Imagine kayaking amid floating ice sculptures while you and your kids enjoy the comical antics of hundreds of gentoo penguins swimming and diving all around you? Or having a close encounter with friendly humpback whales that come right up to the bow of your ship, speeding along with an amazing power and grace. Your family can enjoy all of these on a Lindblad Expeditions cruise to Antarctica, a place of awe-inspiring natural beauty and abundant wildlife.
Cruises to the White Continent aboard Lindblad's 110-passenger Endeavour run from two to four weeks. The longest cruise, which I took last December, stops in the Falkland Islands and South Georgia before heading to the Antarctic Peninsula. This trip is especially suited for grandparents with time, disposable income, and the desire to give their grandchildren a trip of a lifetime.
Five teenagers, ages 13 to 19, were on board our ship, and they enhanced the overall experience for everyone. The youngest, a skilled violinist, enchanted us on Christmas Eve as he accompanied a pianist in our group playing Christmas carols. Plus the Lindblad staff creates an enriching and educational environment for all ages.
On Land and Sea
Landings are the mainstay of the cruise, and usually there are two every day. Some days there are three, depending on weather conditions, which can change rapidly. Each guest is offered both activities and excursions of varying skill levels, from a leisurely walk in a historic town, to a brisk hike through rocky terrain or a kayak trip in crystalline waters. All of the itinerary's shore trips are made on motorized rubber rafts called Zodiacs.
Wildlife, up Close
Close-up encounters with wildlife are highlights of the Antarctic cruise. Elegant snow petrels and wandering albatross do regular fly bys—we saw them throughout our journey. On several occasions, we were lucky enough to have Commerson, Hourglass and Peale dolphins bow—riding our Zodiacs. In South Georgia, the beaches were literally packed with feisty fur seals and their pups, females caring for the young, while large males (bulls) defended their harems.
We saw several penguin species (there are 17 worldwide), including hundreds of thousands of stately kings and their fluffy brown chicks at St. Andrew's Bay, the largest king penguin rookery on South Georgia. At Deception Island in the South Shetlands, we walked up along a meltwater stream into a natural amphitheater where some 100,000 pairs of nesting chinstrap penguins marched from the hills to the sea and back on a naturally defined two-lane highway. We also did some serious penguin counting with one of the naturalists at an important gentoo penguin breeding site near Port Lockroy on Weinke Island just off the peninsula mainland. My teenage counterparts and I quickly discovered that counting penguins is hard work!
There She Blows
Whale sightings onboard the Endeavor are frequent. Announcements come from the bridge that "blows" are present either at the port or starboard side of the ship, followed by a mad scramble to get on deck with camera or binoculars. Our biggest thrill came on the way from South Georgia to the Antarctic Peninsula when the crew spotted two blue whales, probably one of the largest creatures on earth. Blue whales were hunted extensively at the beginning of the 20th century causing their numbers to drop below 1% of their original population, which now stands at around 1,000 in the entire vast area of the Southern Ocean. Our captain, Karl Lampe has made over 50 trips to this area and had never before seen a blue whale. We were lucky indeed!
Several experienced naturalists accompany each Lindblad Expedition. True experts, they give daily lectures and presentations on the wildlife, geology and history to prepare guests for the hikes they lead on shore. An underwater specialist also dives during the day and uses a remote control video device to capture stunning footage of life beneath the waves, that guests then get to see. Brilliantly colored sponges, huge sea spiders, red flowing kelp and strange looking snails beguile passengers as they get to experience Antarctica's underwater marine life while on board the Endeavor.
One of the most scenic spots in Antarctica is the Lemaire Channel, located between the peninsular mainland and Booth Island. It measures about one mile wide by seven miles in length and from its steep walls, glaciers descending between magnificent, snow-covered mountains pour into the sea. Its sheer beauty will make you completely awestruck. The serenity is broken only by the occasional loud crack and thunder of calving (splitting) glaciers, which rule in this fierce and imposing landscape.
Planning Your Trip
Travelers can fly from Miami or New York to Santiago, Chile, where they usually spend at least one night. In the morning, they take a three and a half hour charter flight south to Ushuaia, Argentina, where the cruise ship Endeavor awaits them.
Sailings are only offered during the Antarctic austral summer, which lasts from mid-November to March. During my trip overall weather conditions were extremely favorable and mild. Temperatures on the peninsula ranged between 30 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Prices for the 15-day Antarctic Peninsula tour start at $7,970 including charter flights. This price does not include international airfare. Prices for the 25-day Antarctic tour, including stops in the Falkland Islands and South Georgia, start at $11,990. Cost for both trips includes all meals, accommodations aboard in comfortable cabins, one hotel night in Santiago, all shore excursions and sightseeing; transfers to and from group flights; taxes, service charges and some tips. Each passenger also receives a handsome red parka before departure, which is very warm and worn during Zodiac excursions and landings.
Lindblad's Other "Designated-Family" Destinations
While Lindblad welcomes and encourages parents and grandparents to take their children to the Antarctic, the company also offers specially designated family departures to Costa Rica and the Galapagos. "By designating family departures, you're able to get larger groups of kids together so they get more involved in organized activities," said naturalist, Karen Copeland of Lindblad Expeditions. Copeland explained that selected family departures are designed to involve parents, grandparents and kids in investigating and exploring the environment they're in. At the end of the Galapagos trip, for example, kids put on a play about how plants and wildlife got to this archipelago.
The designated departures always have one Family Program Coordinator and a staff experienced in both youth education and adventure onboard. These programs are designed for kids between the ages of 7 and 12.
Lindblad offers a flat 25% discount to all children under the age of 21 on all of their trips! For a complimentary brochure or reservations, contact a travel agent or Lindblad Expeditions at 1-800-397-3348, via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or go www.expeditions.com.