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  • Writer's pictureCarol McKee

Antarctica: You have questions

Antarctica is hot right now. Not the weather really but rather as it suddenly a lot of people want to go there. But this is a complicated trip and those who are considering it have a lot of questions. We are here to help. As experts in polar and expedition travel we send a lot of our clients to Antarctica and have been there a couple times ourselves. This post is a first in a series of trying to answer these questions and to help you choose the right company to visit the frozen continent.

How cold is it when you visit Antarctica?

The season in Antarctica runs from in October through early March. That is summer in the southern hemisphere so it’s less cold that you might think!

So in my experience and others who have traveled to this region daytime temperatures are in the 30s or possibly even into the 40s depending on what month you are there.

It’s helpful for me to think of January in the southern hemisphere as the equivalent of July in the northern hemisphere. So January is the height of summer down there, the sun is up almost around the clock, and it’s not all that cold ! We recommend that people dress in layers and that means that you’re pretty warm when you are wearing the parka. Many of them even give the parka to you to take home.

Here I am in Antarctica in January standing outside in a light sweatshirt. Of course this was just for a few minutes and we bundled up to go off the ship on an excursion.

If you go to Antarctica where exactly do you stay?

That is a good question and I hear it quite a bit. There are no permanent residents on the continent and indeed no country owns it. Therefore there are no hotels and you have to get there in the same place you will stay: by ship.

But that does not mean it’s necessarily a cruise! While some cruise lines advertise that they go to Antarctica, the experience is not quite what most people picture. And that is because an international treaty governs all who go there. That treaty says that no ship with more than 500 passengers can allow people to get off while in the Antarctic waters. The result is that those who sail on a traditional cruise ship will just sail by and see the sites from the rail of the ship.

I really do not advise traveling there in that way because the true wonder of visiting here is getting off the ship and really close to nature. There is nothing like being just a short distance from a massive iceberg or just a few yards away from a whale. Traveling this way you will see some really amazing things that you can only hope to see from a far on a cruise ship.

So instead of a cruise ship, you will need to take an expedition ship to give you the best experience. And that is not to mention an ice class hull for cutting through all the ice you might encounter deeper in the heart of the continent than any cruise ship can go. These expedition ships are very different than taking a cruise but still incredibly comfortable! But I will save that for a future post.

Are expedition ships really different than regular cruise ships?

Yes! And the differences are quite notable. Unlike traditional cruise ships, there are no casinos, shows, nor a variety of entertainment options. Expedition ships take a more understated approach to onboard activities. The entertainment on these ships is typically limited to lecture presentations given by the onboard experts and possibly a piano player. This difference stems from their core purpose: expedition ships are designed to focus on the destination and the experience of exploration, rather than onboard extravagance.

The size of these ships is another distinguishing factor – most are purpose-built to accommodate 200 guests or less in order to comply with international treaty limitations on visitors. This size also allows them to navigate smaller waterways and get closer to wildlife and nature. With 200 passengers or fewer on board the feel of the ship is less busy and frantic than on a cruise ship with 10-20 times as many people on board

Expedition ships also have an import feature: ice-class hulls. These are a structural design that enables the ship to safely navigate through icy waters, an essential feature for Antarctic expeditions.

In addition to these technical features, expedition ships typically have a lounge where guests can socialize, listen to lectures from the expedition staff, and receive briefings on the day's activities. This space becomes a hub for not only social activity at the bar but also learning and sharing experiences. In summary, expedition cruises are a unique destination-focused experience, perfect for those who wish to immerse themselves in the natural wonders of Antarctica. Below is a picture of the very latest in expedition ship technology called a Xbow which cuts through waves for a smooth ride.

Of course there are a LOT of questions about this type of trip and this post is just the start. If you can not wait for the next couple of posts to see the answer feel free to reach out to us. We are always happy to chat about this amazing place!

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