Cruise ship in Antarctica with a helicopter flying above. Featured on Family Travel with Colleen Kelly

When planning for your family’s next winter vacation, especially with tweens, teens and college-aged kids, consider venturing south, far south, to a destination as rewarding as it is remote.

 

Though you certainly won’t find the warm, sunshine-filled days many seek during North America’s winter months, tourist season in Antarctica – late November through early March – typically means manageable days in the mid to high 30s (Fahrenheit), and you can’t beat the scenery or the wildlife.

A glacial formation in Antarctica
Photo by Suzanne Carmel

Scenic Cruises offers itineraries to the Antarctic Peninsula departing from Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world at the tip of Argentina, with a pre-cruise night spent in Buenos Aires. The luxury sailings are on the pricey side, however the price of this bucket-list cruise has plenty of perks built into the cost. It includes the chartered flight to and from Ushuaia to Buenos Aires, all meals onboard (including at specialty restaurants and room service), all alcohol except for rare vintage wines and spirits, gratuities, all shore excursions excluding helicopter and submarine trips, a personal expedition parka and water bottle, and use of muck boots for shore excursions. Spa services and related gratuities are not included.

 

Here’s why this cruise should be top of mind when planning a memorable winter vacation:

 

Seasickness is at a minimum. When it comes to sailing to Antarctica via South America, most ships must traverse the Drake Passage, a two-day journey across  formidable, rough water where waves can reach up to 50 feet! Whether you experience “Drake Lake” or, more often than not, “Drake Shake” (our sailing had waves up to 22 feet) it pays to be on a ship with stabilizers 50 percent larger than other similar sized expedition ships and just 30 percent smaller than on the largest cruise ship afloat. Come prepared with OTC medications or prescription Scopolamine patches (which we used faithfully in both directions) and you’ll marvel at the waves without feeling any ill effects.

 

Technology is top notch. That is just one example of the remarkable high tech features onboard. Scenic Eclipse II boasts a GPS Dynamic Positioning System that holds the ship in position without an anchor, eliminating traditional anchor damage to the seabed and expediting readiness for shore excursions. Its Advance Airpod propulsion system minimizes noise and vibration, which reduces disturbance of marine life. It features Safe Return to Port with several redundant operating systems, including two wheelhouses, and the ability to operate even if sections of the ship must be closed off due to flooding, fire or a breach in the hull.

Helicopter in Antarctica
Photo by Suzanne Carmel
A boat cruising out in Antarctica.
Photo by Suzanne Carmel

Access to expedition experts. The Discovery Team handles everything from lectures about marine life, Antarctic history, weather and glaciology to kayak and paddleboard excursions, zodiac cruises and transport to and from shore, and assistance onshore. Whether it’s helping guests navigate a challenging patch of slippery rocks, giving on-the-spot information on local wildlife, or simply taking a quick photo for memories back home, the team is always at the ready and clearly loves sharing their passion for Antarctica with passengers.

 

Cruising in comfort. For an expedition ship that holds just 228 passengers (200 in polar regions) there are a remarkable amount of creature comforts to help make your time onboard enjoyable. There is a full-service spa, complete with his and hers changing rooms, steam room, sauna, infrared sauna and salt relaxation rooms as well as a co-ed outdoor jetted pool, enabling guests to relax with a hot soak while viewing the glaciated mountains in the distance. The ship includes a small yoga/Pilates studio where guests can sign up for yoga, Pilates and TRX classes, and a well equipped fitness room with cardio equipment and free weights. The full size theater where lectures are held features reclining seats in the center section, with swivel seats on the sides. Just outside, a small boutique sells sundries, specialty gifts and souvenirs. The main lounge is a common spot to congregate before and after dinner with ample seating and the main bar. An Observation Lounge affords passengers a place to unwind with a game of cards or a good book and serves specialty coffee, tea and freshly made cookies. The bridge is often open to passengers who can watch the crew navigate and see the inspiring vistas from the front of the ship. Weather permitting, the Sky Bar is an intimate space to grab a cocktail and unwind.

 

A culinary feast. Restaurants run the gamut from the more casual Azure Café and buffet-service Yacht Club, to Elements and Koko’s for Italian and Asian inspired cuisine, respectively, and the specialty restaurants that require reservations – Lumiere for fine, French dining, Koko’s sushi bar and the Nightmarket, located in the back of Koko’s where up to ten guests at two nightly seatings can watch the chef prepare Asian, Indian or Mediterranean cuisine. Those who book suites onboard, are frequent guests of Scenic Cruises, or just get lucky may even experience a memorable dinner at the Chef’s Table  – located in a private room at the front of Elements Restaurant.

