ANTARCTICA CRUISES

COMPLETE GUIDE TO CRUISING IN ANTARCTICA

The most formidable continent on our planet, Antarctica is a land of adventure, expedition and thrills. 

If you're on this page, you're no doubt considering a cruise to this wonderful land. We can tell you from personal experience that Antarctica is completely unforgettable. The memories you make on your cruise will stay with you forever. 

Before you book however, you'll need to decide which Antarctica cruise you want to take. This is sometimes more easily said than done as there are numerous itineraries, ships and operators. 

To help you get under way and start planning your epic Antarctica adventure, we have written this detailed page. We discuss everything from ship choices to the best places to see wildlife.

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Antarctica Cruise: The Complete Guide

Antarctica cruise map

Overview

A land untouched by humans, Antarctica is the last wilderness frontier on our planet. Antarctica is the coldest, driest and windiest region on earth, receiving less rain than the Sahara Dessert. Very few animals can endure Antarctica's harsh environment. There aren't even any insects due to the high wind levels! 

Luckily though, ice-strengthened cruise ships can endure this region. Saying that, travellers can only visit Antarctica in the Summer and 90% of these itineraries will be to the Antarctic Peninsula area where wildlife thrives and the seas are calmer.

The interior of Antarctica is an entirely different beast and one that few people ever lay claim to. Some of the ice sheets are 1 mile deep and 70% of the world's freshwater is locked up here. Only emperor penguins can survive the harsh interior - including Winter. 98% of Antarctica is ice - that's a lot of ice when consider Antarctica is twice the size of Australia! 

There are no permanent residents on Antarctica, but at any given time there are a few thousand researchers stationed on the continent. The British Antarctic Survey have a permanent base on the continent, as do a number of other countries. No single country owns or governs the continent, instead Antarctica is a de facto condominium, meaning it is governed by the 12 parties that signed the Antarctic Treaty System in 1959.  

Last year over 30,000 tourists visited the White Continent. Most of these people were avid photographers and adventure lovers. This is not to say you can't have relaxing holiday to Antarctica as there are now a number of large, luxury liners visiting the Peninsula. 

Because the ice environment is so pristine, this also makes it very fragile. Operators must follow strict guidelines set out by the International Association of Antarctica Operators (IAAO). Your guides will make you aware of this guidelines and its vitally important you follow them. 

Read on below to discover your perfect Antarctic adventure. 

Best Time To Cruise Antarctica

Summer is the only season in which Antarctica cruises are offered. This means anywhere from late October through to late March. 

In Winter the sea ice chokes the land and make the area impossible to navigate. The seas in Winter are rough and the winds and cold temperatures also make life very difficult. Only researchers will Winter in Antarctica.

When you decide to sail in Summer will have an impact on what you see. Below we discuss more. 

​Summer

The high tourist season in Antarctica is December and January. This is when temperatures are at their warmest, sometimes reaching a barmy 10 degrees celsius (50°F)! This is also the best time to see penguin chicks as Gentoo's, chinstraps and amelie's all give birth around this time.

For people wanting to see epic icebergs, we recommend travelling early in the season around October and November. By this stage the icebergs have not melted as much and there are some amazing ones to be seen! This does not mean that you won't see icebergs in the high period, they just might not be as big.   

For people wanting to see whales, the late part of the season around February and March is ideal. You'll no doubt see whales most days and get some great pics. Once again, this is not to say you won't see whales at other period - you will, but you'll see more later in the season.  

​Types of Expedition Ships

Because the Antarctic region is such a popular destination, there are now a whole host of ships that sail to the Peninsula. 

All these shops can be separated into three categories, research, expedition and luxury. Each category is discussed below in more detail. 

Once you have decided which type of ship you want (and this is often decided by budget), you'll need to consider elements such as on-board facilities, staff ratio, and food quality. Each Antarctica cruise ship offers something different and it's often worth paying a little extra to get your first choice.

​Research Vessels

Research style vessels are for people on a budget. These ships were previously used as research vessels and have now been turned into cruise ships. 

Because of this, the facility onboard are basic and functional. You will find no luxuries. 

This is not to say research vessels are a bad choice. In fact, they offer a type of cruise that feels far more like a real expedition than any other type of ship!

Research vessels are often the toughest ships out there and offer excellent deck space for wildlife viewing. They are also quite small which is ideal for shore landings and activities.  

