Visiting Antarctica invariably means spending plenty of time on board your sturdy cruise ship. After all, you’ll need to cross the Drake Passage from Argentina and you’ll be sleeping, eating and, hopefully, having fun on board. Remember, most Antarctica excursions are only for a few hours, the rest of the time is spent on the ship.

Your home-away-from-home will have all the amenities that you’ll want and need for a smooth sailing. Here’s what you can expect from life on board a cruise to Antarctica.

A typical day will begin with an announcement from the trip leader or the captain, welcoming you to the morning’s anchoring, sharing with you the weather forecast, and perhaps reminding you of the day’s excursion.

You’ll eat breakfast -- usually a buffet -- at around 7 am to get on shore by about 8:30 am. After a few hours’ activity on land, you’ll re-board the ship. It will probably sail on during lunch, which again tends to be a buffet. You’ll explore the new location in the afternoon and, if weather and conditions permit, you may enjoy another landing before or after dinner -- which is usually a sit-down affair, with three or four courses.

Be adaptable

If you’re the type who needs a set-in-stone itinerary for each day, be prepared to become more adaptable. Your tour operator will often book landing sites ahead of time, but in Antarctica, the weather will have the final say on just about everything. Changes in the weather may limit where you can land, as well as dictate how much time you can spend on shore. As a result, most itineraries are not published. Instead, you’ll have a general idea of where you’re headed, with the caveat that everything is subject to change.

In addition to the shore excursions, you’ll have the opportunity to learn about Antarctic life, the history of the continent, facts and interesting information about animals and ecology, perhaps even the geology of the area with on-board experts. Their lectures are optional of course, but they’re filled with information and are a great way to learn more about the fascinating land you’re visiting.

As these ships tend to carry fewer passengers than the massive cruise liners that visit warmer climates, the atmosphere on board tends to be very communal. You’ll meet new people on your shore excursions and will most likely share a table with other guests at meals. Evening activities like theme nights, auctions, musical performances and more, are often offered, which means even more opportunities to make new friends.

Each voyage is different, and the guests can often dictate the “feel” of a ship. Some will have a younger group on board, and some tend to attract a more mature crowd. If you’re travelling solo or want to be on a ship with people of a certain age, be sure to talk to a polar expert. It’s often just the luck of the draw, but pre-planning can help.

Dealing with sea sickness

Sea sickness is a concern for many people, and the truth is that it is common. You could encounter swells of up to 10-12 meters, so be prepared. Each ship has a doctor on board, but supplies are limited so if you have a solution that you prefer, be sure to carry it with you. When possible, the ships will try to avoid bad weather, but Mother Nature is unpredictable and you never know what may occur. Most people enjoy the thrill of the open ocean, so the message is, be prepared -- and enjoy the adventure.

Be sure to bring your camera and several memory cards for the trip, but don’t plan on posting daily updates to social media. You may be able to access the internet on many ships (at a cost), but the speed and connection varies, so think of this an off-the-grid adventure. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to share photos and stories when you get back to land. There will be a satellite phone on board, but that’s for emergencies. So be prepared to unplug and enjoy your time at sea -- this experience will better than anything on Facebook, that’s for sure.

Life on board an Antarctic cruise

By Katie Coakley

Katie Coakley is a freelance writer and occasional blogger based in Denver, Colorado. She’s eaten dinner on a portaledge in Wales, snorkelled through the North American and Eurasian continents in Iceland and ridden the Reunification Express through Vietnam and has lived to write the tale. Antarctica was the seventh continent she has visited. Her writing has appeared in various newspapers, magazines and online outlets. You can find more of her work on her website or follow her on Instagram.

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