The Australis experience: sublime ships, pristine territory and a whole lot of penguins
Australis prize winner Christina Gula from The Travel Network, and Australis rep Dallyce Macas

The Australis experience: sublime ships and a whole lot of penguins

TORONTO — Ventus Australis’ Expedition Leader Marcelo Gallo sums up an Australis cruise in a contradictory way that still manages to make perfect sense: “While sailing with Australis is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, it’s also something you should do more than once.”

Passengers who board the brand new Ventus Australis starting in January 2018 will no doubt wish they had a couple of lifetimes to justify a second cruise on this ship, or maybe on sister ship Stella Australis, now 7 years old but still “pristine”, says Australis’ rep in the Canadian market, Dallas Macas.

Macas hosted a ‘Lunch & Launch’ event for Australis yesterday in Toronto, reacquainting travel agents and the travel trade media with the perks of sailing onboard Stella Australis and, starting this January, sister ship Ventus Australis.

A wave hello from a Stella Australis zodiac

A wave hello from a Stella Australis zodiac

Both vessels hold the distinction of being the only passenger ships able to navigate the narrow fjords of Chile’s Tierra del Fuego. Australis, which was named top small ocean cruise ship in 2016 by Travel + Leisure magazine, isn’t going to be requested by every client that comes through the door, but the fact that it’s not mass-market just adds to its charm and cachet. “You’re not going to get someone calling you tomorrow asking to go on an Australis cruise,” Macas told agents at yesterday’s lunch. “It’s the type of destination you recommend to friends and clients, and maybe to someone with a bit of wanderlust.” This is a bucket list trip with a capital B.

Offering in-depth exploration of beautiful Tierra del Fuego (“we go where others cannot take you”), Australis’ sailings operate September through April, cruising between Ushuaia, Argentina and Punta Arenas, Chile on three, four, five and seven night itineraries. Unique dry landings make excursions easier to access, and knowledgeable guides enhance those excursions and activities.

Macas says an Australis cruise is very much a product of the destinations it serves, to the benefit of each trip. “The ships are built in Chile and more than 90% of the crew are Chilean. It makes for a very authentic experience.”

Another bonus – for any truly adventurous travellers, that is: no wireless service. “Have you ever wondered how we engage our guests so well? No wireless service,” Macas said to laughs from the audience. “Passengers actually have to talk to each other.”

Stella Australis, sister ship to the new Ventus Australis coming in January 2018

Stella Australis, sister ship to the new Ventus Australis coming in January 2018

The new Ventus Australis, when it launches in January, will sport a very contemporary look with the same layout as sister ship Stella Australis. Built in 2010, Stella Australis is holding up exceptionally well, says Macas. “We don’t deploy the ships in the off-season.”

Highlights of the cruises for passengers include Torres del Paine National Park, Perito Moreno Glacier (one of the few glaciers in the world that is actually expanding), the Tierra del Fuego archipelago and Cape Horn, the storied site of so much seafaring history from Magellan to Shackleton.

And then there’s the wildlife. “We can talk all we want about the ships but let’s face it, it’s about the penguins,” says Macas. Besides the massive colonies of penguins there are also plenty of opportunities to see sea lions, whales and more.

King penguins

King penguins

Excursions and lectures are all included, plus there’s open bar on every ship. “It’s an all-included cruise,” says Macas. Australis carries fewer than 12,000 passengers per year and there are never more than 12 passengers per shore excursion, she adds.

Airline partner LATAM was also at the Australis Lunch & Launch event. Key Accounts Manager – Canada, Julian Cotignola, noted that LATAM is the largest carrier in South America (“South America is our business”) with 135 destinations on the continent. LATAM works with WestJet and Air Canada as well as several U.S. carriers including American Airlines, Alaska Airlines and United, plus Aero Mexico. North American gateways include Miami, Orlando, L.A., New York and Washington, D.C.

In November 2016 LATAM started new service into Puerto Natales. The new flights, which Cotignola says have been “very successful”, are seasonal and run November – March.