Antarctica Expedition Review – everything you need to know
Antarctica – a destination so remote that many mysteries surround it. We had the chance to visit the “end of the world” during an Antarctic Expeditions Cruise with Albatros Expeditions – and indeed, there is something magical about the scenery. In this post, you’ll get all the details about this once-in-a-lifetime adventure: our trip to Antarctica to see penguins and icebergs!
Antarctica Cruise Review
How can Antarctica be traveled and what are the requirements?
There are no settlements or commercial airports in Antarctica. Only a handful of people spend longer periods of time on this icy continent for research purposes. Therefore, the only way for travelers to reach Antarctica is by an expedition ship. You sleep on the ship during the entire time – because hotels are not to be found in Antarctica either.
The closest port to start a voyage to Antarctica is in Ushuaia: the southernmost city in the world, at the southern tip of Argentina. And even from here, the crossing by ship still takes two days until the first Antarctic islands appear on the horizon. But the long journey is well worth it and an Antarctic expedition can be ideally combined with a few days in Patagonia or Buenos Aires.
A visa is not required for Antarctica, but Argentina requires one for certain countries. Travelers from the EU or the USA do not need a visa to enter Argentina. It is best to check online before your trip for the regulations that apply to your country of origin.
Our ship – the Ocean Victory by Albatros Expeditions
The two ships operated by Albatros Expeditions – the Ocean Albatros and Ocean Victory – are modern, extremely stable and resistant expedition ships, which were built especially for polar environments. They can not only sail through icy seas without any problems, but also compensate for strong waves particularly well.
Due to a high energy efficient propulsion, the expedition voyages with Albatros Expeditions cause the lowest emissions per passenger in the whole industry.
Our ship, the Ocean Victory, has 93 cabins. Thus, the number of guests is very moderate and pleasant.
On the outside deck, which is opened during voyages through the calm waters of Antarctica, there are two whirlpools. They are the ideal place to relax after shore excursions to enjoy the special view. There was also a pool, but it is not filled during Antarctic voyages. On the outside deck, during good weather conditions, BBQ’s take place or breakfast can be enjoyed outside.
The middle deck houses the lounge with bar, the Shackleton Theater where briefings and presentations take place, a library, a store and the main restaurant.
On the top deck there is also a panoramic restaurant – which remains closed during the voyage through the Drake Passage, but opens later, a panoramic lounge, as well as another outdoor deck for the best view on board.
All cruises with Albatros Expeditions are free of plastic, which is only used once. This starts with the shampoo in the cabin, which is offered in refillable soap dispensers, to the drinks there are no water bottles on board. Instead, there are water dispensers on each floor to refill reusable water bottles.
Our cabin on the Ocean Victory
We slept in a category C cabin, which has its own balcony. The furnishings of the Ocean Victory are upscale and cozy. The cabin has a bed, a desk, a closet, a TV and in the C category usually has a small sitting area. The bathroom with shower is comparatively spacious for a ship and has a pleasant underfloor heating.
The balcony is the highlight of this category. We used it frequently and enjoyed the view at all times of the day – as the sun hardly ever sets in Antarctica during the summer months (in the southern hemisphere)!
Which places are visited during an Antarctic expedition and what were my highlights?
The exciting thing about Antarctic expeditions is that no two are alike. The shore excursions are selected the day before and depend on wind and weather. Another special feature of Antarctica is that a maximum of 100 people are allowed to go ashore at the same time. Therefore, large crowds are not met anywhere and the different companies cannot dock at the same place on the same day.
For this reason, the passengers on board have been divided into four groups of about 40 people each, which are brought ashore one after the other by Zodiac boats. Sometimes an excursion may also consist of a trip in the extremely stable Zodiac inflatable boats to get close to icebergs or whales.
On the shorter expedition cruises, like ours, the landings are usually on the Antarctic Peninsula. However, we also had one shore excursion on the continental mainland to officially set foot on our seventh continent.
