New 2017 departure dates.
Get in touch to learn more.
Sasha’s stories from Antarctica feel half fantasy: kayaking through a sleeping whale’s spray; watching the very moment a glacier splits to form a colossal iceberg; raising an eyebrow at sassy penguins when their curiosity gets the better of them; being mesmerized by indescribable shades of luminescent blue and pods of wild orca, their sleek forms breaching in unison…
Exploring Antarctica is an experience filled with landscapes and creatures so foreign to everyday life you may fear your memory doesn’t have the capacity to hold onto them. “The magnificence of the environment was stunning and full of surprises,” says Sasha of her Antarctic expedition that would grip anyone with envy.
We asked our Antarctica veteran the questions every hopeful traveler wants to know the answers to.
Sasha’s answers will help you choose the right boat for you, what time of year to go if you want to see baby penguins, how to avoid getting sea sick crossing the Drake Passage (The Drake Shake is an apt nickname), and why planning your trip with an expert is the best way to visit “the White Continent.”
Q: Is there a specific moment from your trip that sums up the wonder of Antarctica for you?
A: There were so many moments, but without question, experiencing The Antarctic by sea kayak was particularly remarkable. It’s difficult to describe what it was like to be showered by the spray of a sleeping humpback whale twice the length of my kayak. Having never before considered the sleeping patterns of a whale, it was thrilling to have an intimate window into the natural rhythm of its sleep.
Only moments later we found ourselves riding the waves resulting from the impact of a newly calved iceberg sliding off a glacier into the sea.
Some other favorite moments: Watching the arctic sun set over latitude 66, as we crossed the polar circle, surrounded by building-sized icebergs, limned with translucent glow. Skipping across an island of floating sea ice. And of course who could possibly forget a polar plunge in Antarctica, particularly when a sea lion finds your blow-up orca far more threatening than your presence and joins your party for closer inspection!
Q: Your visit followed 100 years after Sir Ernest Shackleton’s remarkable expedition in 1916—one of the greatest stories of survival still today. Did you feel connected to his crew’s dramatic adventure?
A: Our “expedition” was worlds away from the boldness and incredible challenges of Shackleton, Amundsen and Scott’s expeditions—we had delicious three-course meals, fine wine, and were navigating far north of the pole.
A longtime lover of these tales of exploration, my imagination couldn’t properly comprehend the environment they encountered strictly from the page. To see the colossal expanses offered a perspective of the foreboding dangers these explorers faced. My appreciation for the scale of their accomplishments has only increased.
Despite the legendary expeditions in the early 19th century, Antarctica is still the least explored corner of the earth. There is so much inspiration still to be gained from contemporary adventurers like Felicity Aston and the late Henry Worsley, who continue to push the boundaries of human capability and knowledge.
Travelers get a taste of expedition life on these journeys. There is always a resident scientist on board and when the ship stops at research stations, experts often come onboard to report on their findings. There are lectures in the evenings that provide insight into the wildlife, geology and ecology of Antarctica, as well as the latest research coming out of the many projects underway in the region. Antarctica is ground zero for some of the most cutting-edge research on climate. Ice cores taken from Antarctica’s ice shelf give us snapshots of climate change dating back hundreds of thousands of years.
Q: Would you say there’s a race to Antarctica?
A: Since the days of seal and whale hunting there have been settlements in the Antarctica region. Today, tourism to Antarctica is indeed growing as traveler’s log more miles and look to get further and further afield to parts of the earth that seem less tainted by human intervention and to get there before they change. There is concern about how best to manage this tourism growth to Antarctica. IAATO (International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators) is providing strict regulation and systematically organizing ships’ locations as well as monitoring impact overall.
You can’t help but be changed by the sight of so much crystalline ice, clear sky, and the largest supply of fresh water in the world. Living in New York City, where the residue of population is everywhere, you look at Antarctica and see an untouched landscape where the smallest speck of detritus appears jarring. Any non-native species accidentally introduced could have a significant adverse effect. The ships all enforce strict de-contamination procedures to ensure that travelers don’t bring anything from home onto Antarctic land. I have tried to carry that sensitivity with me now that I am home and feel an increased engagement with the impact my choices have on the bigger world canvas. Likewise, any changes to the eco-system in Antarctica do not feel so far away.
A recent study study was published in Nature using a new model that vastly speeds up the predictions for the melting of the Western Antarctic ice shelf. Should the worst case scenarios prove true, the shifts in Antarctica will affect the entire planet. Experiencing Antarctica is to viscerally feel how sensitive the ecosystem is.
In some ways it feels like the exploration of Antarctica has only just begun not only for me but for science; there is still so much to study. The good news is there are ways to maintain a connection with Antarctica after a trip through research efforts such as PenguinWatch, currently the largest Antarctic citizen science venture in the world. PenguinWatch allows the public to assist scientists as they monitor and conserve Antarctica’s penguin colonies. They have over one hundred cameras in various nest sights taking photographs every hour. They have solicited the public to help them analyze these photos. Because penguins spend the majority of their life in the water and are at top of the food chain, variations in penguin populations are considered significant indicators of larger changes to the Antarctic ecosystem.
Q: When thinking about going to Antarctica and choosing the right boat, what are the biggest questions to consider?
A: Choosing the right boat can depend on your overall goals for the trip and cruise travel preferences, specifically how you define luxury. If creature comforts are a primary focus, I recommend the Hebridean Sky departures as they offer spacious suites. If accessing more remote territory is what makes you feel excited, then I recommend Ocean Nova as her ice-strengthened hull is ideally suited to expedition travel in Antarctica. She can navigate through sea ice confidently and the smaller hull size allows access to tighter channels and bays. The Hebridean Sky is a bit larger with a slightly lower, though still quite high ice-class (classification for hulls strengthened to enable ships to navigate through sea ice).
