Things to Consider Before an Antarctic Cruise

Are you considering a trip to Antarctica? Based on my experience, here are some of the things you might want to know.

Cruising on Holland America Line to Antarctica

This is a personal preference, but the important thing to know is that you do not get off the ship while in Antarctica. This has both upsides and downsides. It means you are always just a few metres away from warmth and can choose to go inside anytime you like.

Unfortunately, it also means you don’t get as close as you may like to some of the animals and you don’t actually set foot on the continent.

You can read more about why I chose to cruise with HAL here.

Oosterdam

Currently, HAL is using Oosterdam to do these Antarctic cruises. She has a capacity of more than 1900 passengers and 800 crew. On our cruise, we had a little over 1700 passengers on board, so not quite full. If you have been on another HAL cruise, this ship will feel the same as the others.

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People standing at the rail of the bow of a ship looking at two huge icebergs just metres away

Where do the Cruises go?

Almost all Antarctic cruises visit just the area around the Antarctic Peninsula. Firstly it is the most accessible, being the furthest north and closest to the bottom of South America. It’s also here that more sea ice melts, so that means the ships can get closer to land to see things like the penguin colonies. 

It’s also the area that is most explored and therefore has at least some history about it, so there are plenty of stories about the explorers and what they achieved in these incredible conditions. (Seriously, read up on Shackleton if you don’t know about him!)

What Wildlife will you see?

As I am sure you are aware, you are not going to be seeing animals running all over Antarctica. But there is a surprising amount to see anyway. There are four types of penguins here – Emperor (who winter here in Antarctica too), Gentoo, Adelie and Chinstrap. 

There are numerous types of whales, some more common than others. You are likely to see Humpbacks, Southern Right Whales, Minke Whales and Orcas. We also saw Fin Whales, and it is possible if you are very lucky to see the biggest of them all, the Blue Whale.

There are four types of seals here, the most common being the fur seals and the leopard seals. We saw some fur seals, but only a few from a distance.

There are all sorts of seabirds here, the most common one seemed to be the Skua, but we also saw plenty of Albatross, Cormorants and more.  

The back and fin of an orca coming out of the sea in Antarctica

How Cold Will It Be?

It was around 0 degrees Celsius (32 Fahrenheit) for most of our time in Antarctica. We had cloud cover the whole time, sometimes it was much lower than others.

It snowed almost continuously for the first two days and intermittently for the last two. It wasn’t windy though, and was quite bearable being out on deck. Having said that, I have seen many trips that have had blue skies, but I wouldn’t expect the temperature to be much warmer.

How Many Hours of Daylight Are There?

Since it is summer in Antarctica, it is light for almost 24 hours. While in theory we had sunset at around 11 pm and sunrise around 3 am, in between those hours was more of a twilight than actual darkness.

Unfortunately, there was no opportunity to see the Aurora Australis, it was too cloudy. In theory though, if it’s not cloudy, you could see it if you are very lucky.

An iceberg floating in the sea in front of a snowy landmass

What to Wear in Antarctica

The good thing about staying on the ship while in Antarctica is that it is only a short distance back inside if you do not have the right clothing and get cold while on deck. You do want to try to keep warm though because you will want to be outside enjoying the scenery and wildlife – after all, that’s why you came, right?

Layers are the thing. You will just want normal winter attire – assuming you don’t live somewhere crazy hot or crazy cold.

On the Antarctic days, I wore a pair of my normal sports leggings with hiking pants over the top on the bottom. On the top I had a long-sleeved thermal top (Uniqlo is my go-to brand), then a down jacket (also Uniqlo) and then a thin, windproof, waterproof hooded jacket over the top.

I have waterproof hiking boots I was wearing, with thick socks (or two pairs of thin socks on the day they were in the wash!). I also wore a beanie and fingerless gloves – so I could still take photos easily.  

As someone who gets cold very easily, this did the job. At times my fingers got really cold and my nose started running, but that is standard for me at any temperature below about 15 degrees!

