Not only am I back, I am also now one of the .02% of people who have visited all 7 continents!
For me, the #1 reason to go was the rarity of the experience:
- In 2017, only 37,608 people got to land anywhere on the Antarctica (11,000 from America).
- If you choose to go on one of the large cruise ships, you do not get a landing at all – so keep that in mind.
Read on below for what makes the trip absolutely worthwhile – and why Nat Geo/Lindblad is the way to go. However, the Antarctica is not for everyone. I’ve included some caveats to consider should you be curious about whether this is the trip for you.
FIVE REASONS TO GO TO THE ANTARCTICA:
1. You’ll be among the select few to visit this part of the world
- Fewer than 50,000 people per year get to land/cruise around the Antarctica
- For adventurous travelers, this is one of the rarest of destinations
- With the ice melting, there may also be a limited number of years to see this part of the world as it currently exists.
Who doesn’t love penguins?
We got to mingle with 3 types:
- Adélie – most common (upper right)
- Chinstrap – meeters and greeters! (upper left)
- Gentoo – they have the red beaks (lower left)
Seals – Although there are 35 species of seals, only six types live in Antarctica and if I recall correctly we saw Crabeaters and Weddells. Others include: Ross (very rare), leopard, fur and elephant seals. Surprisingly, seals look a lot like giant slugs when lying on non-snow surfaces.
Whales – especially orcas, minkes and humpbacks – all relatively rare and extremely elusive.
Birds – included skuas (who attack and eat baby penguins), petrels and albatrosses.
3. The most gorgeous icy landscape (although Greenland is equally impressive)
My favorite was an area called the “iceberg graveyard” – spectacular sculptural pieces of ice
4. Visits to areas of historic significance (generally run by the UK historic trust)
Stonington Island – named after Stonington Connecticut – where a team from the United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust is currently based and doing restorations
Port Lockroy –part of a secret wartime initiative to monitor German shipping movements – now a museum and gift shop!!
5. Drake’s Passage (yes!! It’s exciting)
Using the Scopolamine patch and taking two of the Bonine pills as we headed into the wild seas of the Drake’s Passage worked wonders. Not seasick for a minute. And quite enjoyed getting a “washing machine” view of the ocean through the porthole in my cabin.
The Nat Geo/Lindblad experts
- All are outstanding but special shout outs to Doug Gualtieri (penguin expert), Eduardo Shaw (a naturalist, but it was his take on cricket that reeled me in), and John Durban (the whale guy with the drones).
Our on-board doctor
- Jeff Westin – who also happens to be the doctor for Burning Man!
Great fellow travelers
- Although the ship carries close to 150 passengers which made it very difficult to meet everyone, I did get to hang out with a few stellar folks including Ellen who brought along her two granddaughters on her 7th trip to the Antarctica, Chuck and David Blonien (the father/son veterinarians from Dallas), Marianne and Rachel (mother/daughter travelers from Oregon), Al Ramponi and his son Jeff who were going on to Easter Island, Felix and Irene Schier from Switzerland, Kaanchan Gangal and Holly Hensley both doctors from the Pacific Northwest, the Murdochs from Michigan and many more.
Super chic orange parkas!!
- Brad is begging me to get him one!!
Now on to the downside of this trip (strictly from my perspective)
Way too much downtime
- 10 days at sea with only three active, action-packed days is just too slow for me.
- However, the majority of my fellow travelers typically take their vacations on ships so they were totally cool with the pace of ship life.
- My preference, on the other hand, is for shorter, more dynamic trips e.g. the 8-day Nat Geo/Lindblad Alaska Inside Passage Expedition is perfect (Sitka to Juneau)
Not enough variety of experiences
- Penguins are great but when they end up being the highlight of each day, they lose their allure.
- Both the Alaska Inland Passage and the Greenland destinations provide more diverse experiences from hiking to wildlife than the Antarctica expedition does.
- Our only off-ship experiences were short hikes following orange cones on the ice. I understand why they do this but nevertheless not very exciting.
Too big a group
- Having now been on 4 Nat Geo expeditions, I realize that 70 people max is my ideal travel group.
- 150 fellow travelers is too much. Additionally, this kind of trip attracts large groups who tend to be insular and not available to mix and mingle. Our expedition included 3 very large groups which eliminated almost 20% of the passengers from connecting with fellow travelers.
- I recognize that my desire to meet fellow travelers may be specific to traveling solo. Couples or groups traveling together may not find this an issue.
BOTTOM LINE: Although I am thrilled to have experienced Antarctica (my 7th Continent, which I didn’t even know was a thing until this trip), there’s just not enough “there” for what it takes to get there for me to recommend it to somebody who hasn’t already visited Alaska or Greenland. However, for those who have already been to both of those destinations and who have an affinity for travel to chillier climes, the Antarctica is a MUST-SEE