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Antarctica is one of the great unexplored areas of the world. It wasn’t until the last fifty years that there has been any appreciable exploration or study of the vast frozen continent. Now the tourist with sufficient money can actually view and set foot on this unique part of the earth.
The tourist season for Antarctica is restricted only to the months of December through February when it is the peak of summer in the southernmost part of the world. Only vessels equipped for the icy waters cruise to one of the coldest areas of the earth. Three major cruise lines offer Antarctic cruises: Celebrity Cruises, Orient Lines, and Radisson Seven Seas. Smaller specialty expedition companies also offer other trips to this destination.
Celebrity Cruises travels to Antarctica with the polar icebreaker Kapitan Khlebnikov, a refitted 1980’s Russian polar research vessel. This ship takes a fortunate 106 passengers to the polar region with the amenities expected from Celebrity Cruises such as pool, sauna, and gym. Accommodations are small by comparison to a cruise ship; staterooms can be as small as 135 square feet while a suite with private bath is only 285 square feet.
Currently Celebrity Cruises has one 11-day trip to Antarctica scheduled for departure February 6, 2006. The price is approximately $10,000 per person. The cruise originates and returns to Ushuaia Tierra Del Fuego, the southernmost town in South America near Cape Horn. As with all cruises in the frozen waters, destinations depend upon actual weather conditions during the cruise.
Orient Lines provides several Antarctic cruises each year aboard its world traveler ship Marco Polo. This ship was originally built in Germany in 1965 and was rebuilt in the early 1990’s. It has twelve decks and carries 826 passengers, a cruise ship not a research vessel like the Kapitan Khlebnikov. Accommodations vary from deluxe and regular suites to a full complement of cabin categories to choose from. Orient Lines has a high reputation for quality and the Marco Polo is a full service ship with many restaurants and amenities.
Orient offers a variety of Antarctic cruises throughout the season from December to February with the option of 11 to 33 day cruises, depending upon point of departure. The longest trip begins in the Caribbean, passes through the Panama Canal and tours the west coast of South America before touring Antarctica. Once the ship reaches the Cape Horn area, regular 11-day cruises to Antarctica depart from Ushuaia Tierra Del Fuego. Other cruises are 15 or 18-day cruises that start in Santiago, Chile or Buenos Aires, Argentina. Prices start at around $5,000 per person for the 11-day cruise.
Radisson Seven Seas provides cruises to Antarctica aboard the ship Explorer II. Explorer II is designed to cruise safely in the polar region. While this vessel carries 300 passengers elsewhere, only 198 people can take the Antarctic cruise. Explorer II is a small cruise ship with all the amenities expected from a luxury and award-winning cruise line such as Radisson Seven Seas.
Radisson Seven Seas provides only two cruises per year in the Antarctic region, both in the month of January. Both cruises are round trip from Ushuaia Tierra Del Fuego and are 12-day trips. While the 2005 cruise itinerary shows cruising the Antarctic Peninsula, the 2006 cruises show only cruising the South Shetland Islands without mention of the Antarctic continent. Prices start at around $7,500 per person for the 12-day cruise.