Cover Image Photo: Silversea Endeavour By Mary Jean Tully at Tully Luxury Travel
Much To Consider When You Plan For An Antarctica Cruise
We did not realize all we needed to consider to plan for an Antarctica cruise. There were many decisions needed to get us to a booked cruise. And then so much more to think about before we cruised.
We hope this guide will help you through planning a cruise to Antarctica that is perfect for you.
What You Want To See Drives When You Visit Antarctica
One of the first things we considered was what we wanted to see. This decision largely drove when we visited Antartica.
Many people suggested our Antarctica cruise include stops in the Falkland Islands and the South Georgia Islands. Penguins seemed to be the big draw. But we had amazing penguin experiences at Bluff Cove Lagoon on our first visit to the Falklands. And saw even more penguins on our visit to the Magdalena Island in Chile. So for our first trip to Antarctica we wanted to spend all of our excursion time in Antarctica. That limited the cruises available.
The next thing we considered was what we wanted to see in Antarctica. Did we want hatching penguins or baby seals? Was whale watching the big draw? Did we want to be entranced with the snow and ice? The sights in Antarctica varied by season and this determined the best month to visit Antarctica.
The cruising season in Antarctica went from about November to mid-March. In this summer season the temperatures were higher, the ice fields more open and the days longer. We were less interested in birds, seals and penguins. Although I am sure the photos we shoot would not support that.
We had some amazing whale watching experiences on our travels. And saw glaciers on a cruise to Alaska and then again cruising in the Fjords in Chile. For this trip, we wanted to go as far south as possible for more great ice scenery and we wanted the whales to be all fed and playful. So February through to March was the perfect time for us. Luckily we had several cruises to choose from.
The first step on our plan for an Antarctica cruise was complete when we finalized when we wanted to go.
The Route To Antartica
We found different routes offered for cruises to Antarctica. Many of the expedition cruises started in Ushuaia at the southern tip of Argentina in South America. We explored Ushuaia when we did our cruise around South America. We knew getting to Ushuaia required us to plan a multi-stop trip with limited options.
Many of the cruises we looked at began in a South America gateway city – Santiago in Chile or Buenos Aires in Argentina. Both of those were direct flights for us from Toronto. Some of the cruises, often at the start or end of the season, cruised right to or from these destinations. But many of the cruise itineraries and prices included a hotel in the gateway cities at the beginning and end. The cruise package also then included a private charter to Ushuaia or nearby Puerto Williams to board the cruise ship.
All of the Antarctica cruise ships that started from South America sailed for several days in both directions crossing the Drake Passage. This section of water was often referred to as either the “Drake Shake” for very rough crossings or the “Drake Lake” when the seas were calm. When we circumnavigated Cape Horn on our cruise around South America, we got the Drake Lake and were delighted we saw the most southern point in South America.
To avoid risking delays or bad weather on the Drake Passage, some cruise lines offered Antarctica cruises that started right in Antarctica. From a South American gateway city, a private charter flight took passengers to King George Island in Antarctica to board the cruise ship.
We wanted as much time as possible in Antarctica and the cruises offering this all included the Drake crossing. But we prepared for seasickness. This route choice was a key early activity on our plan for an Antarctica cruise.
The final route option we did not consider for this first visit was to travel to Antarctica from Australia or New Zealand. But we have not crossed that option off our future travel planning board!
What Cruise Line Do You Want To Travel With
Antarctica was on our travel wish list for some time. Three times we looked into an Antarctica cruise but never hit “book”. But we are getting older and wanted this adventure when we could fully experience it. So we finally booked an Antartica cruise with just a few months to plan.
What we wanted to see, our desired route and time of year limited our choice of cruises lines when we booked a cruise for the current season.
We considered many different sizes of ships from the smaller, rougher expedition ships to the new custom-built luxury ships. We decided we wanted ships with less passengers. Landing party sizes for Antarctica were limited and more passengers meant more waiting time or less availability of excursions.
We also assessed cruise line loyalty benefits. We have elite loyalty status with Oceania Cruises but they did not offer real expedition cruises to the Antarctica. Our one cruise with Viking Cruises offered a trivial loyalty benefit. We considered Lindblad Cruises for the hotel night credits we might get with Hyatt Hotels. In the end, loyalty benefits did not factor into our decision.
