Antarctica Cruise: Discover the Last Unexplored Continent

Antarctica Cruise: Being the last unexplored continent, adventurous travelers want to visit Antarctica. It occupies 1.5 times the area of the United States and accounts for nearly 10% of the planet’s surface, but it lacks an economy and native population despite having an abundance of natural wildlife. While it is overwhelming and awe-inspiring, few places can match the raw, emotional effect it has on travelers, which is frequently referred to as “visiting another planet.” Nevertheless, only roughly 100,000 tourists visit each year, which is a small number when compared to Alaska’s 1.6 million cruise visitors.

Nevertheless, interest in Antarctica is surging among tourists who are increasingly choosing to spend their money on experiences rather than possessions, and this vast and amazing destination is being visited by an increasing number of cruise ships every season. Everything you need to know about cruises to Antarctica is provided here.

Reasons to take Antarctica Cruise

Antarctica’s Centuries-Old Allure and Wild History

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In Antarctic exploration history, there is the well-known race between Robert Scott and Roald Amundsen for the South Pole, and a few years later, one of the greatest survival stories ever told.

Ernest Shackleton and his team sailed Endurance in 1914 intending to become the first people to cross the southernmost continent on foot. The ship became stuck in sea ice the following year, forcing them to abandon their attempt; however, because of Shackleton’s bravery and perseverance, every member of the crew made it out alive.

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Amazingly, the wreck of Endurance was found largely intact in 2022. The wreckage will stay in the frigid waters of Antarctica, exactly where it was discovered.

Lars-Eric Lindblad pioneered commercial expedition travel in the late 1960s, and Antarctic leisure travel was born. For several decades, very few specially constructed ships sailed south. Expedition cruising started to take off in the 1990s, and there are now many different types, sizes, and price points available.

When compared to the expeditions of the great explorers, modern cruise ships only see the tip of the iceberg. The South Shetland Islands and the 1,000-mile Antarctic Peninsula are the only destinations for most ships.

Fewer passengers make it to South Georgia, which is 800 miles northeast of the peninsula, and very few cross the continent to travel all the way to the Ross Sea. Discover what a trip to South Georgia is like.

There is an abundance of wildlife to be discovered in Antarctica.

Few places can compare to The White Continent for those who love wildlife. Naturally, the main attraction for visitors is the penguins, which live in noisy colonies with up to tens of thousands of birds.

Along the peninsula, chinstrap, gentoo, and adelie penguins are the most prevalent species. Larger and possibly more elegant, king penguins can be found in large colonies in South Georgia but are uncommon on the peninsula.

Although it is rare, emperor penguins, which can grow to a height of three feet and weigh over eighty pounds, can occasionally be spotted close to the Weddell Sea or on ice in the far south of the peninsula.

You will probably see penguins, in large numbers, whether or not you set foot on the Antarctic continent.

There are lots of other species that do well. With six different species of seals and at least nine different kinds of whales, Antarctica is home to a diverse array of marine life. During the height of summer, from October to March, you can frequently spot humpback and killer whales in addition to seals lounging on ice floes and on the beaches.

Unique Animals and Scenery

Penguin
(Credit: The Great Project)

Aside from the adorable penguins, many tourists claim that the amazing scenery and plenty of ice are what they remember most vividly. Different iceberg shapes and textures can be found; some are stark white, while others have a deep, melancholic blue color. On the horizon are massive glaciers that occasionally calve.

The enormous tabular icebergs that split off from frozen ice shelves in enormous chunks are the most striking. They are imposing and potent reminders of the immense size of the continent and the unparalleled force of nature, sometimes extending for miles at a time.

The Ideal Time to Travel to Antarctica

October marks the start of Antarctic summer, which lasts until March. (There are only two seasons in Antarctica: summer and winter.) During the austral winter, when pack ice covers more than 620 miles of the continent and it is nearly always dark with temperatures rarely rising above freezing, cruise ships do not visit the region.

