Preparing for a Trip to Antarctica: FAQs (Part 3: The Experience)

 Pleneau Bay, Antarctica

The decision to travel to Antarctica is a big one. It requires a commitment of both time and money and involves more planning and preparation than most other trips. But like all great travel adventures, this is part of the overall experience and part of the fun.

Having made the decision to return to Antarctica at the end of this year, I’ve found myself asking the same questions I did the first time round. With the benefit of hindsight, I’ve shared my answers to the most common questions asked about planning, packing, photography and the experience itself.

 

(These answers are my own personal opinions, based on my experience travelling with Quark Expeditions.)

Previously: 

Preparing for a Trip to Antarctica: FAQs (Part 1: Planning)

Preparing for a Trip to Antarctica: FAQs (Part 2: Packing)

Part 3: The Experience

Where will I sleep?

Will I get bored at sea?

What wildlife will I see?

How close can I get to the wildlife?

Do I have to join all of the excursions?

Will my mobile phone work?

What is a typical day?

How rough is the Drake Passage?

What will the weather be like?

Is it safe?

What will the other travellers be like?

What is it like for solo travellers?

I’ve heard landings are restricted to 100 people, but our ship holds more than 100 passengers: will I miss out on a landing?

What if I get sick or injured?

What is the expedition team like?

Is there a laundry service on board?

How fit do I need to be?

Keep reading for the answers: 

 

FAQs: What is the Antarctica Travel Experience really like?

Where will I sleep?

There are no hotels in Antarctica! The ship will be your base camp and Quark offers a range of cabins from triples, twins/doubles and suites. There are no single cabins, so solo travellers with deep pockets can book a double room to themselves, but more commonly they are paired in a twin cabin with another traveller of the same sex. The size and facilities in the cabins vary on each ship and are generally basic but comfortable, with private bathrooms.

Will I get bored at sea?

Even the shortest itineraries include ‘sea days’ where you will stay on board and not see any land. But even then, I felt like there were not enough hours in the day. Sleep was an irritant, something I needed but didn’t want, always in fear of missing out on something. There is always something to prevent boredom on sea days: educational, informative and entertaining lectures by members of the expedition crew, books to sink your teeth into from the polar library, some downtime to enjoy editing photos or getting to know other travellers or – my favourite – endless photography opportunities from the deck of the ship of the wildlife and icebergs sharing the travel route.

Read More: FAQ (Antarctica Travel): Will I Get Bored at Sea?

Read More: Antarctica: Embracing Boredom on the Scotia Sea

Lemaire Channel, Antarctica

What wildlife will I see?

Whilst wildlife spotting in Antarctica is a lottery – after all, its their home and they make the rules – the diversity and quantity of wildlife in the region will make you feel like you are starring in your own wildlife documentary. Depending on where and when you go, you are likely to see penguins, whales, seals and birds. King penguins, leopard seals, humpback whales and the mighty albatross were amongst my favourite last time. This time I’m hoping to spot some of the creatures that eluded me on my first trip: the macaroni penguin, orcas and crab-eater seal.

Quark provides a wildlife checklist at the end of the trip, which is a great reminder of what you’ve seen as it’s easy to lose count along the way.

Read More:  FAQ (Antarctica Travel): What Wildlife Will I See

How Close Will I Get to the Wildlife? 

The general rule is that you should stay within five metres of them on land, but of course the wildlife doesn’t know that. Penguins in particular are very curious little creatures and if you sit in one spot, you may find yourself enjoying a unique and entertaining encounter with them. In the zodiacs, you may find curious seals swimming around and under you, penguins flying through the water beside you and even a whale suddenly appearing exhilarating close. But remember – this is their home and you are simply a tolerated visitor. Always follow the guidelines of the expedition crew, especially around some of the seals that can be aggressive and territorial.

Petermann Island, Antarctica

Do I have to the join all of the excursions?

The landings and zodiac cruises are not mandatory, although why someone would choose to stay on the ship eludes me.  But if, for whatever reason, you don’t want to join an excursion, you have the option to stay aboard the ship.

Will my mobile phone work?

This is without doubt, one of my favourite parts of a trip to Antarctica. There is this wonderful moment as the ship loses sight of its starting point in Ushuaia, when the signal on your mobile phone drops to zero. Some ships offer satellite Internet services, but it’s expensive and slow and – in my mind – unnecessary. Being forced to disconnect from the outside world is an energising way to reconnect to the moment, to the environment you are in and to yourself.

What is a typical day?

Expect the unexpected: there is no typical day in Antarctica. But there is a bit of routine. The day begins with a wakeup call from the expedition leader, confirming where we’ve reached overnight, a weather update and a reminder to get to breakfast. An itinerary for the day (always subject to change) is available on the TVs in the room and notice boards around the ship. The itinerary may include landings and/or zodiac excursions, lectures by the expedition crew or a social event like a BBQ on deck or drinks in the bar. Each day includes a briefing session before dinner, recapping the day’s highlights and preparing you for the day ahead.

