Secluded at the bottom of the earth, no other destination in this world is more incredible and extraordinary than Antarctica. With over 14 million square kilometres shrouded in ice, it has adopted a befitting reputation as the White Continent. Through this Antarctica cruise guide, we aim to ensure that you gain a complete comprehensive understanding of what to expect on your voyage. From kayaking with whales to close encounters with hundreds of penguins, Antarctica is on the precipice of fame – with more and more adventurers and explorers calling in on this bucket-list-worthy destination unlike any other.
Whether you're an experienced explorer or simply looking for a once-in-a-lifetime trip, cruising in Antarctica is an experience you'll never forget. In this Antarctica cruise guide, we'll explore everything you need to know to plan the perfect adventure, from the best time to visit to the top cruise lines and what to pack. Collating research based on real past passengers of the Antarctica cruises, read this Antarctica cruise guide and learn about everything there is to know about the region.
Getting to Know Antarctica | When to Visit Antarctica | Cruising in Antarctica | Why You Should Visit Antarctica | What to Consider When Booking | A Typical Day | Tips for Antarctica Cruises | Best Cruise Lines | What to Pack
A land of extremes, from being the coldest, driest and windiest end of the earth, Antarctica holds its place in history (and geography) as one of the most heart-racing destinations, characterised by majestic snow-capped expanses, soaring glaciers, unspoiled wilderness and mesmerising hues of the night skies – awakening your soul amidst its jaw-dropping serenity.
Even though the climate is harsh, an abundance of amazing wildlife can be found here. From penguins and seals to seabirds, visitors discover these creatures up close and personal, either on a cruise or through guided tours and excursions. Furthermore, with approximately 800 species of plants and plantlike organisms, despite the extreme conditions, life can still survive and is just waiting for you to see it.
Antarctica is also home to a number of scientific research stations and bases, where scientists conduct research into a range of topics, including climate change, astronomy, and geology.
Cruising in Antarctica tends to be the most popular option due to its remoteness and harsh climatic conditions. A little over 50,000 visitors make the trip every year with about 50 expedition ships traversing the region. But being the southernmost continent with a delicate ecosystem, there are some very specific guidelines tourists are expected to follow during a visit.
Travellers must also be prepared for the extreme climate and harsh conditions and should be in good physical condition to participate in activities such as hiking and kayaking. Despite the challenges, Antarctica is a destination that offers a once-in-a-lifetime travel experience.
Antarctica is a seasonal destination, and its climate is affected by the changing seasons. Summer is the peak season for tourism, as it offers the best opportunities for wildlife sightings and adventure activities. Winters are harsh and the sun never rises, which means the continent is engulfed in darkness – not ideal for any tourist activities. Winter is primarily for scientific research and as such there are typically no Antarctica cruises occurring during this time of year.
The best time to visit Antarctica for most travellers is during the summer season, from November to March when the days are longer and the temperature rises – although not to be confused with beach-worthy weather. During this period, wildlife can be spotted in abundance and polar expedition ships make their entry through the Drake Passage, known for its notoriously rough waters between Antarctica and South America.
December and January are typically the busiest months because of their higher temperatures. However, keep in mind that this is also the peak season, and cruise ships and tour operators may be booked out in advance. For a more relaxed experience, some may choose to visit in October and April, also known as the shoulder seasons. Ultimately, the best time to visit Antarctica depends on your preferences and interests. If you're interested in wildlife and adventure activities, visiting during the summer season is recommended.
Expedition cruises start entering the region from mid-October onwards but it’s still icy cold with plenty of lingering ice around the Peninsula. The days continue to be short in October, but those looking to score a great deal and capture some breathtaking sunsets may enjoy the idea of an October cruise.
Most cruise lines kick off their Antarctica season in November when the days start getting longer and penguins start to make their presence felt. During this time, wildflowers are in bloom and seabirds come into view when crossing the Drake Passage. December is perhaps the best month with warming temperatures, long daylight hours and an abundance of active wildlife. Of course, keep in mind this is when prices are at their peak, particularly over the holidays during Christmas and New Year.
Peak cruising season for Antarctica continues in January with close to 24 hours of daylight. This gives you ample opportunities to spot all kinds of wildlife and create lasting memories. This is the perfect month to check out penguins, whales, seals and so much more. As the ice breaks up, some expedition cruises will take you on shore to places where few others have gone, creating a truly exceptional experience.
Once April comes around, most cruises have left the continent as the temperature starts to plummet and darkness descends – keeping out practically everyone except the researchers and scientists.
