ANTARCTICA BECKONS TO THOSE UP FOR THE ADVENTURE
Explorers and researchers have been visiting the continent of Antarctica for decades, although throughout history, the voyages getting to the mostly untouched land have been met with tales of unprecedented struggles and defeat. Today, thanks to modern ships and experienced crew, getting to Antarctica is no longer what it once was. That being said, the Drake Passage, one of the roughest passages in the world, is part of the experience of one’s journey to the white continent. Depending on your luck, it could be an unwelcome start or end (or both) to an incredible trip. For those who aren’t sure if rough seas would affect them, it’s highly advised to take preventative medication to help combat the seas. Once there, you will quickly forget about the Drake and the abundance of vast emptiness will set in and take over your every sense. There’s nothing like looking out to an endless portrait of beauty and realizing you are one of few who have ever seen what you are seeing. The journey to Antarctica is something most dream of, and, for avid travelers, it’s usually the last check that gives them the prestige, honor and accomplishment of being a part of the Seven Continents Club.
HOW TO GET THERE
Have you looked at a map? Antarctica is massive and no matter where in the world you live, getting there is a process, a process that involves booking a trip with a reputable company. There are various options for tours to the continent, some more bare bones while others are more luxurious. Venturing to the unknown is something of an adventure and also an opportunity to learn and expand one’s knowledge about the destination. Adventurers have been sailing since 2004 with National Geographic Expeditions/Lindblad Expeditions, two leaders in their respective industries who have come together to provide one of the most incredible experiences travelers can have. The best time to sail to Antarctica is during the Southern Hemisphere’s summer, when the sunlight is abundant and the temperatures are not nearly as extreme as they can be during the darkness of winter. Travelers headed on a National Geographic trip will make their way to Buenos Aires or Santiago, where they will meet their fellow explorers and stay overnight before taking a charter flight to the city of Ushuaia, located at the southern most tip of Argentina, which also happens to be one of the gateways to Antarctica. National Geographic Expeditions offers both a 14-day and 24-day journey to Antarctica.
The Ship and Crew
The small ship, which holds no more than 148 guests, isn’t really that small at all. Both the Orion and the Explorer are modern, large and have everything one could need during the trip. Traveling with National Geographic provides the opportunity for guests to be immersed with information from specialized naturalists who are on board experiencing the trip with you. Presentations are given daily and the naturalists spend time with the guests throughout the entire trip. Depending on which journey one chooses, special guests such as acclaimed National Geographic photographers are also on board to present and be a resource for guests. The number of learning opportunities on board are endless but not required. The ship is also fully staffed with a top-notch hospitality and culinary team, so do expect daily cleaning service as well as turn-down service. The dining options on board are all included (except alcohol, although there are scheduled complimentary drink moments that do take place), as the food served is incredibly tempting, and, after full days of exploring, is hard to resist indulging. Luckily, the ships also are equipped with gym equipment, and there are even massage services available for those who require extra pampering after hanging with penguins all day.
Each voyage is different. This is due to the unpredictable conditions that the captain will encounter upon arriving. There are, of course, planned itineraries published online but the whole point of an expedition is that it’s an expedition, not a cruise, so just go with it. Days are filled with wildlife sightings as well as Zodiac cruises with a handful of guests at a time. The Zodiacs come with knowledgeable drivers who provide guests with information as well as incredible photo opportunities (side note–the ship also has a photo specialist on board to help guests make the most of their cameras, regardless if it is a phone or heavy duty professional equipment). Days are also opportunities for landings where guests can set foot on land and get up close and personal with the wildlife. By the end of the trip, one will be an expert in spotting different species of birds, seals, whales and penguins.
No matter if you take this trip with your family or friends or as a solo traveler, you will depart your experience with new friends and a new sense of appreciation for the planet and world around you…and, hopefully, you will take that newfound love for the world and spread it to others. Antarctica is still a place that is being explored and discovered. During a National Geographic expedition, it feels like the ship has sailed to far away places, which is has, but when one looks on a map, it’s mind-blowing to fathom that the ship only touched a tiny spec of the actual continent. The expedition provides opportunities to learn, to grow and to reflect. The photographs you will share with your friends will impress them, but only you will know what it felt like at the moment you were snapping that photo. It might sound cliché to say that this experience will be life-changing, but that’s exactly what it will be, and the only downfall to the trip will be that your heart and soul will crave a return to the white continent, a place that only a few in this world full of billions have seen with their own eyes.