Antarctica Ask the Expert: Can you Travel with a Disability?
November is here and that means the official kickoff of the Antarctic season! Many excited travelers have made their way or will shortly be en route to the southern tip of South America to board one of the many expedition ships and embark on the trip of a lifetime. Throughout the season ~ November to March ~ I’ll be answering one burning question about travel to Antarctica each month. If you have a question you want answered in this series, please send it in! This month’s question is....
Q: Can people with mobility disabilities travel to Antarctica?
A: This is a tough one and entirely dependent on the degree of mobility disability. There are two main issues:
1) the Drake Passage is a two day ocean crossing that is both unavoidable(unless flying) and fairly unpredictable in terms of weather and stability. Even in the largest and most stable of ships, you are bound to get quite tossed around. Furthermore, since the new heavy fuel regulations went into place in August 2011, many of the larger (and more stable) ships are no longer able to go to Antarctica so it's mostly smaller expedition vessels.
2) Almost all landings in Antarctica are wet landings, meaning you have to go down an unstable external gangway (sometimes in inclement weather), get in a Zodiac (inflatable boat), and then the passengers climb over the side of the Zodiac and literally wade to shore through the frigid water. There are almost no dry landings (landing on a dock) at all.
So as you can see it depends on the level of mobility disability of the individual. If someone is physically compromised enough that they can't handle the above scenarios without risk of serious injury, then this is not an ideal choice of expedition. Unless you fly as I mentioned before, which is expensive and an *entirely* different experience than expedition cruising.
M/S Expedition, G Adventures (formerly G.A.P. Adventures)
Here is a selection of key points related to health and mobility on Antarctic cruises from four major Antarctic expedition companies:
~ “Although we spend as much time as possible ashore, you are welcome to remain aboard the ship if you like. To join most excursions, you must be able to get up and down the steep gangway from the ship to the water level to board the Zodiacs. Staff will assist you in and out of the boats. This will become progressively easier with practice. Ashore it can be slippery and rocky. You are travelling in remote areas without access to sophisticated medical facilities, so you must not join this expedition if you have a life-threatening condition, or need daily medical treatment.” (Oceanwide Expeditions)
~ “Because you are traveling to a remote area without access to sophisticated medical facilities, you should not join the expedition if you are suffering from a life threatening condition. Our expedition cruises require sufficient independent mobility to negotiate steep gangways. The terrain is rough in both polar regions. If you have difficulty walking or need an assistance device to move about, our trips may not be for you.” (Quark Expeditions)
~ “Travellers must be able to walk without the aid of another person, climb 3-4 flights of stairs, step on and off small boats, and carry their own luggage at a minimum. Travellers with a pre-existing medical condition are required to complete a short medical questionnaire, which must be signed by their physician. This is to ensure that travellers have the necessary fitness and mobility to comfortably complete their chosen trip.” (G Adventures)
~ “Assistance getting in and out of the Zodiacs will be offered by our staff. There are possible wet landings where you will be required to disembark the Zodiac into ankle deep water - making rubber boots a necessary item.” (OneOcean Expeditions)
Please comment below if you have had an experience successfully traveling to Antarctica with a mobility disability. This would be really beneficial to other readers!
Got a burning question about travel to Antarctica? Let me know and I’ll try to answer it in this monthly series.
Heather Thorkelson has been an adventurer for as long as
anyone can remember, having visited 18 countries by the time she was 18,
lived in 5 different ones by the time she was 23, and had reached all
seven continents by 32. She is an avid outdoors-person, devoted mom to a
Portuguese water dog, and lives with her partner Sean in Toronto when
they are not out traipsing the far reaches of the globe. By day, she's a life coach who works with people to create the life they dream of, and she moonlights as Antarctica Travels’ Social Media Ninja. She can be reached at heather @ antarcticatravels.com
Feature photo: intrepid adventurers in a Zodiac cruising around icebergs
All photos courtesy and copyright G Adventures