A trip to Antarctica is a significant personal achievement and an opportunity to explore one of Earth's most remote and isolated places. It's a chance to push yourself out of your comfort zone and experience something truly extraordinary. It is also one of the most pristine and untouched regions on Earth.
Antarctica is home to some of the most beautiful and dramatic landscapes in the world. From towering icebergs to snow-capped mountains, the scenery is truly breathtaking and will leave you in awe. Teeming with wildlife such as penguins, seals, whales and a variety of birds in their natural habitats, explorers will enjoy a magical experience.
But natural beauty and wildlife aside, Antarctica offers a range of adventure activities, including kayaking, hiking, and camping – giving you the unique opportunity to discover more of this enchanting continent up close and personal. Finally, the continent is a hub for scientific research and is home to several research stations. Visitors can learn about ongoing research and explore these fascinating bases.
If you’re thinking of booking an Antarctica cruise, here are a few things you need to consider:
Antarctica cruises aren’t cheap. The cost per person is quite considerable, especially on the more luxury cruise lines. Flights to and from Ushuaia can be organised and included in some cruise line fares. However, additional tours may need to be booked separately so it’s always best to have an experienced travel agent like Discerning Traveller who can help you make the most of your itinerary.
If you wish to reduce the cost of your Antarctica cruise considerably, then you can also book scenic only cruises onboard cruise lines such as Holland America, Princess Cruises, and Celebrity. However, it is important to note that you do lose the opportunity to truly immerse yourself into the White Continent, so make sure to weigh your options before booking. Contact us today if you wish to learn more.
Some of the best cruise lines in the world have expedition cruises to Antarctica, each with its own unique style and amenities. Some cruises may be more luxurious, while others may be more focused on adventure and exploration. Speak to us about your ideal cruise experience so that we can suggest the most suitable cruise line to create your bespoke adventure in Antarctica.
An Antarctica cruise is perfect for friends, couples or those travelling in groups. If you travel in groups, you can coordinate to keep your friends together when travelling out to shore on Zodiacs.
Different cruises will offer different routes and activities, so it's important to choose a cruise that aligns with your interests. Some cruises focus more on wildlife viewing, while others may include more adventure activities like kayaking and camping.
There’s a lot of activity, from early rises, hiking up rocky paths, to even changing clothes multiple times in a day as you alternate between cold Antarctica and the warm ship. While the cruise definitely accounts for accessibility (including for boarding the Zodiac), some parts of the trip onshore might prove difficult so consider your mobility status before making any bookings.
Those who are sensitive to seasickness might find the voyage to Antarctica a little rough. We recommend taking seasickness tablets and eating/drinking regularly to minimise any discomfort. Want to skip Drakes's Passage and avoid the long sea days? We at Discerning Traveller know that a very limited selection of cruises offers the opportunity to skip Drake's Passage entirely by flying over it and joining the ship afterwards. Contact Discerning Traveller to learn more.
Smaller ships may be able to access more remote areas and offer a more intimate experience, while larger ships may offer more amenities and activities. The ship you sail with can dramatically change your experience, so be sure to choose carefully and coordinate with your travelling group in selecting the right one.
The peak season runs from November to February when the weather is milder and wildlife is more active. But being the busiest season, prices are more expensive. Colder temperatures can also impact your own enjoyment of the region as well.
Antarctica is a fragile ecosystem, so it's important to choose a cruise that is committed to minimising its impact on the environment.
If you’re wondering what a day in Antarctica looks like, we’re happy to give you a bit of a download, but rest assured no two days are the same and this will be an experience you absolutely will never forget.
Keep in mind, your Antarctica cruise itinerary is extremely weather dependent. This could mean altering your itinerary on the fly as weather conditions can block off safe passage to certain destinations. Don't fret! While one opportunity closes, another arises. The crew have multiple contingencies in mind and will coordinate with other ships in the region to identify the next best location for you to sail.
Enjoy the warmth on board as you begin your day with a hearty breakfast. Make sure you fill up so you are ready for an adventurous day ahead. If you're not an early riser, we recommend getting a good nights rest the night before any day you make landfall.
Your first shore excursion is usually in the morning, between 9-11 am. You’ll change into excursion clothes, including a thick jacket, gum boots, gloves, pants and a warm shirt. Layers will definitely help as it can be extremely cold onshore, so prepare yourself as best you can. You’ll either hop on a Zodiac and sail to shore or sail around the coast. Some may opt to sightsee while staying on board the ship, but this is really up to you.
