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Top 10 Things to Consider When Planning an Antarctica Trip

Antarctica sea kayaking

Sea kayaking (photos: Andreas Kambanis)

An Antarctic cruise is for the more adventurous traveler. You head to our southern-most continent not because you want to “play tourist” or hit another cruise line port town that is almost the same as any other.

You go because you are looking for something unique and clean; a trip you can take pride in.

However, what makes an Antarctic expedition so special is also what makes it a little more work than other cruises. Antarctica does not offer tourist amenities, so it pays to make sure you’re prepared for what lies ahead.

Let’s take a look at 10 quick tips that will leave you able to enjoy your Antarctic cruise.

1. There are no stores.

There are no tourist amenities at all on Antarctica; you’re restricted to what you bring with you and what’s for sale on your particular ship.

So before you set out, double-check your gear against the information your cruise line provides about what you should or should not bring on your trip.

2. It’s environmentally protected.

Antarctica is primarily regarded as one great big national reserve park. This is partly to protect the amazingly rich ecosystem, and partly to keep it as clean as possible for the various scientific studies being conducted in the region.

Multiple countries use Antarctica as a base to study the effects of global warming and the spread of pollution, so it’s essential that outside interference (e.g. seeds from foreign weeds, insect larvae, etc.) are not brought ashore.

This means that in some cases before you set foot on Antarctica or some of the remote islands you might visit along the way (e.g. The Falklands, South Georgia, etc.) you may have to go through some decontamination steps before you head to shore.

Half Moon Island, Antarctica

Half Moon Island

3. You may run into rough waters.

If you’re in a ship that’s crossing the infamous Drake Passage to get to Antarctica, then there’s a decent chance that for about two days you’re going to have to endure some rough waters.

If you have even the slightest inclination towards seasickness, you should visit your doctor and get your hands on some Dramamine or another anti-seasickness drug.

Do this for at least a week left before you set sail; Dramamine is a preventative medication and has to be taken before you set sail.

4. The cruise itself is just the beginning of the costs.

You should consider cruise costs alone to run you at the very least around $5,500 (you can sometimes find discounts for last-minute berths). This will cover a room that you will probably have to share with other people.

Cruise costs will fluctuate depending on how luxurious your ship is, the size of your room, destination, and how long a trip you will be taking with the cruise line.

There are more costs that you will have to keep in mind.

  • These include:
  • Travel permits
  • Flight costs
  • Stay in port towns
  • Purchases on board the ship
  • Activities (kayaking, photography courses, ski-mountaineering, etc.)
  • Clothing and boots

5. There are no medical facilities.

Bigger cruise ships will have a doctor and limited medical supplies, but aside from that, you might be out of luck if you have a medical problem or if you’ve forgotten your medicine.

So if you’re not sure if you’re in good enough shape for a trip schedule a checkup for yourself, and make sure you stock up on your prescription drugs.


Icebergs (photo: Christopher Michel)

6. It might be warmer than you think.

Temperatures for Antarctic summers (around the coastlines anyway) hover around 32°F (0°C).

For many people, Antarctica may end up being warmer than home as you’ll be leaving the northern hemisphere’s winter behind as you venture south.

Also, you’re probably going to work up some heat as you take part in various hikes and other activities. And on top of that, you may get wet as you journey on a Zodiac from ship to shore (they tend to splash a little).

Which leads us to layers. Layers are your friend. Layers let you regulate your temperature much more easily than bulk clothing items, and they’re more easily swapped out if something does get wet. Your cruise line will typically give you a guide spelling out what kinds of clothing you should pack in your bag.

7. You might need visas.

Antarctica itself doesn’t require permits or visas; however, you’ll likely have to fly from your home country to a port city in a foreign country, and that might need some official papers.

Check with your local tourism bureau to make sure you have everything in order well in advance of your departure date.

Crabeater seal in Antarctica

Crabeater seal (photo: Andreas Kambanis)

8. Look for smaller ships.

Antarctica has a law prohibiting more than 100 passengers landing at any one spot at any one time.

To maximize the time you get to spend ashore, look for cruise ships that have less than 200 passengers.

The lower the number of passengers, the more time you get to spend ashore.

9. Some cruise ships offer helicopter rides.

Some of the most interesting wildlife spots (especially for certain species of penguins) are too far inland to be reached on foot.

One or two cruise lines now offer you the chance to take a helicopter ride inland to meet some of the more remote of these dapper fellows. (Don’t worry, they land far enough away to not disturb the birds’ environs.)

Plus, helicopter ride.

Polar diving

Divers explore an iceberg from a zodiac

10. Look for “base camp” cruises.

If this is your first Antarctic cruise, then you should consider finding a cruise line that offers a “basecamp” experience. These cruises offer a load of activities all covered under one price.

The activities can include:

  • Hikes with various levels of difficulty
  • Snowshoeing
  • Diving (usually only for the experienced)
  • Photography courses
  • History and wildlife lectures
  • Shoreline cruises in Zodiacs (rubber boats with outboard engines)
  • Ski-mountaineering
  • Ski-treks
  • Kayaking

And so on. If you’re not sure yet how you’re most like to experience the Antarctic, a basecamp cruise lets you try a little bit of everything until you figure out what suits you the best.

Have you been to Antarctica? Share your planning tips in the comments below. 


This story was brought to you in partnership with Oceanwide Expeditions.


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Nicholas Juan

Tuesday 18th of July 2017

Amazing place for touring. Your listed places entice me to go these places. thanks for sharing

Sapna Parmar

Monday 19th of June 2017

Thank you for sharing your experience. I don’t think that I will ever go to Antarctica but this has definitely convinced me & all pictures are looking awesome.


Wednesday 14th of June 2017

Hi Dave, very useful info and tips. We are searching information about a future trip to Antarctica. It seems to be very similar than in Galapagos or Eastern Island, the cruise is the best compromise but quite very expensive. I guess it only access a very small part of the Antarctica Shores. Thanks.


Sunday 4th of June 2017

I guess antartica is one of the most beautiful places where you can see the beauty of raw nature. Imagine the different types of blue of the icebergs, it is just incredible.

Thanks for your tip with the last minute booking, i'll check that.

Mark Gull

Friday 19th of May 2017

What an insightful blog! Before reading your piece, I had never considered heading to Antarctica. As you've pointed out, there are some important challenges to consider; but, I think I might have to explore the idea a little further! Beautiful photos - excited to read more of your work!

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