I’m not a big fan of the cold, and I cringe deep in my soul at the idea of immersing myself in ice-cold water. The fact that I was shivering in nothing but a bikini and socks on the shores of a bay in Antarctica came as much of a surprise to me as to anyone else. With my arms wrapped around my goosebumped flesh, I looked at my travel partner, Lyle, who had the same worried look on his face.
“Are we really going to do this?” I asked. “How can we not? We’re in Antarctica!” he said enthusiastically, even though his expression was anything but enthusiastic.
With that, we took a deep breath and ran towards the arctic waters. The initial shock of frigid waters didn’t hit me immediately until I held my breath and plunged into water colder than anything I had ever felt. I think I lasted all of three seconds before squealing with shock and veering off toward the shore and my dry clothes.
We had just done our first Polar Plunge, and our first time was in the bay at Deception Island, Antarctica. As they say, if you’re gonna go, go big! The Polar Plunge was the ice cube on top of the frozen cake, and here’s why I can’t wait to do it again.
Note: The writer was a hosted guest of Hurtigruten Expeditions. All opinions are her own.
1. Where I Went And Why
When you have the chance to knock off the last of the seven continents off your list and journey to a land sheathed in mystery and adventure, you jump at the chance. I had always dreamed of seeing Antarctica — made famous by legendary explorers such as Roald Amundsen, Sir Ernest Shackleton, and Sir Edmund Hillary.
Lyle and I embarked on the Hurtigruten Expeditions 12-day Highlights of Antarctica cruise. It ventured from Buenos Aires, Argentina, and the southern Argentina port of Ushuaia, before embarking on the MS Fridtjof Nansen, recently voted the safest and most sustainable cruise ship in the world.
After a rough and tumble 2 days crossing 600 miles of the notorious Drake Passage to reach the tip of the peninsula of Antarctica, we immediately started exploring. Because Hurtigruten Expeditions focuses on sustainability, science, and small-ship experiences, many of our expeditions were accompanied by working scientists on board.
2. Adventure And Excursions
Wildlife And Icy Views
Like a line of red and yellow ants, we weaved up the side of a snowy mountain on a hike to a chinstrap penguin colony at Orne Harbor; our first steps on the actual continent of Antarctica. The pathway was slippery and required hiking poles, but the views of the vast land and seas from atop the mountain were staggering. Jaunty little chinstrap penguins waddled, protected fuzzy gray chicks, and honked at each other.
Earlier that day, we went kayaking, watching icebergs calve and flip while penguins lept gracefully through the waters. Another day, we visited several penguin colonies. And on other days, we explored old Antarctica homesteads and took inflatable Zodiacs to get up close and personal with whales. Seals lounged on the ice like big gray potatoes while arctic birds like petrels and albatross soared above. While Antarctica seems desolate and intimidating, it is surprisingly full of life, and each day was a thrilling foray into discovery.
Each day held potential for hiking, kayaking, Zodiac excursions, or wildlife viewing. However, the itinerary is at the mercy of the weather, so it’s best to expect delays, cancellations of activities, and hiccups along the way.
3. Learning About Antarctica
Education And Environment
The Antarctica cruise wasn’t all fun and games, though we had plenty of those. Climate researchers, students, and experts in their field, our Expedition Team led lectures about Antarctica on topics ranging from icebergs, history, ornithology, whale numbers, and phytoplankton as well as photography and stargazing.
These experts were our guides on landings, hikes, and expedition boat cruising. I was one of the lucky “lottery” winners to accompany a scientist on a Zodiac expedition to attempt to take a skin sample from a mother humpback whale and her calf while also collecting water samples to track the DNA of what creatures passed through the waters.
Other programs on board Hurtigruten’s MS Nansen included a class on how to use the GLOBE Observer app, a citizen-science app that lets you record cloud coverage anywhere you are to complement NASA satellite observations; the global Happy Whale program that lets cruisers identify individual marine mammals; Aurorasaurus, the first citizen science project that collects sightings of the northern and southern lights; and eBird, which allows guests to record seabird distribution, among others.
4. What I Liked, What I Didn’t
My favorite activities on Hurtigruten Expeditions’ Antarctica cruise were the outdoor explorations. The guides were thoroughly trained in guiding and safety, and even when a nearby iceberg flipped over in front of us while kayaking, we never felt unsafe.
The leisurely days crossing the Drake Passage, and after the day’s activities, were filled with lectures, science lab activities, games, and more. The onboard lounge and bar with its massive windows was a perfect place to relax, sip on an Irish whisky, and watch for whales.
As guests, everyone is given a polar expedition jacket to keep, which is probably the best jacket I’ve owned. Guests are also loaned rubber landing boots, floatation devices, and special cards that track when you get on and off the ship. Safety is a big priority.
One thing I didn’t like about the cruise was the limitation of available snacks, though, I think it’s part of Hurtigruten’s efforts to reduce waste. The three restaurants on board have set hours of operation, so if you miss the window, you go hungry. We took to-go boxes of snackable items from the buffet to munch when we felt snacky.
Fun Fact: Hurtigruten Expeditions is the first cruise line to implement SpaceX’s broadband service Starlink across all ships. Today, the company now offers high-speed, low-latency connectivity across its entire fleet, and it worked fantastically for me while I was on board.
5. How You Can Do An Arctic Polar Plunge Too
Our last day in Antarctica was on Deception Island, a horseshoe-shaped active volcano. The sun was finally shining as we hiked for 2–3 hours around the rim of the volcano, which was dormant but incredibly windy. You’ll have to be able to take pretty steep inclines over rocky terrain for this hike, but the views of the bay and the ship below are well worth the huffing and puffing.
At the end of the hike, the Hurtigruten crew was ready with towels and guides to lead brave souls into the icy waters for the Polar Plunge. Frankly, I was surprised that the majority of guests from young to old braved this extreme activity, but we did.
Be prepared by bringing an extra set of dry clothes and dry socks, as well as a hat for wet hair and gloves. You’ll have to wear socks into the water because the sand can burn your feet (it is still volcanically active), but the water was a balmy 31 degrees Fahrenheit. Back at the ship, guests who braved the ordeal all received a personalized certificate.
But the bonding that night over dinner and drinks was the best as we all recounted our icy dip and shared photos and videos.
What You’ll Need
Pack plenty of layers, preferably with an inner woolen layer. You’ll need waterproof or water-resistant pants for the excursions, two water-resistant pairs of gloves, a warm hat, a backpack for excursions, motion sickness pills, warm quick-dry jackets, polarized sunglasses, and a swimsuit. While on board, the dress code is casual, so think denim, wool, t-shirts (underneath), GoreTex, and fleece (wool).
I found having a casual pair of slip-on shoes or tennis shoes for the ship was comfy and helpful.
Also, medical travel insurance with emergency evacuation is required.
The optional Polar Plunge was one of the last adventures offered on Hurtigruten Expeditions’ Antarctica cruise. Throughout the week, we explored the world’s most southern continent — an intimidatingly beautiful land encased in millennia of ice and snow — and embarked on adventures ranging from snow hikes, scientific excursions, kayaking among icebergs, and hiking with penguins. And while I hate the cold and being cold, the cruise was among the most impactful experiences of any destination I’ve been to.