10 Things I Wish I Knew Before My Cruise to Antarctica

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Antarctic travel season is November through March, which is summer in the Southern Hemisphere. In fact, most days during my trip, the temperature was higher than back home in New York! Couple this with treks in beautiful sunshine while you're likely overdressed in your finest sub-zero attire and you will be downright warm.  

Angela Tucciarone

You'll be at sea - likely in rough seas - for days

Many Antarctic cruises begin in Ushuaia, Argentina, and traverse the ocean southward. The itinerary made clear that we would be boat-bound for four of the nine days of our voyage, most of that time spent in the infamous Drake Passage. I was prepared for relaxing time spent reading, playing board games and starting cocktail hour early. Instead, I slept for about 36 of those 48 hours in either direction, waking along with the rest of the passengers only for sustenance. The seasickness-medicine-induced haze can only be described as just that: a fog that prevents you from doing anything remotely engaging.

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I hate to burst your bubble if, like me, you were expecting a nice break from the regular pace of life while in Antarctica. Short of sending hi-res photos, communicating with friends and family back home is easy. Quark even offered free WhatsApp service. But hey, if you never actually connect, no one back home has to know, right?

Angela Tucciarone

Organizations are trying hard to protect Antarctica from the stresses of tourism

Antarctica tourism is governed by the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO), a group that works to protect the region in lieu of Antarctica actually being "owned" by any one country. Beginning on day one, our expedition staff held briefings on how to conduct oneself while ashore, complete with a required certification signing by each passenger. Before leaving the ship and upon each return we were required to clean our boots in a trough of disinfecting liquid.

Angela Tucciarone

You will not pet penguins, but you will spend serious quality time with many of them

Part of IAATO's plans to maintain the ecosystem of Antarctica include a strict mandate not to disturb the wildlife. That means no penguin hugs. Now the loophole: While you cannot approach a penguin, if you happen to be sitting quietly and a penguin approaches you on his/her own (this happens frequently) you can feel free to bask in the glory and take a (non-hugging) selfie. I could not believe how close these guys got, and how curious they are.

Angela Tucciarone

Bring snacks

The ship's staff was well equipped to feed the passengers and expedition team; and our meals, while not always flavorful, had variety. But Quark Expeditions is not a leisure cruise to the Caribbean, and meals are on a schedule, with few opportunities for snacking throughout the day. On my excursion, a buffet breakfast was usually scheduled for 7:30-8:30 a.m., a buffet lunch from 12:30-1:30 p.m. and a seated dinner from 7:30-8:30 p.m, prompt.

Angela Tucciarone

It's a great chance to make friends

On my excursion the Ocean Adventurer hosted guests of 21 nationalities, an approximately even split of men and women, and three honeymooning couples(!). There were many opportunities to interact, from seminars hosted by the expedition team to open seating in the dining room. I was excited to find many passengers with the same sense of adventure that brought me to Antarctica, and left with friends I will keep in touch with for years to come.

Angela Tucciarone

Bring sunscreen, and wear it every day

Ever see skiers with a red face after a day on the slopes? Multiply that by 10. The Antarctic ozone hole allows strong UV rays to beam down, and they also reflect off the water and crisp white snow. Luckily, all Quark Expedition ships have a small gift shop with reasonably priced sundries, outerwear and some fun gift items.

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Bring a swimsuit

Safety and weather permitting, Quark Expeditions and most tour operators will offer an opportunity to do a "polar plunge" leap into the 35-degree water. You're crazy if you do it - and crazy if you don't. It was one of the most exhilarating experiences I have ever had.

Angela Tucciarone

You will be amazed

The first time you touch land in Antarctica will exceed any expectations. The air is crisp, the landscape is vast, and experiencing its majesty up close is hard to put in words.

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Angela Tucciarone is a former food blogger who lives in Manhattan. She has traveled to over 40 countries, and her favorite food item to try in each local cuisine is cheese.

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