Since new environmental rules have limited the number of cruises to Antarctica, T+L found the best of the best.
Quark Expeditions: Akademik Sergey Vavilov
Number of Passengers: 104
The Ship: This Russian research vessel is home-away-from-home for adrenaline junkies looking for adventure (ice camping, cross-country skiing, and more).
Bring Your... Extra layers. You’re going to be spending most of your time out in the elements, where temperatures hover just below freezing.
Trump Card: A robust catalog of itineraries to every part of the continent in ships reminiscent of the heyday of polar exploration.
Onboard Perks: Tour the Met science lab, where the crew gathers data on Antarctic weather and ice melt.
Top Shore Excursion: Sea kayaking along the rocky shores of South Georgia island, dotted as far as the eye can see with elephant and fur seals and an occasional reindeer.
The Facts: 20-day Explorer’s Quest cruise, departing from Ushuaia, Argentina, from $9,540 per person, double.
Orion Expedition Cruises: Orion
Number of Passengers: 106
The Ship: A polar cruiser that’s as intimate as a yacht, the Orion is suited for repeat Antarctica guests who want to stake claim on a remote part of the continent.
Bring Your... Love for Aussies. The many passengers from down under make for a laid-back vibe.
Trump Card: Orion’s unusual itinerary navigates east Antarctica and swings by Snares Island—home to crested penguins. (It also stops in New Zealand.)
Onboard Perks: The menu by Sydney chef Serge Dansereau. You’ll toast the day’s seabird sightings over a Yarra Burn Pinot Gris and tuna sashimi.
Top Shore Excursion: A visit to Douglas Mawson’s base camp on Cape Denison. The series of pine-board huts are almost as solid as the Australian explorer himself, who survived near-starvation on a 600-mile trek in 1912.
The Facts: 18-day Mawson’s Antarctica-Commonwealth Bay, departing from Hobart, Tasmania, from $16,460 per person, double.
Silversea: Silver Explorer
Number of Passengers: 132
The Ship: An expedition cruise liner that also delivers best-in-class service—ideal for luxury lovers who want to experience the great outdoors.
Bring Your... Alarm clock. You’ll be waking up at 4 a.m. to watch humpback whales before a hydrating wrap at the spa.
Trump Card: White-glove service for all 66 staterooms: a butler will dry off your parka and fetch hot chocolate.
Onboard Perks: Sipping a glass of Heidsieck & Co. Monopole Brut while watching hulking blue glaciers from one of the top-deck indoor whirlpools.
Top Shore Excursion: The polar plunge—taking a dip in freezing waters—is a rite of passage, but with Silversea, cheating is an option. You’ll be ferried to the bathwater-warm volcanic caldera of Deception Island.
The Facts: 10-day Classic Antarctica cruise, departing from Ushuaia, Argentina, from $8,758 per person, double.
Abercrombie & Kent: Le Boréal
Number of Passengers: 199
The Ship: One of the newest vessels on the market (complete with a hammam and five restaurants and bars) impresses intellectuals keen on creatures—and creature comforts.
Bring Your... Bucket list. To compare bragging rights with the other affluent globe-trotters on board.
Trump Card: A&K brings aboard a handpicked expedition crew led by renowned mammal biologist Larry Hobbs.
Onboard Perks: A photographer conducts daily workshops and coaches you on how to nail those shots of wildlife in austral light.
Top Shore Excursion: Meeting with Dr. James McClintock, a scientist at Anvers lsland’s Palmer Station, to discuss climate change and how Antarctic microorganisms are helping with cancer research.
The Facts: 14-day Classic Antarctica, departing from Ushuaia, Argentina, from $10,465 per person, double.
The Trip Planner: Ashton Palmer, Founder and President, ExpeditionTrips
On his 50-plus trips to Antarctica, Palmer has played almost every role: Zodiac driver; naturalist; expedition leader. In addition to tailoring your itinerary, he’ll also serve as an expert on topics ranging from the most stylish rubber boots to the best time to rise to see icebergs in summer’s orange light. 877/412-8527.
Silversea’s fancy, pampering experience is delivered on six sleek, 132- to 540-passenger ships, done up in contemporary décor, with gourmet cuisine, spacious ocean-view suites, free booze, and top-notch service—the solicitous crew even shines your shoes and brings room service, course by course. Steaks are prepared the way you like them. And yes, the bartender knows your name. An impressive guest lecture series includes famous chefs. The line also operates the upscale 132-passenger soft adventure ship Prince Albert II.
New and Newsworthy: The 540-passenger Silver Spirit debuted in 2009; it’s the line’s first new ship in eight years. Silver Wind recently had a multimillion refurbishment including a new observation lounge and spa.
Price: Weeklong cruises from $2,638 (plus air–inclusive offer).
Geographic Areas: Mediterranean, Northern Europe and Baltics, Africa and Indian Ocean, Far East, South Pacific, Caribbean, South America, Central America, New England/Canada,
With two polar-class icebreaker ships—one nuclear powered, and both equipped with helicopters and Zodiacs—Quark is the go-to outfit for getting to the remotest ice-bound spots. In 2012, Quark launched hot-air balloons on select North Pole trips.T+L Trip pick Antarctic Express. Fly over the Drake Passage, on the southern tip of South America, then board the 61-cabin Clipper Adventurer to spot glaciers, penguins, and whales (polar camping is optional).
Abercrombie & Kent
The Abercrombie & Kent travel agency began as an African safari company, founded by Geoffrey Kent and his parents in 1962. Today, the company organizes trips to more than 100 nations across all seven continents, with destinations ranging from Antarctica to the Galápagos Islands. Chosen by Travel + Leisure as one of the Best Adventure-Travel Outfitters of 2010, the agency caters to experienced travelers seeking “extreme adventure.” In addition to the signature African safaris, travel options include a Norwegian dog-sledding excursion, a river cruise along the Nile, and a turtle rescue expedition in Australia. T+L Trip Pick: Wings Over the Migration. Follow the Great Migration, view a private Masai dance performance, and camp near the Ngorongoro Crater.
Orion Expedition Cruises
Rarely seen orangutan preserves are part of the agenda with Orion Expeditions’ Faces in the Forest journey. Joining the passengers at Camp Leakey, in Kalimantan Tengah, is its founder, Dr. Birute Galdikas, who introduces guests to orangutan orphans and shares insights from decades of studying primate behavior. Other things to watch for? Hornbills and proboscis monkeys.