virtuoso global March 2020 Antarctica 101: How to Cruise the White Continent in Style

Antarctica 101: How to Cruise the White Continent in Style

Some of the largest king penguin colonies in the world live here, on South Georgia Island. 
Some of the largest king penguin colonies in the world live here, on South Georgia Island. 
From fledging penguins to chilled Champagne, Silversea expedition leaders and Virtuoso travel advisors helped us create this expert guide to Antarctica cruising.
To adventurous travelers, Antarctica is a siren call that promises unparalleled remoteness, otherworldly icescapes, and a host of wild animal inhabitants – and, for many, that elusive last stop on a visit-every-continent mission. It’s not all rough seas and rugged Zodiac landings, though; Silversea’s 132-passenger Silver Explorer and 296-passenger Silver Cloud and Silver Wind chart the world’s coldest regions with aplomb. Think dining on filet mignon in a Thomas Keller restaurant while you cross the historic Drake Passage, or watching a glacier calve as you sip a hot toddy delivered by your butler to your suite’s private balcony. Yes, please.

Below, Virtuoso travel advisors and Silversea expedition experts share their research-vetted must-knows for a fun, plush, and responsible journey to the globe’s southern reaches. With this guide in hand, you’ll be a subzero scholar in no time.
A portside view from from <em>Silver Cloud</em>.
A portside view from from Silver Cloud.

1. Know when to go.

Most expedition ships cruise to Antarctica from November through March. To pick the best time to go, consider the animals you’d most like to see, such as penguin chicks or whales, and other factors, such as how many hours of daylight you’ll have (days in December and January are longest). “Animals congregate in masses between December and the end of February,” says Conrad Combrink, Silversea’s senior vice president of expeditions. Penguin chicks hatch and fledge in January and February, toward the end of the season, which is also when whale sightings occur most frequently. If stargazing is more your style, have your advisor book early in the season: In November 2021, astronomy enthusiasts can witness a rare astronomical phenomenon on deck during one of Silversea’s three solar eclipse sailings, ranging from 11 to 22 days, that visit the Antarctic Peninsula. Departures: November 20 through 30, 2021; from $22,410.
Brush up on your penguin trivia. 

2. Pack like a pro.

For Antarctica, "the secret is to layer," Virtuoso travel advisor David Lauwers says. "Thermal underwear and waterproof pants are essential." Fellow Virtuoso advisor Linda Dinsmore suggests bringing a substantial pair of gloves and a thin, touch-screen-friendly wool pair. Minimize bulk by leaving boots and anoraks at home (you’ll find both on board), but, says Dinsmore, bring a pair of slip-on shoes to wear from your cabin to the boot locker area. For windy, snowy days, Virtuoso advisor Diane Cook suggests ski goggles. Travelers can prevent overpacking by planning to request onboard laundry service by the cruise line’s team of butlers – it’s part of Silversea’s all-inclusive service.
Don’t worry about packing a heavy-duty coat. Silversea provides waterproof parkas lined with cozy puff jackets.  
Don’t worry about packing a heavy-duty coat. Silversea provides waterproof parkas lined with cozy puff jackets.  

3. Support conservation and sustainability efforts.

To protect Antarctica’s precious wildlife and landscape, abide by conservation rules and sustainability guidelines. On South Georgia Island, halfway between the southern tip of Argentina and the northwest coast of Antarctica, visitors’ clothes and shoes must be completely free of dirt, seeds, insects, and guano. Silversea expedition expert Luke Kenny even advises against Velcro, mesh, and boots with a deep tread, all of which can harbor foreign substances. “The South Georgia government is now firmly focused on reducing to nil the chance of a visitor bringing any plant material from other regions ashore,” he says. “That includes any soil or organic material that may harbor diseases that could be inadvertently introduced to the wildlife on the island.” Pre-departure, Silversea provides travelers with reading materials and any destination-specific advisories.
Sea kayaking is a great way to visit destinations without disturbing local inhabitants.
Sea kayaking is a great way to visit destinations without disturbing local inhabitants.