The Antarctic Peninsula is usually busiest in December and January, when daylight lasts the longest and temperatures are at their most comfortable. Whales begin to arrive by mid-December, and the first penguin chicks emerge.

Whale watching is particularly good in January (and stays that way all season long), and as the ice gradually melts, more research can be done further south.

The nights get noticeably longer by February, and by the end of the season, one can feel winter coming. Regardless of when you visit, there will be a wide range of weather conditions to experience, including rain, snow, sleet, and sunny skies. With a substantial wind-chill factor, temperatures can fluctuate hourly, from mild in the high 30s to freezing and below.

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Regardless of the season, careful packing is crucial. See our comprehensive packing list for Antarctica.

Because of its milder climate, South Georgia experiences a season that lasts from mid-October to March. Many travelers choose to arrive in the middle of October or November, when the colossal bull elephant seals can be spotted in large numbers and before the hostile fur seals take over the beaches.

Select Antarctica Cruise Lines

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When selecting the kind of experience you want, size is the most crucial consideration. According to guidelines set forth by the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators, ships transporting more than 500 people are not permitted to land passengers on land. Large ships, on the other hand, will cruise for several days without making any landings.

But the majority of expedition ships are considerably smaller, with passenger capacities of under 200. Zodiacs are used to allow passengers to get off the ship and walk on land.

Find out more about the variations between traveling in Antarctica on a large and small ship.

The utmost in comfort and luxury is available on modern ships; your options will largely depend on your preferences and financial situation. On a big cruise ship, you could spend less than $100 per person per day traveling through Antarctica as opposed to landing. One can easily increase to more than $1,000 per person per day on an expedition or opulent ship.

Cruise Itineraries to Antarctica Vary by Ship

The majority of Antarctica cruise itineraries and prices involve charter flights from Buenos Aires, Argentina, or Santiago, Chile, to the cruise port of Ushuaia, Argentina, and back. On the way to the cruise, an overnight stay at a hotel in Santiago or Buenos Aires is usually scheduled. It is likely that your ship will depart from Ushuaia.

There aren’t many cruises to Antarctica that last less than ten days, and two weeks is a reasonable minimum expectation for an Antarctic vacation, given the additional time required for transportation to and from Ushuaia.

Within the category of large-ship, traditional cruises, a two-week South America cruise that includes a shorter leg to Antarctica is typical.

The South Shetland Islands and the Antarctic Peninsula, where you may stroll among seals and penguins, are included in the majority of expedition ship itineraries.

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(Credit: Fjord Travel Norway)

Extended voyages on exploration vessels will encompass South Georgia and the Falklands Islands, two locations that certain visitors believe surpass Antarctica’s splendor. Large albatross colonies can be seen here, and you can also learn about Argentina and Britain’s 1982 Falklands War. The journey continues to South Georgia, a wilderness haven where adventurers can witness four-ton elephant seals engaging in combat on beaches and where history buffs can pay their respects at Shackleton’s grave.

Where you go will depend on the weather regardless of the ship you select. There’s a good chance that the itinerary you book won’t match the one you sail because of weather, animal migration patterns, and even avian flu outbreaks that can alter your destination and mode of transportation.

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The captain will sail to a different landing if it is too windy and unsafe to land the Zodiacs at one location. When it comes to Antarctic cruising, the concept of a planned itinerary with specified port calls is nonexistent.

Choosing a ship from South America, no matter how big or small, means you will almost certainly have to sail through the infamous Drake Passage, which is 36 to 48 hours of frequently turbulent seas and strong winds.

On calmer days, the area is referred to as Drake Lake, and on wilder days, Drake Shake. Bring plenty of seasick patches with you, but don’t forget that a few days of discomfort are well worth the trip to Antarctica.

Some cruise lines (Silversea, Lindblad, Quark Expeditions, Atlas Ocean Voyages, Antarctica 21) allow you to fly to and from the South Shetlands and pick up your ship in Antarctica if you simply cannot bear the thought of traveling through the Drake Passage. But be advised that bad weather can occasionally cause flight delays.

