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Antarctica on Lindblad's National Geographic Endeavour
About the Virtual Cruise
Antarctica on Lindblad's National Geographic Endeavour For many, a cruise to Antarctica is truly a trip of a lifetime. Despite having cruised numerous voyages on small ships to exotic regions ranging from the Galapagos to the isolated island of St Helena, no journey has ever excited me as much as sailing to the seventh continent.

I'm sailing with Lindblad Expeditions onboard its 110-passenger National Geographic Endeavour. Our 15-day trip, which begins and ends with a stay in Santiago, features 13 days onboard -- with six of them spent exploring Antarctica. The literature leaves no doubt we're on an expedition -- and not a cruise -- with the itinerary purposefully vague. Weather and ice conditions will dictate where we'll be sailing, but with all luck and some good weather, we'll spend six full days walking next to shrieking penguins, kayaking amidst sculpted icebergs, and cruising through breathtaking bays and narrow passages. Forget dancing girls or casinos; the entertainment this week is nature.

I knew finding a friend my age that would have both the time off and the ability to pay the steep fare would be a challenge -- but I also felt that this would be a perfect chance for a father-son trip. While my dad has cruised on mainstream ships, this would be his first expedition cruise. Bringing him along may enable me to see everything from the perspective of a novice adventure cruiser and help keep everything fresh and new.

Despite the sinking of G.A.P. Adventures' Explorer in November, cruising to Antarctica has never been more popular. Journey with us this week as we head south and find out what makes exploring the end of the earth on a small ship such a thrilling adventure.

Check back Tuesday, January 22, for Day 1!
Day 1: Preparing for Antarctica
Day 2: Starting in Santiago
Day 3: On to Ushuaia ... and Onboard
Day 4: Drake's Passage and Onward to Antarctica
Day 5: Landfall in Antarctica
Day 6: Penguins & Palmer Station
Day 7: The Krill Debate & Really Cool Photography
Day 8: The Circle, Tropical Kayaking & Lots of Seals
Day 9: Antarctica Recedes, Civilization Approaches
Related Links
National Geographic Endeavour ship review
National Geographic Endeavour Member reviews
South America & Antarctica Cruises
South America & Antarctica Messages
Lindblad Expeditions Messages
Day 1: Tuesday, Preparing for Antarctica
Preparing for AntarcticaFew places can still elicit such interestingly varied responses to a trip as a journey to Antarctica. Clearly a wild and remote destination, Antarctica always draws an immediate reaction along the lines of "Wow!" However, what follows varies considerably -- about half of my friends respond with, "Fantastic -- I've always wanted to go there," while the other half say, "Why would you want to go there?"

For those of you whose answers match the first group's, I don't have to explain why Antarctica has been on the top of my list for many years, but for those in the second group, let me give you a little taste of why this destination is so amazing. The White Continent's tremendous appeal lies in its abundance of wildlife, its pristine beauty, the sense of traveling to (literally) the end of the earth, and the wilderness where few have even set foot. This is not the typical cruise!

And as a direct result, travel to Antarctica is booming. According to the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators, over 30,000 adventurers will set foot on the continent this year. Almost all of these will sojourn via cruise ship, and companies are demanding, and getting, top dollar for voyages (otherwise known as expeditions). Even larger ships have jumped into the fray; they offer scenic cruise-bys on longer itineraries around South America. Antarctica is truly, to pardon the pun, hot.

But the sinking of G.A.P. Adventures' Explorer in November has renewed questions over the suitability and sustainability of Antarctica tourism and its associated risks, both for passengers and to the environment.

Three years ago, Lindblad formed a strong partnership with National Geographic, and now writers and photographers from the magazine accompany each sailing of the N.G. Endeavour. But this unique travel company actually dates back to 1958 when Lars Eric Lindblad, a Swedish-American pioneer-adventurer-entrepreneur, formed Lindblad Travel. He wanted to create a travel company that offered journeys focused on conservation and discovery -- what we now think of as eco-tourism. His expeditions were the first to take groups of tourists to Antarctica and the Galapagos, but he also succeeded in opening up other regions, such as Bhutan or the Seychelles, that were essentially cut off from tourism.

Today, Lindblad's legacy provides passengers with a form of shipboard travel that shouldn't be confused with a typical cruise. You won't find a casino, can't buy gold by the inch at a ship's shop or even order room service. Instead, you can be woken up at any hour of the day or night with ship-wide broadcasts that alert you of wildlife sightings, or you can be kayaking amidst icebergs. The emphasis is on learning and adventure rather than leisure and luxury, and you're more likely to be discussing the lifespan of albatrosses with your fellow passengers than worrying about what to wear for the Captain's cocktail party.

Like all expeditions here, we're not provided a day-to-day itinerary. Weather, ice conditions and wildlife sightings keep our schedule flexible, and the brochure simply says that for six days, we will be "exploring Antarctica." Even though it is summer in the polar regions right now, the winds and weather can change suddenly down here. It isn't uncommon for snowy, cold conditions to appear almost out of the blue, and strong winds can make landing on beaches in Zodiacs difficult.

Before the trip, I had all kinds of questions: Will the notoriously rough Drake Passage be stormy? How often will we be able to get ashore? What will the naturalists onboard have to say about global warming, and will we see evidence of it on the seventh continent? How has Antarctica travel changed since Lindblad's first group traveled there 40 years ago, when no other ships or tourists were around?

And I'm sure this might have been on most passengers' minds: How will the recent sinking of Explorer impact what we do and where we venture this week?
  Day 2: Starting in Santiago

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