Expedition Cruising FAQs
When is the best time to take an Antarctica cruise?
The Antarctica cruise season is short, running from November through March, with a spike in travel at the peak of the season in December and January. There are no cruises offered during Antarctica's winter months when travel is prohibitive due to polar ice blocks and extremely cold temperatures well below zero. Since it's located in the Southern Hemisphere, Antarctica's seasons are opposite of those in the Northern Hemisphere. When it's winter in the U.S., it's summer in Antarctica.
How long are Antarctica cruises?
Antarctica cruises range from 10 to 25 days in length.
Where will I go on an Antarctica cruise?
This depends on your itinerary. Most itineraries depart from Ushuaia, Argentina. and head south to the Antarctic Peninsula on eight- to 13 night voyages. You'll visit places such as the South Shetland Islands, Lemaire Channel, Paradise Harbor and Elephant Island. If your ship has ice-breaking capabilities, your itinerary may also include Marguerite Bay in the Polar Circle. On longer sailings of 18 to 21 days, you will see the remote Subantarctic Islands of the Falkland Islands, South Georgia Island and South Orkney Islands.
What is the weather like?
Cold! Antarctica is the coldest and driest place on Earth, known for unpredictable weather, which is why Antarctica cruises can only operate during the Southern Hemisphere's summer months of November through March. Most cruises depart from Ushuaia, which has milder temperatures, but as you travel south to the Antarctic Peninsula, temperatures will quickly drop into the 20s and 30s. Evenings are even cooler and windier on deck, and Antarctic whiteouts and blizzards are very common.
Is it true it doesn't get dark in Antarctica?
Antarctica experiences longer periods of daylight in November through March. Of course, this depends on where you are and when you're traveling, but at times you can step out on deck late at night and have splendid views of Antarctica's pristine scenery and abundant wildlife.
What will I see and do on my Antarctica cruise?
Antarctica is full of great wildlife viewing opportunities and fantastic vistas. You might watch gentoo penguins waddling around in Neko Harbour, or swim the black beach at Whaler's Bay after touring an old abandoned whaling station. You'll spend time spotting whales, seals and birds throughout the Antarctic Peninsula, as take exciting rides in zodiacs past massive icebergs. Visits to environmental research stations will show you what life is like for researchers living on the White Continent, and enriching onboard lectures from a knowledgeable group of experts will enlighten you on the history, wildlife and geology of Antarctica. On your way home, you might stop in the charming city of Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands for sightseeing and shopping.
How much physical activity is involved?
It varies by expedition cruise company and itinerary. Most tours require average physical activity, meaning a traveler should be in good health, is able to climb stairs and walk reasonable distances. Zodiac landings can be a little tricky though, and the terrain onshore may be rugged, but most guests who are sure-footed have absolutely no problems participating. However, there are a few expeditions that require a moderate level of physical ability to participate. Excursions on these cruises may include walking at high altitudes for long periods of time or other activities that require a moderately high level of fitness. Your Vacations To Go expedition cruise specialist can help you choose the Antarctica itinerary that best fits your interests and fitness level.
Please note: Most expedition cruise companies are unable to accommodate wheelchairs on Antarctica excursions.
What should I pack?
Antarctica cruises are very casual, and sportswear is acceptable for almost all activities onboard, including dinner. A few expedition cruise companies may require dressier attire on special event evenings. Most excursions in Antarctica involve sightseeing with a moderate amount of walking, although some tours may include extensive walking or hiking. Even during the summer, temperatures are very cold, so pack accordingly. Water-resistant parkas, rubber boots, a hat and gloves are absolute necessities. The rays of the sun can be brutal so sunblock and sunglasses are also musts. You will also want to pack warm woolen socks, sweaters, T-shirts and turtlenecks for layering. Remember to pack all of your medications, prescription or otherwise, in a bag that you can keep with you as needed. And, don't forget your camera for the great photo opportunities you'll encounter.
Your Vacations To Go expedition cruise specialist will be able to inform you of any required gear, as well as confirm the dress code for your specific sailing.
Can I rent/borrow expedition gear?
You will be responsible for obtaining any required expedition gear as outlined by each company. Most expedition cruise companies will provide a water-repellent parka to use while traveling, and a few companies will even loan you waterproof rubber boots, which are essential when walking around ashore. Any items not provided can be purchased through a travel gear retailer or rented from expedition outfitters in Ushuaia, although specific items may be difficult to obtain during peak travel times and there will be no time for shopping on the day of embarkation. As a convenience, an expedition packing list will be included with your travel documents.
How do I arrange my airfare to Antarctica?
You can book airfare on your own, which also allows you to use air miles and coordinate your own schedule, or you can book flights through the expedition cruise company with the help of a Vacations To Go expedition cruise specialist.
The main reasons to let us book your air at the same time you reserve your cruise -- through the expedition cruise company -- are convenience, better access to flights that make easy connections to your ship, and added protection in the event of a flight or sailing delay or cancellation. For more information on booking airfare, click here.
Will I need a passport or visa?
Passports are required for all international visitors. U.S. citizens do not need a visa to visit Antarctica but may need visas for other ports of call on an Antarctica cruise itinerary. Passports and visas are required for most other international travelers. Always verify passport requirements with your Vacations To Go expedition cruise specialist and visa requirements with the embassy of the countries you plan to visit.
What sort of medical precautions do I need to take?
Shots are not necessary for entry into Antarctica but may be required for North American visitors whose itineraries include stops in Chile or Argentina. Check with your health care provider and discuss the shots required for the countries you'll be visiting.
How rough are the seas on an Antarctica cruise?
Most of the time seas will be calm, but weather can be unpredictable and it's not uncommon to encounter rough water at some point during a voyage, particularly while the ship navigates Drake Passage between the southern tip of South America and Antarctica. As a precaution, you should carry anti-motion medicine with you. Consult with your physician or pharmacist for the appropriate medication.
What medical facilities are available onboard? What about onshore?
Most expedition ships have an infirmary with an onboard doctor for minor emergencies; however, there are no hospitals once you reach Antarctica. All passengers are required to submit a medical questionnaire, and guests with pre-existing medical conditions are especially encouraged to carry a signed letter from their physician stating any health problems and dosage requirements. In the event of an emergency, medical transport to the nearest medical center or hospital can be arranged at your own expense.
Will I have access to email? Can I call home?
Email, Internet and phone services are available on most expedition cruise ships via satellite signal. Keep in mind that signal strength can vary depending on your location and may not be available in more remote areas. Check onboard for details on pricing and accessibility.
What types of electrical outlets are used?
Most U.S. cruise companies use the standard 110-volt outlets, although there a few exceptions. International guests will likely need converters and adapters; these same devices come in handy for U.S. citizens who plan to overnight in hotels at some point during their vacation, as much of South America uses the 220-volt outlet, or if the ship is not equipped with standard outlets.
Are hotel rooms outfitted with air conditioners?
Air conditioning may only be available in nicer hotels in some cities. If recycled air is important to you, make sure to consult your travel counselor before booking a pre- or post-cruise hotel stay.
Do you have any photography tips for travelers to Antarctica?
There's abundant wildlife and natural beauty to capture in Antarctica, so be sure to bring plenty of gear. Users of "point-and-shoot" digital cameras should pack rechargeable batteries, a charger, electric adaptors and high-capacity memory cards. If you're bringing a digital video camera, don't forget the long-life batteries, charger, adaptors and converter. If you plan to visit museums, churches and cathedrals in South American cities before or after your Antarctica cruise, make sure photography is permitted before you shoot; in some cases, you'll just be asked to turn off your flash.