Antarctica, the 7th continent, the white continent, … you name it, we’re all dreaming of going there someday. While it used to be one of those destinations which would forever remain on our wish-list, it’s certainly much more accessible now! Thanks to a small armada of expeditions cruise ships that have been purpose-built for this harsh landscape where ice and snow are just part of the everyday life, you can now enjoy the wonders of Antarctica in unrivalled luxury and comfort. There are many different options out there, yet the following ships just came out of the box and have some of the most advanced gadgets and toys onboard to lure even the most demanding passengers.
Viking Octantis, Viking Expeditions
Viking is no newbie when it comes to cruising, however they have only recently started with expeditions and for good reason as they have one of the best purpose-built ships out there. The Viking Octantis is the largest ship in this list but compared to the gigantic cruise ships we all know it’s still a little baby with a capacity of only 378 guests. The sleek exterior design makes this ship a blessing to look at, yet the inside is equally impressive. Beautifully decorated staterooms, all of which have a private Nordic balcony and all the amenities you’re looking for. Of course the owner’s suite is the “pièce de résistance” with a massive outdoor area on top of a wine and music collections which is hand-picked by the CEO himself Torstein Hagen.
The Octantis also features some state of the art technological marvels. One of them can be found in the Hangar, which is located on the lowest deck in the aft. Here you’ll be able to board the zodiacs while still being in the comfort of the ship. Once seated they are lowered automatically into the water by an ingenious way at the stern of the ship. Here, you’ll also find 2 submarines (yes, I’m not joking) capable of taking up to 6 passengers on an adventure of a lifetime while they explore the marine life in Antarctica. Rather looking for something amazing inside the ship? What about the hydrotherapy pool at the Nordic Spa where you can enjoy the amazing views while your body is being pampered at the same time. And here’s a tip in case the weather is favourable: take a nice drink from the bar and make yourself comfortable at the Finse Terrace at the back of the ship. This sunken seating area is just the best place to take it all in.
Le Commandant Charcot, Ponant
Mix the know-how of a seasoned expedition cruise line with some French flair and you’ll get an idea of what to expect when boarding Le Commandant Charcot. The ship will undoubtedly change the way we look at expedition ships in the future and one of the main features that stand out for me is the fact that it’s a hybrid electric polar vessel, allowing it to sail 100% electrically in certain areas where you don’t want to disturb the wildlife or you just want your guests to take it all in without the background noise of the engines. But enough tech-talk, let’s focus on the area where we as guests are more familiar with like for example the staterooms. Each of the 123 suites and staterooms have a private balcony and interiors that use soft tones to create a relaxing ambiance. There’s a wide choice of different staterooms but my preference goes to the split-level suites which have massive windows through which it feels like the outside scenery is almost falling inside your living room.
Being classified as a true icebreaker it’s also one of the ships that can reach some of the most remote and inhospitable places in Antarctica. Yet onboard the ship itself you wouldn’t immediately think you found yourself on an icebreaker, but rather on a luxury cruise boat. One of the outside area’s that perfectly reflects that contrast can be found at the Blue Lagoon pools, where you’ll be able to relax in the water which has a temperature between 27° and 37° degrees celsius thanks to recycled energy from the ship. And the French being French you can’t ignore the amazing food that is displayed in its two restaurants with a wine list to match of course. The fact that all of this luxury can be provided while being one of the cleanest and most eco-friendly ships in the world is just astonishing.
Scenic Eclipse, Scenic Cruises
If there’s one ship that caused a stir when it was launched, it’s the Scenic Eclipse. The beautifully elegant design make it look more like a yacht instead of an explorer cruise ship. Sleek lines, the black hull, …this ship is made to impress its spectators but equally the 228 guests (for expeditions to Antarctica they only take 200 to maximise the landings) which can be accommodated onboard. There are only suites on the Eclipse and they are truly the epitome of luxury. Not only is their size way above average, they also come with some of the best sound proofing out there, butler service (yes, you’re still on an expedition) and all the other bells and whistles you may think of. There’s a reason why they refer to it as a 6-star experience and Scenic really makes sure they keep that level of comfort and service as high as possible.
