Cruising to Antarctica on Your Career Break

Career breakers plan their itineraries in all kinds of crazy ways – some itineraries are driven by a themes such as volunteering or service, food, geographic areas or photography; some are driven by budget; some are itineraries are decided by love, or skill building and some are determined by a bucket list.  However you decide your itinerary is personal to you – the important thing is to simply GO!

I frequently get asked how I decided where to go on my career back back in 2006 – and my answer is always the same,  “I decided that I would do everything I ever wanted to do because, well, finally in my life I could.”  I started by ticking big things off my bucket list such as climbing Kilimanjaro, going on a safari, taking cooking classes in Italy,learning how to sail, seeing the Taj Mahal , and camping in the Sahara Desert.  But there was one thing that eluded those original career break travels until now – Antarctica.

I recently returned from a very special cruise to Antarctica with my father  and for those who are dreaming of setting foot on the Seventh Continent as part of your career break itinerary – here’s some helpful information on what to expect.

What do you do on a cruise to Antarctica?

Once in the Antarctic region/peninsula, each day there were two zodiac landings – one in the morning and one in the afternoon.  We could choose whether to go on them or not.  After the landings of the day were complete, a debriefing took place in the Discovery Lounge for the current day’s landings as well as the next day’s planned landings.  Each night after dinner, we could watch a movie in the Discovery Lounge or listen to music and socialize in the Polar Bear Lounge/bar that stayed open into the very early morning hours!

I also kept very busy each day as the kayaking group would meet and go out during the landings too.  Normally I did one zodiac landing with my father and one kayaking excursion a day.  The kayaking excursions typically lasted about 2 ½ to 3 hours.  Kayaking was by far my favorite activity – and these are some of the reasons why.

When we were cruising through the Drake Passage to get to/from the Peninsula, we could listen to two morning lectures and two afternoon lectures on various topics ranging from Antarctica history, to wildlife, to geology.

There was always something to do.  In fact, some days I was simply exhausted from all of the activity!

What were the Zodiac landings like?

All passengers were assigned to one of four groups.  Two groups would be called down to the mudroom (the loading/unloading area) at once.  Once in the mudroom, you put on all of your gear, which normally consisted of a warm coat, waterproof pants & coat, waterproof boots (provided by the boat), mittens, cap, sunglasses, life jacket, and backpack/camera.  Then you queued to get on a zodiac boat.  You ‘checked out’ of the ship via a swipe card, stepped in a solution to disinfect your boots  (ensuring no foreign critters/bacteria made it to Antarctica) and got on a zodiac.

The zodiac would take you to land and upon landing, an Expedition Leader greeted you and explained the layout of the island, where various penguins or seals were located, what trails you could walk on and what was off limits.  They would also tell you when the last zodiac would be going back to the ship so that you knew how much time you had.  After the briefing, you were on your own to explore and take photos! You typically had about 1 to 1 ½ hours to walk around on your own.   Once you went back to the ship you were checked back in via your swipe card and went through the disinfecting process again.

What was the ship like?

The MS Expedition was built in 1972 and was refurbished in 2009.  It was 345 feet long and 61 feet wide.  It was staffed with 52 crew and about 10 Expedition Staff.  There were approximately 130 passengers on board the ship for our cruise.  It had a reception area, 3 main living/cabin levels, a mud room, a sauna, a large lounge that held all passengers, a dining room, an exercise room, library, computer room, gift shop, and a bar/lounge.

We had a Class 3 cabin, which consisted of two twin beds, a desk & chair, another reading chair, a bathroom with shower, and a decent sized window.  Some of the cabins slept 3 or 4 people and had bunk beds.  There was a daily cleaning service and a nighttime turn down service.

There were plenty of places to lounge around the ship and read or just look out the windows.  You could also go outside on deck or go up to the bridge and visit the captain and crew.

What wildlife did you see?

The expedition staff and crew were wonderful at pointing out the animals and providing you loads of information on them.  In addition, the Captain was thoroughly skilled at maneuvering our large ship very close to the wildlife but not so close that it scared them.  We saw penguins, seals, whales, and a variety of seabirds.  We saw some pretty spectacular sights when it came to the animals – about 50 to 100 Orca whales hunting/aggravating Minke whales, a leopard seal and a pup nursing, and so many penguins it was just a blur of black and white.

In addition to wildlife, we actually visited some human life on Antarctica!  We visited research bases, got our passports stamped, learned about what it was like to live at a base, bought some souvenirs, and even sat and had a drink at a bar in Antarctica!

Still have more Antarctica questions before you include it on your career break itinerary?

Feel free to leave any questions you have in the comments and I’m happy to answer them to the best of my ability!  Also, you may want to check out the ExpeditionTrips website for more information on cruising to Antarctica or simply call their hotline and talk to an expert!

Disclosure: ExpeditionTrips and G Adventures hosted my Antarctic Peninsula Cruise with my father. However, all of the opinions expressed here are my own

Sherry Ott is a co-founder of Meet, Plan, Go!, who is passionate about teaching you how you can take your very own traveling career break or sabbatical.  She is a long term traveler, blogger, and photographer seeking out unique travel experiences and writes about her around the world adventures on Ottsworld.com.

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