- 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 tend to be
interesting people, the sort who are prepared
to spend money on an "experience" as opposed
to simply being entertained. Antarctic trips
are reasonably active so passengers need to
be able to get around readily.
- Antarctic small ship cruises
are not what people usually imagine a cruise
to be, for the majority of passengers, this
is a positive thing!
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 videos 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. Antarctic cruises
differ from the wider cruising experience quite
significantly in this regard.
and health - Most cruises will
have a variety of activity levels for the passengers.
You need to be in generally good health, while
there will probably be a doctor on board the
ship, you will be a long way from any other
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 often be for photographers and wildlife
enthusiasts, which may be quite energetic or
might involve spending a lot of time in one
area as dictated by circumstances.
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 medical personnel available.
Anyone with any kind of significant disability
or medical need should contact a 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 prevent
someone living a fairly normal life at home
should prevent a trip to Antarctica,
obviously it is very much down to individual
- Food 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. I have
never heard anyone comment negatively about
the food on an Antarctic trip but have heard
lots along the lines of "Hadn't really
counted on that aspect, definitely a bonus".
- 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,
there are however cruises where French, German,
Chinese etc. language and culture predominate.
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.
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.
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 (up to a foot is typical, usually
less). 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 sprightliness. 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
even older who visit Antarctica and take
part in the whole programme, it is not for
the infirm or unsteady of any age.
- 'Ologists -
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.
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. 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.
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, though you may encounter calm
seas all the way. If you suffer at all from
sea-sickness, take some medication, patches
are always popular and quite effective. Take
care during rough seas 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
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 30 years ago)
I've never suffered from sea-sickness since.
- Souvenirs -
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.
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 off.
- 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 when
you set off.
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 particularly 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 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.