Friday, August 15, 2014

Traveling to Antarctica: Just go with the floe

M/V USHUAIA cruises Antarctica  (Photo: Facunda Santana/Antarpply  Expeditions)
USHUAIA, ARGENTINA, August 15, 2014 – Avid travelers love to say they would go the ends of the earth to discover some place new. Today Antarctica is one of trendiest destinations to visit, and that is about as near to the end of the earth you can go.

One tour operator specializing in tours to Antarctica is Antarpply which sails out of the southernmost city in the world, Ushuaia, Argentina.

 (Monika Schillat/Antarpply Expeditions)
Among the benefits of operating from Ushaia is that the city is located south of the Straits of Magellan, which for centuries was one of the most hazardous places in the world for seafarers to navigate. Today, thanks to the Panama Canal, ships save time, money and potentially hazardous conditions by not having to navigate around the tip of South America.

The Antarpply ship, which is appropriately named the M/V USHUAIA, has been refurbished to accommodate a maximum of 88 passengers in 44 cabins and suites. Obviously that means the USHUAIA is not one of those impersonal floating cities that takes a week in which to become oriented.

(Facunda Santana/Antarpply Expedtions)
In fact, USHUAIA was originally built for the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as an ice-strengthened polar vessel. With well appointed staterooms, ample deck space and an open bridge policy, there is an intimacy among passengers combined with the natural wonder of Antarctica that is rare in other forms of sea cruising.

Antarpply offers four different itineraries. Regardless of the tour, they all include the Drake Passage made famous by renowned explorer Sir Francis Drake who sailed the region in 1578.

Sailing aboard the M/V USHUAIA in Antarctica  (Photo: Vergara/Antarpply Expeditions)
Drake Passage marks the Antarctic Convergence, where cold polar water sinks beneath warmer northern waters to create a massive surge of nutrients that sustain the biodiversity of the area.
In addition, the Drake Passage is also the northern border for many Antarctic seabirds.

(Filip Kulisev/Antarpply Expeditions)
Icebergs and snow-capped mountains begin to appear as the vessel reaches the Shetland Islands which were first sighted in 1819 by Captain William Smith. The Shetlands are a cluster of 20 islands and islets which provide the first shore excursion (conditions permitting) where travelers enjoy one of many encounters with penguins and seals.

Drake Passage is also a popular spot for whale watching.

The South Shetland Islands are a famous haven for wildlife. King George Island is especially abundant with huge colonies of nesting Adélie and Chinstrap Penguins, Kelp Gulls, Blue-eyed Cormorants, Antarctic Terns and Southern Giant Petrels as well as being home to scientific bases from many different countries.

(Pablo Petracci/Antarpply Expeditions)
Not only does the USHUAIA offer passengers up-close-and-personal access to wildlife, it also journeys past unique ice formations which have been personally handcrafted by Mother Nature herself. Three waterways in particular, the Gerlache Strait, the Neumayer Channel and the Lemaire Channel feature towering rock faces and spectacular glaciers that loom so close you feel  you can literally reach out and touch them.

As one might expect on an adventure tour such as this, flexibility is a must depending upon weather conditions and accessibility.

Whale of a tale (Photo: Antarpply Expeditions)
USHUAIA carries its own fleet of Zodiacs which are driven by skilled boatmen. Zodiaks accommodate up to 12 guests and easy to board and disembark. Designed for polar explorations, Zodiaks make it possible to go ashore to experience first-hand the vegetation and wildlife of Antarctica.

As a rule USHUAIA’s bridge is open to passengers who want to experience the navigational operations of the ship and ask the crew questions. On occasion, if weather becomes a factor, the bridge may be closed to visitors.

Size matters (Photo: Weisheng Lin/Antarpply Expeditions)
Dining aboard a compact vessel such as the USHUAIA is single seating with no pre-assigned tables.
Dress aboard ship is informal. Travelers from the United States are always happy to know that they can use American dollars for payments and electrical current is 110 V/60 Hz which is the same as it is in the U.S.

Cabins are also fitted with sockets to accommodate a variety of international plugs but it is suggested that travelers bring any necessary converters and adaptors even though there are a limited number of convertors aboard which can be borrowed.

All cabins on Upper Deck G are equipped with hairdryers, but the hotel manager has a supply that can be borrowed if needed.
Sunset at the bottom of the world  (Photo: Weisheng Lin/Antarpply Expeditions)
Antarpply has an expert team of lecturers who accompany the tours and provide nightly briefings and information before, during and after shore excursions.

Believe it or not, Antarctica is an up-and-coming travel destination. For information, The Magellan TravelClub in Charlotte is offering a tour in November of 2015 through the services of Beltram Travel which specializes in South America.

In addition to the Antarctica cruise there is an optional trip to Buenos Aires to visit the famed Iguazu Falls.

And don’t forget, when you return home, you will have stories and memories that will serve as the ideal “ice breaker” at your next social gathering.