Antarctic Delight

Hapag-Lloyd’s MS Bremen cruises the White Continent in style

By: By Jonathan Siskin

Passengers on the MS Bremen are able to get close to the action in Antarctica. // (c) Hapag-Lloyd
Passengers on the MS Bremen are able
to get close to the action in Antarctica.
(c) Hapag-Lloyd

A cruise to Antarctica aboard Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ MS Bremen is a once-in-a-lifetime journey to the world’s last great wilderness. Much of the White Continent has never been explored, and clients who cruise here are among a select group of some 250,000 travelers who have visited this far-flung destination of otherworldly beauty and incomparable wildlife.

One of the finest upscale expedition vessels currently sailing to Antarctica, the 164-passenger Bremen sails every year from mid-November to early February during the fleeting months of the Antarctic summer.

My 17-day cruise departed from Buenos Aires, Argentina, and ended in Ushuaia, Argentina. En route to Antarctica, the ship called at ports on the southern coasts of Argentina and Chile and also sailed through The Straits of Magellan near the tip of South America. This narrow waterway connecting the Pacific and Atlantic oceans was discovered in 1520 by Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan during his attempt to become the first person to circumnavigate the globe.

We also cruised through the Beagle Channel, which gets its name from the ship that Charles Darwin sailed on during his explorations of South America in 1832.

Our last sighting of South America was Cape Horn. Afterward, we set sail due south across the Drake Passage where the volatile expanse of ocean has wreaked havoc on ships over the centuries with waves that can exceed 30 feet, whipped by howling winds. Fortunately, our crossing was fairly smooth and, two days later, I spotted icebergs looming above the horizon, signaling our arrival in Antarctica.

Everything about the White Continent is gigantic. About 1½ times the size of North America, it encompasses an area of approximately 5 million square kilometers of compressed snow and ice which, in some places, is almost three miles thick. Today, Antarctica contains 90 percent of the earth’s ice and 70 percent of its fresh water.

The highlights of my Antarctica experience were daily offshore excursions in Zodiacs, inflatable rubber rafts developed by Jacques Cousteau, which take passengers within touching distance of icebergs the size of cathedrals and alongside the steep walls of mammoth glaciers. The Zodiacs land at beaches and other sections of coastline where colonies of penguins — some as large as 300,000 — await, along with populations of elephant seals, fur seals, sea lions, albatross and petrels.

There are also Zodiac excursions that transport you among the icebergs and glaciers in search of orcas and other species of whales that spend their summers here. One of the most memorable excursions was a ride on the waters of Paradise Bay, where we drifted past icebergs and often encountered penguins and seals floating by on chunks of ice.

The Bremen provides guests with deluxe amenities and a high level of service. The 194-square-foot staterooms (exceptionally large for an expedition ship) each have a seating area with a small sofa, an armchair, a sideboard with a dressing table, a hair dryer, a safe, a flat-screen video monitor, spacious closets and panoramic windows. There is also a minibar stocked with each guest’s choice of complimentary sodas and fruit juices.

While at sea, my favorite place to relax was the Panorama Lounge, with spectacular views in all directions through floor-to-ceiling windows. Buffet breakfast and lunch is served every day in the Bremen Club as well as afternoon tea, drinks and cocktails. There is also a gym, sauna, massage room and sun deck, and some days were actually warm enough for sunbathing.

Dinner is open seating in the Bremen’s main restaurant, where guests can select from a sybaritic menu that includes, for example, mousse of smoked salmon, veal carpaccio or sun-dried tomatoes with goat cheese, followed by grilled rack of lamb, whole-roasted beef tenderloin and lobster ragout.