Antarctica Cruise Ports

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Landings in the Antarctic are not like any other on a standard cruise. Other from a few research stations, there are no towns, cafes, stores, or people.

Most ships disembark and deliver passengers to roughly the same landing spots via Zodiac. The following are some of the more frequently visited landings (although some companies visit more off-the-beaten path spots now that more cruise lines are sailing in Antarctica).

Deception Island: With its black ash and active volcano, Deception Island is a well-liked landing spot. It’s understandable why when you arrive via Neptune’s Bellows, a 200-meter-wide opening in the caldera wall.

Rubble-filled boilers from a Norwegian whaling operation and an abandoned British Antarctic survey base are located on the shore. It’s a fantastic place for hiking, and if you’re lucky, you might be able to see a pod of humpback whales in the ocean below from the higher peaks.

Elephant Island is home to chinstrap and gentoo penguins. Shackleton left his crew stranded there while he led five of his men in search of assistance. Only after enduring a difficult winter on the island were the men eventually saved. It is almost never possible to land at the campsite; in the event of favorable weather, you should plan on taking a Zodiac cruise around the region.

Explore more about the nature of shore excursions in Antarctica

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(Credit: Travel + leisure)

In order to report enemy activity and provide weather reports, Prime Minister Winston Churchill clandestinely established the British station Port Lockroy on Wiencke Island during World War II.

With peeling, painted pin-ups in the bedroom and original food cans in the kitchen, the rustic building now resembles a time capsule from the 1960s. Every summer, a small team works there to staff and maintain it under the management of the Antarctic Heritage Trust. Prepare your cash because the building is a combination museum and retail space. A wonderful assortment of mementos is available, and you can even mail a postcard from this location.

Half Moon Island is a South Shetland island shaped like a crescent moon. It is home to an Argentine research station and has the wreck of an antiquated wooden whaling boat on its shores. It is the site of a sizable colony of chinstrap penguins, as well as kelp gulls and Antarctic terns that nest there. Along with fur, you can see elephant seals fighting fiercely in the surf or relaxing on the beach.

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One of the world’s most beautiful and frequently photographed rivers is the Lemaire Channel. Glide through sapphire-clear seas surrounded by ice-blue bergs and snow-capped mountain peaks. Although there won’t be a landing, the Zodiacs may be lowered to view seals and take pictures of the ship.

Tips for Antarctica Cruises

Tips for Antarctica Cruises
(Credit: Cruise Critic)

It can be easier to plan your trip if you know what to anticipate. Here are some planning suggestions for your Antarctica cruise.

  • Extend your stay: Buenos Aires and Santiago, the energetic departure cities, are far too much to see in one night. Adding a few days, or even a week, on your own is worthwhile. You won’t be sorry.
  • Bringing a camera: Many people travel to Antarctica using only the camera on their mobile phone, and for many, that’s acceptable. (Perhaps, one of the onboard photographers will give you tips on how to use your camera to take pictures of the scenery.)
  • Capturing wildlife is one area where cell phone cameras may fall short. It’s unlikely that you’ll get close enough to albatrosses or whales to get the kind of detailed photo you want.
  • Bring a decent SLR camera and get some practice with it before you sail if you want those pictures. Above all, you will need an excellent lens.
  • Travel sensibly: The IAATO was established to support, encourage, and engage in safe, environmentally conscious, private sector Antarctic travel. It is critical to maintain the continent’s pristine state. To prevent cross-contamination, thoroughly clean and inspect clothing and equipment before leaving for any dirt or other organic material.
  • Be adaptable: Any itinerary for Antarctica is likely to deviate from the original plan due to weather and other uncontrollable circumstances. The crew on your cruise ship will work hard to make sure you have an amazing time and will let you know about any changes as soon as they happen. Your enjoyment will be influenced by your mental state.

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