Intrepid luxury cruise itineraries from Scenic will open up areas of East Antartica that were previously visited by legendary explorers. Rose Dykins reports
Ultra-luxury cruise operator Scenic has announced three all-inclusive new voyages in the East Antarctic and Ross Sea regions for 2024 and 2025.
Served by the cruise company’s Scenic Eclipse II vessel, the three new itineraries will give guests the chance to walk in the footsteps of legendary explorers including Dr Douglas Mawson, Robert Scott and Sir Ernest Shackleton.
Scenic’s new itineraries will welcome a limited number of guests per sesason, and passengers will be among a select few people who travel so far south each year.
They’ll be immersed in wild landscapes populated by species of seabirds, penguins, whales and seals, in regions that are traditionally unexplored and unavailable to exploration cruise lines.
The 28-day “Mawson’s Hut & Commonwealth Bay, Australia’s Antarctic” expedition will set sail from the spectacular Milford Sound fjord in New Zealand South Island to Hobart, Tasmania.
Highlights include a visit to the Mawson’s Huts complex at Cape Denison, Commonwealth Bay, in the far eastern sector of the Australian Antarctic Territory.
Passengers will encounter buildings built and occupied by the Australasian Antarctic Expedition of 1911-14, led by geologist and explorer Dr Douglas Mawson, a close friend and contemporary of Sir Ernest Shackleton. The site is one of just six still surviving from the so-called “heroic era” of Antarctic exploration.
Scenic Eclipse II will make a landing on Macquarie Island (subject to permits), one of the most wildlife-rich places in the world, where guests will have the chance to see endemic royal penguins. Balleny Islands are windswept and remote islands, heavily glaciated and have received few human visitors since 1839.
The rich waters surrounding result in diverse wildlife including humpback, fin and minke whales along with crabeater, Weddell, elephant and leopard seals. Prices for the itinerary start from £28,380 per person based with economy flights departing on December 13, 2024.
The other new itineraries from Scenic are the 28-day “Antarctica’s Ross Sea: Majestic Ice and Wildlife” sailing from Hobart, Australia to Dunedin, New Zealand and the 23-day “Antarctica’s Ross Sea: Majestic Ice & Wildlife” round-trip sailing from Dunedin.
Both of these itineraries include a visit to Ross Island (weather permitting), coined the ultimate Antarctic experience. On a clear day, it’s possible to see Mount Erebus – the southernmost active volcano on Earth – and visit the historical hut of Sir Ernest Shackleton.
The Ross Sea Ice Shelf is the largest floating body of ice on the planet – estimated to be the size of France – with 50-metre-high cliffs and ice extending across 800km.
Also on these itineraries is a stop at Cape Adare, where guests can travel by Zodiac boat to enjoy the largest Adélie penguin rookery in Antarctica. A stop at Franklin Island presents another opportunity to explore the Adélie penguins and the otherworldly landscapes of the region such as the Mars-like Dry Valley, which only accessible by helicopter. Prices start from £28,380 per person with economy flights, departing on January 5, 2025.
Claudius Docekal, vice-president of Scenic Ocean Deployment, says: “We have introduced these new voyages in response to travellers’ demand for exclusive destinations combined with ultra-luxury experiences.
“Scenic Eclipse II will be the newest and most modern luxury expedition ship operating in remote East Antarctica and the Ross Sea region, setting the benchmark in providing once-in-a-lifetime journeys for our guests. As we remain the only ships to offer an abundance of exploration on Zodiac, helicopter, submarine, kayak and stand-up paddleboard, guests will enjoy exclusive experiences such as exploring the McMurdo Dry Valleys, a landscape that has been compared to the surface of Mars and is only accessible by helicopter.”
With capacity for up to 200 guests, Scenic Eclipse offer an ultra-luxury cruise experience, with the opportunity for guests to take part in multiple landings each day. The 20 members of the Discovery Team on board Scenic Eclipse comprise naturalists, marine biologists and glaciologists to bring their expertise to site visits.
There are several low-impact ways to explore once off the vessel, including Zodiac boats, stand-up paddleboard and kayak excursions. Guests can also travel in one of the ship’s two helicopters or its custom-build submersible, for an incomparable adventure below the ocean’s surface.
Demand for travel to Antarctica is growing rapidly, in part fuelled by people’s desire for bucket list travel experiences following the pandemic – with some concerns that the remote corner of the planet could even be at risk of overtourism.
According to the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) a record of approximately 106,000 tourists sailed to the region on 86 ships this season, up from 73,670 on 62 vessels from 2019-2020.
As the region becomes more visited for luxury expeditions, it follows that this also increases the odds for accidents and human error, and there have been recent fatalities during Antarctic adventure expedition holidays.
As Antarctica isn’t governed by a single country or region, there is no central, public database of safety records for individual tourism companies and operators. However, IAATO sets safety and environmental rules for its member cruise lines and tour operators – one of which is Scenic.
These include minimum expedition team member requirements and passenger-to-crew ratios and the tracking of all major incidents involving humans and wildlife to “ensure risks are understood and appropriate lessons are learned for all Antarctic operators.”
When picking a cruise line or tour operator, it is advisable to research the companies and their individual safety records carefully and seek out ships and companies with proven experience in the region.