One of the more unusual -- and possibly daunting -- excursions offered by a cruise line is Hurtigruten's camping trip on the southernmost continent.
An Amundsen Night in Antarctica gives those with fortitude and cold hardiness the bragging rights from an overnight in a two-person tent pitched on a snowy expanse at the bottom of the world.
The excursion also provides a glimpse into the experience of explorer Roald Amundsen, the Norwegian namesake of Hurtigruten's newest ship who led the first expedition to the South Pole in 1911.
It has been a little over a century since the first human set foot in Antarctica to explore the continent. Now tourists can follow in Amundsen's footsteps yet retreat to the relative comfort of a modern cruise ship when they're done.
On a recent tour of the Amundsen in Vancouver, we were given a brief overview of the equipment, terms and conditions of An Amundsen Night in Antarctica.
One of the bright red, two-person tents that guests use was set up as best as possible (no stakes) on the forward observation deck. Inside was one of the insulated sleeping bags and bivy sacs that serve as bedding in the Antarctic night.
Though not nearly as cold as in winter, summer in the Antarctic is pretty much like winter where most of us live.
Pal Ranheim, an assistant expedition leader on the Roald Amundsen, displays equipment for an overnight excursion in Antarctica, including a portable toilet. Photo Credit: TW photo by Tom Stieghorst
Pal Ranheim, an assistant expedition leader, said that during the three summer months when the Roald Amundsen will visit Antarctica, night temperatures tend to be a little above or below 32 degrees.
Ranheim displayed snowshoes (the ship has 60 pairs) that can be used on short hikes sometimes offered after guests pitch their tents. Yes, guests pitch their own shelters, with help from the expedition team.
Gear gets hauled back and forth from the Zodiac landing site to the camp on plastic sledges, or pulks. "The whole idea is [guests] do all the work themselves, they pull their own pulk, they pitch their tents and they go back," Ranheim said.
Finally, Ranheim showed the portable squat toilet that's brought along, which guests don't want to use unless they have to. Everything at the campsite gets taken back to the ship in the morning. Absolutely everything.
Truth be told, there's not a lot of activity on the overnights. That helps to ensure that campers don't stress the environment. Guests eat dinner aboard the ship before reaching the camp. There's no food, apart from one snack bar, and no beverages except for water.
There's also no campfire or heating gear. The excitement is in the beauty of nature and perhaps a visit from, or to, a penguin colony. There's also not a lot of stargazing because the polar light lasts all night in December and most of the night in January and February, although in those months there is a sunrise.
The campout is offered once a trip, and it doesn't happen if the weather or ice conditions aren't favorable. There is a minimum required participation of 18 guests and a maximum of 28. If more than 28 want to go, slots are assigned through a lottery.
The excursion costs $833 per person, which includes breakfast when the group returns to the ship early in the morning.