Tabular icebergs are awesome. Not like how a hotdog might be awesome but more in the original sense of the word. Going to Antarctica is like going to another planet, and it’s hard to explain just how mind-blowing it is. I’ve been all over the world—born in Japan, grew up in Greece, visited 31 countries to date and live in California—and for sheer wow factor, Antarctica is number one. So how did I do Antarctica different? I’ll explain in 7 ways:
1) I Chose the Most Active Ship
Antarctic Peninsula trips, like the Antarctic Explorer itinerary I sailed on with expedition cruise specialist AdventureSmith Explorations, are the most popular way to experience the White Continent. They have the greatest number of departures, the widest date range and are where you’ll find the lowest prices. I sailed on the Ocean Endeavour, and while Antarctica shone as the lead, the 199-guest ship provided great comfort in the supporting role. Of all the vessels sailing this itinerary, the Ocean Endeavour is the only one to offer cross-country skiing and mountaineering and is the only Antarctic vessel currently sailing that offers stand-up paddleboarding. For an active soul like myself, it was the perfect basecamp to check this continent off my bucket list.
2) I Liked the Drake Passage
On Antarctic Peninsula cruises you get to cross the Drake Passage—twice. I wasn’t worried about seasickness, but that I’d constantly be terrified of capsizing. As it turned out, the Ocean Endeavour was reassuringly large, and I found the crossing exhilarating. No matter the size of the waves and the amount we rocked and rolled, I knew we would be fine. The ship has two stabilizers and is no waif. At 450 feet long, she is of the biggest expedition ships recommended by the small ship experts at AdventureSmith Explorations, but the feeling of being on an expedition is not sacrificed. For those who are nervous to sail the Drake, the reward of getting to experience Antarctica will make it all worthwhile. When you look back, you’ll appreciate that your adventurous spirit triumphed. Though at the time, you may feel differently.
3) I Skied on the Antarctic Peninsula
I got to cross-country ski twice during my four days on the Antarctic Peninsula. We skied along snow-covered beaches, past penguins and seals, and up ridgelines with stunning views across bays. No one was in a hurry. We even got to ski on our continental landing at Brown Bluff. As someone who loves to ski, it was a dream come true. If you’ve never skied, fear not: the cross-country skis have skins on the bottom, which turn them into speedy snowshoes, so no experience is necessary.
4) I Met a Summit Penguin
Mountaineering ended up being a great way to explore and meet the “locals.” I went three times in four days. With crampons, ice axes, helmets and harnesses, we left the rest of the boat behind and enjoyed some solitude. Again, no previous experience is necessary. You just need to be fit and able as it’s not “extreme” by any stretch. On one outing, we were the only people to go on land; everyone else went on zodiac tours. We climbed a modestly angled slope past an Adelie penguin colony to a peak. At the top, we were met by a “summit” penguin, and when we could see down the other side, which was all exposed rock, it was entirely covered in Adelie penguins, all the way down to the sea.
As we continued along a saddle to a plateau, a group of about 30 Adelie penguins hurriedly waddled behind us to come and see what we were and what we were doing on their island. This was clearly a group of the maddest ones on the hill. They expended a lot of energy in crossing the plateau to catch up. We waited for them, and soon enough they had us surrounded, giving us sideways glances with one eye, and then the other. I’ve never seen such charismatic birds before. After they’d had a good look, and discussed their theories as to what we were, they all took off as fast as they had arrived, sliding on their bellies back to where they had come from. Of all the penguins we saw the Adelies were my favorite. On board the vessel were two scientists who were studying penguins, so that provided interesting perspectives and learning during our times at sea.
5) I Locked Eyes with a Leopard Seal
We saw lots of humpback and minke whales and orca. A juvenile orca even obliged us with a close-quarters visit by the bow. We followed a pod for quite a while as they hunted. We saw penguins leaping out of the water, escaping snapping jaws of death. When the hovering, attendant seabirds landed on the surface, we knew one had been chomped. We also had a leopard seal swim right up to our zodiac before a shore landing. He was massive and looked me right in the eye before he shot off with a flick of his tail. He then breached like a whale, clear out of the water. Talk about jaw-dropping! Others said they had seen him on an iceberg eating a penguin. Poor little penguins; it’s amazing they seem so cheerful.
6) I SUP’d in Antarctica
I also got to stand-up paddleboard in Cierva Cove, and it was probably the most spectacular adventure activity I got to do. Paddling past blue icebergs with penguins swimming next to me and ice-covered mountains and giant glaciers in the pink light is something I’ll never forget. You wear a dry suit so you don’t get wet if you fall in, which some people did. The boards are wide and stable. As with all the activities, there are several experienced guides to give instruction. A zodiac accompanies you as well in case you need a break.
7) I Back-Flipped into My Polar Plunge
I also recommend the polar plunge. It was invigorating and exciting. You have to wear a safety belt. It’s #%*@$ng freezing. You don’t want to end up back home thinking, “I should have done that.” So do it!
For more of my tips and insights from this Antarctic Explorer expedition and my advice for booking activities in Antarctica, read my original review of this trip written for AdventureSmith Explorations: Antarctic Explorer Aboard Ocean Endeavour. Working as an Adventure Specialist for AdventureSmith Explorations, I plan trips to Antarctica and around the world for adventurous clients who seek small ship expedition cruises and wilderness adventures. Look to us for unique experiences around the globe!