6 doctor’s tips to prepare for an Antarctic cruise



It truly is a trip of a lifetime. And while it’s not as rigorous as a mountaineering expedition or a sailing vacation in which you are a crew member, it’s not your typical cruise with endless buffets and parasol drinks. by the pool on the deck.

An Antarctic cruise is an expedition, an exploration of a remote and wild continent miles from civilization. And miles from a hospital. There are many adages about planning ahead. I first learned the six Ps in the military: “Advance planning prevents poor p-ss performance. It was also a favorite in the operating room, where it served as a reminder for doctors, nurses and technicians in charge of treating patients to check and recheck that everything was in order and that we were ready for the day.

For your next Antarctic cruise, here are six tips – six P’s to help you prepare for the trip of a lifetime.

1. Visit your health care provider

Before you book an Antarctic cruise, do an honest assessment of your health. Whether you find that you have medical issues that need to be treated or are in perfect health, be sure to consult your health care provider before your trip.

If you have chronic illnesses such as heart disease, high blood pressure, a history of stroke, blood clots, diabetes, asthma, sleep apnea, or have had surgery recent surgery, a visit to your primary care provider as soon as you book your trip to give you time to medically recover in the best possible shape.

Even if you are in good health, visit your medication provider to renew your medications and discuss your medication needs to prevent or alleviate seasickness.

Therese Otto

There is a health care provider on board the ship to assess and treat minor illnesses (gastrointestinal upset, colds, mild infections, etc.) and emergencies like a fur seal bite. But you will need to be transported to a hospital in Argentina, Chile, or home if your illness or injury is serious or cannot be treated on board.

Pro tip: Depending on the tour operator, your healthcare provider may need to check and sign a medical history form that the ship’s doctor will review several months before departure.

Group of tourists in blue jackets on a zodiac boat circling the icebergs in Antarctica.
Therese Otto

2. Anticipate seasickness

Most of the expeditions pass through the Drake Passage between Antarctica and South America. It is the most turbulent body of water in the world. I had never had motion sickness before, so I was convinced I would be fine for the 2 day transit through Drake Passage.

I was very wrong.

Preventing seasickness is much better than trying to treat it after the fact. There are both medications and acupressure devices to help prevent or minimize symptoms. Savvy cruise passengers wore scopolamine patches before entering Drake Passage. This is a prescription-only medicine that you should bring with you.

Otherwise, talk to your doctor about OTC Dramamine or Marezine. Your health care provider will make sure that there are no interactions with the medications you are already taking.

Acupressure bracelets that apply pressure to the point of “nausea” receive mixed reviews in studies. They have no side effects and therefore appear to be a good supplement to medication.

If you choose not to take preventative medication (personally I think this is a huge mistake), ginger lozenges or ginger ale can soothe an upset stomach – as long as it stays in your stomach. long enough to do anything.

A ship anchored in Paradise Bay in Antarctica, photographed from a Zodiak boat.  Snow-capped mountains surround the bay and a small iceberg is visible in the foreground.
Therese Otto

3. Practice balance improvement exercises

Most days include excursions on Zodiac boats, whether you are viewing icebergs, whales and seals from the boat or disembarking in South Georgia or the Antarctic Peninsula. The crew help you get on and off Zodiacs, but you’ll make their jobs easier if you have the strength and lower body balance to get on and off a moving ship to a bouncing inflatable and vice versa. The greatest test of strength and balance occurs on land landings as you battle the waves as you get on and off the Zodiac boat.

South Georgia trails are unpaved. If you want to see more distant penguin colonies or retrace part of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s hike, you can cover several miles on a moderately strenuous hike over hilly terrain. Bring walking poles if needed for balance.

Walking on the ship’s deck or through the corridors in rough seas also requires good balance. The ship is fitted with handrails throughout.

