A Guide to Planning Your Antarctic Adventure


Tips and Considerations for an Unforgettable Cruise Experience
By Judi Cohen


Traveling to Antarctica was once available only to the most determined researchers, scientists, and explorers. In recent years, however, the Antarctic has become a destination for everyday people – with over 55 cruise ships now offering once-in-lifetime experiences. Planning a cruise to the Antarctic requires research and most likely the assistance of an expert polar travel agency or cruise line.

Before you embark on an Antarctic journey there are a few things you should ask yourself to ensure a smooth and enjoyable trip suited to your interests and abilities. Having cruised in Antarctica three times on both small expedition ships and mainstream cruise ships, I want to share 8 things to consider before booking your Antarctic adventure.

ON BIG BLEND RADIO: Travel writer Judi Cohen shares her experiences in Antarctica. Watch here in the YouTube player or download the podcast on Acast.


1. When to Visit?
The best time to visit Antarctica is between November and March when you’ll see wildlife in abundance and experience up to 24 hours of daylight. Some cruise lines offer lower rates in the shoulder months of November and March.

2. Expedition Ship or Cruise Ship?
A crucial choice is whether to opt for an expedition or a mainstream cruise. Expeditions are geared towards adventure and exploration, with onboard experts and educational programs that provide in-depth knowledge about the region. Mainstream cruise ships offer scenic cruises along the Antarctic Peninsula and often focus on onboard leisure and entertainment, with a wider range of amenities and larger onboard facilities.

Expedition ships typically have fewer dining options and do not have casinos and extravagant musical shows. Lounges with panoramic windows are often the venue for presentations by the expedition team and for mingling with other guests. Some expedition ships, however, do offer gourmet dining, spa services, pools, saunas, and even submersibles and helicopters for exploration. Consider your interests and priorities to determine your preferred kind of ship.

3. Does Size Matter?
When selecting an Antarctic cruise, the size of the ship and number of passengers is a key consideration. In accordance with the IAATO regulations that most cruise ship operators have signed, no more than 100 guests can land at one site at the same time. I found that vessels with fewer passengers provide better opportunities to take excursions each day given the 100.

4.How Will You Get There?
Getting to Antarctica can involve a significant journey, first requiring you to get to Ushuaia in Argentina or Punta Arenas in Chile. It’s essential to plan your flights well in advance, and it’s advisable to arrive a day or two early to account for any potential delays.

Additionally, check if your cruise operator offers pre or post-cruise packages in Argentina or Chile.

5. Can you Stomach the Infamous Drake Passage?
The Drake Passage, the stretch of water between South America’s Cape Horn and the Antarctic Peninsula, is notorious for its unpredictable weather and rough seas. I have crossed when it was the “Drake Lake” and the water was smooth as glass, and also when it was the “Drake Shake” with rough seas.

If you are prone to seasickness, the two-day crossing can be a challenge. I recommend consulting with your doctor about potential remedies or preventive measures. Many ships have medical facilities and a supply of over-the-counter seasickness medications. Some cruise companies offer the option to “fly the Drake” instead of cruising across it. You could consider flying from either Chile or Argentina to save 2 days in each direction and avoid the water crossing – however many see it as a ‘rite-of-passage’.

How long can you spend in Antarctica?
Cruise durations vary from 10 days to 30 days and may include the South Shetland Islands, South Georgia Islands, and Falkland Islands, as well as multiple landings throughout the Antarctic Peninsula. I enjoyed visiting the noisy penguin rookeries on South Georgia Island and learning about Argentine/British history in the Falkland Islands on a longer itinerary.

  • Antarctic Expedition #1 with One Ocean Expeditions in Feb 2017
    Antarctic Expedition #1 with One Ocean Expeditions in Feb 2017


7. Could Zodiacs Pose a Mobility Challenge?
Most Antarctic cruises use Zodiac boats for landings and wildlife excursions. Zodiacs are small, inflatable boats that transport passengers from the ship to the shore and allow for up-close encounters with wildlife. However, getting on and off Zodiacs can be physically demanding and requires a certain level of agility and mobility. Be prepared to navigate uneven terrain and wet landings. Most expedition companies provide waterproof boots and parkas to use. Be sure to bring your own waterproof pants and other gear recommended on the packing lists.

8. Are you Prepared to Expect the Unexpected?
The Antarctic is not a destination for travelers who have issues with changes and unpredictability when it comes to itineraries. Weather and Itinerary changes are almost certain. This is because Antarctica’s weather is highly variable. Remember that safety is the top priority, and the cruise operator may need to adjust the schedule or change the planned activities to ensure the well-being of passengers and crew. Embrace the unexpected and approach your Antarctic adventure with an open mind.

There are more options than ever before for booking an Antarctic cruise. Know your own limitations, prepare for a long journey even before your cruise begins, and get ready for an adventure of a lifetime.

My three Antarctic adventures have been very different and enriching on many levels. Despite the travel logistics and being seasick crossing the Drake Passage, I’d do it all again quicker than a penguin can shake its tail feathers.

Bonus: Here is a handy list of expedition and mainstream cruise lines offering travel to the Antarctic:

Expedition-Type Cruising: Swan Hellenic Cruises, Quark Expeditions, Silversea Cruises, Oceanwide Expeditions, Viking Expeditions, Lindblad Expeditions, Hapag Lloyd Cruises, Aurora Expeditions, Ponant, Atlas Ocean Voyages, Hurtigruten, Scenic, Poseidon Expeditions

Mainstream Cruise Lines: Seabourn, Norwegian Cruise Lines, Holland America Cruises, Celebrity Cruises, Azamara, Princess Cruises

Visit my site https://travelingjudi.com/ for my articles about expedition cruising and ship reviews.

Canadian Travel and Cruise Writer, Judi Cohen (aka Traveling Judi), has travelled to over 90 countries on six continents and is an expert on small ships, expedition cruising, and off-the-beaten-path destinations. Judi has seen Canada from sea to sea to sea and is continuing to gather memories and document her journey along the way.

About the Author:

Canadian Travel and Cruise Writer, Judi Cohen (aka Traveling Judi), has travelled to over 90 countries on six continents and is an expert on small ships, expedition cruising, and off-the-beaten-path destinations.

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