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Antarctica Cruise and Travel Guide - Page 2 - The Details

Other pages:  Travel - Basics | Travel - Details | Travel - Clothing | Antarctica Boots | Questions | Group Travel Photo: Equipment Technique Digital
Fly-Cruise Locations:  Antarctic Peninsula | South Georgia and South Sandwich | South Shetlands | Falklands | Leave from: NZ - Australia | UK | USA
Tourism in Antarctica - What will I do and what will I see?

First of all you will cross some of the most excitable seas that there are, The Drake Passage. This may happen in the night and you may be blissfully unaware of it. It may happen during the day time when you are very aware of it. Make the most of the experience, it's like a rite of passage, earning you your place in the South. Alternatively there is now an opportunity to fly across the Drake's passage in one or both directions if you want to save time or can't face the potential sea state.

You will cross the Antarctic convergence, an area of upwelling sea water where deep water flowing north from the edge of the Antarctic continent meets deep south-flowing water. This is a circumpolar barrier that moves backwards and forwards, but is very real and stable in the long term. So much so that virtually no fish species have managed to travel in either direction in the 25 million years since it arose. The convergence has also acted as a barrier to Decapod Crustaceans - crabs, crayfish, lobsters etc. These abound elsewhere in the world's seas, but are not found at all in the Antarctic.

South of this you are in the "Southern" or "Antarctic" ocean, this is where Antarctica starts. You will see ice-bergs in quantity, and other types of ice too with a multitude of names, pack-ice, brash-ice, bergy bits and growlers to name but a few.

Albatrosses, seals, penguins, myriad other birds and if you're lucky - whales, will follow the ship for a while or just come for a look.

You will see some of the most beautiful scenery that the planet has to offer, seascapes, icescapes and landscapes that you only dream about. Except there you are - part of it all.

You will go on visits ashore generally of short duration (around 3 hours), of moderate intensity (less than 100 people), and of a frequency that depends on your tour operator. Typically there are 1-2 landings per day. Landings are made using Zodiacs (rubber inflatable boats) or if the ship is so equipped also by helicopter. Other activities by visitors to Antarctica include mountain climbing, camping, kayaking and scuba diving from tourist vessels, there is even the occasional Antarctic marathon (yes honestly!).

Tour operators usually co-ordinate their itineraries so that ships do not see each other or shore parties from different ships overlap, this helps to keep the "wilderness experience".

On your trips ashore you will see Antarctic wildlife up close and personal.

You can expect to see;

  • Colonies of Adelie, Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins that vary between large and huge. You will probably also see King, and Macaroni penguins if you visit sub-Antarctic islands such as South Georgia. If you go far enough south you may even see Emperor penguins.

  • Seals - Crabeater, Southern Elephant, Leopard and Weddell seals are to be found here, chilling out in the ocean, floating around on ice-floes or relaxing on rocky Antarctic shores.

  • Whales - humpback whales and killer whales are present and may pose for visitors, if you are lucky you may see other whale species, even the blue whale, the largest animal that has ever lived.

  • Other birds such as albatrosses, the "bird which made the wind to blow" with the largest wingspan of any bird. Antarctic skuas, snow petrels, blue eyed shags, American sheathbills, cape pigeons, giant petrels etc.

Just remember that unlike in a zoo, you're in the cage and in an environment where you don't belong. This was the animals home long before we realised that it even existed.

Popular places to visit.

  • Deception Island - a collapsed volcano that forms a natural harbour. It is situated among the South Shetland Islands at the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. The main attraction for tourists is the thermally heated water of Pendulum Cove. There are also the remains of scientific bases abandoned after a volcanic eruption in 1969.

  • Lemaire Channel - this used to be known as the 'Kodak Gap' because of its popularity with tourists and usage of photographic film that resulted here in a different era now. The Lemaire Channel is a narrow waterway formed between the cliffs of the Antarctic Peninsula and Booth Island.

  • Paradise Harbour - Spectacular glaciers and scenery - once you've been, the name will make obvious sense.

Antarctica whale and tourists

What do I need to take?


When your feet are cold, cover your head. - Inuit saying.

As your trip will be in the Antarctic summer, you won't need to take any real extreme cold weather gear. Temperatures on many or most days will hover around freezing point, maybe dropping to an extreme of -10°C (20F) or rising to +10C (50F). Obviously people adapt to the cold in different ways and I've seen some tourists in the Antarctic in light-weight clothing while others are wrapped up like the Michelin man in the same conditions. Layering is the key, then you can be flexible according to conditions.

Rain wear is the best bet, even though you probably won't get any rain, you may well get some not especially cold (and therefore quite wet) snow and will almost certainly get splashed significantly by sea water at some point while riding on the zodiac, you'll probably have to sit in a wet zodiac too at some time.

Boots are very important and should be of the neoprene-topped super-welly type. These have a good solid rugged sole that can deal with rough terrain, are waterproof for wet zodiac landings and are close fitting around the calf so are much warmer than traditional style rubber wellington boots that pump warmed air out as you walk along. These neoprene topped boots can be worn with a single pair of socks which will be enough to keep your sufficiently warm through-out your trip. We've also found that on return they are ideal for winter dog walking in the cold and wet back home.

