In the world's most famous desert, plausibility is but a mirage
Based on the Clive Cussler novel, Sahara follows the adventures of dashing Dirk Pitt (Matthew McConaughey), an ex-Navy SEAL who, with his sidekick Al Giordino (Steve Zahn), heads to Africa in search of a Civil War battleship potentially filled with Confederate gold. The pair join forces with Eva Rojas (Penélope Cruz), a World Health Organization doctor investigating a mysterious plague in Mali. It's a far-fetched tale, but good popcorn fun. And the North African backdrop is breathtaking.
But forget about visiting Mali. The U.S. State Department advises against going to the country's northern regions (beyond Timbuktu) and warns travelers to exercise caution in isolated areas. Besides, the majority of Sahara was filmed in Erfoud, Morocco, a tiny desert town 340 miles east of Marrakech. "We stayed in a hotel called the Kasbah Xaluca Maadid," says director Breck Eisner. "It's made out of mud and straw. You can actually pull straw out of the wall." Doubles at the Xaluca Maadid start at $100, including breakfast and dinner (011-212/55-57-84-50, xalucamaadid.com).
Once a French military settlement, Erfoud still shows signs of its past--like the Foreign Legion fort that Dirk, Al, and Eva ride through on camelback. And aside from the town's 10,000 inhabitants, the only people it generally sees are movie crews--the recent Mummy films were shot there--and travelers eager to view the giant Merzouga dunes that straddle the nearby Algerian border. From January 1 through April 9, Adventure Center is running a two-week trip for $760 per person double (800/228-8747, adventurecenter.com); the land-only package includes hotels, breakfasts, and guided tours--aboard a bus, a four-wheel drive, and, for $24 extra, a camel--of Casablanca, Fez, Marrakech, and those big Merzouga dunes. "They're the size of a 30- or 40-story building," says Eisner. "Galloping across them on a camel is incredible."
The shoot made Eisner a Sahara convert. "If you're really adventurous, you should absolutely go to this place known as Chez Michel, where Matthew and I stayed for a couple days," he says. "It's in the middle of nowhere. It's about an hour from Erfoud on a road that's just tracks in the dirt. The hotel has 25 rooms and an amazing restaurant." Doubles at Chez Michel--its official name is Auberge Kasbah Derkaoua--start at $116, and that includes breakfast and dinner (011-212/55-57-71-40).
9. Match Point
Woody Allen crafts a love letter to a city--and it's not New York
As much as Match Point claims to be about the importance of luck, it's really about class. Then again, perhaps anyone born rich should be thankful for his luck.
The melodrama, which comes out December 25, concerns a former pro tennis player, Chris (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers), who gets taken up by a posh London family--the kind of people who shop for art at a museum. He starts dating the daughter, Chloe (Emily Mortimer), and, this being a Woody Allen movie, having an affair with the son's fiancée, Nola (Scarlett Johansson).
If Match Point is any indication, Woody Allen loves London as much as he loves New York City. "He shows off London in its glory," says coproducer Nicky Kentish Barnes. The city scenes were filmed mainly in the neighborhood of Notting Hill, with forays into Belgravia and the West End. "It's like the Upper East Side of Manhattan," says Barnes.
Conveniently enough, Allen also shot at several London landmarks. There's the Tate Modern, on the South Bank of the Thames, where Chris is thrilled to spy Nola after not having seen her for a while (011-44/20-7887-8000, tate.org.uk/modern, free). The family regularly attends opera at the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden (011-44/20-7304-4000, royalopera.org, standing room from $7). And London being famous for its theater, Allen can't resist sending two characters to see Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Woman in White at the Palace Theater (tickets from $26 at the box office or womaninwhitethemusical.com, or try your luck at Leicester Square's half-price TKTS booth for same-day performances).
Chris's office is in what Londoners call the Gherkin, the pickle-shaped headquarters of insurance giant Swiss Re. You can get a good look at it from the square in front of the Tower of London. Your best bet for snagging a peek inside is London Open House, held each September (londonopenhouse.org, free). The Gherkin participated in 2004 but not 2005, and at press time next year's plans were undecided. The fancy racquet club where Chris works briefly, Queen's Club, is similarly accessible to the general public just once a year, in June, for the Stella Artois Championships (stellaartoistennis.com, from $25).
