Red Savannah’s Antarctica specialist, Charlie Lockwood has enjoyed cruising Antarctica and shares her knowledge on what to expect and the most frequently asked questions about an Antarctica cruise. So, if exploring the white continent of Antarctica is high on your travel bucket list and you want to find out more, read on.
When is the best time to visit Antarctica?
The season extends from November to March. Early in the season (November and December) is better for photography with crisp, clean snow providing a picture-perfect backdrop. Around Christmas chicks start to hatch and it’s a great time to see the wildlife such as penguins, albatross, elephant seals and whales.
How long is an Antarctica voyage?
Itineraries vary in length from as little as six days up to 17 days depending on how much you want to see. As it’s likely to be a once-in-a-lifetime-trip. I’d recommend you go for as long as time and budget will allow.
Is an Antarctica cruise suitable for everyone?
Yes, almost anyone. There is a lower age limit of five years old, as it’s not a suitable holiday for small children but there is no upper age limit. My grandparents, who are both in their late eighties with health issues, enjoyed an Antarctica cruise. The ships are well configured for those with limited mobility and the expedition team are fantastic at making sure everyone is involved, even if that means helping to lift guests into the zodiacs. There are some activities that will be limiting for those who are less physically fit or less mobile, however, for instance ice trekking, kayaking or snowshoeing, but most people get out on the zodiacs to see the wildlife.
What wildlife can I expect to see and how close will I get?
You can expect to see many varieties of penguin, albatross, seals, whales and frigate birds. If you’re lucky you may also see orcas, leopard seals and emperor penguins. See our Antarctica wildlife blog for a more detailed insight.
It’s possible to get very close to the wildlife and they are not scared of human visitors. Guides will advise you not to approach the animals and to give them at least two-metres of space. If they approach you, however, simply stay still and let them come. One of my best moments was when a seal pup came and rested its head on my wellington! I’m lucky to have had some very special wildlife experiences in Antarctica; seeing a whale teaching its calf to dive was a real privilege and something I’ll never forget.
What do I need to pack?
For a full list of essential items to take, see our Antarctica Travel Guide. However, as a rule you will need:Polar parka (provided onboard)
Waterproofs, for when you venture out on the zodiacs
Warm base layers of clothing and warm socks
Long waterproof boots (these can be supplied by the ship on loan)
Hats, gloves and scarf
Sunscreen - the sunny days, the glare from the snow and the thin ozone layer above Antarctica mean sunscreen is essential
Camera (and a waterproof bag to keep it in)
A few good books (see our recommended reading list in our Antarctica travel guide)
What are the cabins like onboard?
There are a wide range of cabins and suites available on-board ranging from cosy cabins with portholes to large suites with full picture windows or balconies. The style of cabins varies from ship to ship. I am always happy to recommend according to budget and taste.
The best place to be located on the ship is centrally as this is where less movement is felt. These cabins sell out fast, however, so early booking is recommended.
What will I learn from the onboard lectures?
Pre and post trip lectures take place every day with the team onboard comprising marine biologists, polar wildlife specialists, scientific researchers and photographers. Pre-dinner lectures highlight what guests can expect to see and how to prepare for the next day’s adventure. You can expect lectures on topics including polar marine life, climate change and photography.
What are the dining options?
The first point to note is that an Antarctica cruise isn’t like any other cruise and dressing for dinner is smart/casual so there’s no need to pack your chic heels, best jewellery or black tie.
There is usually an open seating policy onboard and the lecturers will join guests for dinner. As experts in their field they love to talk passionately about their specialist subjects so it’s a great chance to learn more about this amazing region.
All tastes and diets are catered for by the team of onboard chefs and certain ships also have 24-hour room service.
Who goes on an Antarctica cruise?
You can typically expect a lot of solo travellers on-board as well as couples. There is a great social aspect associated with Antarctica cruising, with lots of memorable experiences and talking points. You’ll meet like-minded travellers of all nationalities and, very likely make some lifelong friends.
Are there any surprises or misconceptions?
Most people think of Antarctica cruise ships as very large cruise liners but that’s not the case. They are purpose-built ships and much smaller than most people expect, accommodating between 73 – 200 guests. There is also a high level of service with a staff to guest ratio of up to 1:2.
Will I be cold?
The average temperature in Antarctica is around -10 degrees Celsius so, yes, you may be cold at times! All guests, however, are given a complimentary polar parka on arrival which is super warm and provides great protection from the elements. In my experience you can expect some clear, sunny days so it can at times feel much milder.
Will I get seasick?
The Drake Passage can be choppy, and the crossing takes approximately two days. However, when you arrive at the Antarctic Peninsula, the sea is usually much calmer. If you are susceptible then opt for a central cabin on a lower floor. All expedition ships are built for polar waters and are fitted with stabilisers to ensure as smooth a voyage as possible. Silversea and Ponant offer 24-hour room service and live streaming of the onboard lectures to your room to ensure you don’t miss out if you’re feeling unwell.
Where do we depart from?
Voyages depart from South America, either Punto Arenas in Chile or Ushuaia in Argentina.
Crystal Endeavour also offers cruises departing from Australia and New Zealand.
How much will an Antarctica cruise cost?
You can enjoy an Antarctic cruise from around £7,000per person, excluding flights.
Are there any destinations I could I combine Antarctica with?
There are lots of options available if you’d like to extend your holiday. I would recommend adding a few nights in Argentina's Iguazu Falls post cruise to relax. For those who are keen to immerse themselves more fully in local culture, add a few nights in Buenos Aires and learn to Tango! For those who like the great outdoors then visiting Torres del Paine National Park in Chile is a great option. Finally, for wine aficionados, then Chile and Argentina’s winelands must be on the agenda.
What are your top tips for embarking on an Antarctica cruise?
Carry your parka everywhere! A wildlife sighting can happen at any moment and if you’re not ready to jump to attention when the captain announces it from the bridge then you may miss it.
Go and speak to the captain. The bridge is manned 24-hours and the captain has an open-door policy so you can go visit at any time. The team are very happy to answer any questions guests may have.
If you have more time do a longer itinerary. South Georgia really is the jewel in crown of Antarctica and one of my all-time favourite places. Where else can you share the beach with half a million King penguins? The explorer, Shackleton is buried there. It is also home to the old whaling stations, a remnant of Antarctica history and fascinating to learn about. I would also recommend extending your cruise to take in the Falkland Islands.
Are laundry services available onboard?
Yes, laundry services are available at an extra cost.
Will I get a phone signal or internet access?
Satellite WiFi is available on all ships. Some may charge for this so enquire in advance. The signal is variable, however, so it may be difficult to stream content. There is no phone signal but it is possible to get online.
For more information about the luxury Antarctica cruises offered by Red Savannah, speak to our Antarctica experts on 01242 787 807.