I was gathered with a group of friends when someone posed the question, if you could only travel to one more place, where would it be. For the next few minutes I listened to others name their dream destinations, Italy, Paris, Tahiti, favourites that everyone agreed on. But when I answered without hesitation, my answer was met with only puzzled expressions - Antarctica. Their expressions said it all. Why, out of everywhere on earth, would you go to Antarctica?
In a world where we are constantly bombarded by noise and demands on our senses we crave a place where we can disconnect and find true inner peace, quiet and serenity. Antarctica is one of those places.
A place so quiet that you can hear the whale before you see it. A place where you can see the stars as you have never seen them before. A place where the power of a glacier calving fills you with awe. A place with a worldwide collective agreement that it shall only be used for peaceful purposes and preserved pristine. Earth's only continent without a native human population. An entire continent where very few people will even set foot. I felt that to have the privilege to visit this unique destination would be a once in a lifetime experience above all other that I wouldn't want to miss.
A short time later I booked the cruise that I had been dreaming about. I booked the Scenic Eclipse on the February journey to cross the Drake Passage with my husband and visit Antarctica. When we returned everyone was curious what a journey like this was like.
These are the 6 most asked questions about my trip to Antarctica.
WHAT IS THE BEST TIME TO GO TO ANTARCTICA
You can only travel to Antarctica during the southern hemisphere's late spring and summer season which is November to February.
November is spring so this is the time when the continent will be the most pristine. Still almost fully blanketed in snow and ice. But during this time the frozen conditions do not permit the ships to go as deep into Antarctica as they can later in the season.
If you journey later in December and January the temperature is warmer and you will see the penguin mating behaviour, then the nest building and sitting on the nests, then baby penguins.
I travelled in February and these are the voyages that go the deepest into Antarctica, as this is when the continent is the least frozen, having had the warmest temperatures the continent receives over the last couple of months. This time of year the little ones are juvenile so you see the highest penguin populations. They are also the most active as everyone can move around freely without having to stay on the nests. In fact all the wildlife is the most active at this time of year as the little ones make easy prey for the seals and killer whales and everyone is preparing for winter.
HOW DO I GET TO ANTARCTICA
The most common way is to cruise from the most southerly city in the world, Ushuaia, Argentina. As the demand has increased for adventure travel, so have the cruise lines offering this cruise. Previously, a trip to Antarctica meant a tiny cabin in the bottom of an expedition ship with a porthole and a single bed. Today's expedition cruises are on luxury yachts, with spas, multiple fine dining restaurants, premium spirits, verandah suites, walk-in closets, marble bathrooms, complimentary parkas, warm mudrooms to store your boots and easy access zodiacs.
In addition, for some who are short on time or simply don't want to cross the Drake Passage twice by ship, many cruise lines also offer a "Fly The Drake" program where you can shave a few days off of the journey by flying over the Drake Passage from Punta Arenas, Chile to King George Island where you will board your cruise ship for a 4 day cruise. The subject of another article is how to decide if you should cruise or fly the Drake Passage. I can quickly help you decide if you are unsure which is the right choice for you.
HOW COLD IS IT IN ANTARCTICA
Since Antarctica is only accessible during it's summer months, it surprises many that it is not very cold during the Antarctica travel season. If you are travelling from Canada, the temperature will probably be warmer than your friends are experiencing back home. When I travelled in February I was surprised by the beautiful sunny days and temperatures fluctuating betweein -2 and +2 degrees Celsius. Not beach weather but we were quite comfortable with our cozy Scenic parkas and boots.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE ARTIC AND ANTARCTICA
Antarctica is in the south and it is a continent surrounded by ocean. And there are no polar bears in Antarctica.
The Arctic is in the north and it is an ocean surrounded by continents and there are no penguins in the Arctic.
WHAT WILL I DO IN ANTARTICA
I have to admit my vision of an Antarctic cruise was two weeks spent listening to penguin lectures while holding binoculars with frozen fingers, standing on the deck of a ship with snow and gale force winds blowing against me. I was so wrong.
If you want to spend from early in the morning until late at night completely immersed in learning about Antarctica, you can do that. The destination experts, naturalists and marine biologists on the Antarctica cruises, are so excited and passionate about sharing their knowledge of the destination with you that they will share everything they know if you spend the time with them.
But many people are choosing to do this trip earlier in their lives. A time when juggling a demanding career, family responsibilities and life's up and downs can leave them sapped of energy. So for them this will be about experiencing Antarctica but it might also be about unplugging and relaxing for a couple weeks. The good news is that with the new ships there are so many different ways to spend your days in Antarctica. You can be as active or as relaxed as you would like to be and yet still come home feeling that you have fully experienced Antarctica. These are just some of the ways that we could spend our day on our cruise:
Helicopter tour over Antarctica
Submersible tour to explore the underwater marine life
Soaking in the upper deck pool with a glass of champagne
Sitting in the sauna watching whales swimming alongside the ship
Massage in the spa
Visiting the hair salon
Getting a pedicure
Sitting on the private verandah listening to glaciers calving with a cappuccino and a book
Cooking class with an onboard chef
Yoga / pilates class
Hiking the glaciers
Hiking on the continent
Visiting historical sites
Visiting research stations
Listening to enriching lectures
Enjoying live entertainment
WHAT WILDLIFE DO YOU SEE IN ANTARCTICA?
Let me introduce you to a few:
I thought that going to Antarctica once would be enough for me but honestly, now that I have been there I can see why people make the journey across the Drake Passage to experience it a second and third time. There's something there that you don't find anywhere else on this earth and you just have to experience it to understand. If you have more questions about a trip to Antarctica please reach out to me. I now feel more than ever that Antarctica should be on everyone's must see next list. I would love to help you plan an experience that is perfect for you.