"The pub where Chris and Chloe go for drinks is the Audley," says Barnes (41-43 Mount St., 011-44/20-7499-1843, pint from $4.50). "It's not particularly fun, but Woody loves it. He used to drink there when he was making Casino Royale in 1965." Barnes herself prefers the Cock and Bottle--"a fabulous old pub" in Notting Hill (17 Needham Rd., 011-44/20-7229-1550, pint from $4.75).
As for the magnificent country house owned by the family, those scenes were filmed at Englefield Estate in Barkshire, an hour from London. The gardens and the 1,800 acres of woodland are open to the public--though it's best not to roll around in the field like Chris and Nola (englefieldestate.co.uk, $5.25; open Mondays year-round and Tuesdays-Thursdays from April through October). But you're not allowed to set foot inside the house. Unless, of course, you're fortunate enough to know the right person.
8. Grizzly Man
The most fascinating animal on-screen isn't a bear
Grizzly Man is a love story: Timothy Treadwell spent 13 summers camping in Alaska, obsessively documenting bears and his life among them. It's also a tragedy: Treadwell and his girlfriend, Amie Huguenard, were eaten by a bear in 2003. The documentary is a mix of Treadwell's video diaries and director Werner Herzog's interviews with Treadwell's friends and acquaintances. "It's certainly not a film about wild nature," Herzog told NPR. Just the same, anyone who watches Treadwell's footage will be sure to want to see bears in person--if from a safe distance.
Alaska is home to 98 percent of the U.S. brown bear population (out of hibernation from April to October). Though technically the same species, there are three types of brown bears within the state. Kodiaks, named for the archipelago they inhabit, are the world's largest bears; grizzlies have bristly, silver-tipped coats and live inland; coastal brown bears are larger and darker, due in great part to their high-protein salmon diet.
The latter can sometimes be seen from the comfort of a ship's deck (and with help from binoculars), particularly along Glacier Bay. Cruise West does three-night sailings of Glacier Bay from $1,350 (888/851-8133, cruisewest.com). Other small cruise ships travel the Katmai Coast (along Katmai National Park, where Treadwell and Huguenard died), which has the world's highest concentration of brown bears.
In Denali National Park, you can see bears from the windows of the buses on the Tundra Wilderness tour (800/622-7275, reservedenali.com). Buses run from May to September, and the tour is four to five hours ($50) or six to eight hours ($74).
Those who prefer to explore on foot should check out Brooks Camp, in Katmai National Park (907/246-3305, nps.gov/katm) and accessible by air taxi from King Salmon, for about $156 round trip. After a free orientation, you walk to platforms over waterfalls where the bears hunt for fish. During the hike, you'll be on level ground with them--prepare to get off the trail so they can pass.
Whenever you're in bear country, be noisy; it makes your presence known. Should you encounter a bear, wave your arms above your head and speak in a strong, even tone, backing away slowly. If one approaches, stay still. When it stops moving, continue to back away. In the event that you're actually attacked, pull your knees to your chin and stay as quiet as you possibly can.
7. Everything Is Illuminated
Looking into the past can be both fraught and deeply fulfilling
One reason director Liev Schreiber's film works as well as it does is that it pares down Jonathan Safran Foer's ambitious 2002 novel to a single narrative thread: A young New Yorker (Elijah Wood) goes to Ukraine to investigate his ancestry. His guides provide both comic relief and emotional resonance.
Everything Is Illuminated was shot in the Czech Republic rather than in Ukraine, and the locations aren't so alluring--except for two. One is Rybárna, an hour's train ride from Prague, where the Trachimbrod scenes were set. Producer Peter Saraf says the area is as beautiful as it appears: "The river, the incredible rock formations above us..." The other location is the sunflower field--which the filmmakers planted. "We built that house in the middle of an empty field and prayed," says Saraf. "Sunflowers only peak for about two days, but the morning we got there, it was like magic. Thousands of six-foot-high sunflowers all looking toward the sun."
Illuminated is more inspiring in general terms, and seeing where your family is from is often the best way to find out its secrets. How you go about it obviously depends on your ancestry.
The town where your ancestors came from may not be on the tourist grid--remember that boundaries and place names change. A village that was in Hungary in 1910 might be in Ukraine today, and called something totally different. Census, marriage, and death records usually list the country of birth--but ship passenger lists, naturalization records, and newspaper obituaries are more likely to give the name of the exact town. To learn how to use these sources--and many others online--pick up a how-to book such as Genealogy Online for Dummies by Matthew and April Leigh Helm. A good roundup of websites is at cyndislist.com.
