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The Polar Plunge: Don't Think, Just Do It

A swimsuit is not something you would expect to find on a packing list for Antarctica. And yet, if you don't bring one, you may find yourself disappointed and left out of a crazy but fun activity.

I have done the "polar bear plunge" at home on New Year's Day, running into the Atlantic Ocean as fast as I could to ring in the new year...with air temperatures at a balmy 50-55 degrees Fahrenheit. Plunging into water that is just as cold as the air, surrounded by icebergs and glaciers, is a different story!

There was a lot of buzz on our ship about the polar plunge. Some passengers were very sure that they would not be participating. Others were simply trepidatious but were considering it. We waited and patiently waited, asking every other day or so when we might be able to do the polar plunge.

We woke on one particularly sunny and beautiful morning, and air temperatures were a balmy 34 degrees with little wind. This was it. This was the day. We had our morning excursion, cruising around Charlotte Bay on glassy water, watching Wilson's storm petrels dance like ballerinas on the water and cruising alongside massive Minke whales. We came back to the ship to the announcement we'd all been waiting for: "Get you swimsuits on and bathrobes ready, Hebridean Sky! We'll be doing the polar plunge at 11:30AM followed by lunch on the Lido Deck."

If you think jumping into the sea in Antarctica and then eating lunch outside with wet hair sounds nuts, you're probably right. And yet this was one of my favorite days of the trip. We changed into our swimsuits and donned our bathrobes and slippers (provided by the ship in each cabin) and waited in line with our fellow passengers. With so many passengers having declared that there was no way they'd do the plunge, we were shocked to see that nearly half the boat turned up to jump! It was a lively occasion with music blasting and lots of cheering from the spectators above on the outer decks. We made our way down to the marina deck, where we handed our robes to a member of the expedition team and stepped onto a zodiac. Two of the guides were there to harness you in, count you down, and cheer as you plunged into the icy cold, 33-degree sea. I was in, gasping and cursing, and then I was out! Unharnessed, you step back onto the boat, are wrapped in your robe and a towel, and handed a shot of vodka to take the edge off.

Photos were taken, we cheered on the rest of our new friends, and then we threw on some dry clothes and made our way to the Lido Deck for a pig roast! You would have thought we were in Hawaii with the spread they had out, if not for our winter parkas, scarves, and hats. Mulled wine was served to warm us up, and the music continued.

Polar plunge: 100% worth it.

Jump on in, the water's fine!
Jump on in, the water's fine! (Molly Hutchison)

Some travelers are more brave than others, flipping and diving into the frigid waters
Some travelers are more brave than others, flipping and diving into the frigid waters (Molly Hutchison)

Post-plunge pig roast!
Post-plunge pig roast! (Molly Hutchison)


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