ANTARCTICA (2006 Winner)
Climbing and Photography Journey
Hundreds of unclimbed peaks form the towering spine of the Antarctic Peninsula. Your footprints could be the first atop two of them on this 12-day journey to the frozen south. A refurbished Finnish research vessel, the Polar Pioneer, will carry 56 passengers—including a photography expert and a naturalist guide—from the tip of South America through the Beagle Channel and across the Drake Passage to the peninsula's west coast. First stop if the weather's good: the South Shetland Islands, where Zodiacs will take you ashore with climbing guide Tashi Tenzing, grandson of the famed Norgay, who'll help you navigate the crevassed terrain. As the ship makes its way south, you can scale the bluish bergs or paddle a kayak along the shore. You'll pass leopard seals and penguin rookeries, and may even have some up-close encounters when you spend a night camping ashore. Life on the ship is comfortable; you'll appreciate the onboard collection of polar literature and the porthole view from your cabin on the long cruise home.
Outfitter: Aurora Expeditions, 011-61-2-9252-1033, www.auroraexpeditions.com.au
When to Go: November-March
GREENLAND & ICELAND (New)
When you and your camera venture into the realm of polar bears and musk ox, it's comforting to know there's an expert on board whose input could turn a wasted frame into the shot of a lifetime. Award-winning nature photographer Frans Lanting—as well as renowned polar explorer Will Steger—will accompany you on this 11-day voyage from Spitsbergen, Norway, to Keflavík, Iceland. The 46-passenger polar research ship Grigoriy Mikheev carries a fleet of Zodiacs for explorations of Greenland's east coast, where migrating seabirds and whales skirt the pack ice. The ship will make its way up Kaiser Franz Joseph Fjord in search of rare narwhals and visit Ittoqqortoormiit village en route to Iceland's southwestern shore.
Outfitter: Wilderness Travel, 800-368-2794, www.wildernesstravel.com
When to Go: September
Emperor Penguins Safari
For March of the Penguins fans, here's something new: A penguin specialist who helicoptered close to Snow Hill Island, in the Weddell Sea, during a 2004 Quark expedition, discovered an uncharted emperor rookery with 4,000 breeding pairs. You'll be among the first to witness the penguins on this two-week journey to the Weddell. Starting in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, you'll set out on the 108-passenger icebreaker Kapitan Khlebnikov, traveling to shore by Zodiac or helicopter, then hiking about a mile across the ice to the rookery. You'll make up to three trips, and because it's early in the season, you'll likely see parents nuzzling chicks at their feet.
Outfitter: Quark Expeditions, 800-356-5699, www.quarkexpeditions.com
When to Go: October-November