Antarctica Basic Information
In Antarctica, the days can be long. With up to 20 hours of summer sunlight in the Antarctic Peninsula and no official time zone, you could very well feel like you just slipped off the edge of the Earth. Want to know more? Read on.
Since no country owns Antarctica, no visa is required for entry. However, the countries that signed the Antarctic Treaty's Protocol on Environment Protection require that visitors from those countries (including the USA, Canada, European Union and Australia) need permission. This is nearly always through tour operators. You’re still likely to need a visa for the country from which you sail from. It's best to check with the company you are travelling with as to what is required.
Antarctica has no official currency. It also means you won’t need to bring any money or buy anything! Each ship runs its onboard economy differently, but in general you’ll sign for items onboard and pay at the end of the trip.
Antarctica's hostile climate makes it rather challenging to produce any vegetation locally. Famous explorer Robert Scott led 2 expeditions to the Antarctic – in 1901, his expedition experimented with growing mustard and cress; today, some bases are experimenting with using hydroponic systems to produce salad. But you don’t make friends with salad. While early travellers to Antarctica hunted seals and other sea mammals to supplement their diet, the strict wildlife conservation policy of the Antarctic Treaty forbids such activities today. Most scientists and researchers living on bases have quality food flown and shipped in. In fact, if you landed a job at the UK's Rothera base you’d be treated to meals prepared by the London Savoy Hotel’s former pastry chef! As for all you plebs (i.e. those rich enough to take this trip), your tourist ship will keep you warm and your belly full serving 3 Western meals a day. If the weather's kind, you might get to experience a paradoxical Antarctic barbecue as you sail through the icy landscapes.
With people from all over living temporarily in Antarctica, it’s fair to say there's more national celebrations going on here than most places. The unique seasons in Antarctica also lend themselves to special rituals that herald the coming and going of the sun. The most important date on the Antarctic Calendar is the winter solstice; midwinter's day is celebrated much like Christmas with presents and a feast. Otherwise, Antarctic research residents keep themselves amused preparing for the annual Icestock Music Festival where bands that formed in the researchers’ downtimes show off their jams. Then there are slightly bigger events – like the time Metallica covered all bases, literally, playing a show on the only continent the band was yet to perform on with a gig on Antarctica’s South Shetland Islands in 2013. And then there’s McMurdo - a strictly science-based research station on Ross Island with a full-time fire department, 3 bars, a bowling alley, gyms, a chapel, and numerous hiking trails. As for onboard your ship, you could find yourself playing cards and sharing tales around a humble dining room or, for those with a bigger budget, some liners are fitted with the works: bars, theatres, restaurants and even spa facilities!