​Expedition Ships

Expedition-style ships are more expensive than research vessels, but still a lot less than luxury ships!

We tend to lean towards expedition ships as they offer great activity options whilst also being comfortable.

Expedition vessels are also quite small which means you avoid any queues and you get plenty of shore landings.

These ships are often purpose built for the Poles which means you'll get a fully equipped lecture room, well-designed layout and excellent viewing spaces.   

​Luxury Cruises

Luxury vessels cost far more, but offer a level of comfort that research and expedition ships simply cannot match.

Your rooms will be well-appointed, the food will be superb and you'll have access to facilities such as a gym, sauna, jacuzzi, spa etc.

one thing to mention is that many luxury ships are very large. This means that you won't get as many shore landings because the ship won't be able to make port in shallower bays. 

This being said, the small, luxury ships are by far the best experience you can have. If you have the money, we suggest you go for it!

Antarctica Cruise Cost

Because of Antarctica's remoteness, it comes as no surprises that cruises to the region are not cheap. 

For a basic 10 day itinerary to the peninsula aboard a research vessel you should look to pay between $6-7,000. With an expedition style ship this would be around $7-8,000 and a luxury vessel you would look to pay between $9-12,000. 

For a great 2 week experience the includes a Circle crossing or South Georgia, expect to pay between $9,000 – $15,000. More for luxury. 

​Other Cost Considerations

Beside the main Antarctica cruise cost, there are also a number of other cost factors to consider. 

​Solo Travelers

​Flights

​Gear

​Visa and other Misc. Expenses

Choosing The Right Antarctic Cruise

There are many itineraries and cruise options to Antarctica. Choosing an itinerary can certainly be difficult. 

The best advise is to work out what you want to see. Do you want to witness million strong penguin colonies? Kayak with whales? Or take pictures of enormous icebergs?

Deciding this and then learning which cruise itineraries do what will greatly help you choose your perfect cruise.

Below we have listed some elements to consider when deciding on your itinerary. 

  • ​When
  • ​How long
  • ​Where
  • ​Wildlife
  • ​activities
  • ​cabin type
  • ​book ahead

The question of where you want to sail is obviously very important. For more information on Antarctic cruise highlights, please see further below. 

Although almost every Antarctic cruise visits the Peninsula, many itineraries will visit certain other places. These include South Georgia, South Shetland Islands, the Falklands, Weddell Sea, East Antarctica, the Antarctic Circle, the Ross Sea, and Patagonia

Although South Georgia and the Peninsula have many cruise options, places like the Wedell Sea, Ross Sea, and East Antarctica only have one or two options. 

Some longer 'World' itineraries will visit Antarctica as part of a much longer itinerary that often visits South America, the South Pacific and the Arctic regions

Get a Cruise Quote!

Expedition Cruise do not sell tours, we simply provide impartial advice. If you would like an exact quote with our recommended specialist click Get a Quote.

Antarctica Wildlife

Antarctica cruise - wildlife

Although the environment is harsh, wildlife thrives in Antarctica. This is especially true on the peninsula and surrounding islands where the climate is slightly calmer. 

Most travelers will take an Antarctica cruise to see the majestic wildlife. There really is no words to describe how close these animals feel. 

Whales are curious creatures, as are penguins. A trip to Antarctica therefore guarantees a great wildlife experience. 

Photographers will be particularly please by the array of close up creatures. 

​Types of Wildlife

Emperor Penguin

Antarctica cruise wildlife - emperor penguins

Emperor penguins are the iconic species of Antarctica. Seen on all major wildlife documentaries, these intrepid species survive the world's harshest Winter!

Although iconic, very few cruises actually have the chance to see emperors. For the best chance you'll need to take a Weddell Sea cruise. 

Other Penguin Species

Antarctica cruise wildlife - penguins

There are 6 other types of penguins that can be seen in Antarctica. These are the adelie, king, gentoo, chinstrap, Macaronis, and Rockhoppers.

Most cruise itineraries will see these. However, for King penguins you'll want to take an itinerary that includes South Georgia. 

Southern Elephant Seal

Antarctica cruise wildlife - elephant seal

Southern elephant seals are a real treat to witness. Huge and sometimes aggressive, the males can weigh up to 4,000 kg (8,800lb)! 