Cancellation policies were reviewed in detail. We were past the final payment deadlines for all the cruises we considered because we booked so late. But the down payment required and the penalties for cancellation (both timeline and amount) varied greatly between lines. When we booked so late and paid in full, the cancellation penalties drove us to ensure we had trip interruption and cancellation insurance in place when we booked.
On our plan for an Antarctica cruise, we looked carefully at the Covid cancellation policies. We found they varied all over the board for Antarctica cruises. With the pandemic still not over, we wanted the best option to cancel if we got Covid before our trip or if we tested positive on boarding the ship.
What Cabin To Plan For An Antarctica Cruise
We knew from years of cruising that the best cabins were booked very quickly when a new itinerary was announced. So we knew we had limited cabin choices.
We often looked for mid-ship cabins. And for a rough crossing we might choose a lower deck. Even when we cruised in colder areas like Alaska, we loved a balcony view. But we also knew the small expedition ships had lots of great outdoor spots for views.
For the several cruises we checked out, there were no perfect cabin choices. But even at the last minute we had several options in the cabin class we were prepared to pay for.
Adding On Pre and Post Cruise Travel
Once we decided our route preference, we knew where our cruise started and finished in South America. We then looked at options to add a pre or post cruise trip to our plans.
Our trip started in Santiago in Chile. We would have liked to spend some time there before our cruise. But we really were determined to test negative for Covid when we boarded the cruise ship. We had travel insurance and a great cruise line Covid policy so we felt our financial risk was managed. But we really did not want to miss this cruise to Antarctica. So we planned our travel to Santiago to limit exposure as much as possible.
We wanted to take a direct flight from Toronto with no connections. Unfortunately flight availability and prices meant we flew into Santiago only one day early. This cut our pre-departure time to much less than we normally were comfortable with.
Flying out of Canada in the winter added an extra stress about weather delays that we worried about until we finally were on our way. Snow and ice shut down airports and impacted aircraft availability.
But once we finished our cruise to Antarctica, we felt free to add on some time in South America. On our first cruise around South America, we missed a chance to visit the Iguazu Falls. So we planned a return visit to Buenos Aires with a 3 day stay at the falls.
We considered other good pre or post cruise options. We loved our first visit to Patagonia and would have loved to explore more. Many of the stops on our cruise around South America deserved more days to explore. But in the end we included only an extra 10 days in South America on our plan for an Antarctica cruise.
What To Pack For An Antarctica Trip
Most people worried about what to pack for an Antarctica cruise. A suggested packing list for the expeditions was provided by the cruise line. Some gear like jackets were typically provided. And other gear like boots were available for rent. Several layers were required for warmth and to keep dry.
As Canadians we owned lots of cold weather gear. So we shopped from our closets first. In the end we purchased very little outer gear for our adventures in Antarctica.
Packing for the Antarctica expeditions was pretty similar for all cruise lines. But packing for day and evening wear varied by cruise line. Most of the cruise lines required casual clothing only. But the more luxury lines required a little more elegance. Packing for this part of our cruise days probably required more thought.
The one thing we knew without checking any packing lists was that we needed cameras for many different purposes. So our camera and electronics pack did not change much from any of our adventure trips. That didn’t stop us though from buying some new pieces.
The final packing requirement was driven by planned pre and post trips. The additional 10 days in Argentina were after our cruise and in March it was very hot. So our bags contained cold weather clothes and summer wear.
If there were no baggage limitations, packing was easy. But in the end the charter flights drove baggage limitations. It was a good thing there was laundry onboard.
Insurance Was On The Plan For An Antarctica Cruise
For some people, the required insurance was offered by the cruise line. As Canadians this was not the case so we had to source the right insurance as part of our plan for an Antarctica cruise.
Antarctica was a very expensive trip. And was subject to many things that could disrupt the plan. So we didn’t hesitate to pay for Trip Interruption and Cancellation insurance. Even though we had some existing travel health insurance we added more health insurance to the policy we bought. Cruise companies or countries required a high limit for emergency evacuation. And the insurance policy we bought included this in the health insurance portion.
When we cruised to the Caribbean as the pandemic restrictions started to wane we purchased extra Covid insurance. Between the cruise ship policies and what was covered in the insurance policy we purchased, we did not need a separate Covid policy for this Antarctica cruise.
