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:
Find a cruise line. Discover Antarctica with a cruise line that suits your tastes and preferences.
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
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:
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.
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.
The 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
The 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
The 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
It’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
The 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
Binoculars for sightseeing.
Cold weather gear that’s warm and waterproof for the icy conditions.
Other than this you generally don’t always need specialised gear as the cruise line often provides it for you, such as waterproof boots.
Yes. You can book Antarctic flyovers from Australia and South America.
Plus the Drake Passage is known for being rough, so many cruise lines offer guests the chance to fly over it and join the ship on the other side.
It’s one of the most turbulent oceans anywhere, but polar vessels are designed for exceptional stability so it depends on your ship and the weather.
You’ll be using the currency of your departure port, although US dollars and Euros are also widely accepted on cruises.
That’s entirely up to you. You’ll generally find multilingual guides on most cruises though.
Antarctic cruises are expensive as Antarctic vessels are ice-strengthened and some are even ice-breakers. These vessels are often much smaller than traditional cruise ships in order to navigate remote regions, hence less passengers can be taken on a single trip. The trips also include other miscellaneous expenses such as pre-cruise overnight stays and shore excursions. Costs also depend on the length of the trip as a typical itinerary will be no less than eight days and some even go for as long as three weeks.
Yes! You'll likely see plenty of penguins on an Antarctica cruise.
Want Antarctica cruise deals? Use one of our coupons:
Andrew Munro is the global cryptocurrency editor at Finder. After previously writing about insurance and other areas, he now covers the latest developments in digital assets and blockchain and works on Finder's comprehensive range of guides to help people understand cryptocurrency.
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