Other questions to consider:
Do you want to cross the Drake Passage by sea or air? We recommend the fly-cruise and skipping the Drake. By doing so you’ll maximize your time overall and avoid the dangers of a dramatic crossing and sea sickness. However, there is a risk of flight delay and on the rare occasion cancellation of the departure. We believe it’s worth the risk, but it’s important to be aware of the pros and cons of each option.
How important is it for you to reach the Polar Circle? Your answer will affect the departure and journey length, as well as which vessel to travel on.
How much time do you have to travel? Traditional fly-cruise expeditions are eight days. If you have less time, there is the option to do an express trip which can be done in just five days.
How active are you? The kayaking and hiking options offer great outlets for those looking to breathe in the fresh Antarctica air a bit more deeply!
Q: For those curious to go, any books, films, documentaries to inspire them?
A: Endurance: Shakelton’s Incredible Journey by Alfred Lansing is a must read. It gives readers a sense of the formidable nature of Antarctica that demands respect. Recent chronicles such as Felicity Aston’s Alone in Antarctica brings home how Antarctica inspires us to defy the challenges it presents. If you are a pure fiction reader, Where’d You Go Bernadette is a fun read centered on a journey to Antarctica where the “white continent” offers a stage for discovery not only of the physical world but also of the self. A movie version is also in the works.
I loved the documentary “Antarctica: A Year on Ice” for providing insight into what life is like for the hundreds of people who live on the remote research stations in Antarctica. Then, of course, for the wildlife lovers, “March of the Penguins” captures the dynamic wildlife interactions found on the Antarctic Peninsula and islands.
Q: How do you pack for Antarctica? Tell us the top five things you must have in your suitcase.
A: Many passengers get very nervous about the fly-cruise weight restrictions, but most travelers on my journey found the 44 lbs ample space for everything they needed including camera equipment. Many travelers are also intimidated by packing for the weather, but the weather was quite warm in comparison to our New York City winters, averaging 32 degrees and with several days of bright sunshine! My best advice is to dress as if you are going skiing with lots of layers.
If there were ever a reason in your life to invest in quality camera equipment, an Antarctica journey is it. It’s a challenge to capture the experience on film, but you’ll have fun trying and these will be some of the best photos of your life. GoPros are also great for Antarctica—penguins, whales, floating iceburgs! The GoPro waterproof casing makes them perfect for sea kayaking.
The waterproof Bogs boots provided by the ship are great for navigating the terrain and keeping your feet warm as well as for ensuring you do not contaminate the environment with any non-native elements.
Digital touch gloves! (You know, the gloves with the finger pads so you can operate electronic touch screens, like a phone screen, while wearing them.)
Aquaphor healing ointment Advanced Therapy to protect lips and face from the wind and sea spray.
GoPro! Ideally with a monopod/tripod and grip accessories.
A high-quality camera that is durable enough to be exposed to the elements.
Good polarized sunglasses. You need protection from all that sun reflecting off the vast expanses of white ice and sea.
Q: What surprised you the most about the bottom of the world?
A: I was most surprised by the scale of the mountain ranges and the beauty and massiveness of the icebergs. I had no idea there were so many types of ice and the color variation was stunning. There were hues of blue I have never seen before.
Your photos are remarkable.
Everything felt photo-worthy but images can only go so far in capturing the magnificence of Antarctica. I had to remind myself to put the camera down, be in the moment and take it all in. There were times when the beauty was overwhelming. I came home with over 2,500 images, plus GoPro footage. See some of my favorites here!
Q: When do you recommend going?
A: The season for visiting Antarctica is during the Southern Hemisphere’s Summer, Winter in North America, generally from October to March. It can be difficult to predict exactly what you will see, when. There are always variables and fluctuations, but generally the earlier you go in the season (October – December) the more snow you will see on land. If you prefer to snowshoe you should go at the start of the season. If you prefer to hike, aim for the end of the season (February).
You will see baby penguins hatching in December and early January. This is a highlight for many. However, later in the season in February you will see those same young penguins becoming more playful and interactive.
Every time of the year offers a different highlight.
Q: Does this boat cross the Polar Circle?
A: If you opt for the Polar Circle departures which are three days longer than the classic you have a good chance of crossing the Polar Circle although due to weather conditions it can never be guaranteed.
Q: Are there ways to visit Antarctica without a cruise? And, if so, would you recommend it?
A: There are options to travel by plane and come right back, but this is really only for checking a box as you won’t have the opportunity to experience Antarctica. There are also some camps on mainland Antarctica that can be visited for a premium, but these offer a very different kind of experience than what’s found on the Peninsula as these are located far south of the wildlife and inland on the ice shelf. Some of the Peninsula cruises offer overnight campouts on land for those interested.
Q: Do all expeditions follow the same route and see the same sites?
A: You never know exactly which bays or landings you will have on a given departure largely because the weather can be unpredictable and needs to be respected, therefore there are shifts and changes to the ship’s itinerary day to day. The expedition leader works very closely with the captain to ensure that each trip offers as diverse an array of experiences and checks as many boxes as possible. They have incredible collective knowledge and are so passionate about the region that they are genuinely as thrilled by the passengers’ sightings as if it were also their first time experiencing the discoveries.
Q: So now you’re part of the Polar Plunge club!
A: Yes! We even had a beach! We were at Deception Island, a Volcano basin with a hot spring that warms the water by a couple degrees…though not as much as one would hope! Still, it was totally invigorating and I would do it again in a heartbeat.
Ready to go?
Get in touch and let’s start planning your trip.
212 627 1950