Expedition cruising to Antarctica has been around for decades and has seen a rise in interest in recent years as travelers who have been holding off on the adventure are finally crossing it off their bucket lists. That desire coupled with advanced shipbuilding technology that provides a wide range of travel styles and better comfort have enticed many explorers to enlist for the journey.
Not too long ago, travelers could only get to Antarctica by research vessels with sparse furnishings and few amenities. Today, new cruise ships are built especially for the polar region with ice-strengthened hulls, sustainable operations, and all the creature comforts. Some luxury expedition ships even offer butler service, fine dining, and spa treatments, and some come with sightseeing helicopters and submarines.
But just as on ocean and river cruises, there are differences between the cruise lines. Budgets aside (and plan to spend at least $1,000 per day), it’s important to select the cruise line and ship that best suits your interests. I recently traveled to Antarctica with Lindblad Expeditions, and here are my reasons for choosing them for my epic journey.
More Than 55 Years of Experience
For a trip to the most remote region on the planet, it was crucial to find a company with history and experience. Lindblad Expeditions has been taking travelers to Antarctica since 1966 — that’s more than 55 years! I was confident that the company would know the best landing sites and the logistics of how to get there. Lindblad’s intimate knowledge of the region also enables its team to seek out the best on-shore experiences for guests and — most importantly — find alternative sites in case of inclement weather (which happened frequently on my expedition).
Partnership with National Geographic
In 2004, Lindblad entered into a partnership with National Geographic to further promote worldwide conservation through research, education, and responsible travel. As such, Lindblad became the exclusive provider of all National Geographic marine-based trips and often carries researchers and scientists who will share their findings through enrichment lectures. In addition, every Lindblad expedition features a National Geographic photographer and/or a National Geographic-certified photo instructor. These professionals conduct photo workshops onboard and accompany guests on shore landings to provide hands-on guidance and photo tips. This partnership completely won me over, and many of my fellow guests also cited the National Geographic affiliation as a big reason for choosing Lindblad.
Antarctica is a once-in-a-lifetime trip for most, and it’s a long way to get there. I recommend seeing as much as possible to make your arduous journey worthwhile. Whereas other expedition lines offer itineraries of 12 to 16 days, Lindblad expeditions are at least 14 days and can go longer than 30 days, covering a substantial part of the continent and the sub-Antarctic islands. Compared to the competition, Lindblad also spends more time in each destination. For example, while others typically spend three days at South Georgia Island, Lindblad stays for five days. This results in more time ashore for a wider range of activities, additional site visits, and more wildlife encounters. Longer stays also mean less likelihood of missing out because of bad weather. If high winds or rough seas prevent going ashore one day, you have four more days in the region with Lindblad. On another ship that only visits for three days, one-third of the time ashore is lost.
Comprehensive Education Program
Guests traveling with Lindblad to Antarctica will go home with an enriching, educational, and rewarding experience. The expedition team (usually 15 to 16 strong) consists of naturalists, scientists, photographers, and other Antarctica experts. Team members join guests for meals, guide on-shore activities, and conduct lectures on a variety of topics. Examples include information on whales, seabirds, penguin species, Antarctic geology, and historical events such as Ernest Shackleton’s harrowing Antarctic expeditions. Lectures on conservation are also prominent, focusing on climate change, pollution, over-fishing, and the whaling industry. I loved attending these lectures as they not only prepared me for what I was about to experience but also opened my eyes to the need to preserve our delicate planet and how I can make a difference in my everyday actions back home.
Innovative ship design
Lindblad certainly took advantage of the advanced shipbuilding technologies by launching two of the industry’s most innovative expedition vessels — National Geographic Endurance (on which I sailed) and sister ship National Geographic Resolution. Both ships were built to the highest standards for safe operations in remote regions, including a PC-5 ice class designation that allows them to break and cruise through first-year ice and operate year-round in the polar region. Both ships also have incredible maneuverability with props that spin 360 degrees and dynamic positioning that allows them to hold in place without dropping anchors that disturb the sea bed. The engineering feats are too numerous to name, but they all point to efficient and green operations.
But the feature that sealed the deal for me was the innovative X-Bow patented by ULSTEIN — a Norwegian company that has been designing research and off-shore vessels that ply the roughest waters. The upward and backward curve of the bow allows the ship to cut through the waves quietly and smoothly. As a result, there isn’t any bow slam (the sharp rise and drop of the bow against the water) or violent shudders during heavy seas. With less resistance, the ship consumes less fuel, travels faster, spends more time at the destination, and provides greater passenger comfort. The National Geographic Endurance took me across the Drake Passage in less than 36 hours, shaving at least 12 hours off the regular crossing time, and the lack of bow slam and shaking was noticeable. But since the Endurance is a small ship carrying just 128 guests, I still felt the motion of the ocean, especially during windy days. Regardless, I would not want to be on any other ship.
MORE ABOUT LINDBLAD EXPEDITIONS
Insider Tip: If you travel to Antarctica, you must include South Georgia Island in your itinerary. The overseas territory of the United Kingdom is one of the most bio-diverse regions in the world, home to king penguin colonies with hundreds of thousands of birds, elephant seals, fur seals, and many species of seabirds and other indigenous animals. It also has a fascinating whaling history and you’ll visit Ernest Shackleton’s grave. I had my closest wildlife encounters in South Georgia, and it ranks as one of the most memorable parts of my expedition.
For more information on Lindblad Expeditions, visit their website , telephone 1-800-397-3348 (toll free) or consult your travel advisor.