Pleneau Bay, Antarctica

How rough is the Drake Passage?

The Drake Passage is as unpredictable as the rest of the continent. The two days we spent crossing the Drake were, by all accounts, relatively mild. And yet, we still knew we were in rougher waters. Some of us were a little disappointed, feeling that the notorious swells were part of the adventure and experience of Antarctic travel, but those who had already suffered from the rougher waters near South Georgia were more than relieved. Whilst I’m hoping to experience the best the Drake has to offer on my return trip, I may find myself regretting that when I learn what that really means!

What will the weather be like?

This question was asked at every briefing session we had and I admired the expedition leader’s patience! The weather is unpredictable and changeable. Most of days varied between 2 and -5 degrees Celsius. The sun was so warm on some days that we could walk around in a t-short whilst the wind on other days saw us piling on every layer we had. The phrase “there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing” is very relevant on a trip to Antarctica.

Is it safe?

All expeditions to Antarctica carry an element of risk due to the same factors that make it so exciting: it’s wild, unspoiled, unpredictable and remote. But thorough planning and preparation and travelling with a polar expert such as Quark Expeditions mitigate that risk as much as possible. It was very clear that safety was the number one priority with Quark, with mandatory briefings before our first excursions and a flexible itinerary to deal with adverse weather.

What will the other travellers be like?

One of the things I love most about travel is that it unites people from all walks of life through a common interest of exploring the world beyond their own homes. Whilst the majority of travellers on my first expedition were between 45 and 65 years of age, the last minute deals in Ushuaia attracted a group of younger travellers in their 20’s and 30’s. There were also a handful of passengers in their 80’s who put me to shame with their fitness and energy levels (especially those who did the poplar plunge!) Diverse backgrounds, ages and personalities become irrelevant on a trip to Antarctica. The opportunity to share incredible moments in an incredible environment connects everyone on board.

Zodiac Cruising - Neko Harbour, Antarctica

What is it like for solo travellers?

Some people, like me, prefer to travel alone and are more than comfortable boarding the ship as a solo traveller. For others, especially first time solo travellers, it can be a nerve-wracking experience. If you fall into the latter group, don’t let it stop you stop you going to Antarctica. A large number of passengers will be there on their own and you will be paired up with another solo traveller in your cabin. Dining – often one of the biggest fears of solo travellers – is very informal and a great way to meet others. Most tables are for 6-10 people, so even those travelling with a partner or friends, will share dinner with people they are meeting for the first time. The expedition crew also share the dining room with passengers, so you will often find one of them at your table or in the bar ready for a conversation.

I’ve heard landings are restricted to 100 people, but our ship holds more than 100 passengers: will I miss out on a landing?

With Quark, the answer is no, you will never miss out on a landing because there are more than 100 people on board. The group is split into two groups and whilst the first is on land, the other group explores the area on zodiacs. Then they swap, ensuring everyone has the opportunity to enjoy both a land and zodiac excursion in the area.

What if I get sick or injured?

The expedition team on each trip includes a qualified doctor who carries emergency medication. But there are no hospitals in the region, so it’s a pre-requisite to have travel insurance that includes medical cover. Anyone who relies on prescription medicine should bring enough to cover the duration of the expedition.

What are the expedition team like?

Each trip has an expedition team on board who have a contagious passion for Antarctica. The group may include a marine biologist, ornithologist, photographer, historian, outdoor guide or even a penguinologist (no, I’m not making this up)! Quark also has an expert-in-residence program and if you are lucky you may share your expedition with an author, film maker, photographer or even a relative of Shackleton or Scott.

Is there a laundry service on board?

Yes there is a laundry service on board all of Quark’s ships which helps keep packing light.

How fit do I need to be?

You don’t need to be in peak fitness to join a trip to Antarctica, but you need to be relatively healthy, be physically able to get in and out of the zodiacs and partake in some walking on snowy and/or rocky ground. Some of the landings offer alternative walking options for those who are more and less fit than the average.

Zodiac Cruising - Petermann Island, Antarctica

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Kellie is a traveller and photographer who is most at home when exploring the world beyond it. Through the intersection of her travel, writing and photography passions, she shares her experiences to inspire others to create there own. The desire to live life instead of existing through it has introduced Kellie to inspirational locations throughout seven continents and from this a passion for landscape and wildlife photography has evolved. She feels a particular connection to the polar regions and Africa. You can see more of her photography at www.kellienetherwoodphotography.com

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Preparing for a Trip to Antarctica: FAQs (Part 2: Packing)
A Photography Day at the British Wildlife Centre