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Redefining luxury

The term ‘luxury’ means different things to different people. The Oxford Dictionary defines luxury as a ‘state of great comfort or elegance, especially when involving great expense‘. This traditional definition of luxury doesn’t really resonate with us when it comes to polar expedition cruising.

In the past few years there has been a proliferation of new polar class expedition vessels entering the expedition cruise market. Almost all of these new vessels carry in excess of 100 and in most cases 200 or more guests and almost all of them are classed as luxury or ultra-luxury vessels with features like, wellness spas, butler service, Michelin-inspired menus, high-speed internet connectivity and satellite TV and in some cases submarines and helicopters. These vessels all deliver an amazing luxury experience in the Oxford dictionary sense, however, when it comes to Antarctic expedition cruising, we think the ultimate luxury is maximising time off the ship in Antarctica to experience the solitude, the beauty and the charismatic and curious wildlife.

Bigger is not necessarily better. In Antarctica there is a strict maximum of 100 guests allowed to land at any site at the same time (with a maximum of 50 guests at a few select sites). There is also a strict time allocated to each vessel for each site (the sites must be booked). Ships with more than 100 guests cannot land all of their guests at a site at the same time. Typically guests must rotate through these sites, reducing the time ashore at each site for everyone.

Many operators offer a range of other activities such as zodiac cruising, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding and even snorkelling, submarine dives and helicopter scenic flights while others are landing so not being able to land does not mean staying on the ship. However, it takes time to deploy and bring back on board all the equipment and toys and it takes time to fully brief guests to sure everyone is in the right place at the right time. More toys and larger groups generally result in less flexibility for the Captain and Expedition Leader to respond to opportunities. In addition, submarines and helicopters are more vulnerable to cancellation due to weather conditions, sea state and poor visibility. If landing is the only safe and practical option that will mean waiting for your turn and reduced time ashore if there are more than 100 guests on board.

If you’re an avid wildlife photographer be sure to do your homework before you book. The number of guests, size of the ship, layout of the ship, itinerary, optimal time of year to visit and cabin choice can all make a signifiant difference to the quality of your experience. Humpback whales don’t tend to start arriving in large numbers on the Antarctic Peninsula until January. Leopard Seals are more active later in the season. Penguin chicks first appear around mid-December. It’s hard to photograph seabirds following ships if there are no vantage points on the stern. Many of the new ships promote comfortable observation lounges but these interior spaces are no good for wildlife photography (shooting through tinted glass with reflections and other obstacles and very difficult to move to a new vantage point as wildlife and the ship move – you need to be outside). The greatest luxury for a wildlife photographer is being afforded opportunities to be in the right place at the right time. A small ship and a simpler efficient operation affords more time ashore and less toys means less noise, movement, delay and less FOMO as guests with lots of choices inevitably end up disappointed if they cannot do their activity of choice or if they are signed up and the activity is cancelled.

If you’re keen to visit the Arctic or the Antarctic, we recommend you do your homework before you book. Identify your priorities then consider the best time of year, style of travel and itinerary for you. Don’t let the glossy brochures and luxury trappings distract you from choosing the experience you want. Champagne and caviar are available in most five star hotels around the world, polar bears and penguins are not. The greatest luxury is maximising the time you have to achieve your personal goals.

At Islands and Ice Travel, our version of luxury when it comes to Antarctic expedition cruising is about maximising time and opportunities to experience the grandeur of Antarctica and to create a fun and informal atmosphere on board to foster connections and new lifelong friendships. The vessel we’ve selected, MV Polar Pioneer is not a luxury vessel in the Oxford Dictionary sense but in our view she delivers when it comes to the greatest luxury, giving our guests more time off the ship to explore Antarctica and creating a wonderful, fun and informal atmosphere on board.

If you are interested in experiencing the traditional Oxford Dictionary luxury experience in Antarctica with fine dining, extensive wine lists, butler service, submersibles etc we would be happy to give you some suggestions. Our founder and co-owner David Sinclair has worked on a range of expedition vessels over there past 15 years and has extensive knowledge of Antarctica, seasonal variations, itineraries, the various expedition vessels and loves to chat about his favourite subject, Antarctica. David will be on board Polar Pioneer as a host on all our Antarctic voyages.