Specialized travel agencies and even some operators can arrange family history tours. JewishGen ShtetlSchleppers, for one, leads trips to explore Jewish roots in Eastern Europe (jewishgen.org). Or plan your own trip and ask the local tourist office to recommend a guide, at least for your first day. Many European countries--including Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Iceland--have emigration museums. They'll help put your ancestors' lives in historical context, and their research-library staffs are experienced in working with Americans. For a list, see aemi.dk; click on Addresses.
Allow for as much time in your ancestral hometown as you can. You may find the locals are as curious about you as you are about your roots, and it'll be impolite not to accept an invitation for a snack or a drink.
There's one thing, however, that you can't prepare for: how powerfully you'll be moved. During the shoot, producer Safar took his mother to Vienna. "We saw the house she lived in until she was 4, when the Nazis threw them out, and the corner where my grandfather was picked up and taken to Dachau. It was very emotional," he says. "My father came to visit, but we didn't have time to go to Lodz, Poland, where he lived until he was 7, when his family escaped the Nazis and went to Palestine. That is a trip I will make with him."
A boy and his cheetah explore the true meaning of friendship
After raising an orphaned cheetah named Duma on his parents' farm in South Africa, 12-year-old Xan (Alex Michaeletos) sets off on his own to fulfill a promise he made to his father to return the animal to the wild. Along the way, he meets Ripkuna (Eamonn Walker), who befriends the boy and his unusual pet. The threesome travel deep into the wilds of Africa, exploring deserts, jungles, and plains.
Director Carroll Ballard, who also was at the helm of The Black Stallion, Never Cry Wolf, and Fly Away Home, has made a name for himself exploring the relationships between animals, humans, and the great outdoors. He continues mining those themes in Duma--which is based on a true story, believe it or not--using backdrops such as the Kalahari Desert, the Okavango Delta, and South Africa's Northern Cape. Some 75 locations were involved, so the crew was able to see much of the continent's landscapes. "If you go deep into the Kalahari you'll find bushmen and the fabulous salt flats that seem to go on forever," says Stacy Cohen, one of the film's producers.
Operator 2Afrika is now selling a nine-day Duma tour that includes three nights in a tent on safari in the sprawling 24,000-acre Entabeni Game Reserve, home to the Big Five: lions, elephants, rhinos, leopards, and buffalo. (Cheetah sightings are rare.) The package, available January-March, comes with round-trip air to Johannesburg from Washington, D.C., or Atlanta, and a stay in Entabeni, with six game drives and a visit to an indigenous Pedi village. On day five, you fly to Cape Town for three nights. The package costs $2,995, kids under 12, $2,195 (866/462-2374, 2afrika.com).
Lion World Tours' nine-day family safari, also available January-March, begins with a flight to Cape Town from New York or Atlanta. During the four nights in the city, there are several excursions, including a visit to Spier, a wine-country estate that houses the Cheetah Outreach Program, and where kids can view a farm-raised cheetah. On day six you fly to Johannesburg and then to Hoedspruit--an hour north--for three nights at the Ngala Chalet. It's outside Kruger National Park (800/387-2706, lionworldtravel.com, $3,299, kids under 12, $2,099; all meals, transfers, and tours included).
5. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
If only getting there were as simple as opening a door . . .
To avoid the London air raids of World War II, four young siblings are dispatched to the country estate of an eccentric old professor. One discovers that a dusty wardrobe is actually the entryway to Narnia, a magical land inhabited by minotaurs, centaurs, and fauns, as well as Jadis, an evil witch (Tilda Swinton), and Aslan, a wise lion (voice by Liam Neeson). Jadis rules over Narnia, which she has cursed with eternal winter, while Aslan waits for a chance to bring back sunny days to his former domain.
Based on the first of the famous series of children's novels by C.S. Lewis, The Lion (in theaters December 9) hopes to replicate the eye-popping success of Lord of the Rings, and it's following literally in the hobbits' footsteps. Both were directed by Kiwis--Peter Jackson did LOTR, Andrew Adamson of Shrek is behind The Lion--who filmed most scenes in their native New Zealand.
Canterbury Sightseeing started taking advance reservations for its new Through the Wardrobe Tour months ago, and has exclusive rights to bring visitors in four-wheel-drive vehicles to many of the film's high-country locations. That includes a privately owned area on the South Island called Flock Hill. "It's the size of 10 football fields, on top of a mountain with stunning panoramas in every direction," says producer Mark Johnson. "It's where we shot the final battle, which is a huge part of the movie." Canterbury's full-day tours depart out of Christchurch beginning in January (011-64/3338-0982, lionwitchwardrobetours.co.nz, tour with lunch, $195).
