities.

Learn To Sea Kayak In Patagonia
If you’ve ever wanted to learn how to sea kayak, there are few places on the planet that are better suited to obtain those skills than Patagonia. The incredible wilderness located along the southernmost tip of South America is amongst the most beautiful settings on the planet and it remains an incredibly remote and wild place even today. And who better to train travelers in the art of sea kayaking than the folks at NOLS – the National Outdoor Leadership School. The organization leads a couple of trips to Chile each year where their guests gain paddling skills while traveling through lush rainforests, past towering granite spires and around pristine beaches. Paddlers will encounter plenty of wildlife along the way as well, including sea lions, giant otters, Andean condors and much more. This trip is a mix of equal parts adventure, learning and exploration that lets travelers go home with new skills and a host of wonderful memories.

Travel adventures on the SerengetiTake A Walking Safari Across The Serengeti
The Serengeti is one of those iconic destinations that every adventure traveler should have on their list of places to visit. With its dizzying array of wildlife, it is simply a magical place for animal lovers and naturalists alike. But those looking to experience the traditional safari in a unique way will want to check out the Walk on the Wildside itinerary from the team at Mountain Madness. This trip gets travelers out of the safari vehicle and actually puts them on the rolling savannah on foot. Specially trained guides will keep travelers safe as they spend their days hiking from one campsite to the next, all the while moving amongst vast herds of antelope, wildebeests and zebras, keeping their eyes peeled for elephants and lions along the way. At night they’ll actually camp right on the Serengeti, drifting off to sleep to the sounds of wild animals grazing just outside their tent.

Go Camping In Antarctica
For many, a visit to Antarctica is the ultimate adventure, as the frozen continent is the very definition of the “ends of the Earth.” While there are numerous travel companies that offer cruises to the bottom of the world, not many of them also offer the ability to actually go camping while there. But adventurous travelers looking for the ultimate cold weather camping experience will want to check out the itineraries available from Quark Expeditions. Their Crossing The Circle tour not only offers the option to go kayaking with whales and visit remote penguin colonies, but travelers can actually camp on the Antarctic Peninsula itself. Just be sure to pack a warm sleeping bag and your long underwear.

Climb The Highest Peak In South America
Located in western Argentina, the 22,480-foot Aconcagua is the tallest peak in South America and the highest in the world outside of the Himalaya. Despite its extreme altitude, however, the mountain requires only a few rudimentary technical skills to climb, making it accessible to adventurers who enjoy venturing into thin air. The standard route to the top is essentially a challenging hike requiring about three weeks to complete, including acclimatization and shuttling gear to high camps. The climb also happens to serve as a great training ground for a potential attempt on Everest or other more demanding mountains. The Adventure Consultants are one of the best companies around when it comes to organizing an Aconcagua climb, offering multiple expeditions to the mountain each year and providing top notch service, skills training and guidance. This is the trip for those who have trekked to the summit of Kilimanjaro and are now looking for new high altitude challenge.

The Ultimate African Adventure – Cairo to Cape Town Overland
If you’re looking for the ultimate African experience, it’s tough to beat Intrepid Travel’s amazing Cairo to Cape Town overland adventure. As the name implies, your excursion will begin in Egypt‘s capital city and proceed south to the capital of South Africa. In between, travelers will pass through the Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Zanzibar, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia. The trip is an incredible 117 days in length and offers a mix of camping and rustic accommodations. The itinerary features stops in some of the continent’s more vibrant and exciting cities, while also providing plenty of opportunity to encounter Africa’s famous wildlife in a number of fantastic natural settings. If you’re a fan of African travel, it just doesn’t get any better than this. That is, provided you have four months of vacation time saved up.

Hopefully this list has provided you with some ideas for your own big adventures for 2013. Good luck in your travels in the year ahead and enjoy the road.

[Photo Credit: Kent Miller, Kraig Becker]