Financing & Budget, Gear & Equipment, Health & Safety, Photography, Uncategorized

The hitchhiker’s guide to Antarctica: basic tips

Cloudy Antarctica, Michael Leggero

Cloudy Antarctica, Michael Leggero

Antarctica is one of the world’s craziest settings in terms of good looks. It’s out of this world and not just because it’s extremely difficult to get there, but the setting looks miraculous and most certainly you are going to end up taking over a thousand amazing pictures and return home with what’s going to look like a photo-journalistic approach of the place. Because of all the destinations in this world, Antarctica is the place meant to be transformed into a story told through a collage of pictures. Here are some tips of when to go on a cruise to Antarctica.

When to

First of all, from April to October it’s a no-no. It’s when it’s plain winter in Antarctica and there’s a very good chance that your ship won’t even get to the destination, because of the very thick pack ice extending for more than 1000 miles beyond the actual continent. Plus, along with this there are some other practical huge disadvantages to keep you far from this place, such as the very few daylight hours, the unbearable temperatures, the storms or the winds.

So while in the Northern Hemisphere you can go to the beach and have tanned skin, the chance is that you’d barely survive here, if lucky. Otherwise, among the three periods when you can visit Antarctica properly, each has its own pros and cons, so it all goes down to why you’re visiting in the first place.

Photo Credits: Christopher Michel

Photo Credits: Christopher Michel

  •   Early season – from November to mid-December – you’ll see the best icebergs, dramatically beautiful and taking very bizarre shapes. Some landings may still be unaccessible because the ice doesn’t melt that easily, the weather is somewhat colder than usually the mid-season, and there’s less wildlife activity in general because of the meteorological conditions.
  •  Mid-season – from the middle of December to the middle of February – yes, the daylight hours reach the most merciful period this time of year, especially on December 22nd, and the seas tend to be calm. As about the wildlife, the panorama is at its best too. Of course, you’d have to book more than half a year earlier in order to make sure you’ve got a safe place, and the prices are very high compared to the other times of the year.
  • Late season – it goes from the middle of February to March and the prices are very low, especially if you find a last-moment offer, it could cost you even half the price of a trip in the mid-season. The ships can sail even further South because of the ice still melting, and the whale watching is pretty magnificent, too. On a less brighter side, you may not see the penguins who, by that time, have already left the grounds to feed out to the sea. The temperatures are quite bitter as well, so you should really take this into consideration.
Penguins in Antarctica, Photo Credits: Richard McMenus

Penguins in Antarctica, Photo Credits: Richard McMenus

 What it takes

Zodiac Trip, via http://theplanetd.com

Not being seasick. You’d be tempted to underestimate things like these, but it’s critical when it comes to this trip in particular. Not only because it takes about two days to cross the Drake Passage from South America to Antarctica, but also since it’s where the Atlantic, the Pacific and the Southern Oceans meet.

Map of Drake Passage

Map of Drake Passage

So if you’ve been on a cruise before and pills or patches didn’t seem to work, maybe you should reconsider this holiday. Otherwise, if you’re not very seasick prone, there should be no problem and most pharmacies can easily solve this minor issue.

Antarctica by Zodiac, Photo Credits: Richard McManus

Antarctica by Zodiac, Photo Credits: Richard McManus

Handling the Zodiac landings is also a must, so being fit would be a great start. Of course, there are some Zodiac trips only in the form of sightseeing cruises, but it’s no fun to take the entire trip just for them. The beauty in Antarctica lies in the landings, when all the 8 (up to 10) passengers get to observe the waddling penguins or the charming beaches with lazing seals. There are usually two Zodiac trips a day, approximately two hours each.

Stunning photos from the Zodiac, by Michael Leggero

Stunning photos from the Zodiac, by Michael Leggero

By far the most exciting are the wet landings, when because there are no docks you’ll have to slide off the Zodiac right into the water (which can have up to 15 inches) and walk towards the shore yourself.This is just one of the many reasons why being fit and agile is a must whenever you decide to take this trip. However, if you’re ready to go to this holiday with any price, you won’t mind admiring the scenery from the inflatable Zodiac watercraft.

Along, and very connected, to being fit is the health. First, because of the shock on the organism associated with the temperature, the winds and the general weather. Then, because the ship won’t be able to perform complicated medical procedures due to the basic medical aliments. Any life-threatening condition should be kept under permanent medical observation and the associated medical tools, which is impossible to ask from any ship in Antarctica, and it’s even less likely to find medical care and attendance on the shore.

