This is the one continent most people don’t think to go to but it is absolutely incredible and a trip of a lifetime. Yes it is cold there and yes it is very expensive. but if you like adventure and wildlife, it is definitely a trip to consider. I thought every cent I paid was worth it and I’m so happy I made the time to venture down south. This post is going to be a bit different since I was only able to experience one cruise, but I’ll talk about whay I chose OneOcean Expeditions and why it was such an amazing experience.
When to Go
The only time cruises are running to Antarctica are during their “summer” months of November to March. The high season is during the late weeks of December and January. If you choose to visit in November or March, the prices will be cheaper. In November, you won’t see any baby penguins, and not very many whales but because winter would have just ended you will see all of the snow and ice untouched. I went mid-February and it was a great time – you can also find some good deals as well.
Cruises leave out of Chile, Argentina, New Zealand and Australia. The most common place to take a cruise though is from Ushuaia, Argentina. There also is an option to take a two-hour flight from Tierra del Fuego (Chile) to King George Island (in the South Shetland Island) where you can board the ship. This has becoming increasingly popular because you avoid the uncertainties of the Drake Passage. The Drake Passage is known to be the worst crossing in the world as this is where the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans meet. If you are one to get sea sick, definitely pack medication and it can get wavy.
Price & Payment
The cost of these cruises aren’t cheap by any means. The lowest you will find one for is around $5,000US and the higher end cruises can run up to $30,000US per person for around a 10/11 day cruise. You will have to pay a deposit for the cruise when you first book it and the remainder closer to the date of sailing. You can find many last minute deals about 1-2 weeks before the departure day. It you have a flexible schedule and happen to be passing through the southern part of South America, this could be a great option for you. Gabriel Chocron with Freestyle Adventure is a great guy to reach out to for these last minute deals. Gabriel’s email is: firstname.lastname@example.org. You don’t have to physically be in Ushuaia to book a cruise, but you can also do it by e-mail. You do need to be in Ushuaia one day before the cruise departs. Most cruises will use USD as the currency onboard. On the cruise I went on, we just put drinks and purchases on a tab and paid it out at the end.
Choosing a Cruise Company
I decided to go with OneOcean Expeditions because it was more of an adventure focused cruise that offered many outdoor activities such as the polar plunge, camping and kayaking (although kayaking was an extra fee). It was also one of the more affordable ones as they offered a triple shared bathroom room type. If you decide to go with OneOcean, the Akademik Sergey Vavilov ship is a better choice than the Akademik Ioffe solely because the bar/lounge area has a view.
If you decide you want to kayak for the extra fee (on this ship it was $800US), sign up early because there are only 16 spots and they fill up quick. It is totally worth it even if you go only for a few times (you can choose every day between the kayak trip and the shore excursion the rest of the passengers are doing). The way I see it is, you are already paying a lot to be down there so why not pay the extra bit for kayaking to get the whole experience. It is quite something being out there with so few people and all you can hear are the paddles hitting the water echoing throughout the icebergs.
I highly recommend looking at the OneOcean Expeditions. Not only were all the talks and excursions great but the staff was awesome, and so much fun which really adds to the experience. If you are looking for a higher end cruise, National Geographic Expeditions to Antarctica holds a reputation for the best high-end cruise.
There are many different routes you can take to explore Antarctica. Because of weather though, the itinerary is constantly changing. Even though you may have an itinerary panned for the whole trip, you could change your landing points the day before or even the day of. Cruises can last anywhere from 10 to 24 leaving from the South America side. But if leaving from New Zealand it will be a minimum of 26 days because of the long water crossing. On the Antarctic Peninsula side, you can take trips just along the Peninsula, up to the Arctic Circle or to the Falkland Islands, South Shetland Island and South Georgia. I went on the Antarctica Peninsula Adventure.
Every cruise will likely stop at a research station which is very interesting. Also, all of them provide you with presentations about certain topics that will have to do with your trip, usually during the few days at sea crossing the Drake Passage. These can include presentation on the animals you will see, on Shackleton, on photographing in the Antarctic, etc. All of the ones on OneOcean Expeditions were great and very informational.
© 2017 Christie Lee
Before you Go
- Read about Shackleton and his expedition
- Watch the Planet Earth and Blue Planet episodes on Antarctica
- Check for last minute deals online if your schedule is flexible
- Purchase an Antarctica log book at the Albatro Hotel for about $20US. It is displayed next to the bar and is such a good thing to bring down with you. It includes checklists of animals, maps, daily journal entry pages and pictures.
What to Pack
As for clothing, you will need to layer. It keeps you much warmer. Usually the boat will provide you with gumboots, rain pants and a rain jacket. The cruise company should also provide you with a more robust packing list.
- Motion sickness patch and/or pills (the patch works wonders but does make you a bit drowsy)
- A warm toque/beanie (Russian ones are great)
- Thermal underwear and undershirt
- Fleece sweater and pants
- Down Jacket
- Scarf and gloves (waterproof gloves are best)
- Warm socks
- Hand and toe warmers
What Animals Will You See
There are few animals that can survive in the Antarctic cold. Below are the animals you may see there. And no, there are no polar bears in Antarctica!
- Whales: blue, minke, orca, humpback, right, sperm, fin, sei
- Seals: leopard, Antarctic fur, crabeater, ross, weddell
- Penguins: chinstrap, gentoo, adelie, king, emperor, macaroni, rockhopper
- Birds: petrel, albatross, shag, shearwater, prion, skua, tern, gull
- Dolphins: commerson’s, hourglass, dusky, peale’s