Things to know before going to Antarctica
If you don't know how to dress in layers learn before you head to Antarctica. I've always lived in the northeastern part of the United States, and during the winter we can get some pretty cold temps. Let me break it down for you:
Start with a light wicking layer for both top and bottom. This layer will most likely be see-through. I recommend:
Follow it up with a thermal layer AKA long underwear. No, it's not super fashionable, but it will keep you warm. I recommend:
Then if it's really cold out add a fleece or wool layer. Both these materials don't absorb water very well and are perfect for warmth and water resistance. I recommend:
For the top add a down jacket or parka this will keep the core warm. I recommend:
If your jacket or parka are not water proof add a waterproof layer over it as well as a waterproof layer on your legs. Getting cold while you're out exploring is the worst and will ruin your experience. I recommend:
All activities are weather dependent
Safety is the first concern of any Antarctic expedition. When it comes to poor weather conditions an expedition leader and/or ship captain will make the best call as far as safety goes. During my visit to the 7th continent I was extremely lucky with my activities - mountaineering, kayaking, snowshoeing, zodiac cruising, camping, and polar plunge - as none of them were canceled do to weather. However, my kayaking was cut short as when we went out their was very little wind and within 30 minutes the wind picked up to 15 knots.
Others on my ship were not as lucky and had many of their activities canceled. Each ship and expedition team schedule activities in different ways, so I cannot speak as to how it is organized. I will say that the expedition team on Oceanwide Expedition's Ortelius worked very hard to ensure everyone got an opportunity to do their activities. That being said, they can't control the weather.
There are no bathrooms on shore
Yes, you read that right there are no bathrooms on shore, so you'll have to do your business before you disembark the ship. This was a great concern to so many people on my ship that I felt it was worth addressing here.
While during the camping overnight this policy with the same they did bring a mini portable toilet and yes I did use it. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to have the best view ever while peeing.
Other options included bringing a wide mouth Nalgene water bottle or a female urination device to assistant you. This option isn't for everyone and I will tell you it takes a lot of practice not to pee all over yourself.
No food or drinks on shore
For the preservation of the continent no food or drinks are allowed to be taken ashore. The introduction of outside food or drinks can disrupt the fragile ecosystem. In addition, where there's food there is usually trash, which luckily isn't an issue in Antarctica at the moment. Make sure you eat and drink enough before disembarking the ship.
Keep a minimum of 5 meters from all wildlife
During your adventure in Antarctica it is important to remember that you are a visitor and the wild animals will be there after you leave. It is there home, not yours. The Antarctic Treaty specifically states that visitors should give all wildlife at least 5 meters of space while on land or out on/in the water (kayakers and scuba divers). This is for the safety of not just you, but the animals as well. While many of Antarctica's locals are friendly (i.e. the penguins) they might be busy collecting rocks for their nest, heading to the water to go fishing, or simply want nothing to do with you. Please be respectful to all wildlife during your time their.
What you see will depend on the time of year you go
Antarctica's Summer is typically from November to March. What you see will depend on when you choose to visit. I went in mid-November and was privileged to experience fresh, undisturbed snow as many of the places we visited had been untouched since last summer. When we visited research stations, several of them had no scientists in residence as we had beat them there for the season. We were told that at several of our stops we might see whale bones on shore, but only saw them sticking out of the snow. Penguins were at nearly every stop we made trying to find their mates and beginning to collect rocks to make nests.
*Make a list that breaks down what is typically seen each month
You can book early or last minute
While I booked by trip to Antarctica nearly a year in advance to give me time to save up, upon arrival to Ushuaia, Argentina (which is where my ship left from) I found out that many people come down with no plans at all and book cabins that are open on ships for significant discounts. If you're the type of traveler that has the time to wait for a ship and a good deal you could save thousands of dollars on a trip.
Pick a small ship
In Antarctica size matters. The smaller ships are the best as they have fewer passengers giving visitors more opportunities to explore. During my trip, our expedition leader told me that because we're a small ship we were able to visit more places and have chances to get off the ship more. With approximately 100 passengers the Ortelius we able to have most of it's guests off the ship twice a day exploring. We only saw 2 other ships during our adventure and they both had 300-500 people on board. While the ships were must more luxurious looking, many of the guests were only getting on shore once a day if they were lucky. Many of them couldn't stop at research stations and when they arrived at Port Lockery, a British Research Station and the only post office in Antarctica, the staff had to go to their ship. Their were too many people on board to make a shore landing. Every person on my ship was able to visit Port Lockery!
The Drake Shake is no joke
While it might seem tempting, do not, I repeat, DO NOT look on YouTube for videos of ships crossing the Drake Passage. It will only freak you out. I realize not that I've said this you're probably going to head there after you finishing reading this, but I do not recommend it.
Instead, take my word for it that it is not joke, and I was told that I only saw a maximum of a 4 out of 10. I didn't throw up, but there were plenty on the ship that did. Come prepared with sea sickness patches and sea sickness medication. Talk to your doctor and find out what's right for you. For some reason, if you cannot get seasickness patches before departure our ship had a doctor on board that had meds available. Many of the people on my ship took advantage of this and were glad they did.
My poor next door neighbor was so sick on the way to Antarctica that she spent 2 days laying and sleeping on the floor. She looked horrible (sorry love) and may or may not have puked in the shower. All of this while on the patch and some other meds.