It takes some courage, by Richard McManus

It takes some courage, by Richard McManus

Another friendly advice is not to take your children with you unless they’re big and healthy enough. There’s a reason why there are all sorts of prohibition policies for the children under the age of six, and sometimes up to the age of 12. It’s because th conditions are as wild as it gets, and it’s not the kind of environment you’d like your children to be in. It’s not at all like the Caribbean cruises where your child can make friends and engage in all sorts of activities organized just for his age category. However, if this would definitely be a very stimulating intellectual experience for your kid which will stir up the little adventurer inside.

Mesmerizing place, by Michael Leggero

Mesmerizing place, by Michael Leggero

Another thing you should know is that this kind of trip takes a lot of seriousness. I’m not even talking about that annoying kind of stiffness that seems to have transformed mankind into classy robots. It’s the commitment I’m talking about. You can’t expect to find a continuous party on the ship, Jack Sparrow and the Black Pearl are just a dream. You’re supposed to be responsible and take it seriously, since most of the activities involve coordinated effort and the maximum of attention.

The costs

From $14,000 to $40,000, there’s a large variety of options associated with a series of criteria, such as the length of your cruise or the cabin category. Surely, there are other contributing factors, such as if your ticket’s a last-minute offer, then you’d be likely to spend a little less than our estimated lower cost, and there are all sorts of discounts for the travelers as well. You can’t exactly negotiate your ticket price, but there are ways in which you can improve the value for price.

During international economic crises, you can even have this trip with $10,000 without taking the discounts into consideration. The discounts per se can go up to 25 % of the total price, and the money you pay includes everything from the food to the wine you’ll be drinking, the ocean-view cabin and the two Zodiac excursions every day we talked about earlier.

Southern Lights, by Michael Leggero

Southern Lights, by Michael Leggero

The ship

The interior and all the other things that would matter so much when staying at a hotel don’t mean anything on a cruise. In fact, the most important factor you should be taking into consideration is the dimension of the ship. Both bigger and smaller ships have their associated advantages and disadvantages, so when it comes to taking a decision in this direction what you most want is your primary criterion.

  • smaller ships – The guides have more time to allocate to each of the travelers, so you’ll find out more about everything you see, reason for which the lecturers are more easygoing and seem to have better teaching skills as well. Consequently, your entire service is going to be more personalized and the staff is generally trying harder and achieving more on the smaller ships.  The destinations are better exploited as well, since a smaller vessel would allow exploring less visited areas.
  • bigger ships – First of all, the sea passage is smoother and you’d be surprised how much this matters especially if you’re sea sick prone, in this area so popular for turbulence. Everything from the public spaces to the cabins is considerably larger; there are all sorts of shipboard activities meant to entertain the travelers, and the cots is lower than with the smaller ones.

What to pack

Definitely the best way to pack is by checking the cruise line representative and see what specifically the ship provides for every traveler. Aside from this, the first thing you should know is that the difference between a tourist who’s cold and one who’s not doesn’t lie in the woolen sweater, but in the layers of clothes. It’s not necessary to have very thick clothes, but you should constantly wear more layers. Of course, wool and silk do keep you warmer, especially warmer than cotton, because they keep your skin drier.

Wondrous Antarctica by Michael Leggero

Wondrous Antarctica by Michael Leggero

Here’s a crucial tip for women in general, and even for some men: don’t overpack. It’s not a fashion statement what you’re trying to make, but go on a trip and have fun exploring new things, which is exactly what this cruise should remain about. You should buy yourself some thermal underwear, both thermal and woolen socks; they’re going to be just as useful as the waterproofed outer pants and as much of a must.

The Polaroid sunglasses aren’t just for snobs, like you may have imagined watching all the Hollywood movies – they’re for real. They should provide UV protection and cover your eyes entirely. The snow and ice are glaring here. There’s a reason why the Eskimos have over 20 shades of white – they’ve come to distinguish white from whiter and that’s because of their constant exposure to this kind of aggressive stimulus. You won’t be far from their situation if you don’t start taking this seriously.

Not everything is ice, by Micheal Leggero

Not everything is ice, by Micheal Leggero

A little counterintuitive, it’s true, but the swim suit is a good decision sometimes.  For once, there’s the thermal-warmed waters on the Deception Island, and you’d have to be crazy to miss this. But even if you don’t have the opportunity to swim there, some people choose to take a bath in the ship’s pool – and there’s nothing wrong with this either, however weird it may sound.

I’m not going to make a list of all the things you need with you, assuming this is not the first time you’re leaving home. I have to point out, though, that you may need the photo gloves to manipulate the dials and buttons easier and an easy backpack. Not overpacking especially with the Zodiac is crucial, since walking alone is going to be enough exercise.

50 shades of white, by Michael Leggero

50 shades of white, by Michael Leggero

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