I had no idea what the Drake Passage involved because I’m not on TikTok. After mentioning to my Gen Z hairdresser that I was about to embark on a trip to Antarctica, he promptly whipped out his iPhone to show me stomach-churning viral videos of what’s known as the Drake Shake. Connecting three oceans between South America and Antarctica, this thoroughfare is notorious for its convergence of currents, waves and wind — dubbed the Drake Shake when rough and the Drake Lake when calm. You never know which one you’ll get, but you must pass through in order to visit the White Continent. There was no turning back now; I was about to check off this ultimate bucket-list trip.
In preparation, I spent a week scouring the Internet for a wardrobe of sporty items that I would surely never wear again. I bought my first (and last) puffer vest. Something called base layers. And so much fleece. All of this to set sail aboard the Viking Polaris, the renowned cruise line’s expedition ship designed to explore the planet’s most remote destinations.
This two-week journey begins on a chartered flight from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia, Argentina, descending to the bottom of the world with an aircraft full of sportswear-clad adventure seekers. It’s not until you step on the 378-passenger ship that you meet your fellow globetrotters, a group of mostly affluent, well-traveled seniors (AKA retirement goals).
Like the passengers aboard the Polaris, travel writers love to talk (perhaps even brag) about the places they’ve been. I didn’t get my first passport until I was 25, so I’ve spent the ensuing years making up for lost time. Current count: 54 countries and six continents. Despite my travels, I’ve never considered myself a cruiser but more of a rugged sailing type who would rather spend a week barefoot on a boat. This sentiment changed in short order upon experiencing the Polaris, which feels like a luxury boutique hotel on water. The decor gives off Scandinavian chic vibes, the food rivals a Michelin-starred restaurant and the service is absolutely extraordinary.
I spent the two-day journey through the Drake Lake (phew) mostly spa-ing, reading and sipping wine in the Living Room with new friends as we anxiously awaited reaching the Last Continent. Come turndown, we received an official certificate recognizing our successfully crossing of the passage, and once we had made it through, the first sight of the Antarctic Peninsula is one I’ll never forget.
Despite a recent influx of tourism, the Ice remains one of the coldest, driest, darkest and most hostile environments in the world. In short, this is the ultimate dare for an adventure enthusiast. Just seeing this land — one that so few people have witnessed — feels special. And with that privilege comes responsibility. Scientists are available for onboard conversation and questions, and passengers can participate in fieldwork, adhering to strict protocols designed to protect the delicate environment.
Most excursions involved zippy little Zodiac boats and were centered around wildlife viewing. To which I can confidently say: There’s nothing cuter than a penguin — except a baby penguin. But on the Polaris, the spotting of any creature is celebrated. One of my favorite excursions was kayaking, and I was fortunate enough to experience this on a sunny (albeit cold) day, calmly gliding amid bright blue icebergs that resembled art sculptures. Here, I spotted graceful whales, showoff penguins and lackadaisical seals lounging about on the ice.
Given the volatile environs, weather is constantly monitored aboard the Polaris. As our journey was coming to a close, it appeared a potentially dangerous storm would be in our path as we crossed back over the Drake Passage, inevitably resulting in a Drake Shake dramatic enough to land a viral video (no thanks). Instead, our intrepid captain opted to head back a day early. Sure, it was disappointing to lose time on the White Continent, but it was also a reminder that the greatest adventures in life are the most unpredictable — just like Antarctica itself.
It’s been two months since my return from this trip. I received a postcard in the mail today that I had sent during an excursion to Port Lockroy, the southernmost post office on the planet. This is surely the truest definition of snail mail. In a time when we can zip across the country in an afternoon and communicate with people around the world with a touch of our phone, it feels exciting to know that some things still take time: a two-day sail through the Drake Passage, a two-week excursion to see the Antarctic Peninsula (just a tiny piece of the landmass), and a two-month journey for a postcard to arrive back in the States. I’m dubbing it “snail travel,” a phenomenon where the best trips are worth the time spent — and the wait for that coveted checkmark.