10 Steps to Creating your Perfect Antarctic Expedition
For many aspiring polar explorers, a visit to Antarctica is a dream realized, a big checkmark on their life’s bucket list. When planning the ultimate trip to the “last continent” there are many options to weigh and factors to consider, so we have compiled a list of 10 steps to help you craft your perfect expedition cruise.
Step 1: Timeframe
The travel season in Antarctica is during the austral spring and summer, from the end of October to the beginning of April. ANTARCTICA XXI only offers trips during the peak of that season, from the beginning of December to the end of February. Outside that peak season, conditions in Antarctica are less than optimal. Because of the planning required to travel to Antarctica, most companies offer trips as far in advance as two years so you have plenty of time to prepare. Booking last minute travel to Antarctica can be done but usually leaves you little choice in terms of departure dates and cabin availability.
Step 2: Where to visit / length of trips
There are many different places expedition companies visit in Antarctica. The Antarctic Peninsula is the most commonly visited area in Antarctica and trips to the Peninsula can run anywhere from one day to fifteen days in length. At the time of publication, ANTARCTICA XXI offers three itineraries that are six, eight, and ten days long. Longer trips might include visits to the Falkland Islands, South Georgia, and other rarely visited regions of Antarctica, such as the Ross Sea. We tackled both the time and budget questions you may have around this in this journal entry.
Step 3: Budget
Again, depending on what area of Antarctica you are visiting, how long your trip is, what is (and isn’t) included, and what ship and company you choose, voyages can start around US$3,000 per person and run up to US$30,000+, plus flights to South America. When you start to plan, make sure you know your costs, what is and isn’t included, as well as any extras you might want to add, such as adventure activities. When budgeting, reflect on the value of each option, not just the price you are paying. For example, a $3,000 Antarctic cruise on a 2000-passenger ocean liner may be great value for a traveller looking for entertainment and midnight buffets, while it may be terrible value for an adventure and wildlife lover since no guests will be allowed ashore to witness the beauty of Antarctica firsthand.
Step 4: To fly or to cruise?
That is the question! As the company that invented the Antarctic fly-cruise option, we are definitely partial to flying to Antarctica. Why? For several reasons: you avoid crossing the Drake Passage, which often causes discomfort for seasickness-prone travellers; you save up to four travel days, since flying is much faster than sailing; and you experience Antarctica from a small ship. However, some travellers do want to experience the stormy Drake Passage as a rite of passage, or they might not be as restricted on time. Read The Infamous Drake Passage: To Fly or to Cruise? to help you decide which is right for you.
Step 5: Adventure options
Did you know you can choose different adventure options to maximize your Antarctic experience? Most tour operators will offer guests a few extras to help take their adventure on the Seventh Continent to the next level. For example, we offer our guests the option to sea kayak in Antarctica, and to hiking and snowshoe there. You can read more about our adventure options in our Journal.
Step 6: Choosing between companies
This is a tough one – we get asked a lot what makes ANTARCTICA XXI better / different than other polar cruise companies. And the difference is what you need to consider because that is what will ultimately make your voyage truly memorable. Because we get asked that question a lot, we’ve written not one, but two articles about it. Read the three questions you should ask when choosing a polar travel company, and the five differences between ANTARCTICA XXI and other companies. As always, if you have any questions, we’re here to help with answers.
Step 7: Ship size
Yes, ship size matters. Why? Per the Antarctic Treaty, small ships are allowed to offer their passengers excursions in Antarctica, while larger ships cannot. So, while ocean liners and ships carrying 500 passengers or more might sail past Antarctica, their passengers are not allowed to get off the ship and visit the land. Ships that carry less than 500 passengers can take their guests ashore but must do so in groups of maximum 100 people at the time. Think what that means in terms of guest experience, waiting for your turn to disembark in the constantly changeable Antarctic environment. We believe that ships carrying between 50 and 100 passengers offer the optimum balance between comfort and flexibility to handle the polar environment and an exceptional guest experience. ANTARCTICA XXI’s ships carry a maximum of around 70 passengers, which means that every single guest has priority, all the time.
Step 8: Packing
Antarctica is remote and ruled by nature. Packing for a visit there should be taken very seriously. Most ships do offer an onboard gift shop where you might be able to purchase a few last-minute items, however properly packing for your trip is very important. Layering warm clothing is key because the weather can change at any moment. Bringing a waterproof jacket (like the one from our online gear shop) and waterproof pants is also important because to stay warm you must also stay dry and protected from the water when you ride in the Zodiac. And you definitely want to remember to pack any and all medications you may need or that you take on a regular basis with you. More on this our Keeping Well post.
Step 9: What to expect
You will be visiting one of the most remote places on earth, silent and vast. You can expect to be overwhelmed by the beauty of jagged mountains and colossal icebergs. You can also expect extraordinary wildlife encounters, with animals that can only be found in Antarctica. You may also find inspiration in Antarctica, moments that may lead you to look at things (the natural world? your life?) in new ways. But what most people don’t expect and often find in Antarctica is friendship. Trips to Antarctica tend to attract a varied collection of interesting people from all over the world, individuals who have led wonderful lives and have had many different experiences. Speak to your travel companions and they may end up being one of the most memorable elements of your Antarctic adventure.
Step 10: Be flexible
The last thing we suggest is to remember to always be flexible when travelling to Antarctica. The weather might or might not cooperate, impacting our plans. Flights might be delayed or we may have to leave sooner than expected. To enjoy a remote place like Antarctica, you must bring a sense of adventure, and you must be open to change. You are in the hands of an experienced Expedition Team that will always do their utmost to ensure you get the most out of the experience. Go with the flow and enjoy it!