These were my favorite destinations:
- Port Lockroy – An old research station until the 60’s, which now houses a museum as well as the southernmost post office in the world. Sending a postcard from Antarctica to relatives is really something special! But it can take several weeks to arrive. The island is populated by numerous penguins, which are absolutely not disturbed by humans.
- Lemaire Channel – A beautiful canyon, through which a narrow passage leads. The views are unique.
- Fournier Bay – a bay in which beautiful icebergs can be seen, surrounded by a dreamlike scenery. The place attracts many whales, which come to feed in the nutrient-rich waters.
How many days are ideal for an Antarctica expedition?
The shortest Antarctic expedition offered by Albatros Expeditions is ten days and nine nights. However, the embarkation and disembarkation days are included, making it eight days at sea, with two days each for the trip between Argentina and Antarctica. So this expedition comes to four full days in Antarctica with (ideally) two shore excursions per day.
This is ideal for an insight into the world of Antarctica with numerous penguins, seals and whale sightings. However, if you want to enjoy the special magic for longer, I recommend a more extended trip with more days in Antarctica or a combination with the wildlife-rich South Georgia Island.
How much does an Antarctic expedition cost and what is included?
As Antarctica is one of the most remote destinations in the world and only allows a certain number of tourists per year, an expedition to Antarctica is not cheap – but worth every Euro!
Albatros Expeditions offers a very good price-performance ratio. The entry-level category can be booked from about 6,000 – 7,000 Euros per person. A category C cabin with balcony, as we had it, costs on average 12,000 Euros per person.
I have negotiated a discount for you with Albatros Expeditions, with which you can save a lot on your own trip! Click on ‘Request Info’ on any of the trips offered to Antarctica OR the Arctic and mention our code VOYAGE23 in the comments of the form, and you will receive the following discounts:
25% off all Antarctica trips through March 2023
20% on all Arctic voyages between June and September 2023
15% on all Antarctica trips between October 2023 to March 2024.
→ Click here to discover all the cruises offered by Albatros Expeditions!
The price includes – regardless of the booked category – the following:
- two shore excursions per day
- three meals per day (buffet and à la carte in the evening)
- afternoon tea with snacks
- complimentary water, tea and coffee throughout the day
- a weatherproof parka, which can be kept after the cruise
- rental of warm, waterproof boots for the shore excursions
- presentation and lectures about Antarctica
Not included are:
- other beverages such as soft drinks and alcoholic beverages (however, the prices are fair)
- Additional excursions like kayaking or camping on land
The selection as well as the quality of the food on board surprised us very positively. During breakfast and lunch there was a daily changing buffet, while in the evening an à la carte dinner was served, where you could choose from a daily changing menu. The dishes were not only varied and delicious but the service was also first class and the ambience in the restaurant elegant.
The Drake Passage – and is seasickness a problem on board?
The notorious Drake Passage is the body of water between Argentina and Antarctica. This is where the Atlantic and Pacific oceans meet. For this reason, the Drake Passage is considered one of the most turbulent sea routes – especially when the weather is windy. There are two known stages between which the sea state changes: Drake Lake in which the water is relatively calm and the waves can be easily balanced, and Drake Shake with an extreme swell that can build up to towers several meters high.
With a two-day voyage through this passage, many travelers dread seasickness with nausea and vomiting. Fortunately, we had a relatively calm Drake Lake on the way to Antarctica, but after our departure from the port of Ushuaia, I nevertheless had a sinking feeling in my stomach. On the return trip, however, it was very windy and we passed through a Drake Shake at night, which caused the ship to sway considerably. Surprisingly, however, I felt no nausea & these tips and remedies have helped me:
- Scopoderm patches: The small inconspicuous patches, are attached behind the ear, where they slowly release an active ingredient for a period of 3 days, which suppresses nausea. They were used by many travelers on our expedition. The patch should be applied 10-12 hours before the departure so that it can develo its effect. However, since the active ingredient is stronger than that in anti-nausea pills, they require a prescription. A side effect of the patch is a dry mouth, which can be well suppressed by drinking plenty of water. I found the patches to be very helpful and highly recommend them.
