So you want to see Antarctica before it melts into the Southern Ocean? Put your hitching thumb back in your pocket and reach for your wallet instead. Getting there isn’t cheap or easy, but it’s totally worth it for increasing numbers of curious adventurers.
TRIP TRIVIA: Over 30,000 tourists visited Antarctica during the 2005-2006 season. Since then, the number of visitors increased for 2007 - 2009 then settled back down to under 25,000 when large cruise ships were mostly banned (due to carrying heavy fuels).
How Do I Get There?
Planes, trains, and automobiles only take you to the nearest port of departure. From there, the best way to reach Antarctica is by ship that provides a guided expedition.
The ships and trips vary. The choices are as vast as the continent itself. There are 20-plus ships in the business, and most of them carry anywhere from 38 to 200 passengers. Vessels going to Antarctica should be ice-strengthened, and a few are even ice-breakers.
Pick a smaller ship if you like a more intimate setting. Pick a luxury cruise if you like three formal, gourmet meals a day and five star accommodations. Also look at available cabin options. Some are fancier than others, higher or lower in the ship, single or shared accommodations, etc. Do you want a roommate, a porthole/window, a suite?
Where Do Trips Start and Go?
Popular destinations include: the Antarctic Peninsula region; the Weddell Sea; the Antarctic Circle, the Ross Sea region; and Falklands, South Georgia & the Antarctic Peninsula.
Ushuaia, Argentina is the typical departure point for Antarctica cruises. These 10-21 day journeys include a two-day crossing of the Drake Passage. Peninsula trips always include the Shetland Islands, the longer trips (18-21 days) include South Georgia and the Falkland Islands and include a bit more sea time.
TRIP TRIVIA: Antarctica is the southernmost landmass on earth. The tip of the closest continent, South America, is almost 600 miles away from the Antarctic Peninsula.
Trips to the Ross Sea region usually use two ports. They leave from Hobart, Australia and return to Lyttleton, New Zealand, or reverse. Depending on the ship, you might get a helicopter ride to the mainland for Emperor Penguin viewing and into the dry vallies. Due to logistics, these expeditions are usually longer and more expensive than Peninsula trips.
What’s On the Agenda?
Though expeditions vary, here’s what you can expect on most cruises to Antarctica:
- Trips primarily go to ice-free coastal zones from November to March, during the continent’s summer. Days are long (up to 20-plus hours), and temps can occasionally climb into the 40’s (F) along the peninsula. The temperatures in the Ross Sea region are cooler.
- Basically, you sail across a lot of water to your first destination. During the passage, educate and entertain yourself by attending onboard presentations on topics such as seabirds, whales, seals, geology, glaciology, history, and even photography. Any worthy trip includes experts in Antarctica, such as naturalists and scientists.
- Weather and ice rule! Plans and itineraries can change on the fly. A good captain works with Mother Nature, not against her.
- The crew transports passengers from the ship to land in Zodiac landing craft (rubber rafts with motors). Zodiac cruises also provide great views of icebergs and wildlife.
- Landings are typically geared toward penguin colonies, historic sites, research stations, and interesting terrain and features.
- For a fee, some ships offer extra adventures. Ask about kayaking & camping. Let’s not talk about climbing & diving!
- Unless you have salt in your veins, you’ll probably feel a little sea-sick at some point on the journey. The Drake Passage can be a wild ride or, if you’re lucky, Drake Lake. Be prepared just in case. Not sure how to change this, but I don’t think we should tell people they will get sick, just to prepare for the possibility of sea-sickness…
- Is there a doctor on board? Yes, of course. But don’t plan on any serious injuries because it’s a long evacuation back to civilization!
- Forget the discos, casinos, and glitzy dance shows of mainstream cruise lines. This is about the wildlife, scenery, education and new friends.
- You don’t need documentation or visas to visit Antarctica, unless you land at other countries enroute that require them.
Whether on shore, in a zodiac, or on board the ship, passengers can expect close encounters with penguins, seals, and sea birds and if you get lucky, maybe even a whale or two! Bring your camera and be ready for an eye-full!
What Does It Cost?
Expect to shell out anywhere from $5,000 to $25,000 Cost depends on the length of the trip, the ship, itinerary, and optional adventure options. Remember – you get a big bang for your buck on this trip of a lifetime. You join an elite club of travelers privileged to visit the last vast wilderness on earth.
TRIP TRIVIA: Warning! Many people get hooked and repeat the trip every few years.
How Do I Sign Up?
Visit www.polarcruises.com. This small company specialize in Antarctica and Arctic cruises. They have excellent knowledge of the area and ships, the largest selection of trips to choose from and with a few questions can match you with the perfect trip. It’s no wonder as the staff travel to Antarctica and the Arctic on different ships every year. There’s also a good reason Conde Nast Traveler has voted them the Travel Specialist of the Year for Antarctica just about every year since they added the category in 2003.