- Age Range
- The age range of passengers on Antarctic trips
tends towards 40+, there are often 30 somethings
in lesser numbers and maybe some younger passengers,
most will probably be in the 45-65 age range.
There is no "shoestring" way of getting
there so you don't get many young independent
travellers. Passengers on Antarctic trips are
frequently very well travelled and as they are
prepared to spend so much money on an "experience"
(as opposed to simply being entertained) tend
to be interesting people. Antarctic trips are
reasonably active so passengers need to be able
to get around readily.
- The "Cruise"
label is descriptive of what the ship does rather
than what happens aboard the ship. While you
have guides and experts on board, their expertise
does not necessarily lie in performing a medley
from "Chicago" complete with fish-nets
and high heels after dinner (you could always
ask). There are usually no professional entertainers
on these ships, there will be talks and maybe
DVD's shown but they will be very much to do
with Antarctica and the specialisms of the guides.
Reading, relaxing, watching the world go by,
getting to know your fellow passengers over
coffee or a drink at the bar are what will pass
the time when on board and sailing. For the
great majority of passengers, this is seen as
a very positive thing. Antarctic cruises differ
from the wider cruising experience quite significantly
in this regard.
- Fitness and health
- Most cruises will
have a variety of activity levels for the passengers.
You need to be in generally good health as while
there will probably be a doctor on board the
ship, you will be a long way from any other
medical assistance. You should be sufficiently
able-bodied to get in and out of zodiacs from
the ship and ashore and negotiate uneven possibly
slippery ground. Once ashore there are usually
two or three different walks. Typically one
will be easy at low level over a short distance
with frequent stops, one will involve gaining
more altitude and cover much more ground with
infrequent stops. Another will be for photographers
and wildlife enthusiasts, possibly covering
a lot of ground and altitude, but then again
possibly spending a lot of time in one area
if the circumstances are appropriate.
Some trips will offer one or more activities
of sea kayaking, cross country skiing, camping,
snowshoeing, mountaineering or diving as options
where obviously a higher level of fitness is
- Medical facilities
- Antarctic cruises
are not like other cruises where ships call
at towns and cities with all of the medical
facilities that you would expect. Ships will
carry a medic of some sort, but facilities vary
greatly according to the size of the ship.
In an emergency, pretty much all the ship could
do would be to steam back to the nearest port
which may well be a few days sailing away. It
may be possible to visit a national base if
there are facilities and personnel available.
Anyone with any kind of disability or medical
need should contact a reputable tour company
and explain the situation in as much detail
as possible so that the Antarctic trip can be
tailored to the individual need. There's no
reason that a disability that does not disallow
someone to live a fairly normal life at home
should particularly prevent a trip to Antarctica,
obviously it is very much down to individual
- I have never heard anyone
comment negatively about the food on an Antarctic
trip. It will be plentiful, tasty and nutritious,
of course the more luxurious your ship the greater
the variety and quality. Fresh fruit and veg
may run low on longer (20 days +) trips, but
overall you'd be hard pushed to tell the difference
from a good hotel restaurant. Most dietary requirements
can be met.
- Antarctic cruise
ships tend to be very cosmopolitan environments.
The language on board is most commonly English
and lectures, guided walks etc. will be conducted
in English. While there may be a majority group
of some nationality on a trip, there will nearly
always be half a dozen and probably many more
different nationalities represented by the passengers.
There are also trips that are conducted in German
or French which of course mainly attract passengers
of those nationalities.
- Last minute deals
- It is possible to get a late deal on a cruise
if you go to Ushuaia (but not give-away prices),
the flip side is that you will almost certainly
pay a lot more for your flights if booked at
short notice and possibly have to book extra
hotel room nights if the flights don't all fit
together as you'd like. The cheaper flights
go first and many cruises offer discounts or
offers on flights for early booking, you also
have more choice. The best chance of a
bargain is look once you are in Ushuaia
having got there by non premium means, i.e.
no last minute flight.
