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A cruise to Antarctica is one of those once in a lifetime trips. It’s about as remote as you can get, and one of the few places where you won’t be able to run to the store if you forget something at home.
It’s been several years since my cruise, but it is still one of my favorite trips. I packed carry-on only, despite needing clothing for both hot and cold weather, and I wanted to share my packing list for an Antarctica cruise with you today.
About Antarctica Cruises
Antarctica cruises start in South America, but the exact city varies. Some of what you pack will depend on the exact cruise you take, but the cruise operator will let you know of specific requirements.
Whether you decide to go carry-on only or not, pack light. Your room on the ship will probably be rather small, storage space for your luggage is limited, and most cruise operators limit the amount you can bring on board.
On averages, cruises tend to be around 10 days long, and there’s a good chance you’ll spend at least a few days in warmer parts of Chile or Argentina before or after the cruise, so my list is based on that.
Since the Antarctica cruises take place when it’s summer in the southern hemisphere, you will need to come prepared for a variety of temperatures. Buenos Aires and Santiago will be hot this time of year. The only reason to skip packing warm-weather clothes is if your cruise starts and ends in Ushuaia, Argentina or Punta Arenas, Chile, and you don’t plan on visiting any other parts of the continent. The southern tip of South America is cold even in the summer.
- 1-2 pairs of jeans
- 1-2 pairs of shorts – These are for warmer parts of Chile and/or Argentina before or after your cruise.
- 3-4 t-shirts – make sure they’re shirts you can layer
- 3-4 long-sleeved shirts
- 2 light sweaters
- 2 nicer outfits – This is only necessary if your ship requires nicer clothes for dinner. My friend and I shared our dressy clothes so we didn’t have to pack as much but we still felt nice wearing something else to dinner.
- 1 pair of gym or yoga pants – Depending on your starting/ending point, you might have several days at sea, and lounging-around clothes are a good option.
- 7 pairs of underwear
- 7 pairs of socks – Bring at least a few warm pairs of socks.
- 2 bras
- thermals – I just had one shirt and one pair of pants that I wore each time we got off the ship in Antarctica.
- Bathing suit – Some cruises do a polar swim, which sounds insanely painful to me, but if it sounds like fun to you, be sure to pack your bathing suit.
Adjust your socks and underwear depending on your tolerance for washing clothes in the sink. Most ships have laundry services as well.
Outerwear and shoes
Yes, it’s Antarctica so it will be cold. But it won’t be unbearably cold. When I was there, temperatures hovered within 5 degrees to either side of freezing. Make sure you’re prepared for the cold weather, but no need to go overboard.
- 1 pair of waterproof pants – Mine were thin pants I could wear over my normal pants, similar to these from REI*. But if you have heavier ski pants, that would work well too, as long as they’re waterproof.
- Jacket – Doesn’t have to be a heavy winter coat, but something that will keep you warm and protect you from the wind. This is good to have for before and after the cruise in colder areas. You’ll need something heavy for the days you get off the ship, but many cruises provide a heavy coat.
- Winter hat, scarf, and gloves
- Waterproof boots – Something like Wellington boots work well. You might have to step out of a zodiac boat into the water, so boots will keep your feet warm and dry.
- Sneakers or other comfortable shoes to wear on the ship
- Dress shoes or flats – Again, only necessary if you have to bring dressier clothes for your ship.
Toiletries and medical items
- Shampoo, conditioner, soap/shower gel – Reduce your liquids with these great toiletries for carry-on travelers.
- Make-up – You might want make-up for before and after the cruise, but it is not at all needed for the cruise itself unless if you get dressed up for dinner. Check out our low-key traveler’s beauty kit.
- Lip balm with SPF
- Lotion – The air is really dry down there!
- Solid perfume
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Hair brush and hair ties
- Prescription medications
- Feminine products or diva cup
- Motion sickness medicine – The Drake Passage has some of the roughest water in the world, so come prepared. I got little patches that go behind your ear (prescribed by my doctor) and they worked really well when I got seasick a few times. But from my experience, you only need it on for a few hours. When I used one for the full 12 hours as described on the package, I ended up with horrible dry mouth for 3 days.
