The frozen continent was once the final frontier for luxury cruises—until December 2003, when the Orion, a 106-passenger expedition ship, took its maiden voyage. Unlike other Antarctic vessels, on which science and adventure have precluded feather beds and white-glove service, the Orion pampers its explorers. The 24 staterooms and 29 suites are outfitted with wood moldings, marble bathrooms, and oversized windows. Spacious public areas are sheathed in glass, allowing clear views of the penguin colony at Port Lockroy and the ice caves of Paradise Bay. Adventurers can sign up for shore excursions and tours in Zodiacs led by a team of naturalists, who get travelers close to Weddell seals and albatross. Back on board, cocktails are served on a heated open deck, so you won't miss the humpback whales cavorting in the midnight sun. The only downside to this two-week journey from southern Argentina to the Antarctic Peninsula: once the austral sun sets, in February, the ship leaves for warmer waters until the following December. Travel Dynamics International, 800/257-5767 or 212/517-7555;; from $7,495 per person, double.
—Gayle Forman