These large seals tend to gather in huge numbers during Summer. For the chance to spot these awesome creatures, you'll need to take the Antarctica via Falklands and South Georgia itinerary.

Other Seal Species

Antarctica cruise wildlife - seals

There are 5 other species of seal found in Antarctica. These are the Weddell, crabeater, leopard, Ross, and Antarctic Fur Seals.

Both the Weddell and Ross species are rare, however the other 3 are seen frequently on most itineraries to the peninsula. 

Whales

Antarctica cruise wildlife - whales

The waters around the Antarctic peninsula are ideal for whale watching. Blue whale, orca, Sperm whale, Sei whale, Humpback whale, Minke whale, Fin whale, Southern right whale, and sperm whales are all seen here.

Blue whales are very rare, but orca, humpback and minke are spotted frequently on most itineraries. 

Wandering Albatross

Antarctica cruise wildlife - albatross

Out of all the seabirds that inhabit Antarctica, the albatross is by far the most famous. 

The largest wing span on the planet, the albatross is able to fly over 500 miles in one day! 25% of the worlds population is found on South Georgia. 

Other Seabirds

Antarctica cruise wildlife - seabirds

Every year millions of seabirds reach Antarctica's shores to breed. Because of the lack of breeding grounds, the 19 species that breed here do so in huge colonies. 

The blue-eyed shags and giant petrels are particularly popular. Many of the species are seen on the peninsula, however, a South Georgia itinerary is better. 

Antarctica Cruise: Things To Do

things to do on a Antarctica cruise

Although the wildlife is probably the biggest reason why people journey to Antarctica, there is actually a wealth of activities and things to see. 

Please bear in mind that not all activities are possible on every itinerary. In fact, some itineraries will offer no extra activities, whilst other like the 'Basecamp cruise itinerary' focus heavily on added activities. 

The time of year you sail will also have a bearing upon what you can do and see. Below we discuss a little of each in detail. 

​​Wildlife Watching

Antarctica cruise wildlife watching

The epic wildlife found in Antarctica is the reason why most people visit. 

Therefore, your cruise guides take wildlife watching very seriously. You'll take daily zodiac trips to search out whales and make daily shore excursions to get close to the penguins and seals. 

On board you'll have ilife experts who can give you all the information you require and teach how best to deal with the wildlife one ashore. Bring a good pair of binoculars! 

​​Kayaking and Zodiacs

things to do on a Antarctica cruise - kayak

Kayaking is by far the most popular added activity in Antarctica. Although it will cost you extra (around $700), you'll not regret it. 

Kayaking allows you to explore landscapes in ways your cruise ship can't. For example, you can circumnavigate icebergs and explore shallow inlets where seals are more likely to be spotted. 

Daily zodiac trips are included on all Antarctic itineraries for wildlife watching and shore landings. 

The Southern Lights

things to do on a Antarctica cruise - Southern lights

Far more elusive than their northern counterpart, the Southern Lights or Aurora Australis are undeniably beautiful. 

Unlike the Northern Lights which generally display a blue and green palette, the Southern Lights frequently light up the sky in pinks, reds, yellows and many more! 

Like the Northern Lights, the Aurora Australis can only be seen in Winter (although year-round sightings have been reported). This means you'll need to travel very early or very late in then season for a shot at seeing them. Aim for early October or Late March. 

​Photography

things to do on a Antarctica cruise -photography

Photographers will be in their absolute element on the White Continent. 

Every day you'll see new and amazing things. There will often be a dedicated photography expert on board to help you find the best locations, give you tips on shooting and even help with the post-processing of photos.

Even uf you're an expert, these guides can really help you. They know all the best spots and have done this numerous times before.   

​​Scuba Diving and Swimming

things to do on a Antarctica cruise - scuba

Although you may get a chill just thinking about this, most Antarctic cruises offer what is known as the 'Polar Plunge'. 

Jump from your ship into the freezing waters! You'll be attached to a guide rope and your guides will be waiting in the water to bring you in.

Scuba diving is also offered on a few select itineraries. You'll need to be certified and have experience in cold water. Seeing an iceberg from underneath though is worth it!

​​Camping, Skiing and Hiking

things to do on a Antarctic cruise - camping

Other activities that are offered on select Antarctic itineraries include camping, skiing, snowshoeing, and climbing.

These activités cost extra but are generally worth it as you'll only get one chance ever to do them! 