But you don't need to book a guide to view much of the amazing scenery in the movie. Tourism New Zealand lists many of The Lion's locations on its website, newzealand.com (click on Media, then search "Narnia"), and touring by car or RV is a popular way to explore the country; look into a package with airfare from Sunspots International (800/334-5623, sunspotsintl.com) or ATS Tours (800/423-2880, atstours.com). For mountain vistas as pretty as any in the movie, drive from Christchurch up Hwy. 73 toward Arthur's Pass National Park. There are turnoffs for the Cave Stream Scenic Reserve, which has a 1,188-foot-long cave and landscapes typical of Narnia, and the Flock Hill Lodge, which housed some of the film's crew (011-64/3318-8196, flockhill.co.nz, doubles from $84).
Further south, near Duntroon, is the Vanished World (vanishedworld.co.nz). Millions of years ago, the area was underwater. When the sea receded, it left behind limestone hulks on the sandy ground. One of the more peculiar sights is Elephant Rocks--huge, rounded gray monoliths on flat, dark earth. It's where filmmakers set up Aslan's Camp.
About 20 percent of the movie was filmed outside New Zealand. Los Angeles's Griffith Park was doused in fake snow for a handful of wintry scenes (323/913-4688, laparks.org), and the finger-like rocks shown in The Lion are found in the Czech Republic, a popular location of late. From the village of Adrspach, near the Polish border, you can take a three-mile walk amid rock formations shown in the movie, such as one called the Lovers, which juts 300 feet from the forest floor (011-420/491-586-012, skalyadrspach.cz).
4. Brokeback Mountain
A pair of men find themselves in the Canadian Rockies
"Brokeback called and said they wanted to match Wyoming," says Tina Alford of the Alberta Film Commission. "I said, 'Perfect, done.' Clint Eastwood, who shot Unforgiven here, said it best: You can get five different looks in Alberta--badlands, prairie, rolling hills, mountains, and grasslands."
Then again, Clint Eastwood never made a movie quite like this. Released December 9, director Ang Lee's moving film concerns lovers Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhall), who discover their feelings while tending sheep on "Brokeback Mountain." When they return to their small-town lives, the mountain becomes a metaphor for a better world, one where they can be themselves--and be together.
It's certainly one of the most physically beautiful metaphors you'll ever see. The Brokeback Mountain scenes were filmed in Kananaskis Country, provincial parkland in the Rockies (search "Kananaskis Country" at travelalberta.com). Location manager Darryl Solly says his team chose the Upper Kananaskis Lakes campground and day-use areas such as Mud Lake and King Creek. As the movie proves, it's an area perfect for exploring via horse. To find a stable that leads rides, check out ranchcanadianrockies.com.
The crew stayed in the ski town of Canmore. "You fly into Calgary," says Solly, "and then it's only a 45-minute drive." Canmore has the services you'd expect--though it's still wild. "The Marriott is a good place to stay," Solly advises. "It's the most remote from the town but closest to the park." Summer rates for the Residence Inn by Marriott start at $129 (800/331-3131, marriott.com). Solly also recommends the Delta Lodge at Kananaskis. "You wake up and there are deer and elk and moose outside minding their own business. People always ask how the animals are kept so tame." The Delta Lodge's bed-and-breakfast packages start at $145 (403/591-7711, deltahotels.com).
The town scenes were a challenge for Solly: "There's an economic disparity between Alberta now"--where oil has brought a fair amount of prosperity to small towns--"and Wyoming in the '60s and '70s." So the production cherry-picked from among eight different locations. One they featured quite a bit was Fort Macleod, 90 minutes south of Calgary. "It's a gorgeous place," says Tina Alford. "A stereotypical prairie town with two streets, sandstone buildings, and a great old-time hotel called the Queens Hotel." Rates at the Queens Hotel start at just $38 (403/553-4343).
3. Memoirs of a Geisha
Inside the secretive city of Kyoto, there's an even more secretive society
The geisha in question is Sayuri (Ziyi Zhang). As a young girl, she's abruptly removed from her fishing village in Hokkaido and sold to a geisha house in Kyoto. The crux of the story is her training in, and mastering of, the arts of the geisha, under the tutelage of Mameha (Michelle Yeoh).
