Congratulations! If you are reading this, it's because you are about to make a great decision: travelling to Antarctica! We can guarantee that you will enjoy your time in this land of desolate beauty. The landscape of the Antarctic is extreme, mostly made up of white icy peaks and crisp blue glaciers. The clear waters are inhabited by an array of penguin species, seals and whales. This vast freezing desert is the coldest, driest and wildest place on earth, making a trip here, so much more exciting than any other travel adventure.
Are you ready to have the most otherworldly trip of your life and share our lifelong infatuation with the Polar regions? Then without further ado, let us take you through the 10 things you need to know before embarking on your once-in-a-lifetime expedition cruise:
Antarctic cruises only operate in the Antarctic summer months, between November and early March when the weather is comparatively mild. Exactly when you choose to travel within this period, will depend on what you want to see. It is worth spending a little bit of thinking before you pick. - If you want to see Antarctica in all its white and snowy glory, then the earlier parts of the season are the best; if cute Penguin chicks are at the top of your list, then you will want to choose a cruise towards the middle and later parts of the season. Are you looking to spot some whales? Then March is the best time for you. Sadly, it isn’t possible to include all of these experiences into one trip, which is why it is very important to know as much about Antarctica as possible, before deciding when you want to visit.
Preparing for an Antarctic cruise is all about practicality and staying warm. That said, the average temperature in Antarctica during the summer months is 0 degrees Celsius or 32 degrees Fahrenheit, and the key to being comfortable is layering. This could mean adding thermal underwear to your luggage, a 2-piece puff jacket and parka, waterproof insulated pants, and boots. Wellington Boots are fantastic in and out of the boats as well as for walking in the snow. Some cruises include them so be sure to double-check before you travel. You also need another pair of good walking boots for when you are onshore as the surface you will be walking on will be uneven, so you will need good grips and ankle support on the shoes you pick, a waterproof membrane in the boot is also highly recommended as it will keep your feet dry. Accessories should include at least one pair of gloves, a few beanies and neck covers. Remember, the colder it gets the harsher the UV rays become, so it is also important to bring your sunscreen and use it religiously every day. Wrap-around sunglasses are also a good idea, as well as a camera and a pair of binoculars.
There is a lot of choice about which cruise to take so the best thing to do is to speak with one of our Polar Specialists who are experienced with all Antarctic cruises and can find the best options according to your needs and wishes. Still, if you prefer to ride solo for now, and explore options on your own, here are some of our suggestions:
First Antarctic cruise? A classic itinerary from Ushuaia to the peninsula and back
Want to see as much as possible? Incorporating Antarctica with the Falklands and South Georgia
Want a shorter/taster cruise? Either a classic itinerary or a fly-cruise
Want to focus on wildlife? South Georgia is a must
When you visit Antarctica, your cruise operator will offer a wide range of activities, however, it is entirely up to you to choose which ones you would like to participate in. These can include complimentary Zodiac tours, zodiac landings, optional kayak tours, heli-tours and snowshoeing. You will also visit scientific stations and historic huts, explore many scenic channels, hike, enjoy sightseeing, and of course search for different wildlife species. There will also be plenty of entertainment on board as you can benefit from the knowledge of the scientists, scholars, photographers, videographers and naturalists, who will give lectures, workshops and debates on several Antarctic related subjects. As the main part of this adventure is to appreciate the incredible scenery around you, the ship might stop unexpectedly should something interesting come your way. You will also have lots of time to chat with the expedition team members out on the deck while looking out for wildlife.
You might have heard about the Drake Passage and wonder what it will be like to cross it. This depends on a few factors: the sea conditions are very variable, and it will largely depend on the day you cross it. It could be a day of 'drake lake' or, 'drake shake'. How you will deal with it, is a very personal thing. Everyone is different and while some guests may seem perfectly fine, others are more prone to sickness and may need some support. There is always an onboard medical team ready to help where and when necessary. They can provide you with tablets or injections which will help ease the motion sickness symptoms.
One of the big highlights of an Antarctic cruise is the wildlife you get to see up close. As one of the most pristine places in the world, and the only one that remains untouched by humans, Antarctica, offers a wide range of incredible species to be admired. So, what can you see, and when can you see it? - On most Antarctic cruises you have a good chance of spotting whales and killer whales from November to February; you will see seals usually over the Antarctic Peninsula; King Penguins can be viewed on cruises going to South Georgia and the Falkland Islands; baby penguins can be admired on most cruises heading over to the Antarctic Peninsula from late December onwards; and finally, Emperor Penguins can generally be seen when going to the less explored Weddell Sea area of Antarctica. Of course, animals can be unpredictable, so you might get a few surprises exactly when you least expect them. But then again, that's the fun part of a trip like this; every day is a surprise day.
Antarctica offers a lot for those that travel there, but shopping isn't one of them! If you're embarking and disembarking in Ushuaia, Argentina, you'll find a selection of shops, many stocking souvenirs and crafts, the same can be said if you're heading out from Punta Arenas in Chile. But aside from a post office in Port Lockroy, Antarctica has zero shopping opportunities, so most of your spending will be done onboard your ship. It's worth checking with our Polar Specialists what the currency is onboard your particular vessel, at the time of booking. Visa and MasterCard are widely accepted and bear in mind that cash won't be favoured. As for tipping, many operators include gratuities, but if yours doesn't a typical benchmark is usually around $10-$15 per day.
The visa situation for UK passport holders is simple. You don’t need a visa to travel to Antarctica, nor do you need one for Argentina or any other country in South America, should you wish to explore this incredible continent before you start your cruise. Be sure to talk to your Polar Specialist, who will be able to help you with your arrangements pre or post-cruise. A little tip: Make sure your passport is valid for at least 6 months after your trip ends. You will also need a permit, but this is something that will be taken care of for you.
An Antarctic cruise will never be your typical cruise, just like there is never going to be a typical day on board. That characteristic alone is the very essence of an expedition cruise and the core reason why you want to go in the first place. As an expedition cruise, Antarctic trips focus on exploration and getting as close to the environment as possible. To do this in the best way possible, each ship typically only takes 70 to 200 people on board. The ship really is, just the means to get out there and explore. You will always be accompanied by a team of experts and guides so that you not only see the beautiful scenery but also understand it. Most importantly, keep your camera in hand as around every iceberg is another amazing view and if you are lucky you may spot whales, seals or rare birdlife. You will also find that during the quieter times, most ships offer great informative talks and lectures about various aspects of Antarctica.
Nothing really compares to the actual experience of being in Antarctica and seeing it all with your own eyes. A trip to the White Continent is one of those that leaves you with absolutely no words to describe it. The best thing to do? Keep your camera ready and capture every single moment; be it the whales, the seals, rare birdlife, the icebergs... That way, even if you can't find the words, at least you will find the photos.
Antarctica is becoming more and more famous amongst tourists, the focus for us is on doing it responsibly, we only work with reputable operators who are committed to preserving this incredible wilderness for generations to come.
We'll compare a huge selection of expedition ships, cruises and operators to find your perfect cruise.
Our prices are amongst the best you'll find, plus look out for Polar Routes exclusive offers!
As supporters of the Marine Conservation Society, booking with us helps support the protection of our oceans.
All our holidays are ATOL protected (11104), for your complete peace of mind.