If you’re looking for a trip that takes you off to the less-beaten trails then you should definitely consider a polar cruise. There are many reasons to visit Antarctica. You’ll be in for a treat – wildlife and ruggedly beautiful vistas in some of the most pristine locations left in the world.
The question of course is how does one choose between the various polar cruises? What voyage is going to give you the most bang for your adventuring buck? Let’s take a look at some quick tips that should help you narrow down your polar cruise choices.
Time of Year
The first decision, whether to head to the Arctic or the Antarctic, may simply come down to when you have the time available to make the trip. You’re most likely to be taking your voyage during the local summer season as polar waters ice over during the winter.
The local summer season depends on the hemisphere. The northern hemisphere enjoys summer in the middle of the year, the hottest months being July and August. The southern hemisphere’s summer revolves around the months of January and February.
So if you have voyage time booked anywhere from say the beginning of April through to the end of September, then you’re probably off to the North Pole. If your adventure time falls between the beginning of November through to the end of March then it’s likely the South Pole for you.
One other consideration in regards to time – how badly do you want to see the Southern or Northern Lights? If the Auroras are your priority then you’ll want to book a cruise that falls more towards the beginning or end of the region’s cruise seasons to make sure you maximise the amount of time you have to spend searching the night skies.
Also of note – during the summers the Polar Regions aren’t nearly as cold as you might think. Temperatures generally hover around the freezing mark (although the trip across the Ross Sea to the Antarctic can get significantly nippier). As long as you dress appropriately you’ll be just fine.
Polar cruises tend to offer a variety of ways that you can get your exploration on. These activities can include:
- Different levels of hikes.
- Photography courses.
- Shoreline boat rides (in Zodiacs which are motorized dinghies).
- Camping on shore. (Usually only in Antarctica. Camping out in the Arctic can occasionally mean a polar bear wake-up call.)
Some cruise lines also offer themed cruises. This might mean visiting the remote islands of the oceans (like St. Helena or the Falklands), whale watching, or even cleaning detritus off the shores, leaving the regions a little cleaner than they were before the cruise arrived.
Do any of these activities grab your attention? How about all of them? If the latter is the case then you should keep your eyes open for “basecamp cruises” which usually offer a whole whack of activities all under one price, as opposed to paying for activities in a piece-meal fashion.
You’ll also want to figure out what size of ship you want to spend your time on. Adventure companies offer the gambit – from full-sized cruise ships complete with spas and (hopefully heated) pools right down to smaller sail boats that are better suited for dipping in and out of the smaller bays found along the shorelines.
As time closes on launch time for cruises many cruise lines will offer deals on their remaining rooms. You can save a significant chunk of change if you’re willing to book close to the last minute. Just remember to have all of your travel documents already up-to-date and know whether you require any special documents like visas.
However do keep in mind that polar cruises are gaining in popularity, which means earlier and earlier sell-outs. Waiting for a last-minute deal is a gamble, and you might find that you’ve waited too long to hop on board a cruise.
While both Polar Regions offer a wide variety of animals to meet, really the big three draws of polar cruises are Polar Bears, Penguins, and Whales.
Whales can be found at either end of the Earth, and in the sea routes in between. Cruise lines, like Oceanwide Expeditions, quite often offer cruises that are specifically designed to meet up with known whale migration routes, upping your chance to meet these great mammals of the seas. So unless you’re looking to see a specific species of whale, both Arctic cruises and Antarctica cruises should serve your purpose.
Polar Bears on the other hand are Arctic-specific. They can sometimes be difficult to meet up with on account of the fact that they are loners (unless it’s a mother with her cubs).
Penguins on the other hand are much easier to find. There are millions of these tuxedoed critters found in the Antarctic region, both on the continent itself and on the islands between Antarctica and its neighbouring continents. Some penguins are even found spread throughout South America and Oceania.
Both the North and South Poles offer a variety of seals and walruses, as well as a plethora of bird species for the twitchers (people who travel long distances to check off a rare bird from their list) amongst us.
If history in general is your thing, then an Arctic cruise is probably your best bet. You can check out Inuit history as well as abandoned European/Russian/North American whaling centres and mining towns from the past. You’re even able to visit old Viking settlements to see how those plucky marauders lived some 1000+ years ago.
That being said, the Antarctic isn’t exactly a slouch in the history department. Although the historic sites are fewer and farther between, the Antarctic itself was the focus of one of the great exploration races of human history. The most famous of these sites are of course the huts of Shackleton and Scott.
Choose Your Own Adventure
What’s it going to be – penguins or polar bears? Honestly, you can’t go wrong either way. It’s really just a question of which attractions have the strongest pull on your sense of exploration. The biggest question of all is of course, “Is a polar cruise worth it?” The answer is absolutely. You’re in for an adventure that you’ll remember for the rest of your life.