Antarctica, the largest desert in the world and the least visited continent, is an inhospitable land surrounded by tumultuous seas that make getting there an adventure all its own. The ships used for transport have been upgraded from the wooden vessels of old to new icebreakers that can push through the crushing pack ice. That’s little comfort however as wave after wave can still toss the ship around and provide a sense of weightlessness, nausea and vertigo to all its occupants. A ride through the Drake Passage, a main waterway for travelers from South American to the Antarctic peninsula, can leave many questioning why they paid to do this and if they’ll ever return home.
Once on the other side though, in more calm and sheltered waters, the beauty of Antarctica is unparalleled; it surpasses all expectations as the insignificant trials and tribulations of the difficult crossing are soon forgotten. The rugged mountains of the South Shetland Islands are the first to appear with caps of huge glaciers that calve off into great floating icebergs. And the electric whites and blues that are created by the ice and the water are unimaginable, hardly seeming possible as it’s so vibrant.
“As one looks across the barren stretches of the [ice] pack,” Captain Robert Falcon Scott stated, “it is sometimes difficult to realize what teeming life exists immediately beneath its surface.” And this is where the true delight and wonder of the voyage will reside as the sightings of Humpback, Minke and Orca whales will be sure to drop more than a few jaws – especially if a frolicking and playful beast breaches and splashes down within camera shot.
Other great wildlife opportunities also exist with several species of birds gliding by overhead, the seals sliding in and out of the icy water, and with the often amusing penguin encounters. The best way to see it all is just to plop down in a snow bank and take it all in as Adelie, Gentoo and Chinstrap Penguins, among other species, go waddling or sliding on by on their bellies to take care of their daily business or enjoy a little battle for king of the hill on a small iceberg near the shoreline, likely near an old whaling or research station that was set up to monitor the colony or use them as a source for food and fuel.
All of these great experiences are just gravy, in a manner of speaking, as the time spent on the ship is special in its own way. Passengers and crew members from various parts of the world bond over the common interests of travel and nature. The time spent in Antarctica is undoubtedly a special one for everyone on board as it’s a possibility that didn’t exist in the world just a short 150 years ago. But now it’s possible to head south, to what Aristotle once predicted and named Terra Australis, and become one of only a few thousand people in the history of the world to set foot on the ice; "If you have the desire for knowledge and the power to give it physical expression,” Apsley Cherry-Garrard wrote, “go out and explore."
When to Go to Antarctica Wildlife Tour
Odds n' Ends
You'll especially need to save up for it as the cruises don't come cheap. The good thing though is that once everything is paid for, you don't have to worry about anything else as it's all provided for you on the ship - meals, sightseeing, and entertainment are all generally included in the cost. The only extra possible expenses, outside of the airfare and hotel to get there, would be alcohol and ship souvenirs.
Finally, make sure to do research as to what to pack. Nothing will be avilable to you while you're on the cruise ship if you forget it at home. So packing appropriate clothing, medications - especially for motion sickness - and other such necessities is a must. Additional entertainment options, like movies for a laptop computer, are also good ideas, but generally books and games are provided in a small ship library and lounge.
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