Antarctica, the ice covered land mass at the bottom of the globe is a surprisingly enticing holiday destination, especially for those who are adventurers at heart. Whether you choose an Antarctic cruise or a flight to Antarctica, a trip to Antarctica will excite and amaze.
At this remote destination, the uniquely beautiful deep blue waters contrast with magnificent walls of ice, and mountains that have never seen a human footprint, creating dramatic vistas that must be seen to be believed.
Travelling to Antarctica is more of an expedition than a trip, and the conditions make for a challenging, but an unforgettable experience. Those who choose to embark on an Antarctic journey will be rewarded with new perspectives and knowledge, exploring a place that very few humans are privileged enough to see. Despite its remoteness, getting to Antarctica has never been so easy, and with today’s technology, you can travel in comfort and style.
How to Get to Antarctica
You can travel to Antarctica by plane or boat, with tours typically departing from South America. Tours operate between November and March when the days are long and the continent is warmer, and less obstructed by sea ice. It is approximately a two hour journey by plane to Antarctica from South America, and travellers will be treated to incredibly scenic views of the Antarctic landscape from above. Usually guests will meet up with a cruise ship upon its arrival where they will stay for the remainder of the journey. Cruise options that offer flight transfers can be more limited, but it is a great option for those looking to travel more comfortably, save time and see Antarctica from above. For those who would like a taste of this experience, there are also single day scenic flights to Antarctica departing Australia. These sightseeing flights show guests the wonders of the icy landscape, without ever having to leave the plane.
By boat, the journey from South America to Antarctica takes about 48 hours and crosses the Drake Passage, which can involve notoriously rough weather, however this is only the reality for about 30% of passengers and if you’re lucky you may experience ‘The Drake Lake’, the tongue in cheek term given to the passage in calm conditions. It is also possible to travel to Antarctica from Australia, or New Zealand but it will involve about 7 days of cruising before you arrive.
For those concerned about seasickness, there are a few things you can do. About 50% of travellers experience some degree of seasickness, however the onboard doctors are experts at helping guests through the crossing with seasickness pills, patches and wristbands, and the crew are well prepared to deliver stomach calming snacks like ginger tea, crackers and soup if you are feeling unwell. The overwhelming consensus regarding the drake passage is that even if you experience some queasiness, it’s well worth it.
Choosing your Cruise
Choosing which ship to tour with will depend on what you want to get out of the trip. A big consideration is the size of the ship, and vessels with less than 100 guests are recommended. This is because IAATO guidelines only allow 100 passengers to disembark in Antarctica at one time, so on larger ships, guests may have to wait their turn before going ashore.
Larger expedition vessels can be more cost-effective, however, if you want a personalised service and up-close encounters accompanied by gourmet meals and a little luxury, then a smaller vessel is likely to be more appealing. Choose from a range of itineraries depending on what you want to see, and how long you want to spend travelling. As a general rule, expedition ships maximize your time spent ashore and exploring, while purely luxury ships are more focused on the onboard experience. Of course, you can also get the best of both worlds on a luxury expedition cruise!
Why You Should Visit Antarctica
Antarctica is like no other place on earth. A truly remarkable experience with little human impact on the natural environment. The scenery is breathtaking and the sunsets and sunrises are spectacular. In Antarctica, you will witness amazing ice structures and incredible wildlife, a bucket list experience like no other. Some take it to the next level and immerse themselves in their icy surroundings in kayaks, paddle boards and wetsuits – there are plenty of fun ways to explore Antarctica and take in its amazing natural beauty.
Any Antarctic explorer will have to become acquainted with the Zodiac, a strong and inflatable rubber dinghy which carries visitors from ship to shore and around the coastlines in between. Carrying around 12 people, they are perfect for zipping across the waves to get a closer look at wildlife, and ice formations.
You’ll need to be well equipped with waterproof boots (usually available from the tour company) as heading ashore from a zodiac often involves wading through some icy water. For the adventurous, take out a kayak or stand up paddle board, but don’t worry, you’ll be provided with the best gear in case you find yourself going for an unexpected dip. There are also lots of opportunities to go ashore and explore on foot with the experienced guides.
