Polar Pointers: All your questions about Antarctica, answered

Itching to know what one Antarctica travel is like? Are you curious about what life is like on board a polar vessel?

Here is an overview of some of the most common questions people have about a trip south. Warning: Reading this can cause extreme thirst after a trip to Antarctica. Proceed with caution.

How bad is the Drake Passage crossing?

Never has a stretch of water had such a disgusting reputation. While people travel great distances to float in the Dead Sea, Drake Passage is a body of water tolerated only by people who honestly would prefer to be somewhere else. Chronically misunderstood, it’s no wonder Drake Passage likes to shake things up every now and then!

For anyone crossing the Drake Passage, the good news is that it is notoriously unpredictable, which means you can enjoy a Russian roulette-style crossing, depending on the weather. Some days the Drake Passage is so calm that it is called Drake Lake. Other times, furious showers will ensue, creating towering waves that are similar to CGI special effects in movies (but are actually very real). Either way, talk to your doctor before you go and buy seasickness medicine, listen to the instructions of your captain and crew, and do not be afraid to lie down and listen to your favorite album on repeat until you are through with it. Trust us … it’s all worth it.

How can I keep in touch with people at home?

A ship in Antarctica

The internet is a wonderful thing, only enhanced by regular breaks from its penetrating traction. Without telephone coverage and limited internet connection, Antarctica is an ideal place to disconnect for a while. Forget social media. Forget the news cycle. It’s all waiting at home. Before heading south, simply tell your loved ones where you are going and they will fully understand that a period of radio silence is in action. Emergency calls can be made and received via the ship’s satellite phone, so be sure you’ll be kept in the loop if something major happens at home.

Are there many people down there?

Two travelers on Deception Island, Antarctica

You may see other ships in Antarctica – everything from ice-breaking polar vessels to small pleasure boats that make you wonder how on earth they managed to get all the way down to the Antarctic Peninsula. If you stop at places like Port Lockroy and South Georgia Island, you can also meet the caretakers. But otherwise you need to be prepared to have zero contact with anyone other than your shipmates and crew.

How cold will it be in Antarctica?

Three travelers in Antarctica

Your polar journey will take place during the Antarctic summer, which is infinitely more hospitable than the face-freezing, bone-chilling, soul-destroying Antarctic winter (save a thought for the hardy scientists who hunger for winter at Antarctic research stations). During the summer, temperatures generally range from minus 20 degrees Celsius to 10 degrees Celsius, with the unpredictable wind cooling factor creating a bit of chaos here and there. In general, if you are sturdy with a waterproof outer layer, thermal underlay, socks, gloves and a hat, you should not get too cold when on deck or on land. Inside the ship you will be warm and comfortable in everyday clothes.

How close can I get to wildlife?

A seal poses for travelers

While it’s tempting to cuddle with the first penguin you see, keeping a respectful distance from Antarctic wildlife is key to a safe journey (although you can sometimes find yourself in a position where the local wildlife does not follow the rule – sneaky penguins and seals are the biggest culprits). All Intrepid tours keep a respectful distance from the wildlife, according to ours wildlife guidelines established by the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (abbreviated IATO).

Should I worry about any dangers on land?

As a general rule, always follow instructions coming from the crew – they are there to ensure your safety, so if they say an area is a no-go zone or a protocol needs to be followed, respect this information. Do not be the person who thinks they know better (that person is not very fun to travel with).

Although very uncommon, some Antarctic wildlife can bite if they are put in a corner or threatened, which is why it is important to keep a distance from all animals at all times. The seal snoring in the snow may look cute, but it is also able to defend itself – so it’s best to leave it alone and watch with wide-eyed wonder.

When it comes to biosafety, the most important precaution is to protect the environment from foreign diseases and pests. Washing your boots after each shore excursion ensures that pollution is not transported from area to area around Antarctica. Your ship’s crew will remind you of this and provide ways to clean and scrub your boots and clothes after excursions.

Can you see much from the ship?

A whale and a kayaker in Antarctica

Killer whales swimming in pods, humpback whales that feed on krill, leopard seals that hunt penguins, Weddell seals that relax on drift ice, albatrosses that chop up in the air with their epic wingspan, Antarctic whales that dive and dive over the frothy waves, and strangely deformed surreal icebergs gliding off on a journey to who knows where – these are just a few things you can expect to see from the deck of your ship.

What should I eat while I’m down there?

A barbecue in Antarctica

Polar expeditions have changed dramatically since the days when Antarctic explorers subsisted on a diet of animal fats, tobacco, and hard biscuits. These days, breakfast, lunch and dinner are served on board, so you will definitely not go hungry. The dining room at Ocean Endeavor has floor-to-ceiling windows so you can watch icebergs float by while eating an a la carte dinner.

Can I take home a piece of Antarctica?

Absolutely not. It is crucial to leave no trace – so leave all rocks, soil, whalebone fragments and baby penguins where they are.

Who else should be on the ship?

Aside from a crew of hardy, Antarctic-obsessed professionals, an Antarctic voyage typically has a broad mix of people, all united in their quest to see the great white wonder of Antarctica. Expect to share a ship with everyone from fresh seniors to binocular bird nerds, beloved honeymooners and corporate types who are thirsty for a solo adventure. From Switzerland to Korea, Canada, Australia, South Africa and beyond – people of all ages, from all walks of life, from all over the world can not resist the magnetic features of the South. Antarctica is also perfect for solo travelers. Many researchers choose to go solo, and it’s easy to have a chat in the bar when you’ve been out watching penguins all day.

I’ve never been on a cruise before, will I be bored on the ship?

One thing many people say after returning from Antarctica is that there are never enough hours in the day to soak it all up. Watch penguins on land excursions, kayak past icebergs, photograph whales from the deck, chat with other passengers over dinner, learn more about the crew over breakfast, read books from the library on board and listen to lectures about the region – boredom does not have a chance to raise his head.

What should I pack for an Antarctic trip?

Apart from a sense of adventure, this packing list have all your Antarctic essentials covered.

I’m going there. How do I make that happen?

Save your ears. Apply for annual leave. Book a trip. Makes everyone else insanely jealous. Experience the glory of Antarctica. Start exploring yours Antarctic adventures here and now.

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