Shooting in Japan is expensive, so the producers of the long-awaited adaptation (due out December 9) of Arthur Golden's best-selling 1997 novel spent three months scouting locations around the world. Director Rob Marshall certainly had experience making one place sub for another; he shot Chicago in Toronto.
Much of the action in Memoirs of a Geisha takes place at studio soundstages and sets that the crew built outside Los Angeles. For garden scenes, they used the Huntington Botanical Gardens in San Marino, near Pasadena. "We did a scene from the baron's cherry blossom viewing party there," says Patty Whitcher, unit production manager (626/405-2100, huntington.org, $15, $6 kids; closed Mondays). The end of the film was shot at the Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park (415/752-4227, $3.50). The Hokkaido scenes were filmed south of San Francisco in Moss Beach, at the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. It has a harbor seal rookery and extensive tide pools (650/728-3584, fitzgeraldreserve.org, free).
The Memoirs crew did go to Japan, packing as much as they could into two weeks. The emphasis was on exteriors, particuarly at temples, which have remained more or less unchanged for centuries. "We spent a magical day at Kiyomizu-dera, a temple on stilts," says Whitcher. All the shots of "epic sunrises" were done there. "What was really neat was seeing all of the elderly people starting their day with sunrise yoga." The temple is open daily from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. (011-81/75-551-1234, $2.60).
After Sayuri meets the Chairman (Ken Watanabe) and he gives her some coins as a gift, she offers them to the Buddha as thanks. Those scenes were shot at the Yoshimine-dera temple (011-81/75-331-0020). Whitcher learned that people go to specific temples depending on what they want to pray for or whom they'd like to honor. "This temple, at the very top of the Kyoto mountains, was probably the most calming place I've ever been," she says. "So I asked one of the monks what is special about the temple. He said it's where people come to heal their broken hearts."
As readers of Golden's novel learned, Kyoto's most famous geisha neighborhood is Gion. It's one of the prettiest parts of the city, and it still holds its secrets very close. Meeting a geisha is costly and difficult to arrange, but if you walk around Gion early in the evening you may spot them hurrying to their appointments. Gion Corner is a touristy production displaying seven types of traditional Japanese arts, including a dance performed by maiko, or apprentice geisha (011-81/75-561-1119, kyotoguide.com/gion_corner, $24.50). Meanwhile, the International Hotel Kyoto, across from Nijo Castle, hosts free maiko performances in its lounge every evening (011-81/75-222-1111).
Anticipating interest in Kyoto as a result of the movie, Kintetsu International has created a package covering airfare from New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles on American Airlines, five nights at the New Miyako Hotel, transfers, and tours of various landmarks, including Kiyomizu temple. Rates start at $1,229 (800/422-3481, japanforyou.com).
2. Pride & Prejudice
With apologies to Keira Knightley, the real estate steals the show
A ridiculously reductive plot summary: Elizabeth Bennet (Keira Knightley), whose family could use some good fortune, takes what seems like forever to get over her negative first impressions of the very wealthy Mr. Darcy (Matthew Macfadyen). The pleasure of watching Lizzie and Darcy realize they're right for each other is mitigated only by the nagging awareness that you'll never marry so well.
Of the eight historic buildings used in Pride & Prejudice, two make a deeper impression. "We were in the most beautiful houses in England," says location manager Adam Richards, sighing. "Chatsworth and Burghley."
Chatsworth stands in for Pemberley, Darcy's palatial estate--and in fact, the 16th-century Chatsworth was rumored to be Austen's inspiration for Pemberley. It's the seat of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, and a three-hour drive from London (two hours by rail; a one-way ticket to Chesterfield, 11 miles from Chatsworth, starts at $11). Chatsworth's size is staggering: There are 297 rooms in the main house (one-third are accessible; you wander at your own pace), 105 acres of formal gardens (including a hedge maze made with 1,200 yew trees), and 1,000 acres of parkland (011-44/1246-565300, chatsworth-house.co.uk, $17 for house and garden). Note: Chatsworth is closed December 21-March 15.
