Antartica remains the most elusive travel continent due to the cost and the short travel window during summer. It is the most pristine as well as remote continent on earth. Although there are a few scientist bases in Antartica, there is zero or very little infrastructure. The little you will find is only at the base and it is still nothing close to the infrastructure available in the rest of the world.
For example there are no roads, internet, hydro electricity, piped water, sewer lines, or established human habitats. If anything, the continent comes with strict rules to keep these infrastructures away and protect it as is. Those living in the bases live in very strict conditions get power from wind (this continent is the windiest as well), few use diesel power occasionally as a back up Incase wind blows away the wind mills. They have no proper toilets as they have to send their waste into inland mostly Ushuaia is the sad beneficiary of their waste. They mostly live on canned food. There are no supermarkets or supply of fresh foods. Seeded fruits and fresh foods are highly discouraged as Antarctica has to remain clean. There is no vegetation and none is allowed or needed. As a kind gesture, Tourist cruise ships share their fresh supplies with some of the bases where their guests visit. They also invite the staff to their ships for a hot meal, shower and a social evening. It can be lonely being in Antarctica. We visited the British base Port Lockroy where there are 4 staff. This is their home.
They work here in summer for six months and leave as the other six months (winter) are pure darkness. Human beings are social animals and four people are not enough social community. You understand why this kind gesture from the cruise ship is more than just a act of kindness.
Making the decision to travel to Antarctica was not easy. It sent our travel budget sky rocketing and we had to go back to the drawing board and see how we could accommodate it. We did our research online on how to travel there and for sure, planning an Antarctica trip is not easy. So here we share with you what it takes to get there.
Most cruises to Antarctica depart from Ushuaia, Argentina, though several, especially Antarctic Air Cruises, leave from Punta Arenas, Chile. A few, those visiting the Ross Sea, may visit or depart from New Zealand or even South Africa.
With that in mind, the planning started. There are a number of companies that go to Antarctica from the luxurious National Geographic to smaller and cheaper 5-6 days cruise ships you can pay at Ushuaia (Ushuaia is the southern city of Argentina also referred to as the end of the world). We have no information on these smaller cruise ships so we won’t talk about them here. The first part of planning was to know the departure point and dates. Based on our travel itinerary, it was going to be Ushuaia.
We got online and wrote to various companies and put all the information together for comparison just to make sure we signed up for the best offer. Best offer does not mean cheap or best price and this is why! The following points are important considerations before booking your Antarctica trip:
1. How many days would you like be there? There are options from 5 days to 32 days.
2. How much of Antarctica will you be able to visit? Make sure to go through the itinerary carefully.
3. What activities will you be able to do in Antarctica ? How much will they cost you? Are they included in the price? Some cruise ships offer activities separately at an added cost. This can make your trip there more expensive.
4. What are the requirements for the activities? Make sure that this information is provided to you and read thoroughly well. There are no hospitals in Antarctica and the only medical response is from the one Doctor on the cruise ship. If anything is beyond the doctor, facilities and resources he has, the entire ship has to return to inland on “Medical Evacuation”.
5. What are the sleeping options? There are shared cubicles. Sharing two, four or six and you can also choose to have your own room. Couples can share or take double rooms. However, the cost is higher on single occupancy so we shared a four bed cubicle with another lovely couple.
6. What is included in your price? Terms and condition. As mentioned above, some cruise ships have activities separate and also some meals may not be included.
7. What gear do you need? Hiring options, costs and sizes. The clothes and gear you need in Antarctica is not your usual daily wear. Things like wet suits and rubber boots are not in your daily wear. Some actives will require special or specific shoes and clothes that you will need to bring with you or organize hiring in advance. The cruise ship have contacts for hiring such gear and equipments and you can also hire it from some shops in Ushuaia. It is important to check prices in advance as some are very expensive.
Most of the cruise ships provide these information in details but what we learned is that not all cruise ships include activities in the cost. This means, you could find a “cheap deal” but end up paying more in the activities.
The following activities come almost standard in all cruise ships. Some could have more especially the 32 days cruise ship but here is what to expect. You are safer taking an all inclusive offer as they can cost a lot leaving you with little to do in Antarctica. We paid for an all inclusive cruise.
1. Zodiac cruise
3. Snow showing
6. Polar plunge
9. Game nights
10. Visiting various bases
11. Lectures on various subjects touching on Antarctica. Very very informative sessions. A must attend.
12. Camping on the ice.
These activities come with strict requirements such as health and skills. Majority do not require any special skills or training but there are technical once’s like mountaineering that require training, experience and good health. When signing up for the cruise ship, you have to submit completed health questionnaire forms, state your water, hiking and mountaineering skills and experience. It is important to submit the correct information as any accidents resulting to a medical evacuation cancels the entire trip for everyone. A medical insurance cover is also mandatory for this trip.
