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The ultimate guide to Antarctica cruise holidays

Find the perfect company to take you on the journey of a lifetime.

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Playful penguins, kayaking with whales and camping on ice are just some of what awaits on the white continent. But, getting there is no small feat.

With temperatures dropping to below zero and no major settlements once you arrive, cruising to Antarctica is a whole different ball game than a tropical island sailing. But rest assured, these companies offer some of the best Antarctica expeditions out there, offering a safe journey south with as little environmental impact as possible.

There are three things to consider when planning your Antarctica expedition:

Top 8 companies to cruise Alaska with

If you are looking for a cruise that offers the comforts your used to on holiday and the attractions of the natural kind, consider these cruises to Antarctica.


1. Quark Expeditions

Sail with the pioneers of polar exploration with small ice-reinforced expedition ships that carry under 200 passengers each.

  • Ross Sea expeditions are sometimes available
  • Explore with the help of experts in the field and learn about polar wildlife, history and landscapes
  • Best price guarantee on seasonal expedition fares up to 60 days prior to departure date
  • Onboard helicopters are available for sightseeing trips.
  • Available dining options: All ships feature chef-prepared meals
  • Top Antarctica ships: 50 Years of Victory, Kapitan Khlebnikov, Sea Adventurer, Ocean Diamond, Ocean Nova

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2. G Adventures

G Adventures provides an expert to every 10 guests, ranging from historians and marine biologists to naturalists, to provide a unique perspective for every adventure.

  • Antarctica Peninsula only
  • Multilingual team is on standby 24/7 should you need assistance
  • 100% guaranteed departures
  • Available dining options: Chef-prepared meals
  • Top Antarctica ships: G Expedition

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3. Peregrine Adventures

Peregrine Adventures offers adventures in intimate-sized groups for a more personal and attentive experience.

  • Antarctica Peninsula only and ships depart from South America only
  • Expeditions are led by experts who offer a trove of knowledge on history, wildlife and geography
  • Book nine trips and get the tenth one free (worth up to $2,500)
  • Available dining options: Contemporary cuisine available on Ocean Endeavour
  • Top Antarctica ships: Ocean Diamond, Ocean Endeavour, Sea Adventurer

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4. Chimu Adventures

Cruise to the white continent with one of the few operators with tours to Antarctica departing from Australia or New Zealand.

  • An Australian-owned company, these polar specialists ensures its journeys to are safe to both passengers and the environment
  • Available dining options: Ranges depending on the ship from buffet-style meals to fine dining
  • Top Antarctica ships: Sea Spirit

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Image: Celebrity

5. Celebrity Cruises

Affordable and stylish, Celebrity allows you to cruise in comfort, with top dining and entertainment choices.

  • Antarctica Peninsula only. Trips tend to start in Buenos Aires and cruise past Ushuaia before landing in Antarctica.
  • World-class, personalised service with all the comforts of traditional cruise staterooms and amenities
  • Variety of onboard activities, from exhilarating to relaxing including a spa and casino
  • Available dining options: Qsine is a popular choice for those looking for a gastronomic adventure while The Alcoves offers a chic, cabana-style dining for secluded relaxation. Celebrity also caters to special dietary needs
  • Top Antarctica ships: Celebrity Infinity

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Image: Ponant

6. Ponant

Discover the world in French style and elegance with Ponant, away from the crowds of traditional cruise lines with Ponant's line of smaller vessels.

  • Antarctic Peninsula only
  • Exclusive, smaller cruise ships ensure an intimate and personalised cruise experience
  • A distinct French touch in every aspect of dining, service – even the interior design of the ship
  • Available dining options: Elegant restaurants serving French-inspired gourmet dishes and fine wines available on every ship
  • Top Antarctica ships: Le Boreal, Le Soleal, Le Lyrial

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7. Oceanwide Expeditions

Running small-group polar expeditions for 20 years, Oceanwide Expeditions have been named the world's leading polar expedition operator four times at the World Travel Awards.

  • Guided excursions include helicopter transfers, sea kayaking, photo workshops, polar diving and ski trekking
  • Listen to lectures about the destination aboard the ship by naturalists
  • Available dining options: All meals provided, plus snacks, coffee and tea.
  • Top Antarctica ships: m/v Ortelius, m/v Plancius


8. Intrepid Travel

Travel to Antarctica in small groups to experience the unique wildlife and landscapes of the South Pole.

  • Antarctica Peninsula only
  • Sustainable travelling minimises carbon footprint while maximising fun
  • Available dining options: Two restaurants on board offer chef-prepared meals
  • Top Antarctica ships: Sea Adventurer

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Average price per night for an Antarctica cruise

  • Quark Expeditions: $1,657 per night
  • Peregrine Adventures: $582 per night
  • G Adventures: $910 per night
  • Oceanwide Expeditions: $710 per night
  • Intrepid Travel: $887 per night
  • Celebrity Cruises: $372 per night
  • Ponant: $1,259 per night

The three things you need to know before you book

  • There are no hotels in Antarctica, so you’ll have to find your sea legs. Cruises are generally the only way to do an Antarctica trip and the ships serve as your accommodation.
  • There’s no going in winter. The ice packs are too thick and conditions are too unpredictable. There are about five months each year when tourists can visit.
  • Antarctica trips mostly depart from Argentina and Australia/New Zealand. You’ll be going to a completely different place depending on your departure point.

Ross Sea vs Antarctic Peninsula: Choose your destination

Your departure point will also determine your destination.