In some cases insurance requirements were dictated by the cruise company or the country. It took some time to understand what was mandatory versus what we felt was necessary. This changed over time so was something that we looked into very early.
Getting In Good Enough Shape
In the short lead times we booked our cruise to Antarctica, we could not make major changes in our fitness levels. But we were healthy and felt able to do most of the excursions.
Once we booked our cruise we ensured we walked regularly and improved our endurance. Normally Toronto was cold and snowy in the winter and ideal to prepare for Antarctica. But when we hit a mild spell, we went north to Muskoka for winter conditions. It was the perfect training ground for a trip to Antartica. We worked on our fitness and our capacity for spending time in the cold outdoors. In fact, we often walked in Canadian weather conditions far worse than Antarctica.
We also added daily yoga into our routine to help with flexibility and stability. We knew that climbing in and out of zodiacs needed both.
Booking the cruise to Antarctica before we were “too old” was important to us. And spending some time on fitness before our cruise ensured we got the most out of excursions we chose.
Understand All The Requirements And Timing
As detailed planners we made sure to understand all the requirements for this trip and the timing for each. Our planning process included detailed notes, to-do lists and calendar alerts to ensure we did not miss a step.
Just some of the things we needed to keep track of:
- Payments and cancellation timing for the cruise and any other trip plans (e.g. hotels and post trip excursions)
- Insurance needed to be done at booking time so we needed to understand insurance requirements and options first
- Once the cruise was firm we booked any flights and travel plans related to the whole trip
- Once the cruise was firm we booked onboard things like dining and spa. For our cruise, there were no excursion bookings in advance.
- Often for Antarctica cruises, a medical questionnaire was needed to be completed before the cruise was even “final”. And for some, a doctor’s physical exam may be needed.
- Equipment provided by the cruise company needed to be ordered
- Any other clothing or equipment was obtained to meet the timeline
- Covid requirements were verified, re-verified and completed in advance.
- Visa requirements were verified, re-verified and completed in advance.
In some cases like Covid and Visa requirements, we checked regularly. Once our travel re-started in a major way in 2022, we learned how quickly things changed.
Get Ready To Be Adaptable
We are planners by nature and loved to plan a complete itinerary. We always build in flexibility to our plans and are adaptable to changes. But cruising in the Antarctica had so many variables. We knew the general outline of the planned cruise. But we knew the day-to-day agenda was driven often by the weather. The cruise we booked did not even allow booking excursions in advance.
So getting ready for Antarctica we limited our daily plans for the cruise portion of our trip. We knew our days would be filled with exciting opportunities. Our smaller ship gave us lost of options and availability. And we also knew that with 14 days in the deep Antarctica, we had many days to make up for missed weather days. Our biggest challenge might be planning some down days to just relax and take it all in.
On our plan for an Antarctica cruise we left large sections of our day open to be filled with new adventures.
Budget For The Trip Of A Lifetime
No matter how we did the cruise to Antarctica it was an expensive trip. But it was a trip of a lifetime and was one we always had on our travel planning board. So we set aside enough money to do this when we could.
The all-in costs added about 50% to the cost of just our cruise. We booked our own international flights. Our trip included an extra 10 days in South America with a 3 day excursion to the Iguazu Falls. We had some costs for new gear but our new camera additions were much greater. And insurance added about 10%.
Doing an all-in budget early in the planning process helped us make choices on our plan for an Antarctica cruise. This trip was a great adventure to budget for. But when we talked to people about their visits to Antarctica we learned that many people went back more than once! So we might have to start a new budget for a return visit.
A Lot To Plan For An Antarctica Cruise
So what did we choose for our cruise to Antarctica? We picked a the 20 day cruise with a Drake crossing with Silversea Cruises. The cruise was onboard the Silver Endeavour, a brand new expedition ship (recently built for Crystal Cruises). Most of the cruise time was deep in the Antartica starting in mid-February. Our balcony cabin met most of our requirements.
A great route and a brand new small ship made us happy. The luxury cruise line provided a little splurge. And offered some of the best Covid policies we read.
Once we got started we quickly learned there was a lot on our plan for an Antarctica cruise. Our plan grew as we learned more. And we were sure our cruise to Antarctica would provide some new points to update this planning process.
Did you have other things on your plan for an Antarctica cruise? Did you miss anything on your plan?
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