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.
Yesterday, we told you that Britain’s Prince Harry is planning on joining an expedition to the South Pole later this year in an effort to raise funds and awareness for the Walking with the Wounded program. The adventurous Prince will take part in a cross-country skiing race that will cover 335 kilometers (208 miles) in approximately 16 days, crossing the final three degrees of latitude before reaching 90°S. This will be a grand adventure to say the least, but did you know that you could go on a similar expedition yourself? That is, provided you are physically fit and have plenty of cash.
There are a number of adventure travel companies that offer what is known as a “last degree” journey to the South Pole. Those taking part in such a trip will spend their days skiing across the frozen expanse of the Antarctic Plateau and their nights in a winter camp on the frozen continent. Most itineraries cover about 60 miles in ten days, with the trip culminating with their arrival at the southern-most point on the planet.
Participants on a last degree expedition will need to be in excellent shape as they will be skiing over very tough terrain while pulling a sled filled with gear behind them at all times. They’ll also have to be capable of enduring cold weather, unexpected storms and harrowing whiteout conditions, which can arise unexpectedly. This is certainly not a trip for someone who prefers to take it easy on their vacations, as this type of expedition will push travelers to their physical limits.This isn’t a trip for someone with a small bank account either. A last degree journey to the South Pole will set you back approximately $58,000. Yes, you read that right – $58,000. That cost includes transportation to your starting point in Antarctica and a pick-up at the Pole, as well as guides, meals, support staff and everything you’ll need while out on the ice. International airfare to and from Punta Arenas, Chile, the usual starting point for an Antarctic adventure, is not included.
We’ve known for sometime that Britain’s Prince Harry has an adventurous streak in him, and I’m not just talking about those questionable photos that emerged from his now infamous trip to Las Vegas last year. In April of 2011, he joined an expedition that skied to the North Pole, although he was forced to depart early in order to be home in time for his brother’s impending wedding. Last week it was announced that the Prince will once again set off for the colder regions of the planet as he now intends to join one of three teams that will be racing to the South Pole.
Dubbed the South Pole Allied Challenge 2013, this race will pit three teams against one another on a 335-kilometer (208-mile) journey that will cross the final three degrees of latitude to the Pole. Those teams will include a group from the U.K., another from the U.S. and a third combined squad from the Commonwealth nations of Australia and Canada. Each team will attempt to be the first to ski to the South Pole while battling high winds, whiteout conditions and temperatures that are expected to routinely fall below -30°F.
As with his previous arctic endeavor from a couple of years back, Harry’s new expedition is also taking place in conjunction with the Walking with the Wounded foundation. That organization was created to support men and women who have been injured in the line of duty while serving their country. The Walking with the Wounded program helps those soldiers to prepare for a return to civilian life after their tour of duty has ended. Harry has taken a particular interest in the program and has served as its patron for several years. The teams racing in the Allied Challenge will largely be made up of soldiers who have recovered from serious injury.
The teams will all gather in Antarctica in late November and begin the race shortly there after. It is expected to take approximately 16 days for them to reach the finish line at 90°S with the entire Allied Challenge wrapping up sometime around December 17 of this year.
Wait… the Falkland Islands? That’s not quite Antarctica Geographically; it’s South America. And politically, well, it’s still in Europe. Perhaps they are going by the ecozone or floristic kingdom definition of Antarctica? Perhaps.
This type of trip flies in the face of all the principles espoused by slow travel, but it’s an impressive feat all the same. It still kind of blows my mind that we can access every edge of the planet in but a week (at least nominally or floristic kingdom-ly).
For those wondering, they’re currently tied at two games a piece. The ultimate winner is likely to be the one who doesn’t collapse from jet lag in New York.
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.