Antarctica: The White Continent
A conversation with Francesco Contini of Antarctica XXI
by Marla Norman, TCO Publisher
“The first thing you notice is the light. The light in Antarctica is completely different from anywhere else. Colors are more vivid. Distances are difficult to perceive. Your perception is altered completely.” Francesco Contini, Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Antarctica XXI, sounds almost like a painter or poet when describing Antarctica.
But then, the allure of this inhospitable, yet indescribably beautiful continent is the stuff of historical legend. In decades past, explorers like Ernest Shackleton, Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott were captivated by Antarctica. Their heroic voyages and personal sacrifices are well documented and still amaze today.
Now, thanks to Antarctica XXI, visitors longing to see the southern end of the world can comfortably fly over Cape Horn and the treacherous waters of the Drake Passage. Francesco Contini explains: “After a quick two-hour flight, passengers arrive at King George Island and board MV Ocean Nova, a small expedition ship, to begin exploring almost immediately. Traditional cruises still take more than two days to cross the Drake Passage. Frequently the weather is bad and waves are extremely rough, making for a very difficult crossing. Our guests arrive more quickly and much happier.”
On board, Antarctica XXI passengers find a four-star vessel with outstanding facilities: a glass enclosed observation lounge, well-appointed cabins, great dining and, an added bonus, exceptional Chilean wines. A maximum of 67 passengers is allowed per expedition. Francesco reports that “Antarctica XXI has the highest expedition staff to passenger ratio in the polar cruise industry. This arrangement allows for more individualized attention, a broader range of activities, and more flexibility to take advantage of the ever changing conditions in the region. If, for example, a pod of whales suddenly appears, the crew can quickly deploy Zodiac boats so travelers can enjoy their company. A smaller group of passengers also helps ship personnel take advantage of activities that arise spontaneously on the scene.”
Another aspect that sets Antarctica XXI apart is the expertise of its crew and the skilled polar guides that share their passion for Antarctica. Included are oceanographers, naturalists, ornithologists, biologists, glaciologists, marine wildlife specialists, mountain guides, and historians. These specialists, many of whom speak several languages, take passengers on excursions and offer lectures — formal and informal — throughout the course of the trip.
On a daily basis, passengers will sail along ice-filled fjords and among spectacular icebergs, while enjoying the company of sea birds, penguins, seals and whales. Also available daily, are opportunities to hike to extraordinary sites and take part in Zodiac excursions to otherwise inaccessible areas.
Antarctica Express Air Cruise: The shortest of the three options, a 5 days – 4 night trip that includes a ship cruise from Ushuaia to Antarctica and the South Shetland Islands.
Classic Antarctica Air Cruise: 7 days – 6 nights. Passengers cruise along the Antarctic Peninsula as far south as the Lemarie Channel.
Polar Circle Air Cruise: Offers the longest trip of the three, with 9 days – 8 nights. The extra time allows for a journey all the way to the Polar Circle.
“If you can manage,” advises Francesco, “take the longer Polar Circle trip. The response I hear most frequently from our guests is that they wish they had spent more time. For almost all visitors, seeing Antarctica is the trip of a life time. It’s unlikely they’ll be back — so better to invest as much time as possible. Also, in the event that a storm arises and shore expeditions must be canceled, a trip with a few extra days allows for opportunities to make up for lost time.”
Francesco’s final comment: “If you’re truly interested, book now! The window for traveling on an Antarctic Air-Cruise is very short, essentially three months — December through February. The tours fill quickly. We’re about 50% booked for the upcoming season. We invite you to travel with us for the experience of a life time!”
Francesco Contini was born in Italy, and has lived his entire adult life in Canada, where he graduated from York University. Francesco joined the adventure travel industry in 1996 and has since worked in a number of senior sales and marketing roles with leading polar expedition companies. He also worked as a travel columnist for The Globe and Mail, Canada’s prestigious national newspaper. In an earlier life he was involved with his family’s wine business back in Italy.
As Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Francesco now leads the team responsible for Antarctica XXI’s commercial operations. During his career, Francesco has travelled extensively around the world and has established close partnerships with a vast network of polar travel specialists and tour operators that collaborate with Antarctica XXI. He spends his time between Toronto and Antarctica XXI’s Head Office in Punta Arenas. Known for his creativity and passion for adventure travel, Francesco feels privileged to be able to apply his energy and talents to the promotion of Antarctic tourism.