A journey to the great white frozen continent is on the bucket list of many a traveller, but when the time finally comes, many aren’t properly prepared for the mind-blowing experience it really is. This isn’t like any other cruise – this is the ultimate expedition.
If you are looking at voyages to Antarctica, the first thing you will most likely notice is the price. You are correct in thinking that it might be a misprint, but a decent Antarctic voyage that includes landing and walking on the continent itself will generally start in the tens of thousands and that’s before you have even looked at the cost of flights and other extras.
It’s not just the cruise that will be expensive . A list of required items mandated by some cruise lines that you’ll need to buy ahead of your departure can easily run into the hundreds of dollars. Then there are additional expenses such as ski jackets and gloves which also add to the cost. Put simply, Antarctica isn’t a place that can, nor should, be done “on the cheap”.
Items which won’t be on any list but should be packed by all include binoculars, a lightweight “puffer” style jacket and waterproof camera bags. All these items come in handy, with many not factoring in the sudden urge to run outside whenever the Captain notifies the passengers of a particularly noteworthy sight such as wildlife, while not wanting to lug around a heavy ski jacket. Never underestimate the number of times you are going to get muddy and wet – it’s bound to happen even if only getting splashed when climbing in and out of zodiacs.
Once you have invested in the voyage itself and all the required accessories, you can finally get excited about your trip. Most voyages leave from Ushuaia in southern Argentina, with the cruise lines generally including flights to and from Buenos Aires in your fare. Learning basic Spanish may come in handy should you add any pre or post-cruise stays in South America.
Additionally, as South America is in summer during the Antarctic cruise season, plan on having some summer clothes in addition to your winter woollies. This will be handy as the heat is noticeable especially in some airport terminals which are not air-conditioned.
When you finally reach your ship, the real fun starts. On your first day, comprehensive safety briefings specifically for voyages visiting Antarctica will take place. The briefings, which are a requirement of the International Convention of Antarctic Tour Operators, sees guests taken through information surrounding embarking and disembarking zodiacs (the little inflatable tender boats used for more in-depth touring and shore landings), what you can and cannot take on land as well as other critical safety and bio-security information.
As the ship progresses towards the continent, additional briefings will be provided on what wildlife you can spot and where you may be likely to spot. These briefings, led by the expedition team onboard provide invaluable information on what you might encounter in the areas you are visiting. They will also provide handy tips on maximising your photography opportunities, with knowledge of known penguin highways and other wildlife habitats.
During your expedition, you will also be subject to regular bio-security “scrubbings”, which is when everything from the velcro on your jackets to the soles of your socks will be cleaned with vacuums, removing anything that may be hiding which can hurt the fragile eco-system. The process takes around an hour & is actually one of the most fun parts of the experience, with chuckles here and there when people first see each other in their full winter attire.
If photography is high on your agenda, it is highly recommended that you take a laptop or some sort of device on which you can download your images. Zodiac landings always pose an element of risk that you and your camera will get completely drenched, so being able to back up your photos eliminates the possibility of having these precious memories destroyed.
Additionally, transferring your images to another device at the end of each day can be wise. You’ll want to take a blank, fresh memory card for each day ashore to allow you to take many more photos without having to delete others to make room in the middle of a day out. Keep in mind though that it is common for those with even a mild interest in photography to take thousands of photos in Antarctica without realising it.
Keep your eyes posted to the ship’s daily program as there will be opportunities during your voyage to take part in photography courses with the line’s experts, who will share a world of expertise on capturing the best images in the unique lighting conditions down south. Because of the large amount of things you will want to photograph, it’s virtually inevitable that you will fill your memory card with thousands, if not tens of thousands of photos.
As a final point to ponder, make sure you enjoy plenty Antarctica without a camera in front of your face. Before each shot, ask yourself: “Am I ever going to look at this photo again?” If the answer is no, you are better off putting the camera down and enjoying it live – which is the best way to enjoy this unique destination, its flora, fauna and wondrous array of wildlife.