A record 100,000 people are expected to travel to Antarctica during the 2022/2023 season.
To get to the white continent, most people take a ship and have to cross the rough Drake Passage.
I spent $5,700 for a triple cabin on Intrepid Travel's Ocean Endeavor for my voyage — see inside the ship.
Travel to Antarctica is booming, with 100,000 people expected to travel to the continent this season.
Source: NC State University
Tourism to the isolated snow desert dates back to the 1950s and has grown dramatically in recent years.
Source: British Antarctic Survey
In the 2016/2017 season, only about 38,000 people visited, while in 2019, around 74,000 people made the journey.
However, travel was halted during the pandemic and many tours were canceled or postponed — including mine with Australia-based tour company Intrepid Travel.
My trip was originally scheduled to depart in November 2020, but was delayed to November 2021, and again to November 2022.
Fortunately, with COVID-19 now under control and many tours, including Intrepid, requiring vaccinations, I was finally able to reach Antarctica last month.
Source: Intrepid Travel
My incredible 9-night journey was on the 200-person Ocean Endeavor expedition ship, where rooms can cost passengers over $10,000. Here’s what the trek was like.
According to the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators, which is an organization that promotes safe and responsible travel to the continent, most tourists reach Antarctica by boat from South America.
Flying is also an option, but only about 1% of tourists arrive by plane as the weather is unpredictable at the landing sites and the continent's infrastructure can make it difficult to rescue a stranded aircraft.
For my adventure, the departure port was in Ushuaia, Argentina, which is the southern-most city in the world.
I flew to the small city from Buenos Aires on the nation's flag carrier, Aerolineas Argentinas, though budget airlines like JetSmart also offer service. Whatever the airline, I suggest you reserve a window seat — the views are unforgettable.
For Intrepid's trip, guests were instructed to arrive a day early and were provided accommodation in Ushuaia. I was booked at the Wyndham Garden Ushuaia Hotel del Glaciar, which was about 10 minutes by taxi from town and up a giant hill.
Here, an icebreaker was hosted and I met a wonderful group of nine travelers who I spent my entire Antarctic adventure with.
The following day, Intrepid arranged a transfer from the hotel to the port, which is where we got our first look at the company's specially-modified expedition ship — the Ocean Endeavour.
The ship is new to Intrepid, with my voyage being only the company's second-ever to Antarctica.
Originally named the Konstantin Simonov after a Russian poet, the Ocean Endeavour launched in 1982 and was used by Soviet companies to ferry people around the Baltic Sea.
Source: USA Today
The ship was converted into a polar vessel in 2014 and equipped with 20 robust zodiac boats to transport people from the ship to remote landing sites in the Arctic and Antarctica.
Source: USA Today
Arriving at the Ocean Endeavour, it was much bigger than it looked from afar but was dwarfed in comparison to the luxury vessel on the adjacent dock, where rates start at over $20,000 for a 12-night cruise in November 2023.
Getting settled into the boat was quick and easy with help from the designated reception desk on deck 5.
The employee onboard held onto my passport and gave me my key to cabin 4100 located toward the front of the boat.
I paid a Black Friday rate of $5,700 in 2019 for a triple interior room, meaning I had two random female roommates and no window in the cabin. I also had to pay a "fuel surcharge" in August 2022 due to rising oil costs, amounting to about $450.
My rate was relatively cheap compared to current triple room prices that sit between $8,800 and $11,000 for 2023 voyages. I also paid less than one person in my group who spent upward of $7,000 in 2021 for her triple room.
Source: Intrepid Travel
While at first, I was a little worried about being in a triple, the room proved to be one of the biggest on the ship. Inside were four beds, including three that pointed toward the side of the ship and one that faced back to front.
Also inside the cabin was a separate bathroom and shower, which were each inside a small room with a door. There was shampoo, body wash, a handle to hang onto, and a curtain inside the shower room.
Other amenities in the cabin included large closets with hangars, a TV that broadcast a few rotating movies and onboard science presentations, power outlets, and securable drawers.
I thought the room was extremely comfortable, and the large size meant I wasn't falling over my roommates. Though, I didn't spend much time in the cabin other than sleeping or showering.
While my room only had one shower, the other three triples on the boat had two. Moreover, they only had three beds across the cabin with one full bathroom on either side. The closets were not as big though.
Other rooms onboard included a comfort twin, which one person in my group spent $7,700 on when booking in the summer of 2022…
…as well as single rooms and suites. These go for much more than the shared cabins, costing between $10,000 and $18,000 per person, according to current Intrepid pricing.
Source: Intrepid Travel
In addition to rooms, the Ocean Endeavour also featured several other spaces, but don't expect a typical Caribbean cruise ship.
Passengers will not find casinos or giant Broadway-like auditoriums, nor are there water slides or steakhouses onboard.