A very popular choice is camping. Stay the night out on the ice and hear the sounds from the creaking icebergs and wildlife as you witness the bright stars of the South.

Antarctic Packing List

As you have probably worked out, the Antarctic Peninsula is cold, even in Summer. 

Temperatures regularly plummet below zero, especially at night. Although you'll be aboard your ship, much of your wildlife watching will be done ashore or out on deck. 

This means you'll want the right gear and clothing to enjoy your time on the White Continent.

Below is an overview of things you'll to bring with you. 

​Items To Consider

Clothing: The key to clothing in Antarctica is layers. You'll need a base layer, fleece, shell jacket and parka. Many operators will provide the parka free of charge. 

Footwear: Because you'll be making regular wet landings by zodiac, you'll want to buy some bogs - high calf waterproof boots. 

Headgear: Beanies are ideal in Antarctica for keeping your head war during all excursions. Also, purchase a waterproof jacket with a hood. 

Gloves: Make sure to bring a good pair of gloves with you. Photographers may want to bring a pair of lier gloves for dexterity. 

Bags and Daypacks: Because you'll be making numerous shore landings, you'll want a good day pack to store your things in. 

Important Accessories: Water bottles, ear plugs, electrical plugs, kindle, extra batteries, and hiking poles are a great option. 

Get a Cruise Quote!

Expedition Cruise do not sell tours, we simply provide impartial advice. If you would like an exact quote with our recommended specialist click Get a Quote.

Antarctica Cruise Highlights

Paradise Bay

Antarctica cruise highlights - paradise bay

Paradise Bay or Harbour is a beautiful and picturesque bay with everything on offer. Perfect for zodiac trips, you can see wonderful icebergs and wildlife. Expect to see seals lounging on ice-floes, squawking penguins and, if you're lucky, a whale or two!

Hope Bay

Antarctica cruise highlights - Hope bay

More common known as Iceberg Alley, Hope Bay is probably the best place to see icebergs of all shapes and sizes. Look out for the magnificent blue-hued icebergs that make for stunning photographs. The first Antarctica-born child was at the Argentinian research station here. 

Lemaire Channel

Antarctica cruise highlights - lemaire channel

Probably the most beautiful location in all of the Peninsula, the Lemaire Channel is often referred to as  ‘Kodak Gap’ due to its photographic qualities. The channel is also a hotspot for whales and you should get some great close pics!

Weddell Sea

Antarctica cruise highlights - weddell sea

The Weddell Sea is a vast expanse of water in East Antarctica. Very few people have ever traversed these cold waters. This is also the the best place to see emperor penguins via special helicopter trips. You'll need to take the special Weddell Sea itinerary for this.  

Falkland Islands

Antarctica cruise highlights - falkland islands

Although not Antarctica proper, the Falkland Islands have a charm of their own. Long white beaches, beautiful clear water and plenty of wildlife watching opportunities make the islands an ideal stop over point. Elephant seals and 5 species of penguin are found here. 

South Georgia

Antarctica cruise highlights - south georgia

One of the greatest wildlife location on our planet, South Georgia is teeming with seals and penguins. Colonies of elephant seals and king penguins over 1 million strong await visitors to this island. Also a great spot to witness the Southern Lights in early Winter. 

South Shetlands

Antarctica cruise highlights - south shetlands

Lying to the North-west side of the Antarctica Peninsula are the South Shetland Islands. This includes King island where express cruise itineraries fly into. Wildlife watching opportunities prevail on each island and there are plenty of epic icebergs that dot this landscape. 

Ross Sea

Steeped in exploration history, the Ross Sea is without doubt one of the most remote areas on earth. Most spectacular of all is the Ross Sea Ice Shelf - a colossal shelf of ice just under 200,000 sq miles and several hundred meters thick.! 

East Antarctica

Antarctica cruise highlights - east Antarctica

An incredibly remote landscape, East Antarctica bring to life the explores that have gone before. Follow in the footsteps of Mawson and his crew, visiting ‘Mawson’s hut’ on Commonwealth Bay and the infamous Cape Denison. If you're luck you might see emperor penguins. 

Antarctic Cruise Insurance

Insurance in mandatory aboard all Antarctic itineraries. Please use the calculator below to get a quote straight away with our rcommended specialist. 

Antarctic Cruise Video

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