- Sunscreen – Don’t let the cold weather fool you. You still need to protect your skin from the strong rays.
This isn’t a fancy destination, so you shouldn’t need a lot of accessories for this trip.
- Sunglasses – The sun can be really bright reflecting off the snow.
- Jewelry – Bring a few pieces if your ship requires nicer clothes for dinner, or to wear before and after the cruise. Otherwise, leave your jewelry at home.
- Daypack or purse – You probably won’t need it on the ship, but this will come in handy while sightseeing before or after the cruise.
- Kindle or other e-reader – Load it up with books before you get on the ship. Depending on your cruise, you might have a lot of down time on the ship, and there might be several at-sea days when you’ll be happy to have a good book to read.
- iPod – Or a smartphone, if that’s what you use for music.
- Camera – I can’t imagine going to Antarctica and NOT taking a million photos!
- Extra memory cards and camera batteries
- Waterproof bag for your camera – Anything from a ziplock bag to one of these awesome waterproof camera pouches will work, depending on the size of your camera. You don’t want a splash to ruin your camera while you’re on a zodiac.
- Chargers and cords
- Adapter – Check ahead of time so you know what kind of outlets the ship has to determine if you need an adapter.
- Alarm clock – Unless you’re already traveling with a smartphone.
Leave the laptop at home. Most cruise ships don’t have wifi, and it’s expensive on the ones that do have it. There might be a computer room where you can pay a fee to use the internet, but try to embrace being unplugged on this trip.
Other items to pack
- Binoculars – Not totally necessary, but there were a few days when we weren’t getting off the ship when it would’ve been fun to have binoculars to get a better view of the penguins and other birds hanging out on icebergs, and they would’ve made whale watching a little easier.
- Non-liquid laundry detergent – I wish I had known this existed when I went on my cruise. Great for washing underwear in the sink, which cuts down on the amount you have to pack.
- Plastic bag – If you want to take your boots home after the cruise, bring along a plastic bag (or two if necessary) that’s big enough to put your boots into. They’ll be dirty and you might not have a good place to clean them off sufficiently. You don’t want to get dirt and penguin poo on the rest of your luggage.
- Deck of cards – Put down your book once in awhile and play card with your friend/roommate.
- Money/credit card – Check ahead to find out what currencies are accepted on board the ship.
I can’t stress the importance of the laundry detergent enough: No matter how cute those penguins look, they (or their poo) smell AWFUL! After just one hour of being ashore, my clothes stunk so bad I couldn’t handle it and I got a horrible headache. My friend and I used every bottle of shampoo and shower gel we had to wash our clothes in the tiny bathroom to get rid of the stink. I even threw out a few articles of clothing that weren’t worth saving.
Tips for visiting Antarctica
Book early to secure the cruise and dates you want. My friend and I booked ours in late August, and the more adventurous cruises that had options to camp overnight in Antarctica were all booked up already.
That said, if you’re traveling long term and have a lot of flexibility, you can make your way to Ushuaia and try to grab a last minute deal on a cruise, but this is no guarantee.
Since the cruises take place during the summer, your cruise will generally be sometime between November and March. Within that time frame, you’ll have to decide what experiences are more important to you.
Early in the season there will be more snow on the ground, and penguins will be courting and laying eggs. Mid season, some of the snow will be melted, and penguin chicks will be hatching. Later in the season, you’ll still see lots of penguins, and you’ll have a better chance of seeing whales.
Every company does things a little differently. Most Antarctica cruise operators will provide you with a coat. Some will provide boots. Some ships require dressy clothes for dinner, while others are casual the entire time. Read everything they give you when you book your trip and ask questions so you’ll know exactly what you need to pack for your Antarctica cruise.
>> If you’d like to learn more about an Antarctica cruise, have a listen to Ali’s podcast interview.
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