That’s perfectly reflected in all the toys you’ll find onboard the ship. To start off with it can open up its upper deck to transform it into a giant helipad which can be used by the 2 (why only 1 when you can have 2…right?) onboard Airbus helicopters. Soaring over the frozen landscapes from the comfort of the heli should be on everybody’s wish-list. Or how about the submarine which gives you the ultimate underwater experience. All the action working up an appetite? With 10 different dining experiences on a relatively small ship like this, you’ll be hard-pressed not to find anything to your liking. My favourites…Koko’s Asian Fusion and Lumière but there’s really no wrong choice to be made. To end the day I suggest trying some of the great whiskeys which can be found in the Scenic Lounge Bar. It’s moments like that when they invent words like “bliss”!
SH Minerva, Swan Hellenic
One of the newest ships to sail the oceans is the SH Minerva. It can accommodate 152 guests which truly gives it a boutique feel when you cruise with such limited passenger numbers. I’m a big fan of boutique-travel so you won’t hear me complain, on the contrary. While the blue-and white exterior blends in perfectly with the landscape of this southern desert (yes, Antarctica is classified as a desert) the interiors transport you right back to the north where the tones, materials and colours predominantly give me Scandinavian vibes. Nonetheless, the elegance and sophistication of the ship is truly noteworthy and the staterooms reflect that perfectly. I really like the flame-effect fireplaces that give you an instant ‘hygge” feeling when enter.
One of the cool features is the Swan’s nest which is located right at the bow of the ship, giving you unobstructed views of the landscape and is perfect for those who want to re-enact the famous scene from “Titanic” yet knowing this ship is built to deal with icebergs instead of just being a cruise ship. On the other side of the ship you’ll find a beautiful heated swimming pool which might be more to your liking. It’s located next to the pool bar and grill, and even in the cool climate of Antarctica the grill is being used, giving you the opportunity to enjoy some stunning landscapes while being internally satisfied with some amazing grilled dishes. For those who want to capture all these special moments on their phone or camera, make sure to pay a visit to the expedition lab where a photography expert will help you with tips and tricks to take the best shots, but also help you with downloading them or even edit a bit in order to make sure those pics reflect the beauty of this place, even though we all know it’s never going t one as impressive as seeing it in real life.
National Geographic Endurance, Lindblad Expeditions
If there’s one brand that knows how to organise expeditions to Antarctica, it’s Lindblad. They’ve been doing so for over 50 years, yet recently they received their first polar built ship which will make expeditions to the white continent not only safer but also more comfortable. One of the main features which you can’t miss is the X-bow, allowing the ship to slice through the water and ice, reducing the overall impact and results in a smoother ride. But you would be silly to thing that’s the only noteworthy thing about the National Geographic Endurance. She might just have 126 guests onboard, the amount of facilities and amenities are truly impressive for such a relatively small ship. The cabins are all beautifully designed and the ideal personal cocoon within the ship.
But your time will mostly be spent either on land or in one of the elegant lounges and restaurants. The observation deck is one of those cozy places where you make yourself comfortable reading a book or watch the fireplace while the scenery outside slowly passes by. On the other side of the deck you’ll find the Sanctuary, a wellness area with different saunas, treatment rooms, a yoga studio and so on. Of course when it comes to food and beverage, the usual bells and whistles can be found on the ship. But one unique feature which can’t be found on any other ship cruising this part of the planet is a night in one of the glass igloos. Indeed, they installed 2 igloos at the back of the ship, allowing guests to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience by sleeping under the polar night sky. No such thing as light pollution, only a billions stars that flicker in the sky and some hot-water bottles to keep you warm. It doesn’t get more traditional than that.