While Lizzie was unfazed by her first encounter with Darcy's snobby aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Judi Dench), anyone else would be cowed simply by laying eyes on Burghley ("Rosings" in P&P). The house was constructed between 1555 and 1587 by Sir William Cecil, Lord Treasurer for Queen Elizabeth I. Subsequent members of the Cecil family filled the house with objets d'art from their travels. "The paintings are just stunning," reports Richards. Particularly notable are the Heaven Room and the Hell Staircase, painted by Antonio Verrio. "The Heaven Room is where the drawing room scene was shot, and the Hell Staircase leads off that room. It's a big double staircase painted with images of hell." Burghley is a mile from the village of Stamford (see below). The house is open April 1-- October 29 (011-44/1780-752451, burghley.co.uk; $16, kids $7).
The Lincolnshire town of Stamford, a two-hour drive from London, subbed for Austen's village of Meryton. "We chose Stamford because there were no trees," says producer Paul Webster. "When you look at any drawings of market towns"--back in the time when Austen's novel is set--"there's no greenery." Webster recommends a pair of establishments in Stamford: a hotel called the George (011-44/1780-750700, georgehotelofstamford.com, doubles from $204, includes breakfast) and the Crown Inn, a pub (011-44/ 1780-763362). "They're funky but not stuffy," he says.
Visit Britain, the British tourism organization, is distributing a map of the locations (from the film version and the much-loved 1995 BBC adaptation), and has loaded visitbritain.com with film-related information. Likewise, the East Midlands region, which is home to Lincolnshire, Derbyshire, and the Peak District, where most of P&P was shot, created its own website, visitprideandprejudice.com.
Finally, Austen aficionados won't want to leave England without stopping at two attractions: the Jane Austen Centre, in Bath (011-44/1225-443000, janeausten.co.uk, $10.50), and Jane Austen's House and Museum, in the village of Chawton, a mile from Alton, which is only a half-hour train ride from London (011-44/1420-83262, jane-austens-house-museum.org.uk, $8). The former explores Austen's time in Bath; the latter is the house where she lived from 1809 to 1817--and where she finished Pride & Prejudice.
1. March of the Penguins
It's the year's big success story--and there's a new star on the adventure travel circuit
There was no such thing as a blockbuster documentary before Fahrenheit 9/11 came out in 2004. Now there's another, and it couldn't be more different. French director Luc Jacquet and his crew spent 13 months deep within Antarctica filming March of the Penguins. It has grossed $73 million, and forever anthropomorphized everyone's favorite formally dressed bird.
Each year, thousands of emperor penguins abandon the ocean waters and waddle hundreds of miles inland. Once at their breeding ground, they find a partner to monogamously mate with. When the female lays an egg, it's passed to the father, who cares for it (amid 100-mph winds and in temperatures 70 degrees below zero) while the mother makes the brutal walk home, returning two months later with food stored in her belly for her chick. The father, by then starving and cold, heads back to the water and waits to be reunited with the mother and their baby, who follow soon after.
Spotting emperor penguins in person is wildly expensive, since the majority live inside the Antarctic Circle, far from the peninsula where the bulk of tour operators go. "Mating occurs in the most remote and inaccessible place on earth," says Denise Landau, executive director of the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators. "Plus it happens at the beginning of the Antarctic winter, thereby assuring the penguins' privacy." TravelWild Expeditions' 15-day tour goes to where the emperors are, but it starts at $12,000 per person.
Catching a glimpse of other penguin species is much easier. Canadian outfitter G.A.P Adventures runs a 19-day cruise of the Antarctic Peninsula, South Georgia, and the Falkland Islands, for $6,470 per person (it departs from Ushuaia, Argentina, and the price does not include airfare; 800/708-7761, gapadventures.com). You get a shared triple cabin aboard the 108-passenger Explorer, all meals, visits to scientific research stations, shore excursions, and stunning views of king, chinstrap, and gentoo penguins (as well as seals and orcas and other whales). The next two departures are December 11, 2006, and January 16, 2007.
To see penguins without the bitter cold--and the expense--visit Australia's Phillip Island Nature Park, 75 miles south of Melbourne. The two-hour, ranger-led Ultimate Penguin Tour leaves at sunset with no more than 15 visitors in a group (011-61-3/5951-2800, penguins.org.au, $45). You go to protected Summerland Beach, where the aptly named "little" penguins--at 13 inches tall, they're the smallest of all 17 species (adult emperors are more than four feet tall)--pass in front of you en route to their burrows. Once the sun sets, you watch them with infrared binoculars. You must not touch them, of course, and photography is forbidden. But the photos in the gift shop benefit penguin conservation--and unlike the March of the Penguins crew, you don't have to worry about frostbite.