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Taking the Kids: Spending New Year's with the penguins and whales in Antarctica

By Eileen Ogintz, Tribune Content Agency on

WILHELMINA BAY, Antarctica -- Everyone is busy getting ready for the black-tie New Year's Eve bash. Here in Antarctica, it's a giant penguin party, of course. We're in a Zodiac boat in the Errera Channel between Ronge Island and the Antarctic Peninsula watching Gentoo penguins jump off an ice floe to "shower" in the water, and then jump back on the ice to preen in their formal wear.

The crab-eater seals are lounging on other ice floes and look up at us as if to say, "No fancy bash for me ... I'm just relaxing!"

It's nearing the end of a 17-day, once-in-a-lifetime Abercrombie & Kent family trip that has taken us from Argentina to the Falkland Islands, South Georgia Island and now Antarctica on the 200-passenger Ponant ship, Le Boreal. For the 34 extremely well-traveled kids on board -- for many this has been their seventh continent -- the trip has offered one eye-popping adventure after another in amazingly good weather, especially with sunny blue skies this New Year's holiday.

"I never imagined Antarctica would be like this!" said Sophie, 10.

Expedition leader, Matt Drennan, a veteran of more than 100 trips to Antarctica, says he thinks the New Year's adventures were a favorite for the kids on board -- the penguins (including the sighting of a rare lone Emperor Penguin), the Orcas, the ice walk.

Talk about a New Year's Day to remember! First, everyone rushes outside to see killer whales -- a pod of more than 20, the first we've seen while on the boat. They dive and jump as if for our amusement.

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Then we go for an "ice walk" in the middle of the ocean on ice three feet thick and covered with slushy snow. Adults were served Champagne; kids juice at an improvised "ice bar." I'll always remember this," declared Olivia, 10, from Melbourne, Australia. "You don't see people walking on ice in the middle of the ocean every day."

Standing above 1,500 feet of ocean, we wrote reminisces in the fresh snow with our hiking poles.

After we got back into Zodiacs for a spin around Wilhelmina Bay, Southern Humpback whales popped up all around us, as if to say "Happy New Year!" Really, they were feeding on krill at the edge of the ice pack, which is kind of a supermarket for whales.

"Really crazy!" said Marcos, 12, from New Jersey.


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