how to prepare for your antarctic cruise

How to get the most from your visit to Antarctica

A visit to Antarctica, for many, remains largely elusive to most travellers. It’s often the last continent to elude the most worldly globe wanderer. A visit to Antarctica is not your run-of-the-mill holiday vacation. Yet according to Antarctic Glaciers.org, over 170,000 visitors from around the globe make the trip each year, and with good reason.

From planning your trip to preparing for what happens when you get there, we’ve got you covered with everything you need to know before you board the plane and pack your expedition gear. Here’s what you need to know if a visit to Antarctica is on your list.

1. The best times to plan a visit to Antarctica

 

The best time to visit Antarctica is anytime between November and March. But if budget isn’t a concern, the summer months  (December through February) are optimal. That’s when you are going to get the warmest temperatures and the most sunlight. 

Unless you are a night owl…then maybe you might want to reconsider travelling when the sun rarely sleeps – at best, she naps. November or March would be better.

And…if you’ve ever heard of the Drake Shake (the 1,000 kilometres stretch of stormy ocean with turbulent waters with waves reaching as high as 40 feet that separate Antarctica from the rest of the world), January might be your best bet. It’s known to offer the calmest waters.

November and March are considered shoulder seasons. It’s going to be a little colder, but you’ll get to see some pretty sunsets. Some people say November is best for photographers thanks to the abundance of ice floes and glaciers.

In terms of wildlife, the earlier in the season…the more babies you’ll see, but aside from that, regardless of when you go, you’ll be amazed by the variety and numbers of all Antarctica species.

Currently, there aren’t any tourist ships that travel during the austral winter months. It’s too bloody cold, and the sun is mostly off-duty.

2. Age restrictions for visiting Antarctica?

 

The reason why most polar ships aren’t equipped with kids’ clubs and rock climbing walls is that Antarctica isn’t the best destination for young children. Some ships even impose strict age restrictions. Consider waiting until your child is at least 10 years old. 

Expedition ships often have slippery decks, and even the railings seem a little dubious, especially when you consider the turbulent waters.

And while there is no upper age limit, Antarctica is not for the faint of heart – literally. It’s remote. Medical facilities aren’t as robust, and you’ll need to have a modicum of mobility. Shore excursions aren’t mandatory, but they are a big part of the draw of the continent.

You’ll want to be able to get in and out of the zodiacs independently, even though there is help. You’ll be expected to take short hikes up hills with uneven and slippery surfaces, and there may be times when you are standing for periods of up to 30 minutes. 

It’s more of a question of overall health rather than age.

3. Documents required for a visit to Antarctica

 

It’s always important to have your travel documents prepped before any trip, and Antarctica is no exception. Because travel documentation requirements can change on a whim, during the booking process, I’ll go over all requirements in detail with you.

  • A valid Passport 
  • A visa to visit Antarctica is not required however, depending on which country you transit through, it may be.
  • Proof of health insurance (if you don’t have valid travel insurance, you won’t be allowed to enter Antarctica)
  • Proof of vaccination against yellow fever, cholera and hepatitis A (this step is not required for citizens of Australia, Canada, Chile or New Zealand)
  • COVID vaccinations are recommended but not required.

4. Where to start

 

For most North Americans, the main port of departure is Ushuaia, Argentina. 

Ushuaia is a cute little city located in Tierra del Fuego on the Beagle Channel, which separates Argentina from Chile.  You’ll fly into Ushuaia International airport. The airport serves as a hub for flights to Antarctica and also offers direct connections to Buenos Aires, Santiago de Chile and Punta Arenas.

I recommend arriving at least a day in advance in anticipation of any potential flight delays. The ship waits for no one. I would hate for you to miss this legendary trip of a lifetime due to inclement weather en route.

Ushuaia might be a small town, but there is still a lot to do. Check out the Museo del Fin del Mundo (Museum of the End of the World). Or you can do a day hike in Tierra del Fuego National Park. Or another option still…take a boat tour of the Beagle Channel, where there is a good chance of spotting sea lions, penguins and other marine life.

The currency of Ushuaia is the Argentine peso, so you may want to exchange a small amount, but most places accept credit cards and USD.

5. What to pack for your visit to Antarctica?

 

Antarctica is very much an adventurer’s paradise which means comfy clothing should be a top priority.

Clothing

You should dress in layers with warm clothing and waterproof boots that are good for walking over snow and ice. It is recommended to bring clothes that will not easily tear or get wet due to rain or water splashing. Do not wear cotton, as it absorbs moisture and can cause hypothermia if used as your only layer of clothing during this time of year. Bring along some warm socks, as these will be especially useful while hiking/trekking across rough terrain or when waiting in long lines at attractions such as penguin rookeries.*

Footwear

If you choose to do any hiking/trekking, make sure that each person has appropriate footwear with treads on the soles, which will provide traction against icy surfaces. 

