Revellers with a sense of adventure can ring the change of the New Year by dispensing with their ‘penguin suits’ and meeting the real thing instead on the new Ultimate Antarctica Amongst Emperors & Kings itinerary, from leading polar cruise specialist, One Ocean Expeditions (OOE). In fact, it’s possible to get up close to eight different species of penguin on this 11-night voyage, which takes in the South Shetland Islands, the spectacular Antarctic Peninsula, the vast, ice-choked waters of the Weddell Sea and the beautiful Falkland Islands.
George’s Point – Snow Shoe Descent
What’s more, the inaugural voyage of OOE’s new programme on board the Akademik Sergey Vavilov is one of several which now incorporate return charter flights from Punta Arenas in Chile. The inclusion of the two-hour flight eliminates the crossing of the infamous Drake Passage, saving up to two days at sea and allowing guests to maximise their time exploring the region.
The first of these charter flights departs Punta Arenas on 29 December, heading for King George Island, where the Vavilov awaits; ready to chart a course along the chain of South Shetland Islands before crossing the Gerlache Strait and navigating the icy waters of the Antarctic Peninsula.
There is a huge diversity of wildlife to be seen on this voyage. Highlights for passengers include visiting well-established Adelie, chinstrap and gentoo penguin rookeries and southern elephant seal haul outs, viewing and photographing the gigantic and elegant king penguins, which range from 18 to 37 inches in height, trying to spot the elusive emperor penguin and watching playful humpback whales enjoying the polar waters.
The landscape is equally impressive, with heavily glaciated mountains permanently covered in ice and snow, rocky outcrops that are home to staggering numbers of penguins, miles of tabular icebergs that offer spectacular photographic opportunities and a vast expanse of steely waters rich in marine life.
The cruise will also appeal to guests interested in the history of exploration in the region. Stops are scheduled at Nordenskjold’s winter hut on Snow Hill Island, built during the 1901-04 Swedish expedition and still standing today, as well as Elephant Island where Sir Ernest Shackleton and his men camped under their upturned lifeboats on the famous HMS Endurance expedition 100 years ago.
As the Vavilov sails across to the Falkland Islands, accompanied by hundreds of magnificent pelagic seabirds, including albatross, petrels, gulls and terns, onboard polar experts are on hand to answer questions about all aspects of the voyage and conduct interesting and informative presentations about the region, its history and wildlife.
The cruise ends in Port Stanley where guests are transferred to the airport for the return flight to Punta Arenas. Guests may choose to extend their trip by taking a connecting flight through to Santiago or one of the other destinations in Chile before returning home to the UK.
Prices for the 11-night Ultimate Antarctica Amongst Emperors and Kings trip start from US$10,595 per person including flights from Punta Arenas to King George Island and from Stanley to Punta Arenas, all food and accommodation onboard, a New Year’s Eve banquet, plus zodiac excursions and landings, ship transfers and foul weather gear.