And then there’s the sentiment behind the holiday. For many people, New Year’s Eve is a time for reflection and setting intentions for a fresh start. “I think travel, no matter what time of year, is good for escape,” said Joan Watson, a retired accountant who visited Antarctica last year with Wild Earth Travel, a travel company with some ships that also function as research facilities. “But you truly do head into a new year with a bang if it’s spent in Antarctica.”
What to know before you go
With a few exceptions, the only people allowed to spend the night on land work at government research bases. There are a few companies that will fly you there for a few hours, but flights can be unreliable. The minute there’s a threat of bad weather, planes are grounded.
Cruise ships are your best bet. All lines that go to Antarctica (most leaving from southern ports in Chile or Argentina) require passengers to submit medical forms proving they are in good health, mostly because the medical infrastructure can be limited and hard to reach. The closest hospitals can be hours away by plane.
There’s no cellular service on Antarctica and internet access can be spotty. That means you may not be able to make midnight calls to family members or loved ones when the calendar moves to January 1. “The only downside is being away from family,” said Mr. Ward. “We’ll try and stay in touch and send photos when we can.”
How New Year’s ‘works’ at the bottom of the Earth
It can be unsettling to watch the clock in a continent that doesn’t really have an official time zone. (For convenience, McMurdo Station, a United States Antarctic research center, follows New Zealand’s because it is due south of that country.) It’s also strange for some visitors to perform the traditional countdown in broad daylight. “It’s a little funny,” said Jeffrey Donenfeld, who works for a venture capital fund and has spent two New Year’s on Antarctica, “but everything you do here is kind of funny because you’re like, ‘Where the hell are we? What is happening here?’”
Since New Year’s Eve in any part of the world wouldn’t be complete without a party, many ships stage extravagant galas. Ponant opts to have part of its celebration on the ship’s deck, despite the freezing temperatures, so guests can focus on the breathtaking views. On Princess Cruises, travelers party inside with clackers, hats, streamers, Champagne and a balloon drop at midnight.
Still, for many of those who celebrate New Year’s Eve in Antarctica, the highlight is not the party, but what they did that day. Ms. Watson remembers exactly what she did on the last day of 2017: she went out in a tiny boat, for what’s called “zodiac cruising,” to see penguins, and took a short walk around Deception Island, a small caldera in the South Shetland Islands that happens to have an active volcano.
Aaron Russ, general manager of Wild Earth Travel, and himself an expedition leader, said he reminds his passengers not to let holiday festivities distract them from where they are. “Even though it is New Year’s, the primary focus of the day is experiencing and seeing as much of Antarctica as possible,” he said. The ship even, “toasts a glass of Champagne to the Antarctic as well as the New Year.”
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