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There are four main categories of cruises to Antarctica. You’ll notice when you review your cruise options that nearly all ships go to the Antarctic Peninsula, some also go to the Antarctic Circle, still others also go to South Georgia and the Falkland Islands, and finally, there are the Fly & Cruise options. There are some significant differences between these choices, summarized here:
Antarctic Peninsula Cruises offer the classic Antarctic voyage that showcases the dramatic scenery and wildlife for which Antarctica is famous. Explore the beauty of the Peninsula, an area home to penguins, seals, whales, and other wildlife.
Antarctic Circle Cruises follow the same route as the Antarctic Peninsula cruises but then add a couple days to make it far enough south to actually cross the Antarctic Circle. It’s important to keep in mind that there is less wildlife as you travel farther south, and the scenery is generally not quite as dramatic, but the sense of remoteness is remarkable.
South Georgia Island and Falklands Cruises let you combine your classic Antarctic exploration with these off the beaten path island highlights in the South Atlantic. South Georgia and the Falklands are not technically a part of Antarctica, but they combine well with an Antarctic cruise, and both offer remarkably high concentrations of wildlife. South Georgia in particular is considered by many to be one of the most spectacular places on the planet, with towering mountains and vast colonies of majestic king penguins.
Antarctica Fly & Cruise trips let you skip either one way or both ways of the biggest sea crossing involved in most Antarctica trips, the fabled Drake Passage. Departing from Punta Arenas, Chile, you can fly directly to the Antarctic Peninsula to meet your ship. These are a good option for people with less time, or who are more prone to seasickness.
The Antarctica cruise season runs from October until March, which are the late spring and summer months of the southern hemisphere. Deciding when to go, within that time period, will depend on what you hope to get out of the journey. Each of these factors is of course subject to change, but here is a rough idea:
October-November: In these months, the fierce Antarctic winter has recently given way to spring. It’s a beautiful time for landscapes: the vistas and landing sites will have more pristine snow and undisturbed ice. That being said, access to some areas may be more limited, if the ice hasn’t yet broken up sufficiently to reach them. There may be less wildlife activity in general at this time of year, although it can be a good time to see penguins mating. This time of year typically has much lower temperatures than later in the season.
December-January: This is the warmest time of year in the region, averaging just above freezing on the Antarctic Peninsula, and the area gets up to 20 hours of sunlight per day during these months. This is a good time to see plentiful wildlife, including recently-hatched penguin chicks.
February-March: This is a good time to see whales, though other wildlife may start to become more scarce. Temperatures begin to drop again as the region edges toward winter. There tend to be fewer cruises offered at this time, which may mean fewer other travelers at the landing sites, and you may be able to travel further south as more ice has melted by this time. Landings at this time of year will likely have less pristine snow and be a bit more muddy or rocky.
A number of factors go into choosing the right vessel, and we are hear to help you figure out the very best option given your interests, dates, and budget. Some of the most fundamental considerations are Vessel Class, Vessel Size, and Available Activities.
Vessel class: We separate the vessels into two main categories: Luxury Vessels & Expedition Vessels. You can see specific vessels here. Luxury vessels were designed or refurbished for tourism, and tend to have more modern features and amenities, with fine dining and more of a “hotel” feel. Expedition ships are usually former working vessels, and offer a more authentic experience in a more basic style.
Vessel size: If you want a cruise with more amenities and larger cabins, you may prefer to look at larger ships, with capacity for more than 100 passengers. If you prefer a more intimate environment, which may mean more time with your guide and a closer relationship with your fellow passengers, you might lean toward a boat that carries fewer than 100 passengers. By typical cruising standards, none of the vessels on our site are large, never more than 300 passengers (compared to several thousand on large cruise ships). This truly is small ship expedition cruising.
Activities and special interests: Some vessels cater to travelers with specific interests: photography, camping, or adventure activities like diving, kayaking, climbing, and paddleboarding. As you review the different vessels, you’ll see that different activities are offered on different departures. We can help you find a vessel and departure that matches whatever your interests are and we’ll be sure to ask you what you like and what you don’t when you contact us.
The majority of Antarctic cruises depart from Ushuaia, the southernmost city in Argentina. Some cruises also offer the option to fly to the Antarctic Peninsula and meet the cruise ship there, and most flights depart from Punta Arenas. Many travelers combine their Antarctic voyage with time exploring the South American continent, especially Patagonia. Some cruises originate or end in Puerto Madryn, Argentina, or in the Falkland Islands.
The Antarctic sea offers a rich feeding ground of fish, krill, squid and crustaceans, which in turn sustain large populations of penguins, whales, seals, and a multitude of seabirds.
You will almost certainly see wildlife on any Antarctic cruise. Cruises that go further south, such as Antarctic Circle Cruises, travel to more remote areas where there may be less fauna, though the area is still home to a variety of penguins, seals, and other animals. If you’re interested in seeing the most wildlife possible, you will probably want to look at Falkland Islands and South Georgia Island itineraries, as these regions are home to much larger concentrations of birds and animals.
No visa is required for visiting Antarctica, and travelers from the United States do not need a visa for Argentina or Chile, where the Antarctic cruises typically begin and end. Visitors from other countries may require a visa to enter Argentina or Chile.
Antarctic cruises include a variety of excursions. These will always be subject to weather and other conditions, but in general, most vessels try to arrange two landings per day once you reach the Peninsula. There are landing sites where passengers can walk around and explore, and most vessels offer more adventurous options as well. These may include hiking, kayaking, paddleboarding, climbing, and even ice-camping or SCUBA diving. There are activities on board as well, which typically include lectures by naturalists or films about the region. On many ships, passengers gather on the bridge or an observation deck to watch the scenery and look for wildlife. Most ships have a lounge or library, and some ships also offer common spaces like a gym or Jacuzzi. The exact facilities vary by vessel. Some vessels also cater to special interests by offering photography workshops or other educational opportunities.
The cost of an Antarctic cruise varies widely, depending on your choice of ship, length of itinerary, travel dates, and other factors. Please contact our Destination Specialists to get a more precise idea of what costs you can expect, but as a very broad range, the cost per person will likely be between $7,000 and $15,000. On the more luxury oriented vessels and in the best cabins the cost can go significantly higher.
An Antarctic expedition does not require a high level of fitness and need not be physically demanding. All shore excursions are optional, and many vessels offer relaxed excursions that may include brief, easy walks. That being said, you should be in good health overall: Antarctic cruises take you to remote areas without access to comprehensive medical facilities. Most vessels have a doctor on board, but advanced medical care is extremely limited.
Some vessels do not permit children under a certain age (6-12 years, depending on the ship). Statistically, most passengers are between 30 and 70, though there are certainly plenty of outliers.