Yes, that is possible! You can visit the most inaccessible continent on Earth on a cruise ship and bring back an ocean of unforgettable memories. In this article I will share my personal experience from December 2022.
What can I see in Antarctica?
There are two different types of Antarctica cruises – with and without landing on the continent. The last ones offer you an ability to witness Antarctica from the comfort of a large modern cruise ship.
You will be sailing through straits full of magnificent glaciers and deep-blue icebergs. Sometimes, icebergs will crack from their “parent” glacier right in-front of you making a thunder-like sound and a certain amount of waves!
Also, Antarctica waters are home for different types of whales, penguins, and seals. You may have a chance to see them in a binocular… but let’s be honest – if you want to have a real experience of the continent, you need an ability to get closer 🙂
That’s where landing cruises come on the scene. They are operated on a smaller vessel which maneuvers through the icebergs and can get closer to the shore. And that is where you trade off your comfort for an adventure experience 🙂
First of all, such vessels are not designed to be super comfortable (our ship was built in the USSR and started her naval career as a ferry in the Baltic sea). Don’t get me wrong – it was renovated and heavily modernized, but still it is not suitable for children.
Then comes the Drake Passage. It’s known for its winds and waves, which may not be such a problem when you travel on a large ship. But if you are traveling on a smaller vessel – be ready for 2 days of sea sickness (one way).
During the passage, you will be able to listen different lectures about Antarctica from the expedition staff: history of exploration, fauna and geology. Additionally, you can take a part in a “citizen science” project (melting ice, taking photo of whales or skies).
For an additional payment, you will be able to attend a photography course and learn how to work with professional cameras and software.
As a bonus, you can always visit ship’s deck and ask the crew about how the ship is operated:
The first thing that you can do on arrival is “exploring” on Zodiac boats. This means getting into this boat via the ship’s gangway and doing free rides among icebergs and different landmarks.
For instance, you can sail to a 100 years old wreck of an norwegian whale steamboat. It sank because of a fire that happened during the celebration of the end of the fishing season.
Alternatively, I can spot a whale or seal and take a closer look at their diving, rolling and breathing from the boat!
After exploring the nearby harbor, you can finally step on the shore of the continent!
The expedition team will prepare a set of short trails (~1 mile) where you can walk and enjoy nature.
But the most precious part of these landings is an ability to hang out with penguins and seals! They are absolutely amazing. I am seriously considering spending my next life as a penguin 🙂
Note, you will be asked to keep your distance from penguin colonies and “highways”. But these guys are very curious and sometimes can come to you by themselves.
Also, some of the landing points have Antarctic huts (turned into museums)and scientific stations (closed for tourists due to the pandemic).
Additionally, those who visit Port Lockroy (a former UK military outpost) can make stamps in their passports and send a postcard back to home. And yes, you can pay with Visa or Mastercard 🙂
For an additional payment, you can extend your landing experience with a group snowshoeing trail ($150) or do sea kayaking ($250) instead.
Also, you can spend the whole night (22:00 – 6:00) camping on the continent. Although that part is quite expensive ($400) – so, I skipped it 🙁
On the last day of the expedition, people had a chance to dive into the South Ocean. One fun fact you should know before doing that – freezing temperature of salted water is actually below 0C (it’s -2C).
Note, your ability to land or explore is extremely dependent on the weather. It changes rapidly in Antarctica. So, the expedition team is constantly adjusting the route and activities depending on the wind / waves forecast for the next day.
That is how our landing map looked in our case:
How to get to Antarctica?
There are 3 ways to get to Antarctica: South America, Australia and South Africa. The most popular one is via South America (Argentina or Chile). In this case, you get to an extremely diverse and exciting landscape of the Antarctic Peninsula (instead of the great plains of Eastern Antarctica). Plus, your sea travel time will be 2 times shorter.
I started my trip from Ushuaia, Argentina. It is an official southernmost town on the planet, plus an interesting place to hangout for a day.
Note, in order to get to Ushuaia you may need to change to an airport in Buenos Aires. And it might be a really good idea to arrive one day early (to both cities) – just to diversify your trip and minimize risks with flight cancellations (a lot of folks complained to me that they were very close to miss our cruise due to a storm in Buenos Aires that resulted in delayed flights).
How to book a trip to Antarctic?
I simply googled a travel agency with good reviews in Ushuaia via google maps and did all the booking through them.
A lot of people on my cruise booked tickets directly from the cruise operator – Interpid.
Note, I booked my trip 6 months in advance. At the same time, I met people who did that 3 years ago (probably, because of some discounts or pandemic delays).
What is the best month to visit Antarctica?
According to the expedition team, cruises start in late November and operate up until late February. My cruise was in the middle of December and all the landing places were covered by 2-4 meters of snow. But, as far as I understood, this year Antarctica had unusually severe snowfalls. Plus, by the end of summer the snow on landing sides usually melts.
What to wear in Antarctica?
The temperature on the Antarctic Peninsula in December is usually around 0C (mild and even by the ocean). The main issue is the wind. Keep and mind that exploration and landing may take up to 3h and you want to spend them in comfort.
In other words, take everything to protect you from the wind: thermal underwear, ski pants with fleece, windproof jacket, mittens, balaclava and a hat.
The cruise company provided us with a water-resistant jacket and waterproof boots (wellingtons with inside fleece). Both things did their job extremely well!