Regent Seven Seas Cruises, voted the “#1 Small-Ship Cruise Line” in Condé Nast Traveler’s 2007 Readers’ Choice Awards poll, will offer two Antarctica itineraries aboard the world’s top-rated expedition cruise ship, Minerva (formerly Explorer II) in 2009.

Sailing the Falkland Islands, Drake Passage and Antarctic Peninsula, guests aboard Minerva will explore the White Continent in stylish comfort, accompanied by respected naturalists, geologists, zoologists, historians and ornithologists. The journey will be highlighted by complimentary Zodiac tours and enlightening shore excursions featuring abundant glacier and wildlife viewing opportunities. Explorer II will be re-named Minerva (after the fabled Roman goddess of poetry and wisdom, and inventor of music), following a summer 2008 dry-dock, during which the ship will receive new furnishings, carpeting and additional amenities.

“Unlike Antarctica cruises aboard today’s large cruise ships, Minerva’s smaller size and special Zodiac tours ensure our guests an abundance of unforgettable moments,” said Mark Conroy, president of Regent Seven Seas. “Our guests will share enriching insight into the seldom-visited Antarctic frontier from our onboard naturalists, all under the knowledgeable guidance of our expert expedition team.”

Setting sail on January 14 to 25 and January 25 to February 8, 2009, both voyages begin with visits to the Falkland Islands’ wildlife-rich shores and the quaint village of Port Stanley. Minerva then cruises to the South Shetland Islands and Antarctic Peninsula (with opportunities for disembarkation and exploration as weather permits), followed by a transit of the Drake Passage. Before returning to Ushuaia, Argentina, Minerva will sail along Cape Horn, at the confluence of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The 14-night cruise on January 25 adds a call at South Georgia Island, featuring large colonies of king penguins, fur and elephant seals.

Both itineraries include a one-night, pre-cruise stay in Santiago, Chile; roundtrip charter flights from Santiago to Ushuaia; a city tour and Patagonian lunch on embarkation day in Ushuaia; and a complimentary backpack and parka.  All Zodiac excursions are also included.

Minerva offers a degree of comfort unmatched in Antarctic cruising. Rated among the world’s top small cruise ships by readers of Condé Nast Traveler, Minerva looks and feels like a small country hotel. But a strong steel foundation, including an ice-strengthened hull, ensures a safe navigation through these waters. Inside, Minerva offers all oceanview suites and staterooms, two open-seating restaurants, a full-service health club and a salon. Designed to carry up to 394 guests in Antarctica, Regent limits the ship’s capacity to just 198 guests for maximum comfort. Fewer guests mean more excursions each day and a higher crew-to-guest ratio (1 to 1.5).

Per person prices for Regent’s Antarctica programs start from $10,495 for the 11-night voyage and $12,895 for the 14-night voyage, based on double occupancy. Fares include free Economy Class air from select U.S./Canadian gateways or $1,200 off the cruise fare.