Chills and Thrills
Cruising Antarctica will bring out your inner explorer.
iving outside the borders of any discernible cruise demographic, I am well aware that I have an insatiable appetite for anything divergent or off the beaten path. Cruising the Antarctic on Hurtigruten’s MS Midnatsol (Midnight Sun) is the realization of a long-held yearning for travel to the frozen subcontinent. This penchant for adventure aligns perfectly with the Hurtigruten spirit, an enterprising initiative that has propelled the line into the coveted niche of expedition cruising. Hurtigruten’s unique approach to this engaging experience begins with a pre-cruise, one-night stay in Santiago, Chile. The encounter with this fascinating city reveals stunning regional color and culture, transcending its reputation as a not-to-bemissed destination. Rather than board the ship here and consume valuable cruise time sailing to the southern nether regions of the planet, guests are flown by charter plane to the waiting ship in Punta Arenas. Following a comprehensive tour of the city, the ship’s odyssey to the ends of the earth begins as Midnatsol sets sail for adventure.
Upon arrival in Antarctica, the brilliant floodlights of a blue-sky morning reveal impressive glacial formations, their estranged icebergs drifting aimlessly toward the never-ending horizon.
Prior to the main event arrival in Antarctica, Midnatsol graciously carves its way through the majestic fjords of Chile for a full day of riveting landscapes culminating in a face-to-face meeting with the mighty Garibaldi Glacier. The initial encounter of this enormous wall of ice initiates a barrage of camera clicks by rail huggers, burning through digital memory. Late afternoon cruising through the Beagle Channel and the Avenue of Glaciers keeps everyone on deck as the landscapes roll out a pageant of spectacular scenery.
As the frozen tundra awaits the ship’s arrival, legendary Drake Passage makes an expected attempt at asserting its power, but this specially designed ice-class vessel audaciously takes on the challenge and the notorious crossing passes with relative ease. During this leisure time at sea, expert lectures and visual presentations provide enlightenment into the upcoming itinerary, launching heightened awareness of the continent’s untamed legacy.
Upon arrival in Antarctica, the brilliant floodlights of a bluesky morning reveal impressive glacial formations, their estranged icebergs drifting aimlessly toward the never-ending horizon. Wrapped in the warmth of the provided parkas and boots, each day’s escorted exploration opportunities authentically survey landscapes through a fascinating milieu of expeditions and discoveries. The edge of raw adventure is smoothed over by highly trained expedition leaders, complemented by invigorating engagement with the surroundings.
As the zodiac approaches the shoreline, the quiet cadence of nature is punctuated by the cacophony of a massive Gentoo penguin colony high atop a bluff. There are numerous species of these creatures, and although there are alternative wildlife sightings throughout the cruise, the penguin du jour viewings dominate landings ashore.
Grappling with the challenges of Antarctic survival is a daily ritual for the local wildlife, but translates into an entertaining show for us. During a casual beach stroll, for example, four massive elephant seals block our path with a slight detour, as visitors are welcomed to a remote Polish research station.
As the adventure progresses, each day offers a varied menu of activities. While the ship anchors in the caldera of Deception Island’s active volcano, a robust hike over the lava evokes the perception of a barren moonscape terrain surrounded by snow and ice. All hands are on deck as the ship departs through the narrow entrance of Neptune’s Bellows.
Departing the South Shetland Islands and setting course for the Antarctic Peninsula, Midnatsol cautiously navigates through a frozen obstacle course of immense icebergs that provide respite for adrift penguins. Encircling Danco Island by zodiac provides engagement with nature on a grand scale as immense glaciers with their icy blue crevasses probe downward to the sea. An extended zodiac tour of Wilhelmina Bay offers a close-up opportunity to witness humpback whales as they feed, oblivious to our presence. Even with the most advanced camera technology and skills, there is no photo that can convey the vastness and sheer majesty of the Antarctic.
While these landings and explorations are all complimentary, there are optional opportunities to pump up adrenaline flow. A certification course on kayaking is offered, facilitating the inherent thrill of paddling through the iceberg-laden waters. A guided snowshoe trek reimagines the exploits of yesteryear’s intrepid explorers the likes of Amundsen and Shackleton. Photography seminars enhance the skills of camera buffs and an arts-and-craft session creates penguin designs out of clay. Avoiding undesired overcrowding, the expedition staff coordinates finely tuned landing schedules that limit the number on shore at any given time to 100 guests. Daily briefings on upcoming adventures and regional history, biology, and cultural presentations keep daily down time to a minimum.
There may not be any roads, but there are avenues of discovery in every nautical mile of this adventurous expedition cruise.