  • Australia/New Zealand. Trips mostly depart from Tasmania or New Zealand’s south island and explore the Ross Sea area.
  • Argentina. Trips mostly depart from Ushuaia, the world’s southern-most city, and explore the Antarctic Peninsula.

Ross Sea trips from Australia will always be more expensive, even once you factor in the cost of flying to South America, as it’s a much longer way.

It takes about two days to cross the Drake Straight and reach Antarctica from Ushuaia, but about a week to reach Antarctica from Australia or New Zealand. Even the shortest cruises from Australia are generally at least 20 days.

The first step is deciding whether you want an Antarctic Peninsula (Argentina) or Ross Sea (Australia) trip. Check out the comparison table below:

Antarctic PeninsulaRoss Sea
PriceLess expensiveMore expensive
Trip duration6 days+20 days+
  • These trips are often much richer in wildlife and let you take in the Falkland Islands and other great spots.
  • The landscape is varied and unique but much busier as a number of cruises travel the area.
  • If you don’t want to miss out on whale watching, penguin colonies or other unique wildlife this is the better option.
  • Some of the world’s most unique and impressive landmarks like the Ross Ice Shelf and Mount Erebus.
  • Rich in history and home to the Mawson and Shackleton huts.
  • The wildlife is less abundant but it’s a better place to see emperor penguins.
  • It’s much less busy with more pristine and untouched terrain.

The best way to get to Ushuaia from Australia

Many cruise lines offer combined flight and cruise packages, but this usually costs more than making your own way to Ushuaia. It’s ideal to book a flight to Buenos Aires and then fly from there to Ushuaia.

As of 2016 and 2017, there are a lot of ways to fly to South America and once you arrive in Buenos Aires there are flights to Ushuaia daily.

If you're looking to leave a bit closer to home, Chimu Adventures offers a limited number of sailings from Australia and New Zealand.

When’s the best time to visit Antarctica?

Once you’ve chosen your destination you can pick the best time to head for the South Pole.

Tourist season is during the Antarctic summer from November to March and most expeditions leave during this period. The great white continent changes month to month, so pick the time that’s right for you.

NovemberThe start of the season.
  • Colder and darker than later months
  • A great time to see the largest, most impressive icebergs and landscape formed over the winter
  • Whales aren’t as abundant yet
  • Generally the only time to see the famous elephant seal mating fights
  • Plenty of penguins but too early for penguin chicks
  • Some areas might be blocked off and impassable with fewer onshore opportunities
DecemberThe weather is distinctly warmer but still extremely cold. It’s a popular time to visit being right in the holiday season.
  • Warmer and brighter
  • The landscape is mostly pristine from the winter but is now better lit
  • Whales and other wildlife start becoming more plentiful
  • Early-season conditions mean a better chance of onshore exploration
  • The tail-end of elephant seal mating season
  • Penguins have yet to hatch
JanuaryThe weather starts warming up, penguin hatchlings come out and whales are becoming more abundant.
  • One of the warmest times overall
  • Expect more onshore opportunities but fewer impressive icebergs
  • Some areas become more tracked up from previous expeditions
  • The best time to start seeing penguin chicks
  • It’s not yet prime whale-watching season
FebruaryIt’s now late summer bringing a wide range of wildlife opportunities, but the landscape might be weathered.
  • You can expect plenty of penguin chicks
  • Prime whale-watching season
  • Landings are showing heavy use and you may walk on more mud and rocks than snow
MarchThe tail-end of Antarctica’s travel season. The weather is becoming colder and unpredictable which could disrupt journeys.
  • There’s a chance of seeing the southern lights on your cruise
  • The penguins have mostly grown up
  • There are fewer ships but unpredictable weather might interrupt shore landings
  • Still prime whale-watching season

What to expect from your cruise

Here’s a brief outline of what to expect on your trip.

  • Departure. Your cruise starts heading south and it gets colder the further you go. It takes a few days, but Antarctic cruise ships are packed with amenities so there’s plenty to do.
  • You’re in Antarctic waters. More time is spent on deck while you’re cruising through the ice, taking in the scenery and getting a guided tour from the onboard experts. You’ll be informed if large icebergs, pods of whales or other things are sighted.
  • Landfall and day trips. At certain spots all guests have the chance to head ashore in sturdy inflatable boats to minimise environmental impact and see the area’s best attractions. You’ll have a chance to go hiking, view spectacular scenery up close and spend time among penguin colonies, seals and other wildlife.

How your trip might vary

There are a lot of variations your trip might take, such as:

  • The Islands. Both the Ross Sea and Peninsula have a range of different islands explored as part of the trip.
  • The weather. Sometimes it won’t be possible to go ashore due to rough seas affecting boat launches or patron’s safety.
  • The cruise. It’s all about the vessel, so picking the right cruise line is key to having an unforgettable trip.

What are the best things to do in Antarctica?

If you have your heart set on an activity or tour, you should check that it’s available with your desired cruise.

Greg Carter from Chimu Adventures tells us his top five things to do on the white continent:

  • Spot a penguin: Adelie, King, Macaroni, Rockhopper and Emperor penguins all call Antarctica home and you're just about guaranteed to see some on your journey.
  • Kayak through glaciers: Paddle alongside seals and other wildlife in glassy glacial waters.
  • Take the polar plunge: Not for the faint hearted, this adrenaline rush is just what it sounds like - jumping into the frigid sea water.
  • Follow in the footsteps of early explorers: Walk on the snowy lands of Antarctica, just like Shackleton and Mawson did all those years ago.
  • Camp on ice: Rugged up in lots of warm clothes, take the chance to spend the night on the Antarctic shelf.

Frequently asked questions

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