We will not set foot on Antarctic land (but if you want to, here’s some info on doing this) as a routine part of the cruise. The standard Holland America Antarctic Experience is cruise only, much like “Inside Passage” segments of Alaska cruises. (However, you can purchase a Holland America shore excursion that lands on Antarctica! See below.)
There are (at least) two schools of thought about visiting Antarctica without stepping on the soil of the continent:
You will find that your Antarctica trip is an adventure of your own mind and heart as much as your feet.
If you simply must step on Antarctic soil to be fulfilled please see page 16 of this PDF (which, for example purposes, is Holland America’s shore excursion book for a January 2020 cruise that is similar to ours).
As part of the “On Location” onboard enrichment program, Holland America will have an Expedition Team on each ship. These Antarctica experts will mingle with guests and give history, geology and zoology presentations; wildlife observations; scenic cruising commentary; lead marine animal and bird watching encounters; and host question-and-answer sessions.
While Antarctica has long been an imposing challenge to adventurers and explorers, the Antarctic Peninsula reaches out towards the tip of South America, inviting those who want a glimpse of the frozen continent. Along the western side of the peninsula, between Cape Sterneck and Cape Renard, sits the Danco Coast.
Bordered by the Aguirre Passage, which separates it from Lemaire Island, this region of Antarctica was first explored in detail in early 1898 by the Belgian Antarctic Expedition led by Adrien de Gerlache. (The coast was named after Lieutenant Emile Danco, who died on the expedition.) Sailing aboard a Norwegian-built whaling ship with a multinational crew, de Gerlache charted and named several Antarctic islands during 20 separate landings. In February 1898, the expedition crossed the Antarctic Circle. Soon after, the ship became trapped in the ice and the men realized that they would be forced to spend the winter on Antarctica. After seven difficult months trying to free their ship, they managed to start slowly down a channel they had cleared. It took them nearly a month to cover 11 kilometers (seven miles), and on March 14 they sailed into the sea, free of ice. The expedition eventually reached Antwerp on November 5, 1899, more than two years after they had departed from the same port.
If you turn a globe over and look at Antarctica, you’ll see that the continent doesn’t consist of a smooth (or even rough) circle centered around the South Pole. Instead, its shape is decidedly irregular, with the deep indentations of the Ross Ice Shelf, and an arm stretching out towards South America — the Antarctic Peninsula. At the end of the peninsula is the Palmer Archipelago, a group of 52 ice-covered islands that are one of the most accessible parts of Antarctica.
Palmer Archipelago, also known as Antarctic Archipelago, is located off the northwestern coast of the Antarctic Peninsula. The archipelago extends from Tower Island in the north to Anvers Island in the south and is separated from the Antarctic Peninsula by the Gerlache Strait and from the Wilhelm Archipelago by the Bismarck Strait. First mapped by the Belgian Antarctic Expedition of 1897–1899, the archipelago was named by leader Adrien de Gerlache in honor of Captain Nathaniel Palmer, who navigated the same waters in 1820. A skilled and fearless seal hunter, Palmer was searching for new seal rookeries south of Cape Horn in late 1820 when he and his men became the first Americans (and the third group of people) to discover the Antarctic Peninsula. Along with English sealer George Powell, Palmer also codiscovered the nearby South Orkney Islands archipelago.
The Antarctic Sound is a stretch of water that separates the Antarctic Peninsula from the Joinville Island group. First navigated in 1902 by the Swedish Antarctic Expedition, it was named after the first vessel to sail successfully through, the Antarctic. The sound, which is about 56 kilometers (35 miles) long and 13 to 22 kilometers (eight to 14 miles) wide, is difficult to navigate because of the prevalence of barrier bergs — chunks of flat-topped pack ice with clifflike sides, most of which have broken off from the Larsen Ice Shelf. In fact, within a year of successfully passing through it, the Antarctic got trapped and crushed by ice, leaving its crew to spend the winter at Hope Bay. In 1920, another ship attempting passage couldn’t get as far as Hope Bay, which was a British post at the time. Today, a permanent Argentine research base called Esperanza Station is situated there.
Cruising through the Antarctic Sound affords amazing views of the Joinville Islands, the Antarctic Peninsula, hundreds of icebergs and such native animal life as gentoo penguins and Weddell seals.