You will want layers like this because it is probably 20 degrees inside the ship. You will be peeling them off as soon as you walk back in from the deck – and then putting them all on again as another pod of whales come past and you want to rush back out and see them.

A female dressed in a black hooded waterproof jacket standing on the deck of a ship in front of a rocky shoreline covered in snow. The sky is grey and cloudy

What Camera Should You Take

This is a hard one. I always struggle with what to use for photos. I am not a photographer, and my mobile phone does a pretty good job in most cases. But for this type of cruise, you want something better. 

I took my Sony ZV-E10. This is a light, small, mirrorless camera that I bought because I don’t like lugging around the bigger Canon I have. I used it almost exclusively with its 55-210 zoom lens. To be honest, though, I would bring something with much better zoom than this if I was going to do it over again. This did okay, but it could have been so much better (I have seen some awesome shots from people with better cameras and lenses!)

Will You Have WIFI on the Cruise?

If you want wifi during the cruise you will have to pay for it as an added extra. Sometimes it will come as part of a bundle like it did for us, or if you book a suite or happen to be a 5-star Mariner you will also get it included.

The standard wifi package is only for one device at a time, but it’s easy enough to use the Navigator app to change from one device to another. I was using it with both my phone and laptop at various times throughout the cruise.

For most of the cruise the wifi was average. If we were close to shore it would work, but out to sea, it wouldn’t. At best it was really slow. I had the basic package, and my husband opted for the upgrade so that he could stream, but it wasn’t worth paying the extra for the little that it worked.

Having said that, I did manage to get online a little each day, even when we were right down in Antarctic waters. I found the very early hours of the morning (3 – 4 am) were the best time to try if I needed to do something.

Each year I would expect the internet to improve as more and more satellites begin to cover the Earth better, so my experience will hopefully not be an indication of yours.

A view of a mountainous rocky shoreline mostly covered in snow

How much did this Cruise Cost?

As you know, costs change all the time, but I wanted to give you a ballpark figure. We booked this cruise almost two years ago. We are staying in a cheap inside cabin but booked a deal that included a drinks package, wifi, a $300 USD shore excursion voucher, and 3 x dinner at specialty restaurants.

For the 22-day cruise, leaving from Santiago and returning to Buenos Aires, where we also visit ports in Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and the Falkland Islands it is around $8kAUD each, including the gratuities of $15.50USD/day we paid on disembarkation.

I just had a look, and if you want to book this exact cruise leaving from Santiago can be booked now for even less than what I paid for it now. Take a look at it here.

Looking for more about Antarctic Cruising? Try these posts
Cruising to Antarctica with Holland America Line
Falkland Islands Shore Day – Penguins, Beer and Red Phone Boxes
11 Important Things to Know Before You Go to Argentina

TRAVEL PLANNING ESSENTIALS

Find flights – I always use Skyscanner as my starting point when searching for flights. One search will give many options including airlines I may not have thought of. This means I can find the best possible flights to suit my needs

Book accommodation – my go to is always Booking.com for the best places to stay. It’s not just hotels anymore, but hostels, apartments, B&Bs and more. I love that the bookings are usually cancellable, and that I can book now and pay later.

Hire a rental carRentalCars.com is my go to here. It allows me to do just one search and it finds cars from many of the different supplies, so no checking multiple websites to compare.

Get travel insurance – you would have heard by now that saying “if you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel”. If we’ve learnt anything from the last couple of years it should be how essential travel insurance is. I use CoverMore for my insurance.

Pick up an eSIM – I tried an eSIM on my last trip and it was fantastic. I set it up before I went so it was ready as soon as I landed, and I still had access to my home number for emergencies. Get your own eSIM at Airalo.

Book activities, tours & attractions – I use a few different websites for this. Viator and Get Your Guide tend to be the first places I look. In Asia, Klook often has more options, and in Australia it’s Experience Oz.

Manage your money – the best way to manage your different currencies is with an account from Wise. You can hold money in many different currencies, and use them with the ATM card or from your phone.

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