Instead, the amenities were simple, but still very nice. Toward the front of the boat was the Polaris Restaurant, where buffet-style and a-la-carte meals were served three times a day.
I thought the food was delicious, and there were some vegan and vegetarian options, but there was minimal fish because the company couldn't find an acceptable ethical vendor.
My group bought several bottles of wine in Ushuaia before embarkation, which Intrepid let us bring onboard at no additional cost and we drank them at every dinner.
While the dining room was really only intended to provide meals, it ended up being a pretty eventful space when journeying through the Drake Passage.
On our way to Antarctica, we were lucky to only have what is called the "Drake Lake," which means the rough sea was actually pretty calm, and the boat didn't have unbearable movement.
But, on the way back was a different story. We encountered what is known as the "Drake Shake," battling gale-force winds of over 30 miles per hour and waves reaching over 15 feet, making it hard to eat, walk, or even sleep.
For about two days straight, the boat rocked side-to-side and up and down, crashing onto the ocean's surface and dumping people out of their beds and dining room chairs.
In a viral TikTok video taken by fellow Antarctic passenger and friend Paulina Portillo, you can hear plates and glasses breaking as they slide off tables.
I’ll admit the event was a little scary at times, but there were handles to help walk, and I mostly camped out in the aft lounge where the movement was less intense.
Fortunately, I avoided any nausea thanks to the seasickness patches I got prescribed before the cruise. I cannot express this enough — do not go to Antarctica without strong anti-nausea medicine.
While the Drake Passage was definitely an experience in itself, the boat had several rooms and activities that provided entertainment, like the Nautilus Lounge, which featured tables and chairs...
and a bar that served cocktails, wine, beer, and nonalcoholic drinks.
The lounge is where the expedition team provided daily educational lectures on topics like whales, penguins, photography, tectonic plates, and the history of Antarctica.
The room was also used for explaining how to use some of the excursion equipment, like snowshoes and camping gear. I signed up for both, which cost an additional $150 and $300, respectively.
Unfortunately, neither of those activities happened due to the weather, but the kayakers, who shelled out over $1,000 for the experience, were able to go out a few times.
Also onboard the ship were several other spaces, like a spa, sauna, and gym…
…the bridge, which was open to guests to see how the ship navigated through the rough seas…
…the Aurora Lounge and the Meridian Club...
…and the Compass Club.
Here, the crew provided daily tea time with sweets and mini sandwiches, as well as all-day coffee, cookies, and fruit.
Probably the most interesting room onboard was the mud room, which is where passengers got ready to head out into the frigid Antarctic air.
To get to shore, we had to ride on the 10-person Zodiacs manned by an expedition team member.
However, sometimes ice blocked certain landing sites and we instead spent hours just riding around and looking at the glaciers, sea animals, and icebergs, which was actually my favorite part of the trip.
But, spending hours in the Antarctic meant we had to dress appropriately. I opted for four layers on my top and three on the bottom, as well as a buff, gloves, beanie, wool socks, and ski goggles.
Fortunately, I only needed to bring merino wool base layers, a fleece, and waterproof pants on the cruise because Intrepid provided us with the top layers, including a Kathmandu down jacket to keep…
…as well as a waterproof and windproof parka and muck boots to rent. To go out, we were put into four groups and called down to the mud room when it was our turn to put on all our layers.
Most people kept their parka and boots in their designated mud room locker and wore the puffer on deck. The boat was kept consistently warm, so layers weren't needed inside.
Each locker had a few hangars and space on top for wet clothes when we got back since no one is safe from Zodiac splashing. The company actually requires everyone to wear waterproof pants when off the ship for this reason.
When not zipping around on Zodiacs or walking on the seventh continent, I spent a ton of time on deck looking out at the ice.
The ship had plenty of standing areas outside, both in the front and back of the boat, as well as along the side.
There was also a pool and hot tub...
...and a smoking area, which one of my new friends nicknamed "Starboard 7."
I even mustered the courage to do the famous "polar plunge," meaning I put on a swimsuit and jumped into the 33-degree Antarctic water. The experience was exhilarating and I'm glad I did it.
While overall the ship wasn't a luxury vessel and was very much built for expeditions, I felt I had everything I needed onboard.
My cabin was spacious, the shower was hot with great water pressure, and I loved the social atmosphere of the lounge and dining room.
Although the entire trip set me back about $8,000 and the Drake Passage was pretty uncomfortable, I don't regret the remarkable, once-in-a-lifetime trip.
However, I will note that while Intrepid does everything it can to keep Antarctic travel environmentally friendly, it's impossible.
According to an NC State University study, high travel to Antarctica could stress out the penguins, so be respectful of the wildlife and don't leave anything behind that could be harmful to the continent, like trash or food.
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