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Cold Comfort

I've never been to Antarctica, and I've always imagined it to be a barren, frozen, inhospitable place — the icy equivalent of the Sahara Desert. As it turns out, that's not the case at all and much of coastal Antarctica is relatively hospitable (if you don't mind warm-season temperatures that top at about 45 degrees, that is). If you'd like to see the life that bursts forth in the frozen south for yourself, you can book passage on Abercrombie & Kent's's spacious and elegant cruise ship, Explorer II, that travels through Antarctica and environs from November to March each year.

For a blow-by-blow account of a trip to Antarctica, check out the Explorer II's online ship's log. It's written in a friendly style that really makes you feel like you're along for the ride, and the text is accompanied by plenty of beautiful photographs. You might expect a lot of pictures of ice floes and water, and there is some of that, but there are also incredible photos of Antarctic wildlife — baby seals, passing whales, terns, petrels, and penguins literally as far as the eye can see! Every series of log entries is a real adventure, because the Explorer II (and its twelve Zodiac auxiliary craft) can't stick to a strict schedule — icebergs, storms, and other tricks of Mother Nature just won't allow it!

The Explorer II, travels to different places during its season, seeking out flora and fauna as they do all the work that needs to be done before winter rolls in. Depending on when you travel, you might see the courtship rituals of penguins and seabirds, great fields of wildflowers, passing humpback whales, hundreds of seal pups and penguin chicks, or blooms of snow algae. Pretty good for a frozen wasteland!

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