Photo by Scenic Cruises

No risk of cabin fever. The smallest cabins on Scenic Eclipse II are an ample 344 square feet and there are many different variations of suites up to the two owner’s suites at a whopping 2098 square feet each. Even if you aren’t splurging on a suite, you’ll find your cabin has a well-appointed bathroom with a glass-enclosed shower, and your room is furnished with an adjustable king-sized bed, designated lounge area with a sofa and flat-screen TV, and a minibar stocked with coffee, tea, personalized water, soft drinks, wine and spirits, sandwiched between a desk and several closets. Each cabin has a balcony. Though it’s too cold to really just sit outside, we often stepped out to take pictures or marvel at swimming wildlife or icebergs floating by.

 

Wonderful wildlife. Despite the icy, often harsh environs, many species depend on the conditions in this remote part of the world to survive. Though every sailing is unique, we had multiple viewings of orcas, humpback whales, three species of penguins as well as many bird species soaring overhead, and five species of seals. It’s fantastic to listen to lectures on the wildlife and then get up as close as regulations allow to penguins and seals in their natural habitat or lean over a balcony or deck and see humpback whales bubble feeding just off the boat or orcas chasing a minke whale.

 

It’s all about the ice. Venture to Antarctica and you’ll never think about ice the same way. Learn about ice onboard in a detailed lecture and then from Discovery Team members while on zodiac cruises or traveling to and from shore. Whether it’s ancient glaciers covering majestic mountains, dramatic icebergs of every shape and size, some so dense they shine brilliant blue, bergy bits, growlers, brash, pancake or grease ice, all have distinct features and form a landscape seen nowhere else in the world.

Penguins in Antarctica. Featured on Family Travel with Colleen Kelly
Photo by Suzanne Carmel
Seals lying on the edge of the water in Antarctica
Photo by Suzanne Carmel

Activities aplenty. There isn’t enough time to do everything available onboard a Scenic Eclipse cruise unless you’re very adept at planning your time. Though helicopter and submarine excursions are quite pricey, they are exhilarating and afford participants experiences unlike any other. They must be reserved and if space permits, you can even book them multiple times. Similarly, kayak and paddleboat trips, though included in the cost of your cruise, must be reserved and if space permits can be repeated. Zodiac cruises or trips to shore often happen twice a day. During downtimes when there is no excursion, the Discovery Team holds lectures in the theater, simulcast to the cabin TVs, sometimes several in one day. If weather permits, a Polar Plunge is held one afternoon, enabling guests brave enough to don bathing suits, strap on buoyancy belts and jump two at a time into the frigid Antarctic water. It’s an unpleasant few minutes but is followed up by a warm towel, hot drink (spiked by request) and lifetime bragging rights. There is the aforementioned spa, fitness space and lounges. In the evenings, entertainment, though basic, might include trivia contests, a musical performance, or piano music by the bar.

 

Service second to none. You don’t need to be an expert outdoors person to venture here; you’ll have as much or as little assistance as you need, both on and off the ship. Whether it’s the staff at the service desk, your cabin attendant or personal butler, the Discovery Team, navigation crew, or waitstaff and bartenders, everyone is unfailingly friendly and helpful. On a ship this size, crewmembers quickly learn your name and preferences. Crew will do everything possible to make this bucket-list trip memorable and they share the excitement from experiencing the wonders of this icy continent with guests. You’ll leave here changed and inspired by Antarctica and all its wonders.

 

For more information on Scenic Cruises visit www.scenicusa.com.

Helpful Tips

  • When packing for this trip, bring a carryon filled with warm weather clothing for Buenos Aires and tack on an additional day or two in the city beyond what is covered by the cruise line. You’ll thaw out before heading farther south and it’s nice to sightsee in the city before surrounding yourself by nature.
  • Pack enough for one week (Scenic sends helpful guidelines for this) and then plan to use the self-wash laundry onboard the ship. It’s free and detergent is provided.
  • Bring enough prescription and OTC medication that you have more than needed for the trip. We had enough scopolamine patches, Dramamine and personal prescriptions for an additional two weeks, plus pain medication, bandaids and other first aid basics. Though there is a doctor and nurse onboard (and accompanying onshore), it’s convenient to have what you need, except in an emergency, in your cabin.
  • Attend every lecture you can; it enhances daily excursions and your understanding of the unique environment. Similarly, make reservations for everything you think you may want to experience as soon as possible. You can always cancel, but there isn’t always space to book later on – whether it’s a spa treatment, a kayak excursion or a dinner in a specialty restaurant.
  • Stay fluid. The weather and ever-changing conditions dictate the itinerary and what excursions are possible, and this can change even in the middle of a day. That said, Scenic Cruises strives to give guests a first rate experience and the best one possible wherever they may be. You’re in expert hands and the staff want you to come away from this trip as in love with Antarctica as they are and as eager to spread the message about the need to protect this fragile environment.

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