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We Are Entering a Golden Age of Polar Travel

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Sven Lindblad

Sunken ships and the bones of countless sailors line the Drake Passage. Located at the confluence of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans between Argentina’s Tierra del Fuego and the Antarctic Peninsula, the Passage is something of a sloshing bathtub, with enormous swells in multiple directions, and winds that could blow a person off a ship’s deck or flay a sail from the mast. As long as humans have been exploring these infamous, famously virulent waters, “the Drake” has challenged all who dare attempt a crossing.

When I made my crossing of the Drake Passage on a recent trip to Antarctica, however, I enjoyed it in style. On board Hurtigruten’s MS Roald Amundsen, I had access to a gym, live television from back home, and even a gorgeous Norwegian-style sauna, whose floor-to-ceiling windows offer a fabulous view across the waves to the horizon. Dinner at the ship’s fine dining restaurant Lindström was interrupted a few times by sliding wine glasses, vibrating plates and the occasional crash from the kitchen, but service continued without skipping a beat. I dutifully took my dramamine pills, kept hydrated, and enjoyed my nightly turndown service in a comfortable bed. Chocolate penguins waited for me on my nightstand. We made quick work of the Drake in about a day and a half.

Less than a century ago, polar waters spelled almost certain doom. In 1915, Ernest Shackleton’s ill-fated Endurance was crushed by and sank underneath Antarctica’s sea ice, and the Northwest Passage had still not been conquered. Today, however, cruise ships and adventure tours traverse these regions regularly during Antarctic summer. It’s never been easier to reach parts of the planet that just a century ago seemed unreachable. Over 74,000 tourists traveled to Antarctica in the 2019-2020 season, up from about 27,000 just ten years ago. Demand is only increasing (Hurtigruten offers a 90-day pole-to-pole sailing that sells out every season), and technology is rising to meet it. Suffice it to say: we are entering a golden age of polar travel.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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