The right questions on Antarctica
What do you want from Antarctica? Camping on a glacier? Face time with king penguins? World-class science lectures and photo seminars? Kayaking around icebergs? Total avoidance of the unpredictable Drake Passage? The comforts of a large cruise ship for viewing the occasional iceberg at great distances? Paying top dollar for a chartered yacht for a handful of passengers, exquisite cuisine, tiny staff and a Drake crapshoot or two?
Those are among the questions to ask, said Ashton Palmer, a longtime Antarctic travel expert, whose Expedition Trips matches adventure travelers with small vessels in the 100-to-300-passenger range.
Count the days actually spent on and around Antarctica, Palmer said. (Some two-week trips starting in Buenos Aires or Santiago, Chile, have just four Antarctic days.) If onboard education matters, Linblad Expeditions/National Geographic and Zegrahm Expeditions use top naturalists who tend to be highly scientific and academic, as as terrific photographers. While Quark and G Adventures will “teach you some stuff, it’s not PhD level,” Palmer said. (I found Quark’s crash course ducky.)
For luxury travel, consider Silver Sea and Ponant vessels. For “drive-by” cruising, Holland America Line sails past the general vicinity. If Antarctica is your seventh continent, ensure that there is footfall on the actual landmass, and if you want to guarantee a few great images of yourself, inquire if there is an onboard photographer, Palmer suggested.
I didn’t know enough to ask most of these questions since my flash decision was based on price and schedule. Looking back, I would have loved communing with hundreds of large king penguins and albatrosses (a longer trip that includes the Falkland Islands northeast of Ushuaia). And although I hate camping, I might have chosen an expedition that included a cozy tent or sleeping bag on a glacier. Now I know.
200 MILES ARGENTINA Punta Arenas Atlantic Ocean CHILE ARGEN. Ushuaia Pacific Ocean Falkland Islands (U.K.) Cape Horn Drake Passage Detail SOUTH AMER. Enterprise Island AFRICA Atlantic Ocean ANTARCTICA Pacific Ocean South Pole AUSTR. King George Island