Hire Gear - Many ships cruising Antarctica will have equipment for hire. You will need to make your requirements known in advance especially for sizes. As well as not spending money buying things you may rarely if ever need again, hiring gear cuts down your luggage weight and bulk considerably which can be an important factor if you have a charter flight with a strictly restricted baggage allowance and can be far and away the more environmentally friendly option.


A wind and water proof outer layer
Men's  Women's

Insulating layer/s
Men's   Women's

Waterproof rain pants
Men's   Women's

Head and ear protection

Good quality
warm gloves

Good boots

More details on clothing for your Antarctic trip 

A moulting Gentoo penguin takes refuge thanks to a passing tourist.


Other Stuff

Camera. Get a good quality camera, this means digital for most unless you have a reason to use film in which case you are probably already an enthusiast. Most people are fine with a digital camera of about 10-20 MP. This will give plenty of scope for cropping the pictures later and allow enlargements up to about A3 size (11" x 14") of good quality from full frame or a very impressive image on a screen or projector.

A digital single lens reflex (DSLR) is preferable (but more expensive) with at least a wide angle to short telephoto lens, 25-50mm ish, and a short telephoto zoom 50-200mm ish. Anything over a 300mm lens is an extravagance for Antarctica that you'll hardly ever use and will be much heavier to carry. More information.

Spare batteries, and spare spare batteries.  Lots of memory cards! More than you think you'll need.

Good quality sun-glasses with u.v. protection. It gets really bright in Antarctica, especially when the sun reflects off the sea and ice or snow.

High factor sun-cream for the same reason. If you've never been burnt under your nose from reflections from snow or sea now's your chance.
Lightweight waterproof backpack to carry your stuff ashore while leaving arms free to clamber in and out of the Zodiacs. Around 1500-2000 cu. in. / 25-30L is a useful size.

Full size waterproof liners for your backpack will protect everything inside from the sea splashing on a bumpy zodiac ride or in case you drop it in the sea (a rare occurrence but not entirely unknown).

These may be available to hire from your ship or tour operator, though they also make ideal carry-on bags for the flight to your ship, much more flexible and versatile than the usual carry-on luggage.
Luggage - you'll need something to lug your stuff around in.

Ships cabins are smaller than hotel rooms, so space matters. Soft bags can be compressed and pushed under beds whereas large rigid cases can be more troublesome.
Take a good pair of binoculars essential if you're an avid wildlife watcher and also pretty useful if you're not. When that whale or seal or penguins, or albatross or.... etc. etc. turns up, you'll be wishing you had your own too!

I prefer a compact pair, mine are 10 x 25 as I'm more likely to actually have them in my pocket than bigger ones. The first number is the magnification (8x or 10x is as much as most people can hand-hold steadily) the second is the diameter of the front lens which dictates how much you can see at that magnification, this figure also largely determines the size and weight of the binoculars. 25 makes for compact binoculars, 40-50 means you see more but they are much bigger and heavier.
Product DetailsPowerstrip - Powerpoints in ships cabins are very thin on the ground and we are increasingly addicted to our gadgets. A lightweight short cabled powerstrip (preferably with surge protect) enables you to charge everything up at the same time with just the one adaptor to plug into the wall. It can be very frustrating having spent the last 8 hours charging the wrong device when the battery light on what you are using turns red.


Questions about trips to Antarctica

International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO)

Tell me more about a trip to Antarctica!


Shackleton's 1914-17 Trans-Antarctica Expedition on Twitter - follow us now to get the story 100 years to the day later.  @danthewhaler

2014/15 Itinerary

Antarctic Peninsula, Falklands, South Georgia cruises

Peninsula Cruise
10 days from $5,995
Shackleton Centenary Cruise
20 days from $13,195
Weddell Sea and Antarctic Peninsula
Remote region
  scuba and kayaking options
Fly over the Drake Passage then join your ship in Antarctica. Fly both ways or fly one - sail one options
Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falkland Islands
23 days from $15,995
Antarctic Peninsula
Fly / sail 11 days, active adventure
  scuba and kayaking options
Antarctica Cruise
14 days, Luxury Accommodation
Antarctica Cruise - The Peninsula
Active Adventure - kayaking, camping
Classic Antarctica
Fly cruise with Antarctic Circle crossing
9 days from $12,995

Antarctic Peninsula
Luxury Ship
12 days from $6,295

Across the Circle
Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctic Circle, Historic Areas
  scuba and kayaking options
11 days from $7,100
Antarctic Peninsula
Antarctic Peninsula, Penguins, Seals, Whales, Historic sites
13 days from $11,073

Cruises in Eastern Antarctica - Ross Sea Region

Ross Sea in the Wake of Scott and Shackleton
Ross Ice Shelf, McMurdo Sound
30 days from $19,500
Galapagos cruises

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