As a growing number of cruise lines have added blogs, social networking pages, interactive features and photo/video galleries to their Web offerings, Voyages of Discovery, the one-ship soft adventure line that specializes in Antarctica (among other regions) has introduced a site of its own. The 20,216-ton, 650-passenger MV Discovery spends part of the year covering soft-adventure itineraries in South America, the Falklands and Antarctica, with visits to research stations, hands-on experiences and onboard lecturers. The idea for the focus on Antarctica? The company's hope is to convince folks that the image of Antarctica as an inaccessible place only visited by swashbuckling explorers and isolated scientists is outdated -- and that anyone can experience it.
Beyond the fact that AntarcticaDiscovery.com is showcasing one of cruising's most exotic itineraries, it owns an additional distinction: this one is particularly open-minded, allowing anyone who's experienced Antarctica with Voyages of Discovery to contribute to a dialogue via videos, photos and blogs.
But don't get too juiced about the site yet. Though there are some user submissions on the page, we were unable to find either the requirements for submissions or how users upload their work. And the folks at Voyages of Discovery weren't able to tell us, either.
Despite that rather disappointing crimp, the focus on Antarctica and on featuring various points of view is intriguing. Submissions so far include location summaries, photo galleries and a single video, showing a mish-mash of highlights of the vessel gliding by icebergs, while the distorted sound of the Antarctic wind rages. Particularly interesting are dispatches from cruise historian Peter Knego, who sailed to Antarctica via Discovery last winter. It's the photos, however, taken by a community of site's "Antarctica People" (contributors) -- of penguins, icebergs, blazing orange sunsets and such -- that are the most prominent element of the site, and each page is topped with a large, striking picture and a caption.
The online community itself is certainly in its early stages (and the fact that submission appears impossible contributes to this). The "Science" section of the photo gallery has just one picture, and there are only a handful of people responsible for all the user submitted material (Dr. Peter Carey, a zoologist and one of the line's Expedition Leaders, in particular has generated half of the content. Beyond that, there are only 12 Discovery Journals and blog entries from Peter Knego, who sets a reasonable bar for content:
"From my aisle seat, if I position myself just right, I can make out marbleized glaciers winding their way through a Patagonian maze of cathedral-like spires and snowcapped Andean peaks. Fluffy layers of clouds and brilliant blue water (glacial lakes and the Strait of Magellan) add to the sublime beauty."
Another feature is an "Antarctica Live Map" that uses the Google Earth application and virtual pins to denote points of interest from the cruise. You can click on a pin, and follow a link to information about that spot. Unfortunately, zooming is limited, and the image becomes unavailable before you can get close enough to detect anything Antarctic.
We'll keep an eye on developments on the site -- and if the cruise line can figure out how to let folks submit material, as well as how often they'll plan to update it, we'll let you know.
--by Dan Askin, Assistant Editor