4. Decide if you’re ready for the Drake Passage.

In the nineteenth century, the body of water separating Antarctica from South America earned a dubious reputation for rough seas, but crossing it today is much safer and adds a special component to the sailing experience. "There’s something gorgeously meditative about crossing the Drake Passage as it gradually shifts to the blue-gray seascape stretching away from you," says Jamie Watts, a marine ecologist and Silversea expedition expert. "By crossing the passage and leaving the rest of the world behind, you’re ready for whatever comes next." Still not convinced? For those with limited time (or a nausea-prone stomach), in December 2021, Silversea will launch Antarctica Bridge, a short business-class flight available on select Silver Explorer cruises from Punta Arenas, Chile, to the South Shetland Islands. The two-hour flight to the Antarctic Peninsula will save travelers four days of at-sea sailing.
Sailing the Drake Passage gets a lot more comfortable in a <em>Silver Cloud</em> Royal Suite.
Sailing the Drake Passage gets a lot more comfortable in a Silver Cloud Royal Suite.

5. Bring the gear to get that million-dollar glacier shot.

"Photographing glaciers can pose challenges due to their enormous size," Virtuoso travel advisor Lindsay Ames says. "A wide-angle lens can help you capture the entire glacier, and a polarizing filter can make colors more vibrant, reduce glare, and make details stand out." Travel advisor Kelly Krill adds that Silversea’s expedition team will happily help. "They’ll put you in the perfect vantage point for a once-in-a-lifetime shot," she says. "And the Silver Cloud has an onboard photo studio to help you edit your shots." 
Along the coast of Antarctica, remote Paradise Harbor maintains year-round below-freezing temperatures.
Along the coast of Antarctica, remote Paradise Harbor maintains year-round below-freezing temperatures.
Photo by Richard Sidey

6. Make the most of your time on board.

Many highlights of an Antarctica cruise happen while you are zipping around in a Zodiac and exploring on shore, but plenty of special experiences await on board. "The lectures are excellent, and it’s a privilege to learn from the expedition leaders and hear their stories," Cook says. Don’t forget to (literally) soak up some of the ship’s creature comforts. "Luxuriate in a hot bath when you come back from exploring," Lauwers adds. "Your butler can pour you a glass of Champagne to sip while you’re soaking.”
Aboard <em>Silver Cloud</em>, head to the Zagara Beauty Salon for hairstyling, manicures and pedicures. 
Aboard Silver Cloud, head to the Zagara Beauty Salon for hairstyling, manicures and pedicures. 

7. Take several Zodiac tours.

Although your Silversea ship will be home base during the voyage, there’s a place for sightseeing that’s even better than the onboard Explorer Lounge. Zodiacs – smaller, inflatable, open-air watercraft – allow travelers to explore narrow passages and other areas that cruise ships are too big to access, and they transport passengers from ship to shore for excursions. They also facilitate unforgettable wildlife encounters. “Simply being on a Zodiac right next to a humpback whale – there’s something very humbling about that,” says Combrink. “A humpback whale coming right up to your Zodiac and spy-hopping – it’s what most people dream of.”
Near the south pole, travelers set off from <em>Silver Explorer </em>via Zodiac.
Near the south pole, travelers set off from Silver Explorer via Zodiac.

8. Study up before you set sail to make the experience even more fulfilling.

"The history of Antarcticas exploration is fascinating, so you might want to brush up on the continents first explorers," Krill says. Fellow advisor Marilyn Bohle recommends reading Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing. "Antarctica is Shackleton," she says. "His unbelievable journey in 1915 reads like a fiction novel – but it’s real." For something "a little more fun," says Krill, try Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell. (The 1938 sci-fi novel inspired The Thing, a movie about researchers in Antarctica who discover a spaceship buried in the ice.) Cook also recommends watching the BBC’s Frozen Planet series. 

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