Each year from November to March, travelers head south for the Antarctic Season in search of majestic icebergs, legendary landscapes, and enchanting wildlife in their natural habitats. Once a place that only a few residents and scientists could explore, Antarctica started welcoming tourists in the 1960s, though not without some well-intended red tape and a few requirements to preserve the incredible ecosystems and out-of-this-world views that draw so many in.
Randy Kramer, Owner, and John Crawley, Travel Advisor, of Stellar Travel recently journeyed from Seattle, Washington, to Antarctica and back over 15 days. Read along as they share their experiences, what they learned, and what they wish they had known beforehand.
When was the trip to Antarctica, and with what cruise line?
John: We chose a 6 Night Silversea Antarctica Cruise, traveling in early January of 2023. One of the reasons we decided on Silversea is their ship size and the number of passengers – with just 200 on our cruise. Since 2009 Antarctica has not allowed ships carrying more than 500 passengers to dock. Additionally, only 100 people per vessel can be on land at a time. The Silversea crew easily navigated this by utilizing a rotating schedule of Zodiac cruises around the icebergs while another group toured the ground, and so on. We would have experienced longer waits between tours if more passengers had been onboard.
Randy: We visited in early January when the days are the longest, it’s a bit warmer, and there is plentiful wildlife, including penguin chicks. However, there is something to offer each month of the season, with November being the coldest but most pristine and February to March known for whale watching and potential sunsets.
How does one get to Antarctica?
John: There are two unique ways to get there. Choose to fly straight into the heart of Antarctica in just two hours, known as the Antarctic Bridge, or sail the iconic Drake Passage for an unforgettable experience (though you may encounter some rough waters along the way). Most trips leave from either Punta Arenas, Chile, or Ushuaia, Argentina.
Randy: We opted for a Bridge Cruise, flying from Punta Arenas to King George Island, Antarctica, where we embarked on our ship.
What was the weather like throughout your journey?
John: We spent two nights in Santiago, Chile, before our cruise, and it was hot! January is the prime summer season in Santiago, with great weather and longer days for outdoor activities. From there, we traveled south to Punta Arenas, Chile, which was cool and windy.
Randy: The weather in Antarctica in January is much more stable as it is the height of the summer season. Once there, we experienced dry temperatures in the low 30s, with only one rain or snow day.
What was the highlight of your trip?
John: The landscape was spectacular. It felt like being in another world!
Randy: The incredible, majestic scenery. I really enjoyed the Zodiac rides around the impressive icebergs.
What was the most unexpected part of the trip?
John: I most anticipated seeing the wildlife, particularly the penguins and chicks. But the views turned out to be my favorite part of the trip.
Randy: Landing and taking off on a gravel runway on King George Island is quite an experience! And I expected it to feel colder, but the weather wasn’t an issue.
What would you tell someone who is considering a trip to Antarctica?
John: It’s true what they say – you’re traveling to the ends of the Earth, and it can take a while to get there and back. Have patience and allow yourself enough time to enjoy the whole experience.
Randy: Under the Antarctic Treaty, tour companies must have a permit to land in Antarctica, and you cannot visit Antarctica without a tour group. There are many logistics in place to safely visit the continent, and much to learn from guides who each have a specialty (be it photography, marine biology, ecosystems, you name it). Experiencing Antarctica with their expertise makes it all worthwhile. The onboard cruise experience is top-notch, the naturalist guides are excellent, and the team works hard to ensure you get the best experience possible!
What is an ideal age range for this trip?
John: Anyone with an adventurous spirit! The most common demographic is adults in their mid-fifties, and the least common is babies and very young children.
Randy: I’d encourage travelers of most ages to go to Antarctica, so long as they have the mobility to explore the various islands. We met couples, solo travelers, and multi-generational families aged ten to 80! If you plan to travel with kids, it’s important to note that there are no kids clubs on Antarctican cruises, as are standard on most other cruises worldwide.
Is there something you wish you had known before the trip?
John: Had I known the Pisco Sours in Santiago was so good, I would have ordered more! And I wish I had been better prepared for the penguins’ odors.
Randy: I thought I packed light but could have gone with less. You can wear warmer layers multiple times, and laundry service is always on board.
Ready to plan an Antarctica adventure? Contact us to get started.