I had never heard of a fly-cruise before my recent trip to Antarctica but without it I probably would never have visited my seventh continent. I always thought that people visited Antarctica the same way; by taking a ship from Ushuaia, Argentina across the stormy Drake Passage and back. When I learned about the benefits of a fly-cruise though, I was sold.
I visited Antarctica through the sponsorship of Adventure Life, an adventure tour company that specializes in taking people to some of the most amazing places on the planet, including on Antarctica cruises. I of course wanted to visit Antarctica, but I didn’t want to spend weeks doing it and I was nervous about the Drake. The Drake Passage is one of the most treacherous waterways on the planet and passengers aboard Antarctica bound ships routinely complain of severe seasickness and even slight injuries. The fly-cruise operated by the cruise company Antarctica XXI and sold through Adventure Life figured out a way around these problems with its first fly-cruise ten years ago.
The process is simple. Rather than fly to Ushuaia, Argentina passengers who choose the fly-cruise go instead to Punta Arenas, Chile. A town of around 150,000 people, Punta Arenas is one of the southernmost cities in Chile and the launching point for flights to Antarctica. Guests fly directly from Punta Arenas aboard a special charter plane to Frei Station on the South Shetland Islands of the Antarctic Peninsula. The flight is only two hours, a far cry from the two days sometimes needed to cross the Drake. Once at Frei Station passengers meet their cruise ship and begin a five-day adventure sailing around the icy continent; the same sort of cruise those who leave from Ushuaia experience. The process is reversed at the end and when all is said and done at least four days have been shaved off of the trip thanks to the flight.
Are there possible complications with this option? You bet, and I experienced a minor example of them. Weather in Antarctica is fickle, very fickle and the pilot needs to make sure an appropriate window of suitable weather is open before any flight can even leave Punta Arenas. On the day we were to fly we woke up at 4am for an anticipated 7am departure. Almost immediately though we were told that the conditions on the ground were too foggy, making it impossible to fly. We eventually did make it there of course, but it was eight hours after our original flight time.
The delay didn’t impact the trip at all and was minor when compared to what adverse conditions on the Drake can do to a ship’s schedule. If the weather is bad enough in the passage it can take days to cross, so a delay of eight hours for our flight wasn’t a big deal at all. The same concerns are present on the way back of course, which makes it important to build in enough buffer time just in case.
I loved the fly-cruise for its convenience and because it allowed me to skip the tedium and nausea that most passengers experience on the Drake Passage. When it comes to Antarctica, it’s not how you get there that matters. What matters is that you get there and experience first hand one of the most remarkable areas of the planet. It truly is another world down there and is one that must be seen in order to be believed.Add to Flipboard Magazine.