Cruising to Antarctica 101
Updated: Feb 25
If you’re ready to tick Antarctica off the bucketlist, then this is the list of things to consider plus some fun facts and tips about your upcoming adventure.
Antarctica is a fascinating place – mysterious, untouched by man, brutal yet so delicate at the same time. Nowhere else on earth compares to this vast combination of ice, land, snow and water. As global warming becomes paramount, it’s no surprise to see more and more travellers interested in exploring this icy continent. To protect it, the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO), an organisation jointly run by more than 100 travel organisations worldwide, carefully tracks and regulates visits to Antarctica.
But travelling to Antarctica is not easy nor is it cheap. And rightfully so as setting foot on this icy and protected continent should be earned. Getting to the cruise port requires first flying into Ushuaia, Argentina and once there, you’re still at the mercy of Mother Nature as cruise operators may postpone the trip if the weather is uncooperative. But long journey and cost aside, it will be worth the cost and trouble once you set foot on the massive land void of mankind (provided your cruise has permission to make landing). And that is why it’s crucial to do proper research and planning. Here’s our guide to get you started on your adventure to Antarctica.
1. Fly or Cruise
Fly or cruise – the million-dollar question for many first timers. There are many options to do either means of getting to Antarctica. But ultimately, an expedition cruise is part of the adventure and journey going there. Many cruise guests would agree that the entire sea experience including passing through the infamous Drake Passage was a rite of passage to Antarctica. Some can even attest to the beauty of the Drake Passage itself – a demonstration of Mother Nature’s power.
Undoubtedly, it will be a magical adventure, reaching Antarctica by ship and witnessing the weather and ice change as you draw closer, spotting native birds flock above the ship and your first sighting of wildlife. However, if you’re prone to seasickness, then perhaps flight might be your only option as it’s too beautiful a destination to miss out.
2. Size of Cruise
Now, one of main factors of travelling to Antarctica is the size of the cruise ship. The IAATO regulations dictate the frequency, duration and number of guests visiting Antarctic sites. Only 100 passengers can make a landing at any one time according to the regulations so selecting a smaller cruise with fewer passengers would be a more intimate and rewarding experience. Smaller ships also have a greater choice of landing sites – both in practical terms, as they can enter smaller harbours – and according to IAATO regulations.
Larger ships spend less time ashore or visit fewer sites compared to the smaller ships as it takes longer to get their guests ashore. Some operators may run dual operations where some guests will be taken to land while the others will be taken on a Zodiac cruise around the area. They will then swap. However, if time is short or if the weather takes a turn for the worst, you might not even get your turn at all. Cruises with more than 500 passengers onboard are not even allowed to land any passengers while on Antarctic waters as per the IAATO regulations.
3. What kind of Cruise?
Gone are the days of roughing it out on the violent seas just to get to Antarctica. Today, travellers have varying options when it comes to comfort and facilities. Some cruises such as Ponant have done up some of their cabins to feature a stunning balcony view and even comes with an ensuite bathroom. From a full meal plan, an open bar, wifi to a sauna, gym and even a library, the experience can be as luxurious as you can afford it to be. Some cruises also provide complimentary rental of the snow gear and parka which saves the hassle of purchasing and bringing along your own gear.
There will also be opportunities to mingle with industry and field experts and who knows, you might even be able to pick up some wildlife photography tips from their photographer. Most Antarctic expedition ships has a lecture theatre, where insightful talks and presentations about the destination itself and its inhabitants will be given by these experts. These sessions take place throughout the expedition and are a great means of passing time during the Drake Passage crossing.
4. How luxurious is luxurious?
Going to Antarctica is already a once-in-a-lifetime experience so why not make it the best trip it can be, by blending luxury and comfort into your adventure. Luxury cruise operators like Ponant often go above and beyond with top of the line facilities, top-notch services and exclusive partnerships with prominent industry leaders such as National Geographic. You will be amongst the few who would have had the privilege of interacting with industry experts like them. Furthermore, several of Ponant’s ensuite cabins have their own individual balconies, allowing you breathtaking views of the Antarctica.
A journey to Antarctica is not a cheap trip, no matter which option you choose but for many, it is a once-in-a-lifetime bucket list experience and worth splurging for. That’s why it’s crucial to choose the right expedition ship, the right flight and the right itinerary to suit your needs and desires. So, don’t delay your Antarctic dream any longer!
How do I start planning for my adventure to Antarctica, you ask? Well, why not talk to Sedunia Travel, the preferred wholesaler for Ponant Cruises.