Luggage

A duffel bag is a good choice because it allows travellers room without taking up too much space inside their suitcase.

Camera and smartphone

Antarctica is a dream destination for most photographers. Everything is “extra” as in extraordinary, extra amazing, extra, extra, extra. So be sure to bring along an extra battery pack. Cold weather can drain a battery quickly. And consider extra storage because snapping baby penguins and humpback whales become addictive. “Just one more shot,” is what you’ll hear yourself say.  

Download my complete packing checklist to ensure you don’t forget a thing.

6. Choosing the right cruise ship for your visit to Antarctica?

 

There are quite a few different styles of vessels to choose from. The first thing I do when we meet to discuss your upcoming trip is I’ll ask you a set of questions that will help me recommend the best option for you.

I’ll discuss the differences between icebreakers and research vessels, expedition ships and luxury expedition ships. We’ll go over the benefits of each and decide which option fits your travel style the best. 

If this is your first visit to Antarctica, I often recommend that you choose a smaller vessel. A small-ship expedition provides the opportunity for more personal interaction with crew members and fellow passengers. It also allows for more time at each of your destinations, so if you want to spend several hours onshore (vs. just half an hour), this option is the most ideal.

Small ships also offer more flexibility in terms of itineraries and excursions; they aren’t locked into set routes or schedule times like larger vessels are. Smaller ships often have fewer rooms per deck than their larger counterparts—so it’s possible that there could be 40 or 50 people on board as opposed to hundreds per boat.

7. Budgeting for a visit to Antarctica

 

Your budget depends on the type of trip you are taking, the activities you want to do in Antarctica and how many people are in your party. The longer you stay on the continent, the more expensive it will be.

Antarctica is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It’s that one trip where you won’t want to scrimp to save a few dollars. That’s not to say that there isn’t an itinerary for every budget. Antarctica is not only for the uber-wealthy, but it is one of those destinations where I would recommend extending your budget or saving for another year until you can.

8. Booking in advance for your visit to Antarctica

 

It used to be that waiting around to make a decision might net you a last-minute deal as cruise companies tried to rid themselves of unwanted cabins as departures neared. This is really no longer the case unless you are thinking of travelling on the far reaches of the shoulder seasons.

Booking early gives you a better shot at securing the best itinerary, ship and cabin type that works for you. 

In addition, booking early gives me peace of mind knowing that I’m locked in and can start planning my Antarctic adventure without worrying about whether or not something will sell out before my trip gets underway.

Some cruise companies offer promotions to attract early bookings and because I am an Antarctic cruise specialist…I am the first to know of all promotions, often even before they are announced publicly. Be sure to sign up to be notified of exclusive offers. Join my VIP Membership.

9. The Drake Passage and seasickness

 

Seasickness is almost a rite of passage along the Drake. The churning waters around Cape Horn are notorious for causing seasickness and other symptoms of mal de mer (motion sickness).

Even if you aren’t prone to seasickness, I’d still recommend bringing some anti-nausea tablets, just in case. You might even consider a Scopolamine patch – it’s an anti-nausea patch that doesn’t require swallowing pills or injections and can be effective at preventing motion sickness for up to three days at a time—do check in with your doctor first.

But on the plus side, just think of the stories you’ll have to tell. 

And if you really can’t stomach the idea of being tossed around the Drake, there are a few cruise companies that offer charter flights.

10. Choosing the best itinerary for Antarctica

 

Antarctica is a continent with many different destinations. Most itineraries range in duration between 10 to 21 days.

You’ll want to decide how much time you have and consider what you hope to come away with. For some people, just saying they’ve been to the southernmost continent is enough for them. For others, going beyond the Antarctic circle is a draw. After all, they don’t call it a magnetic pole for nothing.

The type of wildlife you want to see might also help you choose your itinerary. For example, if you have your heart set on seeing emperor penguins, you’ll want to be sure you visit Snow Hill in the Weddell Sea. And ornithologists intent on viewing Yellow-billed Pintails or Imperial Cormorants will have to be sure a stop in South Georgia is on the list.

The type of ship you choose will also determine your itinerary, as some routes will require icebreakers, yet others will not.

Conclusion

 

If you’re looking to visit Antarctica, then you’ve come to the right place. I’m here to help you plan your trip and answer all of your questions about visiting this incredible destination. 

Antarctica is one of the most remote places on Earth, and getting there can take up to four days. However, once you’ve arrived, you’ll agree that it’s well worth the travel time. What awaits are towering mountains covered in snow, glaciers that have sculpted their surroundings for centuries (or even millennia) and the whimsical antics of the polar inhabitants who are ready to welcome you to their home.

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Don't start planning your visit to Antarctica without reading this top 10 prep list first. Learn all you need to know before you go.

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