- Food: An empty stomach increases the feeling of nausea. However, if you have eaten a light meal, you usually feel much better.
- Ginger Tea or Ginger Ale: Ginger is a proven natural remedy for nausea!
- Watch the horizon: Seasickness only ever happens to passengers, but never to the captain – much like it does when driving a car. The reason is that our brain is confused to see a stable environment (like the inside of the ship) but to perceive a movement generated by the waves. This results in nausea or vomiting. However, if we focus on the “moving environment” – in this case the sea, with the horizon rising and falling – our brain can associate the movement and the nausea sets in.
- Last but not least: Lie down! When I did feel a little queasy in the stomach – as I did at the beginning of the outward journey – the best way to help me was to lie flat on the bed. When sleeping, I even found the swaying of the ship soothing – similar to a child’s cradle 🙂
How cold is it in Antarctica?
The expeditions to Antarctica are only offered during the summer in the
the southern hemisphere. The season starts in October and ends in March. We ourselves were in Antarctica in January in the middle of summer. During this time, temperatures on the coast are usually between +2 and -2 degrees Celsius (28 – 35 degrees Fahrenheit). With the intense sun at the South Pole, this becomes very warm. However, the weather in Antarctica is very changeable and icy winds can make it cold quickly. On the continent itself and closer to the pole, however, temperatures as low as -15 and -30 degrees Celsius ( 5- -22 degrees Fahrenheit) prevail even in summer, and this despite the fact that the sun never sets.
In winter, Antarctica is the most hostile place on earth: -50 degrees Celsius (-58 degrees Fahrenheit), freezing storms, and constant darkness. The land area of the continent doubles during this time due to the freezing of the sea and expedition travel is impossible. Even all animals (except the emperor penguin) leave Antarctica at this time.
Which equipment is necessary for an Antarctic expedition – what should not be forgotten and what can you leave at home?
Due to the special weather and the boat rides, good equipment is essential for Antarctica.
Here is a list of things you should definitely have in your luggage:
- waterproof pants, to be protected from the splashing water during trips with the Zodiac boats
- a waterproof bag or backpack for your photo equipment
- several thin jackets and sweaters, which you can wear in layers under the provided waterproof parkas. So you can put on more or less if necessary. Sweating in Antarctica is as dangerous as being too thinly dressed as wet clothing will no longer protect you from the cold.
- Sunscreen and wind & weather cream to protect you from the strong UV rays and the dry air.
- At least two pairs of gloves and two hats per person to always have a dry one handy
- Scopoderm patches!!! (See the section above on the Drake Passage and seasickness for more info).
A reusable water bottle
You don’t have to pack these things to save space in your luggage:
- Drones: Unfortunately, these are generally prohibited in Antarctica (except for film crews with special permits)
- Boots for the shore excursions – you will get these on board
- A waterproof parka – you will also receive this on board and can keep it after your trip.
My Résumé of our Antarctic Expedition with Albatros Expeditions
What an experience! This trip to the end of the world was a once in a lifetime experience and cannot be compared with anything else we have seen so far. Antarctica is so remote that you feel like you are on another planet. So quiet that the world seems to stand still. And so magical that the atmosphere is incredibly inspiring.
Nature lovers and photographers get their money’s worth here. Because where else can you see such an abundance of penguins, seals, whales and water birds? Only the emperor penguins remained unfortunately hidden from us, as they live far inland.
We were mostly lucky with the weather, which is why we were able to go on two shore excursions on each of the four days. The kayaking and camping, which can be booked as additional excursions, were unfortunately cancelled due to wind.
For the next time I would like to book an expedition to Antarctica, which is longer than the one with nine nights, in order to be able to venture further inland.
I will never forget the four days at the South Pole – it was one of our most beautiful trips!