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Many couples think of warm destinations when planning a honeymoon. They might imagine white-sand beaches and oceanfront cabanas in Mexico or Southeast Asia, winetasting under the Tuscan — or Andalusian or Burgundian — sun in a vineyard in Europe, or learning to salsa or tango on a sultry summer night in South America. For many couples, a honeymoon is about relaxing, indulging, and being pampered.
A honeymoon to Antarctica is not for those couples. A trip to Antarctica is a trip to one of the last truly off-the-beaten-path places on earth. It's a bucket-list trip perfect for adventurers, explorers, wildlife lovers — and those who prefer the temperature a bit on the chilly side. A journey to Antarctica is an experience that marks the start of your married life with an adventure that's larger than life, where you can frolic with fearless penguins and walk on land few people have visited. If you're considering making Antarctica the destination for your epic honeymoon, here's what you need to know.
You can reach Antarctica by plane or ship, but however you get there, you'll end up on board a cruise once you reach the continent. There are no hotels in Antarctica and the only settlements are research stations; you can't exactly show up as an independent traveler. You'll need to visit as part of an expedition cruise, such as those offered by Hurtigruten, Quark, and National Geographic. Cruises operate from November to March, which is summer in South America and Antarctica.
Travelers eat and sleep onboard the ship, and make one or two landings on the continent per day. Activities may include hiking up snowy mountains, kayaking among seals and floating ice, camping overnight, ice-cruising on smaller boats, and visiting research stations. You'll also get up close with animals like penguins, which can be found in abundance and seem to have no fear of humans, as well as birds, seals, and even whales.
Romance is what you make it
Watching whales breach right outside your window, or camping under an Antarctic twilight are certainly romantic experiences, but most people wouldn't consider this a romantic trip in the traditional sense; candlelit dinners for two won't be on the itinerary, but soaking in a hot tub with a view of calving ice shelves could be.
Even though you're on a trip with 200 other people, it's easy to find some privacy, as most ships have saunas or Jacuzzi tubs and some suites have private balconies.
Tip: Be sure to confirm a room with a double bed, or spring for a suite to ensure you'll be able to snuggle up with your new spouse on your trip. On some ships, the default room has two twin beds which can't be combined. That's not exactly a recipe for romance.
You'll want to bank some extra vacation days
It took early Antarctic explorers like Ernest Shackleton years to reach the continent. While modern ships can travel from South America to Antarctica in less than three days, the trip still requires a hefty chunk of vacation days. Most cruises last around two weeks, with ten days spent exploring Antarctica and the rest of the time sailing to and from the continent from a gateway in South America (usually Ushuaia). Add in the travel time to South America and even a whirlwind trip will be in the area of 16-18 days.
Tip: If you're short on time, consider a fly-in cruise that skips the two-day crossing of the Drake Passage. These trips can be as short as 6 days (plus travel time to and from South America). For those who don't want to miss the chance to cruise on one of the most notorious seas in the world, there are trips that offer the option to fly one way and cruise the other.
The more luxury you want, the higher the price
A trip to Antarctica requires more staff, supplies, and gear than a jaunt around the Caribbean, and that makes Antarctic cruises more expensive on a per-day basis than any other destination. Lower budget cruises, such as those offered by Hurtigruten and Quark, range from $6,000 to $9,000 for a two-week trip, but things like alcoholic drinks, wifi access, and activities like kayaking and camping, may cost quite a bit extra.
Silversea cruises of around the same length of time range from $10,000 to $14,000 but include all-suite accommodations with butler service, free wifi, and all drinks. Abercrombie and Kent cruises cost similar for a 12-day voyage, inclusive of gratuities, drinks, and in-room dining.
Tip: While ships are built for expeditions — they're safe and sturdy and can handle ice — they're also designed for a fair bit of luxury; most have on-board saunas, Jacuzzis, and fitness centers, and some have spas and specialty restaurants. Amenities can vary quite a bit by line and some offer much more for the price than others. Figure out what's most important to your trip and decide how much extra you're willing to pay for it.
Seasickness may be an unwelcome guest on your trip
The Drake Passage is notorious for being one of the roughest seas in the world. But its reputation doesn't tell the whole story. Those who've sailed its waters know it's just as likely that you'll experience the "Drake Lake" as the "Drake Shake." Even if luck isn't on your side, seasickness medicine like Scopalamine (administered via a patch worn behind the ear) can ensure that even the roughest seas won't leave your insides tossing and turning. The good news: the crossing passes quickly and once you've reached Antarctica, the seas are typically much calmer.
Unplugging isn't just possible; it's almost mandatory
Wifi has reached the southern end of the planet, but as one might expect, it's not exactly high-speed. On-board wifi is slow, expensive, and on some ships like Hurtigruten, access is limited to certain hours of the day. Don't expect to be able to do much more than some basic emailing or uploading the occasional penguin selfie to Instagram. Better yet, plan to unplug for the majority of the trip.
You can add on a trip to South America
The shortest way to reach Antarctica, and thus the most common way to explore, is to travel there via South America. Fly-in cruises transit through Santiago and Punta Arenas, Chile, while traditional cruises usually involve an overnight in Buenos Aires before departing from Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego. That means you can spend a few days learning the tango in Buenos Aires, wine tasting in Mendoza or Santiago, exploring the Argentina pampas, or visiting the thundering Iguassu Falls before or after your cruise.
Tip: Antarctica cruising season coincides with South America's summer, so expect steamy temperatures in Argentina and Chile.
You'll often hear the phrase "weather dependent"
Unlike Caribbean cruises that might run like clockwork, a trip to Antarctica requires a bit more flexibility. This is a true adventure, and it's likely the closest you'll come to feeling like an explorer of old, unsure of exactly what's to come. Where the ship goes, where you land, and the timing of the excursions all depend on the weather, the wind, and the ice. Every day brings a bit of the unknown.
You don't need as much gear as you might think
While it's certainly cold in Antarctica, visiting in summer means temperatures are most often in the range of 30-35°F — which is warmer than a New York City winter. A thick pair of long woolen underwear, waterproof pants, a windproof fleece, thick wool socks, a good hat, neck warmer, and gloves are really all you need for expedition gear. Most ships provide waterproof jackets (which passengers keep as a souvenir) and they offer use of knee-high waterproof muck boots, necessary for Zodiac landings. Other than that, pack some casual clothes for the ship and any electronics and camera gear, and you're good to go.
The passengers are an inspiration
Like most cruises, the demographic on an Antarctica cruise skews older, with the majority of passengers in the 55-65 age bracket. This varies a bit by line though, and you'll still find a sprinkling of travelers much younger, as well as some older. Don't let the older demographic fool you — this is an active adventure trip and even the more senior passengers tend to be on the adventurous side and will be gamely scrambling into zodiacs and hiking up snowy hills alongside the younger travelers. For a younger traveler, it's an inspiring sight to see people exploring the world into their twilight years. Another source of inspiration: chatting with couples who've been married for decades.
Antarctica is unlike any other destination on earth. It's one of the most remote places you can visit, and, like marriage, it requires a bit of a leap of faith because much about the trip is unknown. Like marriage, it can be a challenging adventure, and one of the most rewarding. It's the perfect metaphor for your first trip as a married couple.
While you won't spend your time sipping frozen drinks on the beach, you might get to kayak alongside silvery fur seals, come within inches of a curious waddling penguin, and see massive ice chunks calving off of glaciers into the sea. You'll see a place few others ever get to visit, and you'll make memories to last a lifetime.