- Older Passengers
- Antarctica is a fairly active place to visit,
though you can have quite a sedate time on a
trip there if you choose. To make the most of
it, you should get ashore as often as possible.
To do this, you should be able to walk down
somewhat wobbly possibly steep steps to get into the
zodiac which will be rising and falling to some
degree with the waves (a foot or two is
typical). At the other end, you
will need to be able to get out of the boat
over the side and probably into ankle deep water
or onto wet rocks. There will be many strong hands
to help you do this, but it does require a certain
level of spriteliness to do so. Once ashore
you may need to negotiate uneven rocky ground
and/or ice and snow that may be slippery. While
there are many active people in their 80's and 90's
who visit Antarctica and take part in the whole
programme, it is not for the infirm and unsteady.
- Biologists, ornithologists, geologists, historians
(ok not an 'ologist that one) etc. will be your
guides to where you are and what you will see
in Antarctica. Don't be afraid to ask questions,
if you're asking there will be others who would
like to know the answer too and the guides will
be glad you're interested.
- Open Bridge
- A policy on the bridge (where the crew go
to drive and operate the ship) of most cruise
ships to Antarctica. You the passenger can wander
on and have a bit of a nose around as long as
you don't press things. The first time I went
on the bridge of a ship in Antarctica, there
was quite a swell running, as I was walking
off, the ship lurched and I fell against a big
bank of switches and buttons setting off the
abandon ship signal - try not to do this.
- Many ships have a resident photographer as
a part of the programme at no additional cost.
Photography is covered extensively
here, there will also be many keen photographers
on your trip happy to offer help and advice.
Even if you are a novice it's worth getting
a decent camera for your trip.
- Rough weather at sea
- You should expect rough conditions at some
point, this may be when crossing the Drake's
passage or elsewhere on your cruise. If you
suffer at all from sea-sickness, take some medication,
the patches are always popular and quite effective.
Take care during rough seas too as you can be
launched out of your chair, dumped unceremoniously
on your bed or similar. Slippery silk pajamas
are not recommended as every time the ship lurches,
you'll shoot off in that direction (possibly
quite entertaining for onlookers however). Walk around
with your legs bent a little at the knee to
absorb unexpected lurches. It can also be great
The first time I encountered rough seas I stayed
in my bunk for about 48 hours feeling awful,
this is the worst thing you can do. Make the
effort of find your sea-legs, some food in your
stomach is better than none. Go up on deck or
look out of a window, the sickness comes largely
from the discrepancy between what your eyes
tell you and what your inner ear tells you.
i.e. ears say the world is moving around, eyes
say it isn't. If you look at a static horizon,
it all makes more sense and you feel better.
After my inauspicious start (over 25 years ago)
I've never suffered from sea-sickness since.
- It is possible to buy souvenirs in Antarctica
from the gift shop and Post Office at Port Lockroy
on the Peninsula, and also the gift shop at
the American Palmer base on the peninsula. The
New Zealand Scott base and American McMurdo
base in the Ross Sea region also have gift shops.
Otherwise shops are non-existent.
- Unlocked door policy
- This operates as standard on ships in Antarctica.
There will be a ships safe if you wish to leave
large amounts of cash. Like a utopian global
village, there is no crime aboard a cruise ship
in Antarctica. Most ships are cashless, bills
and tips being paid by card on the last day
or morning of departure. Some smaller ships
however do not take tips by card and so you
will need cash for this - ask before you set
- There's a lot of weather
in Antarctica and it's in evidence most days.
It can and does change in a moment so make sure
you take your outer layers and insulating layers
ashore with you even though the sun is shining
and it's warm.
- Younger passengers
- Some ships have rules where they won't take
passengers who are under 6 or under 12. While
children are not discouraged from an Antarctic
trip, they are not really catered for either.
The chances are you won't meet any other children
on the cruise at all and there may be long periods
of entertaining yourself (sea passages) which
for the adults is all part of the attraction
of being able to switch off and absorb where
you are, read etc. For children however this
may be a more challenging time and also for
parents hearing "I'm bored" (and other
passengers too). Antarctica is only really a
family destination for older children.