Some tours will offer the chance to spend a night camping. Dig your own bed in the snow and get cozy beneath the stars in a very warm sleeping bag, falling asleep to the sound of penguin calls and rumbling glaciers. Be rewarded with a blanket of stars in the night sky, and if it’s toward the end of the cruising season (during March), you may even catch a glimpse of the amazing Aurora Australis, or Southern Lights displays.
If you’re more of a spectator, how about some photography? You’ll be surrounded by sights so amazing that it’s difficult to take a bad shot, regardless of whether you brought along a phone or an SLR camera. Be patient and there will be plenty of opportunities to snap a picture of the wildlife too. Many vendors offer photography tours to help you find the best locations and get the most out of your shots. There are typically educational presentations available, where you can learn about everything from the impacts of climate change, to the wildlife that surrounds you.
Antarctica has thriving populations of birds, seals, whales and penguins, and you are sure to have many wildlife encounters that spark a sense of wonder. Penguins are only found in the Southern Hemisphere, and Antarctica is where you’ll find the highest concentrations. They do not fear people, so there’s a good chance that you’ll be able to get very close to these inquisitive beings. Nesting season occurs throughout November and December, and in January, visitors can see the hatchlings emerge from their eggs. From the tall emperor penguins to the little rockhopper penguins, there are many fascinating species that you might encounter.
You’ll usually spot some whales on your voyage, and with the smaller expedition boats, guests can find themselves just metres away. Spot many different types of seals too, from the adorable Weddell Seal to the large and intimidating Elephant Seal. Keep an eye on the skies to see if you can spot the bird with the world’s largest wingspan, the wandering albatross, whose wings can stretch up to 3.5 metres!
Connect with people, Disconnect with Technology
While there is plenty to keep you busy, a trip to Antarctica can also be a wonderful break. As you travel across the ocean, phone reception fades, and guests turn to each other to talk. Spending this time away from technology and getting to know your crew, and fellow travellers makes for an immersive and engaging trip. Making lifelong connections and marvelling at the world around you is a fantastic way to step back from the stressors of modern life and force yourself to live in the moment.
Antarctica in a Day Scenic Flight
Soar over the magnificent untouched landscapes and admire the vast and unusual contours of Antarctica. This unique sightseeing flight departs Australia, and spends the day touring Antarctica from the air, before delivering its passengers home that night.
Journey on the Scenic Eclipse or the Silver Cloud, two luxury expedition vessels which accommodate around 200 guests in polar regions. With almost 1 to 1 staff to guest ratio, you will receive personal service and an all inclusive trip. Luxury suites offer private balconies and spacious, elegantly furnished rooms.
The modern Seabourn Venture is an innovative luxury vessel, featuring two onboard submarines. Purpose built for exploring in style, the ship houses a discovery centre, guest lounge, pool and several high quality dining options. Each suite has a private balcony and personal stewardess to ensure your needs are met throughout the trip.
Abercrombie and Kent Tours
Abercrombie and Kent tours partner with Ponant to accommodate guests on the stylish ‘Le Lyrial’. The Abercrombie & Kent operators will ensure a smooth trip at every stage of your journey and offer access to exclusive travel opportunities.
French cruise line Ponant was founded in 1988, offering sophisticated suites and facilities which bring a piece of France across the globe. The L’Austral and Le Commandant-Charcot accommodate just 184 guests for an intimate and personalised cruising experience.
The purpose built ship, the Greg Mortimer is designed for comfortable cruising, even in harsh conditions. It has stabilizers for a smoother journey and an activities platform to facilitate kayaking, and Zodiac cruising. There’s also a library and lecture theatres to discover more about Antarctica as your cruise, and plenty of elegant meeting places to enjoy delicious food and drinks, and converse with other guests.
To arrange your unforgettable trip to Antarctica, get in touch with the team at First Class. They can tailor a trip that’s right for you.
Image credit to: Silversea, Richard Sidey, Adrian Wlodarczyk, Dennis Elterman, Bruno Cazarini, Emma Hall