I started out this year with an epic bucket list trip – an expedition cruise to Antarctica. This trip had been a dream trip for over ten years, and it was amazing with stunning scenery and enchanting wildlife. The opportunity to actually step on Antarctica was thrilling. This adventuresome trip has some alternative travel styles beyond a 10+ day cruise, so I wanted to highlight another choice…
Getting to Antarctica – An Alternative to the Drake Passage
Antarctica is a remote and pristine continent that has captured the imagination of adventurers and explorers for centuries. Today, it is possible to visit this unique destination on an expedition cruise, which offers a once-in-a-lifetime experience to witness the region’s stunning natural beauty and wildlife (see my blog about my Antarctica experience).
However, most expedition cruises to Antarctica require crossing the Drake Passage, which is known for its challenging conditions and takes about two days each way.
Crossing the Drake Passage
Crossing the Drake Passage is a journey that involves navigating through the turbulent waters of the Southern Ocean between South America’s Cape Horn and the South Shetland Islands of Antarctica.
The passage is about 500 miles wide and is known for its extreme weather conditions and challenging sailing conditions.
This famous passage is challenging for several reasons. There are exceptionally strong winds that may be fierce at times in the southern 40°, 50°, and 60° latitudes, known from old sailor days as the Roaring 40s, Furious 50s, and Screaming 60s.
Also, the passage is where the north’s warm waters meet the south’s cold waters, causing intense ocean currents and unpredictable weather patterns.
Crossing the Drake Passage is an essential part of the overall Antarctica expedition experience. While the Drake Passage can have rough weather, it can also be smooth sailing without much turbulence. As folks anticipate cruise that area, they wonder if they will get the ‘Drake Shake’ or the ‘Drake Lake’.
The passage is often referred to as the “Gateway to Antarctica,” and it is the only way to reach the continent by sea. It also offers a unique opportunity to witness some of the world’s most remote and untouched landscapes and the diverse wildlife that calls Antarctica home.
Antarctica Expedition: Cruising
An Antarctica expedition cruise typically starts from Puerto Williams or Punta Arenas, Chile or Ushuaia, Argentina, and lasts for around 10-20 days. The itinerary includes several days of crossing the Drake Passage, with the remaining time spent exploring the Antarctic Peninsula, South Shetland Islands, and sometimes the Falkland Islands or South Georgia.
On a typical Antarctica expedition cruise of 10 days, approximately four days will be spent crossing the Drake Passage each way, with six days in Antarctica.
Heading to Antarctica with the Jet
Jet travel is a relatively new option for traveling to Antarctica. The primary advantage of the flight is time savings, as the journey from Punta Arenas, Chile, to King George Island, Antarctica, takes only around two hours, compared to several days of sailing across the Drake Passage. Additionally, jet travel offers a way to avoid seasickness, which can concern some travelers.
The flight experience to Antarctica by jet is unique, offering stunning views of the Antarctic landscape, including glaciers, mountains, and icebergs.
Once you land at King George Island, your cruise starts IN Antarctica, rather than cruising TO Antarctica.
Silversea Cruises introduced the ‘Antarctica Bridge’ program back at the end of 2021, which offers a comprehensive Antarctica experience with the flights to King George Island which avoids crossing the Drake Passage.
The ‘Antarctica Bridge’ provides the same amount of time cruising in Antarctica, so none of that part of the experience is lost.
The offering includes the flight from home to Santiago, and flight to Punta Arenas, pre and post cruise hotel stay in Punta Arenas, business flights to King George Island Antarctica, expedition gear, all transfers and all of the other features of the standard expedition cruising experience.
The Antarctica Bridge program has been a great solution for those who suffer from seasickness, yet still want to have the opportunity to immerse themselves in the stunning beauty and wilderness of the seventh continent.
For those who have time limitations, the traditional cruising method that may have prevented them for taking that bucket list trip has been updated with the jet option that provides the perfect way to fully experience Antarctica on an expedition cruise within the shorter timeframe.
Choosing the best option
When choosing between expedition cruising and the jet option for traveling to Antarctica, you should consider a few factors. These factors can include personal preferences, travel time, budget, and the type of experience desired.
I found that the two days crossing the Drake Passage each way offered a needed time of transition. After the usual travel busy-ness of getting from Atlanta to Santiago for an overnight before continuing to Puerto Williams Chile to board the ship, I enjoyed the two sea days of cruising to Antarctica as I eased into this great adventure. On the return trip across the Drake Passage, the extra days on the ship gave me time to reflect on our experience and gradually re-enter the mindset of regular life before getting back to civilization.
If you have the time, I recommend the traditional expedition cruising experience.
On the other hand, the jet option to Antarctica is faster and provides stunning views of the landscape while also avoiding seasickness that can occur during a long sea journey.
Regardless of what you choose, both travel options to Antarctica provide an unforgettable experience. Antarctica is the ultimate bucket list trip and definitely should be part of your future plans.