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When you think about Antarctica, images of goliath-sized icebergs flood the mind. This might be closely followed by thoughts of abrasive winds, an untamed and isolated land and a chill that settles deep in the bones.

However, cruising to this frozen land mass is so much more than the stereotypical perception.

Antarctica is a wonderland of unimaginable beauty. A place that was once only reserved for the most intrepid of explorers and scientists. However, now, in this modern age of expedition cruising, it is an achievable bucket list to tick off any traveller’s bingo card.

Before setting off on this remarkable adventure – which is guaranteed to become the biggest flex at any dinner party – there are a few hurdles to overcome. Unlike regular ocean and river cruises that require minimal preparation, and are within the budget of most, an Antarctic expedition cruise need thorough planning, specific equipment and the right attitude.

Not all Antarctic cruises are equal

Cruising to Antarctica ranges from the basic to high-end luxury. And, the deciding factor on which ship to choose comes down to one consideration: budget. I was fortunate to cruise with Swan Hellenic aboard SH Vega. This boutique, luxurious vessel met every one of my wishes and then surpassed every expectation.

SH Vega is custom built to withstand the elements and environmental challenges. But, adding to that, the cabins, food, beverages and facilities and finishings are exceptional. The ultra-modern ambience is simply stunning. Think sophisticated Scandinavian design with every comfort – including a faux fireplace in cabins – considered. The public spaces feature large windows, essential when cruising in a place where the scenery changes in an instant.

The heartbeat of any ship is the crew, and every team member aboard SH Vega created a welcoming, efficient and professional experience. During a rough day crossing the Drake Passage (more on that below), I’d missed lunch and dinner and woke close to midnight famished and the only thing I was craving was a steak. A phone call to reception and 20 mins later, my wish came true delivered on a silver platter. Talk about 5-star service!

It’s a luxury cruise, but it’s still an expedition

Forget about stage shows, trivia and cocktail making classes and replace these with lectures by expert scientists, wildlife spotting (yes, I saw wild orcas playing alongside the ship) and twice-daily expeditions. Keep in mind, despite the polished interior workings of the ship, you are still cruising in unpredictable seas and expeditions are weather-dependent.

But, when you step aboard the zodiac and you are immersed in this surreal, exquisite reality that is Antarctica, then every thought other than awe vanishes. Whether the expedition –is a zodiac cruise or a landing, the images of icebergs, penguins, sea ice, waterfalls and more will be etched in your mind forever. A certain level of fitness and mobility is necessary for climbing in and out of the zodiacs exploring on land, so be aware of your own physical limitations.

Be prepared to whether the weather

How do you prepare for the Drake Passage? If you are thinking about cruising to Antarctica, then a good chunk of the journey is crossing this notorious stretch of water, twice. Each crossing takes about two days. The Drake is the body of water between South America’s Cape Horn, Chile, Argentina and the South Shetland Islands of Antarctica.

If you’re lucky, you’ll get the Drake Lake, if you’re unlucky like me, you’ll get the Drake-Stomach-Churning-Plates Shattering-Sea Spray Reaching Your Balcony-Spin Cycle- Super Shake. Despite every effort by the captain to shelter from the storm as we crossed the Drake, the only option was to, literally, ride the 10-metre waves.

How did I survive? Sea sickness tablets that knocked me for most of the crossing. At one point in the dark of the night, I woke to the sound of crashing. My coffee mugs and coffee machine were literally picked up and thrown against my balcony glass door, leaving a carnage of crockery. Later that morning, venturing off to breakfast, a mammoth wave caused a crescendo from the kitchen as an avalanche of plates and food smashed into pieces. The funny thing is, despite the horrid feeling, I also felt a sense of achievement and wear the experience as badge of honour.

Is cruising to Antarctica the ultimate adventure?

I’ve cruised over 50 times and reached all seven continents of the world, but nothing will ever compare to my adventure to Antarctica. Nothing. Would I cruise to the icy land again? Maybe not. Once is more than enough for any person, given that the tinniest proportion of the population has journeyed there. To have one more minute in this utterly spectacular place where fantasy is transformed into reality, feels almost gluttonous, but then again, so very tempting.

Honida visited Antarctica with Swan Hellenic Cruises on the SH Vega in January 2023.