Updated: Jan 19
In simple terms, you can expect the unexpected.
Taking a trip to Antarctica requires you to either be adventurous or very flexible.
Anything you do in Antarctica is entirely weather-dependent. This means that while there are some things you expect to see or places you expect to go, do not actually think that you'll make it. Just go with the flow and accept things as they come.
The weather is very tricky and it can change in the matter of a few minutes. I remember one morning we went out on a zodiac cruise and they told us the afternoon expedition will be canceled because they were expecting a storm. The sky was grey, clouds looked full and it was windy. But come the afternoon, we had moved to another area and guess what? We managed to go out for a hike as the sun was out and bright.
Now depending on the type of trip you book and who you book with, your itinerary and experience can be very different. It is extremely important to do a lot of research before going to get a better idea of what you want. Some ships (depending on the size/amount of people onboard) are not allowed any landings or any zodiac cruisings, meaning you may just stay onboard your ship for the entire duration of your cruise. I chose a smaller ship and our trip was more of an expedition than anything.
1. A possible high risk of sea-sickness
Based on my experience, the Drake Passage isn't for the faint of heart. Since I had cruised multiple times, I didn't think I needed to bring anything with me for seasickness because I never got sick on a boat before, despite having experienced some shaky waters.
Prior to my trip though, I knew that the Drake Passage is the roughest waters in the world. Despite this, I figured it shouldn't be a problem for me. But I was wrong. I am not usually sensitive to motion, but this time was different. It got so bad for me that I spent the first day in bed. I forced myself to get up for lunch, but it was so hard to walk (without falling or moving from side to side).
As I sat at the restaurant (away from the windows to avoid looking out), I could still see how the waves would come up halfway up the windows. The ship rocked from side to side, and all I could hear was cutlery and dishes falling on the ground. I placed an order for something light but felt so out of it that I couldn't even remember eating more than half.
By the time I came back to the room, everything I ate went back down the drain. I couldn't eat or drink, as it made me feel sick. As someone who doesn't usually like to take medication, I was left with no choice but to get a seasick pill from the receptionist.
I stayed in bed for the remainder of the journey on the Drake and would only get up to shower and/or pray. I slept it off and that's how I managed to get through. Some people seemed fine as they were more prepared than I was. They brought motion sickness patches (not sure how effective they are as I haven't tried them) and took their pills before it got worse.
2. Set procedures to follow
Before going out on land, you will find a biosecurity check added to the schedule for the day. In order to protect Antarctica, this extra step is necessary and mandatory to avoid introducing any invasive species to the continent. The place is fragile and anything can have an impact on the environment and the wildlife that lives there.
For that reason, it is extremely important to get anything you plan to bring ashore disinfected. This process is known as a biosecurity check and it only takes a few minutes. The staff onboard typically takes your hats, gloves, bags, snow pants and jackets and cleans it with a machine that looks a little like a vacuum. Every time you go on land and come back to the ship, you also have to step in a solution that decontaminates your boots.
3. Getting dressed for the cold
One thing i wish I knew before traveling to Antarctica is that I didn't need to pack as many layers/thermals as I thought. Since I had picked a company that gave us a free parka to keep (and let me tell you, they are very warm), I didn't actually need to layer up as much as I thought to exit the boat.
We had to go down to the mud room twice a day to get ready for our expeditions as we typically had two in a day (again, all weather-dependent!). Halfway through the trip, I started wearing only a base layer under my parka and always ensured to have gloves and a hat for my head (despite wearing a hijab), as it can get pretty windy. Temperatures ranged between -1 to 0 degrees when we were there, but of course, this can change every day.
We got very lucky with the weather I'd say. We were also given boots (we had to return them at the end of the trip) that kept us very warm and I brought a pair of snow pants as well which helped a lot. The walking sticks provided are also extremely helpful for walking in the snow as you can expect to find yourself stuck in the snow otherwise ( if you happen to accidentally go off-path).
Getting dressed twice a day also felt very tiring, as every time we'd have to go down and put everything on. It took a lot of energy to put on the boots and snow pants and felt heavy to be in a big parka but it was essential. From my experience, we spent about 2-3 hours outside every time we had an expedition (but this can of course vary depending on the weather and time).
4. Cross-off items off your bucket list!
While getting to the White Continent is an achievement within itself, perhaps there are more adventurous things on your bucket list. There are lots of optional activities offered that you can opt-in for (sometimes at an additional cost).
Do you dare to go camping for a night and brace the cold? What about taking a polar plunge in the water? If you want something a little less adventurous, there is also the possibility of going kayaking near the icebergs, paddling, and/or wildlife watching. Aside from the breathtaking landscapes, the wildlife is added bonus as they are the star of the show. You may feel "penguined-out" after coming across so many on your journey, but they are so cute up close that you can watch them all day and not get bored.
Antarctica is the ultimate go-to place if you are hungry for a real taste of adventure and wilderness. It is a place of rich history, a pristine environment, and any photographer's or nature lover's dream!