Shore excursions are usually 1-2 hours in length where you may encounter penguins, gaze upon amazing glaciers, or wander to icy wonderlands. You will also be provided with refreshments, including drinks and light snacks. Once you are on land, you are instructed not to interact with the animals and to follow a strict path. But keep in mind, this doesn’t mean the animals won’t interact with you. Penguins and seals can choose to get right up beside you, making for a truly unique moment. So, be sure to stay as close to your guide as possible.
Speaking of which, guides will be with you the entire way, taking you through the sights, unique facts and history of each locale. They also look out for your safety, especially when plans may have to change on the fly. Guides often coordinate with the ship and explore the region well in advance to ensure that you remain safe the entire journey. While a shore excursion might say two hours, be prepared to cut your time short if ice starts shifting in a dangerous direction or the weather starts to turn in a way that impacts your safety.
Note: When you leave or enter the ship, you’ll need to “decontaminate”. This typically means cleaning the soles and sides of your boots to avoid contamination of the ship and the environment. This is not only for your safety but to help protect the environment you explore.
You are typically back onboard by 12-1 pm – just in time for lunch! Once onboard, you change into warm, casual clothes. This is a perfect time to socialise with fellow travellers, or just unwind and soak in the panoramic sights.
After a short siesta, you’ll likely be back on a Zodiac in the afternoon (3-4 pm) for another landing or cruise around an area. Once again, you change into clothes for leaving the ship again and go through the decontamination process.
Alternatively, you can spend the short break attending some enrichment programs that can happen onboard, ranging from guest speakers, and lectures, to hands-on workshops.
Once you return, you’ll often be invited to an end-of-day briefing where you review everything you’ve done for the day as well as look ahead to what the next days of travel entail.
After your busy day, you change into dinner attire (usually smart casual) and enjoy a lovely meal onboard. After dinner, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to get to know fellow guests at various social events across the lounges and bars. The time is yours to relax, unwind or socialise.
When you plan a cruise to Antarctica, no cruise is ever the same so come in with the understanding that weather can change and affect the itinerary to keep everyone safe. Here are a few more tips to help you make the most of your experience:
Some of the best cruise lines in the world offer expedition cruises to Antarctica, each with its own unique itineraries and amenities. These cruise lines offer a range of options, from luxury cruises to more affordable expeditions. Be sure to carefully read through this Antarctica cruise guide list and decide which operator is best for you and your style of travel.
Hurtigruten is a Norwegian cruise line that offers a range of Antarctic expeditions. Their ships are designed to navigate through icy waters and provide passengers with a comfortable and safe experience. Hurtigruten's Antarctica itineraries typically include visits to the South Shetland Islands and the Antarctic Peninsula.
Silversea is a luxury cruise line that offers an all-inclusive experience, with gourmet dining, personalised service, and onboard experts who provide lectures on the region's history and wildlife. The ships navigate through icy waters, reaching remote locations and iconic sites such as the Antarctic Peninsula, South Georgia, and the Falkland Islands.
Ponant is a French cruise line with ships designed for luxury and comfort, including spacious cabins and onboard amenities such as a spa, fitness center, and outdoor heated pool. Ponant's Antarctica itineraries typically include visits to the South Shetland Islands and the Antarctic Peninsula, as well as optional activities such as kayaking and hiking.
No Antarctica cruise guide is incomplete without a packing list. Packing for a trip to Antarctica requires careful consideration due to the extreme weather conditions and the activities you will be participating in. Aside from the obvious such as travel documents, insurance, cameras etc, here are some essential items to pack:
Remember to pack light as there may be weight restrictions for luggage on some cruises. It's also a good idea to bring a small backpack or daypack for excursions and activities.
We hope this Antarctica cruise guide has given you the push you need to explore this unparalleled location – offering something for everyone, from adventure seekers to nature lovers. Whether you're interested in hiking across glaciers or spotting penguins and whales, there's no shortage of things to see and do in Antarctica. So why not start planning your Antarctic adventure today?
Or if that’s not up your alley, maybe try the Arctic instead with our Arctic cruising options.
No matter where you decide to go, talk to the Discerning Traveller team. We can carefully plan itineraries to give you the best experience where every moment will leave you in awe.
Don't miss this incredible opportunity to check off an item from your bucket list. Book your Antarctica cruise with us today and embark on an unforgettable adventure that will create memories to last a lifetime. Whether you read this Antarctica cruise guide and plan for the far future or immediately dive in and organise a voyage today, our team are more than happy to assist.
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