Chills and Thrills

Cruis­ing Antarc­tica will bring out your in­ner ex­plorer.

Porthole Cruise Magazine - - What’s Inside - BY STEVE LE­LAND

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.

Scenic Grandeur

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.

Gen­too pen­guins

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