Snowshoeing across Antarctica's niveous landscape is one activity offered to travellers on an Antarctica21 tour. As the number of travellers cruising Antarctica swells, polar expedition companies are launching sustainable vessels designed for these bucket-list trips. Picture: Valentina Contreras and Antarctica21 via The New York Times.

As the number of travellers cruising to Antarctica swells, polar expedition companies are launching sustainable vessels designed for these bucket-list trips.

According to the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators, approximately 56000 tourists visited Antarctica in the 2018-2019 season, a 53% increase from the 2014-2015 season. “Climate change is a chief reason for the increased interest in visiting Antarctica,” said Mary Curry, a small ship cruise specialist and travel planner at Adventure Life. “We truly don’t know if the region will ever be as magnificent as it is now. Antarctica itineraries often sell out one or two years in advance, so travellers should be prepared to book early.”

Interested in seeing the southernmost continent? Here’s a round-up of some of the tour operators planning itineraries for this year and next: 

Antarctica21

In November, Antarctica21 debuted the world’s first vessel purpose-built for Antarctic tourism: the 73-passenger Magellan Explorer, equipped with ice-detecting radar technology, a heat recycling system and a fleet of 10 Zodiac boats. A forward-facing observation deck and glass-enclosed lounge offer prime wildlife viewing, while designer guest rooms feature balconies.

Hurtigruten

Cruise operator Hurtigruten, in March, will unveil the 530-passenger MS Fridtjof Nansen, the sister ship to the just-launched MS Roald Amundsen. Both vessels feature science centres and citizen science projects, and both have hybrid, electric-powered, low-emission engines. 

The MS Fridtjof Nansen’s Highlights of the Frozen Continent, a 12-day journey, explores some 20 sites across the Antarctic Peninsula. 

Lindblad Expeditions

In April, Lindblad Expeditions’ new National Geographic Endurance vessel will hit the seas featuring 69 cabins and a science command centre. It is a Polar Class 5 ice class vessel - and is the strongest ice-breaking expedition ship of its kind based on an international rating system. Additional amenities include two observation “igloos”. Guests travel with a crew of veteran naturalists.

Adventure Life

Astronomy buffs should keep their eyes on the 93-cabin Ocean Victory, launching this December. Adventure Life is taking guests to witness next year’s total solar eclipse on December 4 at a prime position just east of South Orkney Island. (The rare celestial show will not happen again in this part of the world until 2061.) Other trip highlights include viewing Lemaire Channel’s orca whales.

Quark Expeditions

Next year, Quark Expeditions will christen the 102-suite Ultramarine, and its two twin-engine helicopters and 20 easy-access Zodiac boats. Guests will be able to test their mettle on a variety of heli-adventures from hiking to flightseeing, all of which explore areas only accessible by air. Guests can also cross-country ski and paddle on polar waters. 

Ponant

The company plans to bring together travellers and scientists on a new electric hybrid vessel, the 135-stateroom Le Commandant Charcot, launching in May 2021. Fitted with modern oceanographic equipment and a research laboratory, guests will be able to assist scientists in research activities. The ship’s polar toys, including hovercrafts, electric snowmobiles and a tethered hot air balloon, give guests a privileged vantage point of Antarctica’s indelible and fragile beauty. 

New York Times