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Destination: Antartica

Why?

I want to bring you on a journey with me.  It has been 20 plus years in the making.   While I was attending Rigby High School in rural Idaho, I set a goal to travel to all 7 continents.  Growing up in a single-wide trailer and a son of a single mother, this was a very audacious goal.  In 10 short months I will take the last step in tackling this ambitious goal.  Cue the stirring music.

I am sharing my experience, not to boast, or draw attention to myself (This is Mike by the way…).  This series of posts are for three different types of people:

1) If you have ever dreamed a dream, set a goal, wished for something big and special in your life, this series of posts are for you.  If you need a little reassurance that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, this is for you.  There is a light.  It can and will happen for you.  But…..it is really, really hard.  Never, Never, NEVER give up on your goals!

2) If Antarctica is on your bucket list, and you just want the details on how to make it happen on a budget.  These posts are for you– if you can get beyond a little sappiness, along the way.

3) For my friends and family that are wondering “what in the world” is Mike doing this time.  This is for you as well.  (Please skip the “danger” section below.) Enjoy.

Antarctica

Antarctica

Perhaps one of the most inhospitable places on earth, Antarctica is not a “fun” place to visit.   According to Wikipedia:  “Antarctica, on average, is the coldest, driest, and windiest continent, and has the highest average elevation of all the continents.”  So, it’s got that going for it.  Obviously, it attracts scientists, global warming anti-deniers, and penguin watchers galore.   It also speaks to another breed, the 45to 55 year-old bucket-lister-crosser-offer-ers. Guilty as charged.

The Fighting Solo

I am going it alone on this one. This trip includes everything that Luci hates: 

1) cold

2) rough seas

3) Mike

4) small cabin

5) more rough seas

6) sea-sickness and

7) cold water. 

After not getting a response from my Twitter invite to Gal Gadot (It’s not too late if you are reading this), I have paired up with a good friend to join me. Traveling solo to Antarctica nearly doubles the price, a non-starter for me.

Antarctica Fun Fact:  The Continent was the last one to be “discovered.” In 1820, the Russian expedition of Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen and Mikhail Lazarev sighted the Fimbul Ice Shelf.  It was not until much later that a group of Norwegians made the first landing.

Weddell seal pups on the ice of the Antarctic Peninsula

When to Start

Cruises fill up a year or more in advance.  While I have read of bloggers going down to the port and booking a spot the day of, I just can’t roll that way.  If you are like me, you have a tight window to make everything work with time off and family, booking exact days is a must.

Nothing is Easy or Cheap

A word of warning.  Regardless of the many “fluffy” blog posts out there on the white continent, visiting Antarctica is difficult, extremely expensive, and a tiny bit dangerous.   Luci and I have made a habit of finding the shortcuts to make travel cheap.  We maximize points, travel on shoulder seasons, and a several other tricks of the trade to make global travel affordable.  None of those ingenious tactics work on Antarctica.  There is a three-month window when you can go, there are limited boats, and there are only two ports you can go out of in South America.  Antarctica is the soup Nazi of travel.  No cheap trip for you!

The “Drake Shake”

Budget

I began saving for Antarctica four years ago. Both Luci and I are disciples of Dave Ramesy, so we are very conservative on how we spend our money.   Each year we allot a certain amount of our budget for “blow money” (we know, it sounds terrible.).  This is money that we can spend on anything we want.  I hoarded mine like a crazy man, I skipped birthday and Christmas presents in order to save the money for this trip.

Ok, let’s talk numbers.  You can spend $75k on an Antarctica trip without blinking an eye. (https://www.swoop-antarctica.com/cruises/south-georgia/in-depth). Since we don’t have a trust fund, this is not an option for us.  (It would be soooo cool though!)

Here are the basics for our trip:

$1,800 flight from Boise, Idaho, USA (BOI) to Buenos Aires (EZE).

$500 flight from Buenos Aires (AEP) to Ushuaia (USH)

$8,900 pp double Occupancy cruise

$750 excursions (kayaking, camping, etc.)

$250 Lodging and transport Ushuaia

$500 “melt” layover in Buenos Aires

$500 Medical/evacuation insurance

$13,200

Jumping Gentoo Penguins

Travel Insurance

Without a doubt, you need travel insurance for any trip to Antarctic.  There are three major components to travel insurance: medical, evacuation and cancellation.  Medical insurance provides coverage for major injuries and sickness that may occur during your trip.  Please pay close attention to how “previous conditions” are covered.  Evacuation coverage could be used in tandem with the medical, it is to get you to the nearest medical facility and eventually home should your treatment be needed.  This is critical with the remoteness of the region.   Lastly, most of the cruise tickets to Antarctica are non-refundable.  Should you have a covered incident, like losing a job etc., there is coverage for the amount of the ticket that is not refundable. The rest of the add in coverages are nice, but not mission critical.

Danger

Ok…you bought the insurance right?  Lets talk danger.  There is a small but real exposure.  This is still a difficult trip.  Type in MS Explorer 2007 into google and you will read of the last tourist ship sinking after hitting an iceberg.  All survived due to extremely good weather at the time.   The boat ended up at the bottom of the ocean.  Moving right along….

Getting There

With all the boring details taken care of, let’s go!  Let’s start with the end in mind.  There are two ports in South America that ships to Antarctica sail out of:  Punta Arenas, Chile; and Ushuaia, Argentina. Getting to one of those two can be done by a couple small carriers out of major South American cities including Rio, Buenos Aires, and Santiago.  We elected the Buenos Aires to Ushuaia route on Aerolineas Argentinas.  It is roughly a four-hour flight.  Don’t book the final flight of the day, leave yourself at least one more flight option.  You don’t want to miss the boat.

Seal in front of ship, boat, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

Choose your Cruise

The lion share of your budget is going to be spent on which cruise.  Your experience will be completely defined by the craft you choose.  Ultimately, you are trying to maximize your value.  There are roughly 50 boats that make trips to the Antarctic every year.  Only smaller boats are allowed to stop and let passengers visit the mainland.  If your boat has 500+ passengers, you will simply float past the continent. 

In order of luxury of small ships to Antartica:

Abercrombie & Kent

Hurtigruten

National Geographic

Ponant

Oceanwide

Quark

G Adventures

The key will be finding dates and trips that will fit your schedule and fare that won’t destroy you budget.  Keep in mind the cruise season in Antarctica is December to February. 

We elected to go with Oceanwide, sailing on their brand new luxury boat the Hondius.  Below is a video of its launch in Croatia.  Our decision was made on timing, activities, and reputation of Oceanwide.

This is the first of many posts as we prepare for the grand adventure.  Stay tuned for more details in this series on packing, plans and preparations.

Do you have questions?  Let us know.  Would you like a postcard from the end of the world?  Leave us a comment.

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