Completing a Polar Plunge in Antarctica is the ULTIMATE bucket list experience – but it wasn’t on mine originally. I hate cold water – so why would I want to do it in the coldest ocean? Simple “When in Antarctica” (also, peer pressure). Now that I’ve survived and my body temperature is back to normal, I’ll admit that it’s by far the most exhilarating thing I’ve done and I couldn’t imagine NOT doing it. In fact, it was such a typical Antarctica experience – I decided to do it twice.
There have been a number of questions I’ve received over the year related to this experience – so here’s my guide to swimming with the penguins and my top tips!
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What is it like taking the Polar Plunge in Antarctica?
Most smaller ships visiting Antarctica include the option of a Polar Plunge (weather dependent, of course). During the booking process, I decided that if I was spending all this money to reach Antarctica, I was going to experience everything it had to offer. Even though I hate cold showers and hate even the idea of a polar plunge. However, I am not one to sit on the sidelines and watch experiences pass me by – too much FOMO.
There are a few ways that I’ve seen polar plunges done – jumping from the ship into the open water or doing a run on the beach. Our plunges were done from the beach.
We were told before landing that polar plunges would be available and to let a staff member know if you were interested so they could bring enough towels. Staff instructed us to wear our bathing suits under our layers. After you were done on land, you’d strip down into the bathing suit and run in the water. They made it sound so simple and not like I was running into just-above-freezing-water.
They didn’t recommend staying in the water long (I still can’t believe someone asked me this question…. anyway….) as it isn’t good for your body to be that cold for long. There were penguins on the beach and in the water with us (alright, I guess swimming with penguins was pretty cool but not cool enough to keep me in the water). Once you got out of the water, the ship staff gave us a towel to dry off. I only put on my jacket and windproof pants for the zodiac boat ride back and carried the rest of my clothes.
Those who did the plunge had first dibs on the zodiacs back to the boat so we didn’t have to wait on land. Then it was a quick ride on the elevator to the hot tub on the top floor to watch others make the
dumb questionable decision we just made.
The first polar plunge was held at Deception Island. The island is located at 62.9409* S and 60.5554* W..Our cruise ship was planning on crossing the Antarctic Circle, located at 66.5* S. So when the option to do a second polar plunge south of the Antarctic Circle came about, of course we couldn’t pass up those bragging rights.
Why do a Polar Plunge in Antarctica?
Yes, the ultimate question – Why? Despite the adrenaline rush and absolute chill, you get from the experience (see what I did there?), it’s a great story to tell. There are only 10,000 people who go to Antarctica every year, and even less of them swim – and even less of them do it twice — so yeah, bragging rights. It also didn’t help that my father insisted on doing them – peer pressure was definitely a factor. Hurtigruten (the company we went with) also gave us a nice certificate for doing it.
How bad was the Polar Plunge?
Pretty freaking bad. Really cold. Some people say “it’s not that bad” – just the initial impact of coldness that is rough. I think they may be in denial about just how cold it is and are enjoying the bragging rights. As a former athlete, I’ve taken plenty of ice baths and while it was similar – it was so much colder. That said – once I was in the hot tub and back to normal temperature – I have started to look back on these experiences with fondness.
How cold is the Polar Plunge in Antarctica?
Very, very cold. The first plunge we did was 32*F (0*C) outside and 34*F (1*C) in the water. The second plunge was 33.8*F (1*C) outside and 36.5* (2.5*C) in the water. Everything is weather dependent in Antarctica – we got lucky that the second plunge location was that warm since it was further south. If it was colder, we wouldn’t have been able to do it.
What do you wear on an Antarctic Polar Plunge?
I wish we wore the dry suit we wore kayaking – but no – just a bathing suit. That’s it. Some people did it with leggings and a spaghetti string, but that keeps more water on you for a longer period of time. It also weighs you down in the water. I also recommend water shoes.
The first plunge was on a nice sandy beach. Picture a Caribbean beach, just with icebergs. Sand that was soft on your feet. Pleasant to walk into, pleasant to walk out of. The second plunge though….not so much. Dad had to through the ice out of the way for us to go in. The beach was also filled with rocks. Going in was okay – coming out though? It felt like knives stabbing my feet! How I wish I had water shoes.
Is the Polar Plunge dangerous?
Generally, no. For healthy people, a polar plunge is not dangerous. The cold will impact the body, but you’re not staying in long. The crew also takes precautions to make this as safe as possible for everyone. The staff is on land with plenty of towels available. Zodiacs are waiting for swimmers to bring them back to the ship immediately for warmth. The ship doctor is also readily available for any issues.
However, people with high blood pressure and heart disease should not take the plunge.
Travel Tip: A physical is required before you board the ship so talk to your doctor about the plunge!
How much does the Polar Plunge cost?
A few brain cells. Pretty sure I lost a bit of those doing these, but other than that – nothing. Polar plunges are included on Hurtigruten expeditions (and on most ships that I can tell).
When do you do the Polar Plunge in Antarctica?
Everything in Antarctica is weather dependent. Polar Plunges are typically offered once on an expedition. You can’t just decide to run into the water one day – you don’t know if there are seals in the water, the temperature of the water, or other weather conditions to be aware of. I’ve seen a number of people do polar plunges on Deception Island as the water is usually calmer there.
Tips for Your Antarctic Polar Plunge
- Don’t overthink, just do it. No matter how hard you think about it or how much you think about it, it’s going to be cold. Just do it anyway.
- Get a buddy. Whether this is someone that you travel with (thanks, Dad!) or someone
just as crazy as youto do it with on the ship. Honestly, I don’t know if I would have done it without Dad pressuring me. Not only will it hold you accountable, it’ll make it more fun.
- Ask someone to be a photographer. Some ships provide this, but who doesn’t want their own photo? Ask someone watching (and there will be PLENTY of people watching you) to take a few photos so you can access it immediately.
- Put your jacket and pants on before getting in the zodiac. That quick ride from land to boat seems pretty short every other day of the expedition – but on those days you didn’t just get out of 35* water. Put it on – trust me. You don’t have to put on all the clothes, just the windbreaker jacket and pants to protect yourself.