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Last Chance for Large-Ship Cruises to Antarctica?

The number of large ships that will cruise the waters off Antarctica may be limited in the future, making now the perfect time to book a cruise to Antarctica during the upcoming December 2010-February 2011 high season.

Antarctica’s glacial beauty can be intimidating, but it is actually a fragile ecosystem. To help protect the White Continent and its wildlife, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) passed a rule last year that will ban the use or carrying of heavy fuel oils – the type usually used by large cruise ships – in Antarctic waters. The idea is that this will remove even the possibility of a harmful spill of heavy fuel oil into the sea.

Recently, the IMO set a date for the new rule to take effect: August 21, 2011. That means the coming Antarctic cruise season may be the last for some large ships (in general, those that carry more than 500 passengers).

Cruise ships will still be allowed to use marine gas oil and marine diesel oil in Antarctic waters. These fuels are already used by most of the smaller ships that cruise to the Antarctic. These ships often get closer to the continent than large ships can – some are even able to use Zodiac boat tenders to give guests the thrill of stepping onto Antarctic ice. However, these smaller ships can lack the range of comforts and amenities that many leisure cruise travelers expect.

Passengers on larger ships are able to see the scenic wonders of Antarctica – sparkling cliffs of ice, drifting icebergs, deep blue waters and steadfast penguins, to name a few – while enjoying the greater variety of accommodations, dining and entertainment options that larger ships can provide.

Cruise lines that have Antarctic cruises planned for the coming season include Celebrity Cruises, Crystal Cruises, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Silversea Cruises. Of these lines, Crystal and Regent Seven Seas have announced that 2010-2011 will be their last Antarctic cruise season, while Holland America has announced that it will continue to sail in Antarctica beyond 2011. In addition, Azamara Club Cruises’ Journey, a mid-size ship that carries 700 passengers, plans to enter Antarctic waters for the first time in late 2011.

To take advantage of the wide selection of ships and itineraries available for the upcoming Antarctic cruise season, talk with Cruise Holidays.