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Voyages to bottom of Earth

September 28, 2003|Harry Basch | Special to The Times

It may seem a bit strange to be thinking about snow and ice when the weather is hot and sunny, but now is the time to begin planning a cruise to the Antarctic.

Before you choose a cruise, you should ask some questions:

* How large is the ship? A larger ship will have more comforts and on-board amenities, but it may offer limited shore activities because concerns about the environmental effects of tourism have led to restrictions in the number of people allowed onshore at one time. A smaller ship may offer more access to shore (usually centered on educational lectures), but such on-board features as spacious cabins may be limited.

* What is included in the price? Air transportation? Port charges? How about shore excursions? The prices of some cruises may seem high, but they may also be all-inclusive.

Shorter cruises (14 to 17 days) concentrate on the Antarctic Peninsula, with stops at Deception Bay, where you can splash in thermal waters; Elephant Island; penguin rookeries; and a scientific station. Longer cruises (about 25 days) include stops at the Falkland Islands and South Georgia Island.

A true expedition cruise is primarily an educational experience. Lectures provide insight into the land, the animals and birds. Shore excursions are made on Zodiac rubber boats and are usually wet landings, meaning you'll be wading ashore in your boots. Many lines provide heavy parkas and pants as well as boots. (Ask when booking.)

Here are some companies offering expedition cruises. Brochure prices listed are per person, double occupancy, but discounts may be available. For more information, consult a travel agent or the companies.

Clipper Cruises will send its biggest and sturdiest ship, the Clipper Adventurer, to Antarctica from November to February. Prices, from $10,670 to $16,900, include airfare to and from the U.S. and within the itinerary, hotel stays in Buenos Aires and Santiago, Chile, and sightseeing and shore excursions.

Bar and gratuities are extra. Clipper has two 23-day Falkland Islands itineraries (leaving Nov. 10 and Dec. 18). Seventeen-day Antarctic Peninsula cruises will depart Nov. 26, Dec. 8, Jan. 21 and Feb. 2 and 12. Rates from $7,970 to $12,420. (800) 325-0010,

Elegant Cruises and Tours will deploy the newly reconverted Andrea (formerly the Harald Jarl of Norwegian Coastal Voyage) on a 12-day cruise departing Dec. 30; two eight-day Peninsula cruises departing Jan. 11 and 27; and two 17-day expeditions that will include the Falklands on Feb. 13 and 29. This ship has seven cabins for singles. The cruise price, $4,400 to $12,190, includes wine with lunch and dinner; shore excursions and gratuities are extra. (800) 683-6767,

Lindblad Expeditions has cruises scheduled November to February. Its longest journeys -- two 25-day Falkland-Antarctic Peninsula expeditions -- leave Miami on Dec. 5 and Feb. 9, with fares from $13,640 to $24,990. Other departures: a 20-day photography cruise on Nov. 19, with fares between $9,990 and $16,990, and four 15-day cruises, leaving Dec. 26 and Jan. 6, 17 and 28, with fares between $7,970 and $14,060. Fares include airfares within South America but not from the U.S. Bar, dinner wines and gratuities are extra. (800) EXPEDITION (397-3348),

Orient Lines' Marco Polo limits its passenger list in the Antarctic to nearly half of its 826-passenger capacity. However, shore access is still restricted.

Departures for Falkland Islands and Antarctic Peninsula itineraries are Dec. 27; Jan. 9, 17 and 29; and Feb. 6. Gratuities are included, but airfare from the U.S. is not. Rates are from $5,495. (800) 333-7300,

December through February, Quark Expeditions will deploy three ex-Russian icebreakers on cruises to the Antarctic Peninsula for fares from $2,695 to $7,295. Two cruises in February will offer scuba diving and sea kayaking for $3,995 to $7,295, and 20-day cruises, costing $6,995 to $11,795, will add stops at the Falkland Islands, South Georgia Island and South Shetland Islands. Airfare is extra. (800) 356-5699,

Radisson Seven Seas and Abercrombie & Kent are jointly offering two departures aboard the Explorer II, on Nov. 22 and Dec. 7. Capacity on board the 300-passenger ship will be limited to 198, all in outside cabins. Gratuities, bar and dinner wines are included, but airfares are not. Rates are $5,995 to $17,995. Abercrombie & Kent, (800) 323-7308,, or Radisson, (800) 477-7500, (Radisson has other Antarctic departures.)

Harry Basch travels as a guest of the cruise lines.

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