March 14, 2023
What To Expect On An Antarctic Peninsula Cruise
An Antarctic Peninsula cruise is the experience of a lifetime that offers visitors the chance to explore some of the most remote regions on Earth.
But for this journey with a difference, you need to be prepared. Understand what your trip entails, pack appropriately, and know the rules and regulations on board and on the shore.
Here is everything you can expect when you take an Antarctica Peninsula cruise.
When To Book
The best time to book your cruise is between November and March. Icebergs are at their largest and the days are longer.
December to February are when penguin chicks are hatching and days can be as long as 20 hours. Whale watching is the best during this time period.
February to March the days begin to shorten and you’ll witness incredible sunsets. Sightings of whales are plentiful during this time.
The Antarctic Experience
Cruise ships and travel companies offer itineraries ranging from a few days to a few weeks. Antarctica cruises and expeditions try to be inclusive to all age groups, however, some do have limitations on age for safety reasons.
Your journey typically begins at the ‘End of the World’ in Ushuaia, Argentina. It’s the southernmost tip of South America. From here, you will board your ship and set sail.
You’ll receive a breakdown of safety and rules on board while meeting with your fellow travelers and crew.
The trip will most likely involve crossing the Drake Passage, which is known to be a rough journey. Once in Antarctica, zodiacs will take you to the shore where you can bring your camera for some of the most spectacular landscape shots you will ever see. Not to mention the penguins, seals, and whales you will possibly encounter along the way.
Some tours will offer excursions to research stations where you can learn about the history and science behind the continent.
Your travel company should provide a detailed itinerary and some suggestions on what you need to pack, and what is provided onboard. It’s usually a comfortable travel experience and some ships are ideal for a luxury cruise vacation but an antarctic expedition may take more preparation compared to other cruises.
One of the most important things to pack is appropriate clothing for the freezing weather. Going out into the antarctic requires plenty of thick, warm clothing and dry bags, lots of dry bags. Seasickness is a real risk for any cruise so bring along some motion sickness medication, which you will regret not bringing along when traveling the Drake Passage.
Cabins are situated to give you amazing views of the landscape and have all the basic necessities of a typical hotel room.
Dining is usually buffet-style but some nights or cruise ships may offer a more formal sit-down dinner.
Entertainment and onboard activities differ per ship but most will offer some educational presentations from expert guides so you can learn all about the areas you are traveling through and the wildlife that calls it home.
Climate & Weather
Preparing for such harsh climates should be expected and it can be quite a shock to your system. Even in the summer, most cruises and expeditions expect temperatures of between 28 to 46 degrees Fahrenheit dropping to as low as 17 degrees Fahrenheit. Strong winds can make this feel even colder.
These extreme temperatures and bellowing winds can prove dangerous so never leave your group, and avoid dangerous areas to ensure your own safety.
Carrying a thick jacket everywhere you go is rule number one. Always be prepared for the weather to turn at any moment.
Crossing The Antarctic Circle
An experience very few will ever achieve, crossing the Antarctic circle takes travelers to the northernmost latitude in the southern hemisphere. Here the sun can remain above the horizon for a full 24 hours.
Your first port of call is the crossing of the Antarctic Convergence, an invisible line around 55 degrees latitude south. This is where the cold waters of Antarctica mix with the warm waters of the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. This convergence of waters is what creates the rough journey of the Drake Passage. You can expect to find an abundance of krill here which whales and seals feed on, so get your cameras ready.
Crossing The Drake Passage
These rough seas extend about 600 miles between Cape Horn (the tip of South America) and the South Shetland Islands. When the waves are high it’s called the ‘Drake Shake’ and when it’s calm it’s called the ‘Drake Lake’. It can take up to 48 hours to make it through the Drake Passage under the most ideal conditions. Temperatures range from 26 degrees Fahrenheit to 41 degrees Fahrenheit. You might be able to spot some whales with the right set of binoculars when the conditions are clear.
Claiming its name from the Neko whaling ship and floating factory of 1911, Neko Harbour is bordered by giant glaciers. On the cobblestone beach is where you’ll find the breeding location for Gentoo penguins and a popular spot for seals and fur seals. Large chunks of ice crash into the harbour, called iceberg or glacier calving, and is a popular sight in Neko Harbour. There is a large congregation of Skua birds that dominate the rocky landings above the beach.
On the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula, you’ll find this major bay area. Here you will find ice-covered mountains, historic research stations dating back to 1951, and the Dion Islands home of a large Emperor Penguin colony.
In the middle of the Errara Channel lies Danco Island. It’s only 1 mile long and home to almost 2000 Gento Penguins. Weddell seals also occupy the offshore rocks and beaches. Humpback and Minke whales pass through this channel at the end of summer so this area is a wildlife enthusiast’s dream.
Some of the most memorable trips have included camping overnight. Sleeping under the night skies and listening to glaciers rumbling through the night is a surreal experience that Antarctic Peninsula travelers should add to their itinerary.