We took the 11 days cruise. The first and the last 2 days are spent crossing the drake passage. This is one of the roughest or stormiest seas of the world. It is between South America’s Cape Horn and the South Shetland Island of Antarctica. It connects the southwestern part of Atlantic Ocean with southeastern part of the Pacific Ocean and extends in to the Southern Ocean. A map is important as you read this.
For these two hellish days, you are advised to bring your own sea sickness medicine or get it on board at a fee. You can either take tablets or use the patch which you place behind your ear about 3 hours before getting into the stormy sea and lasts for 48 hours. We opted to get our medication onboard as that way we were sure we are getting the right one. We also later learned that we paid cheaper on board that buying them in Ushuaia which was the other option.
Many of the cruise ships and people who have been to Antarctica will tell you the two days are worse than watching titanic in the rough sea. Things can get that rough just to give you a picture. The kitchen, bar and restaurant do not operate in some cases due to the storm and the violent swaying of the ship. You are advices to bring snacks with you and more snacks are available onboard to substitute meals Incase of that serious storm. Things like taking a shower are luxury if the sea is stormy and many accidents happen during this time. You are advised to stay in your rooms. No going up the stairs and the open deck is absolutely a NO. Not unless you want to be a meal for the whales. Wearing the patch or taking the sea sickness tabs is mandatory. Without that you will most likely get severe sea sickness. Most people who travel to Antarctica are doing it for the first time and have no idea how serious their sea sickness hits, so without this knowledge don’t take a risk. Of course after that, the sea calms down and opens up to the most pristine continent and the beauty will make you forget all the hell of drake passage.
After the drake passage, life in Antarctica is all bliss, food, Booz, activities and loads of fun. Just choose your poison wisely, you could spend your days in the room still if not careful. If you are as fortunate as we were to travel with an amazingly awesome group, you will never want to leave. We still talk and have maintained the group chats to date. We were one big family of 160 siblings. Our parents did not show up and so we don’t need to share more. Things like naked polar plunge, stripping on the deck as well as assault with a friendly stick happened without any shouting but all cheers. You ain’t scrolling down for pictures 😂😂. None are being shared. We want you to have your own experience there.
FOOD AND SERVICE
We had the best chef because all the food was super delicious and also inclusive which included included tea/coffee/chocolate and biscuits available at the bar for free throughout 24/7. We had not received the warning to bring clothes with weight gain allowance and so we left the cruise with more weight and tight clothes.
The staff were part of the family. Easily approachable and so much fun. They lead different activities from planning, kitchen, cleaning, to all that we have listed up. Very supportive such that even with some little knowledge and skills on kayaking, they made you feel like a pro and we all enjoyed the activities.
We remember the camping night, singing for our guide and helping the other guide set up our makeshift toilet. There is no way you will get out of your sleeping bag in the snow/ice to go pee. It’s a lie but better be prepared. The best is to avoid drinking anything for hours before camping and if necessary carry your own pee bottle. This is where Wamuyu also learned of the GoGirl female urinating funnel that helps ladies pee into the bottles just like a dude. Without one, she opted to keep off any liquids for the day. In Antarctica, once you are out of the ship, there are no toilets or bushes and you carry your own pee bottle and poop bag Incase the nature calls.
After a wonderful time in Antarctica where we celebrated 2019 new year, it was time to hit the drake passage again and return inland. Our trip was super smooth. We had the absolute wonderful weather and the most calm seas. The team on our ship told us they have not had that in almost 10 years. We knew, God was with us and we were blessed.
SAVING FOR THE TRIP
Like mentioned above, one of the reasons this continent is elusive is COST. It is good to make decision early and plan for it early. It requires months of savings. Book your trip early and benefit from the early bird prize. Also make sure those you book with have a good payment plan that allows you to save pay without stress. You can opt to save money in your travel account or make direct monthly installments to the travel company.
If you are thinking of traveling to Antarctica, we used Oceanwide Expeditions and made our booking through Girls Love Travel. Girls love travel is a women only community so guys don’t try to join, you won’t be approved. However, get your girlfriends, wives, sisters, mothers, nieces on the group. You will benefit from some of their deals which are open to both genders. Like we did up there, planning this trip can be a lot of work and with us constantly on the road, it helped to have someone take the load off our backs and also take care of every detail. We loved how Haley of Girls Love Travel and her team handled everything. In our boat we were 30 booked through Girls love travel and each one of us got the best of service.
We could only share few photos but we have a video on our channel here with all the fun, landscapes and activities. Enjoy it and SUBSCRIBE while at it.