For many would-be expeditioners taking their first plunge into the world of small ship and adventure cruising, it involves a journey to the ice.
If you’ve made the decision to go before these pristine areas are affected by any changes to climate, it’s now a matter of when and with which operator.
There’s still time to book and space available to get cracking to Antarctica for the forthcoming 2017-18 season, which starts in earnest in November and continues now as far as March.
So what should you watch out for?
Firstly, every cruise company you contact will tell you they are the ones. Take these claims with a grain of salt and do your research. Balance the hype by talking to experienced people, independent agents and any friends you know.
Many have information evenings, and they are well worth attending if you can. It’s a great chance to meet the expeditions leaders and guides – next to the captain, the most important people on your trip. Pick those with real wildlife or expedition qualifications.
An itinerary which includes South Georgia, the Falkland Islands and at least a little bit of Patagonia is definitely worth the extra money. If you’re a fan of wildlife and history, South Georgia is just out of this world.
Next, you want to travel in a style you are comfortable with.
There are several ships more than 20 years old making the journey numerous times each season. They might have once been a Soviet ‘research’ vessel, or a converted Baltic ferry. Now while these ships are perfectly safe and seaworthy, they may not have the level of creature comforts you expect.
Remember, you are going for the destination, not because of the ship. But luxurious ships will have champagne waiting for you when you come back aboard and fine dining meals and spas as well.
You need to decide how important that is to you? In my experience, there is a small compromise in expedition delivery against luxury.
Choosing the best time of year is also a consideration. Too early, and the penguin chicks have not hatched and the weather may not be ideal. Too late, and the young penguins have left and the weather is turning again. The common wisdom is December and January, and as such, they are the first months to fill up.
If you are going on an expedition, you want the best experience possible, not just another stamp in your passport.
And like other remote regions such as our Kimberley, if you only go to the ice once, it will be the best thing you ever do.