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Exploring the Icy Sheets of the White Continent

Remote, strange and chilling – these are just some of the words that describe the frozen continent of Antarctica. This glassy world is not meant for those half-baked adventurers who cannot figure out what to do with icebergs and ice-loving wildlife and cannot part with intermission cruise entertainments like discos and casinos. After all, an Antarctic cruise is entirely different from North Pole cruises.

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Antarctica explorations happen every summer, from November to March. Wildlife sightseeing is at its best in the middle of the season, but can get very pricey. Penguin eggs start to hatch in December, feeding frenzy are aplenty in January, and whale acrobatics are bountiful in February.

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Although it is summertime in Antarctica, temperatures are well below zero so it is best to dress as if it were winter. If the cruise allows for shore trips and dinghy tours, make sure to bring hats, ski gloves, sunglasses or goggles, and waterproof boots. Bring a trusty pair of binoculars and a zooming camera for documenting wildlife and nature landscapes.

It is ideal to choose an expedition operator that is a member of the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) for a safe and responsible trip. It takes about two days to cross the Drake Passage, and the trip can be very rough and sickening, so bring seasickness pills.

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Some trips can be as long as 22 days, which covers three destinations: Falkland Islands, South Georgia and Antarctic Peninsula. But novice explorers can already get a taste of an Antarctic exploration with a classic cruise to the peninsula for 10 days. For the more adventurous, a land expedition is a great option that takes travelers to a temporary campsite and short treks to a penguin colony.

Also, the size of the cruise ship matters greatly on the type of exploration you get. Smaller expedition ships that carry 50 to 200 passengers normally offer dinghy tours in addition to basic accommodation facilities. If you want something more luxurious and more comfortable, get on board larger vessels. However, larger ships rarely provide dinghy tours and tourists only watch the continent from the decks.

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Most international flights land in Buenos Aires or Santiago, so it is best to spend a few more days before and after your Antarctic cruise in these key cities for some urban exploration and relaxation, and perhaps some last minute shopping.

Photos by: Jim TrodeluncorrectedproofsLiam QuinnVictor

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