Begin exercises to improve leg strength and balance as soon as you book your trip. The Mayo Clinic offers a home exercise program to improve your balance. Joining a tai chi group is particularly useful as the main goal of this discipline is to improve balance effortlessly.

Pro tip: If you’re carrying heavy camera gear, hand it over to the Zodiac team so you have both hands free. Accept their help in getting on and off the ship and the Zodiac, regardless of your balance.

Hiking in Antarctica
Therese Otto

4. Pack appropriately

Having waterproof clothing in cold weather is so important that many tour operators provide both boots and jackets. You will need to bring waterproof pants to wear over your clothes. Layering is key – choose waterproof outerwear for your Zodiac excursion that you can take off or unzip if it’s hot while hiking in South Georgia.

Depending on your degree of cold acclimatization, bring thinner or heavier thermal underwear, shirts, sweaters or fleece jacket, pants, sweatpants or leggings. The tour operator I went with provided us with boots, but if you have an unusually sized jacket or shoe or have orthotics make sure they can accommodate you. If you bring your own, the boots should be slip on and high, as you will be exiting the Zodiac in shallow water and walking to the beach.

Ask your tour operator about dinner attire. Antarctica cruises tend to be casual without the need for formal dinner outfits.

Bring your prescription and over-the-counter medications in your carry-on baggage, with enough for the entire trip. If you use a CPAP machine, bring it with you and the supplies you will need. You should be able to purchase distilled water and any personal items you left behind in Ushuaia before boarding, weather permitting.

The ship I traveled on did not have a gift shop, sundries or laundry service on board. If you have to wash your clothes by hand, bring an eco-friendly detergent.

Pro tip: If your cruise departs from Argentina, the baggage weight limit on the domestic flight you take from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia is approximately 50 pounds.

The bow of the ship with wooden and metal railing and wooden deck in a fairly calm sea with some fog ahead.  Visibility is limited.
Therese Otto

5. Purchase medical evacuation insurance

Most tour operators require medical evacuation insurance. It may be included in general travel insurance, but you will need to read the contract carefully to determine any exclusions from coverage. You can also take out independent medical evacuation insurance.

Evacuating from an Antarctic cruise to Argentina, Chile or your home will seriously reduce your savings. Cruise experts, Expedition Trips, recommend $ 200,000 due to Antarctica’s remoteness.

Trip Cancellation and Trip Interruption Insurance are separate insurances (although you can add a medical evacuation rider to it) that reimburse the cost of the trip due to covered causes. Read the contract carefully because many causes are excluded.

Pro tip: Trip cancellation plans require that you purchase insurance within 10 to 21 days of booking the trip for pre-existing medical conditions to be covered.

Author bundled up in waterproof clothing and in cold weather on a Zodiac boat.
Therese Otto

6. Plan early for your unique circumstances

Planning early to take into account your unique situation is essential. I read the story of a woman in a wheelchair who sailed to Antarctica and came to the mainland. All of this required advance planning. That said, contact the tour operator you wish to use before booking your trip if you have limited mobility. Most ships have elevators and several rooms that are ADA compliant.

A trip to Antarctica is a feast for the senses, so visual or hearing impairments shouldn’t stop you from traveling here. For the visually impaired assisted by a guide dog, dogs were banned in Antarctica in 1992 after being used as sled dogs since the early days of exploration. I don’t think you can make an exception for a guide dog, although I can’t guarantee you can.

For people with severe food allergies, you should be able to avoid a particular food, but there will be a risk of contamination as small vessels have a galley and cannot prepare food in a gluten-free, dairy-free galley. or nut-free for example. . A passenger with a severe gluten allergy brought all of her own food for the Antarctic cruise I took.

Pro tip: Most tour operators require proof of a full set of COVID-19 vaccines and a recent negative test. If you are not vaccinated for personal or medical reasons (for example, an allergy to a component of the vaccine), contact the tour operator regarding your eligibility to take the cruise before booking your trip.

Check out this information about traveling to Antarctica:


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