The terms “bucket list” and “expedition cruising” go hand-in-hand with the exponential growth over the past several years of tourism to Antarctica, the enigmatic seventh continent located within the Antarctic Circle and home to the South Pole. Passengers on Antarctic itineraries won’t make it that far south, but experiencing otherworldly landscapes of blue-tinged glaciers and icebergs, playful regiments of penguins and, yes, often topsy-turvy seas during a crossing of the unpredictable Drake Passage, are all part of the Antarctica cruise experience.
With more than a dozen cruise lines and adventure operators offering sailings to Antarctica, there are lots of factors to consider — the type of ship, the length of the cruise, the activities offered both onboard and ashore, and the actual itinerary itself — so knowing all the variables is important.
Here’s a guide to cruising to Antarctica that explores what’s currently offered.
When can you cruise to Antarctica?
The cruise season for Antarctica begins in late October/early November and ends in mid-March. This is spring/summer in the Southern Hemisphere, and it's also the only time of year that Antarctica is accessible to cruise ships. Passengers who book in late October and November are likely to see penguins courting and nesting while those who cruise in December and January will see chicks hatching. February or March is the ideal time for whale watching.
Where do cruises to Antarctica embark and disembark?
The main port of embarkation and disembarkation for Antarctica itineraries is Ushuaia, a remote city located on the southern tip of Argentina on the Beagle Channel. Some longer itineraries, however, begin and/or end in Argentina’s capital, Buenos Aires, or ports in Chile such as Santiago (Valparaiso), Puerto Williams, or Punta Arenas.
Do passengers actually step foot on the continent?
It depends. Some longer expedition itineraries do take passengers to landing points below the Antarctic Circle at 66°30′ S, while many classic sailings visit the more accessible tail-shaped Antarctic Peninsula at the continent’s northernmost end, landing passengers ashore via Zodiac. Other itineraries, mainly those on non-polar-rated traditional cruise ships, offer only scenic cruising along the Antarctic Peninsula without a chance to step foot on land.
Which cruise lines offer Antarctica itineraries and how do they differ?
More than a dozen cruise lines offer Antarctica itineraries on ships that include smaller ice-rated vessels, sleek and luxurious polar-class expedition ships carrying 200 to 500 guests, and traditional cruise ships accommodating as many as 2,800 passengers. Here, alphabetically, are the cruise lines that currently visit Antarctica.
Abercrombie & Kent: Britain-based luxury tour and expedition company Abercrombie & Kent offers chartered 13- to 19-day Antarctica itineraries aboard Le Lyrial (a Ponant ship, see below) with five days of expert-led landings via Zodiac along the Antarctic Peninsula and the South Shetland Islands; longer itineraries also visit South Georgia Island and the Falklands.
Atlas Ocean Voyages: Newcomer Atlas Ocean Voyages offers seven- to 14-night Ushuaia Roundtrip itineraries on its two polar-rated, 196-guest ships, World Navigator and World Traveller. Purpose-built for expedition cruising, these vessels visit the Antarctic Peninsula, South Shetland Islands, the Falkland Islands, and even cross the Antarctic Circle. Expedition guides lead Zodiac landings and kayak excursions focused on sighting wildlife, from fur seals to humpback whales to, of course, penguins.
Celebrity Cruises: Celebrity, better known for its Mediterranean and Caribbean itineraries, does offer two different 14-night Antarctica itineraries, both sailing roundtrip from Buenos Aires in February 2024 and January 2026. These cruises combine port calls in Argentina, Uruguay, and the Falkland Islands with a Drake Passage crossing to the Antarctic Peninsula and scenic cruising past Elephant Island, Gerlache Strait, Schollart Channel, and Paradise Bay. Keep in mind that this means passengers do not go ashore in Antarctica: Rather, they simply enjoy the scenery and wildlife from the outdoor decks. The 2024 and 2026 sailings take place aboard Celebrity Eclipse and Celebrity Equinox, respectively.
Holland America Line: Holland America will also offer several 22-day Antarctica sailings throughout 2025, embarking in either Buenos Aires or Santiago, that combine port calls in Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and the Falkland Islands with four days of scenic cruising along the Antarctic Peninsula. However, keep in mind that passengers aboard 1,964-guest Oosterdam do not go ashore in Antarctica.
Hurtigruten: Norwegian expedition cruise line Hurtigruten has three polar-rated vessels — sister ships MS Roald Amundsen and MS Fridtjof Nansen, modern luxury vessels each accommodating 528 passengers, and 250-guest MS Fram — cruising Antarctic itineraries. These range from the 12-day Highlights of Antarctica, which offers landings along the Antarctic Peninsula, to the 23-day In-Depth Antarctica, Falklands & South Georgia Expedition. The latter sails roundtrip from Punta Arenas, Chile, and spends several days in the Falkland Islands before cruising to South Georgia Island (known as the Southern Serengeti for its massive penguin population) and then heading to the Antarctic Peninsula and South Shetland Islands for five days. Hurtigruten’s 18-day Antarctic Circle Expedition attempts to sail south of the Antarctic Circle and visit the rarely-seen Marguerite Bay. An expedition team leads passengers on all landing excursions.
Lindblad Expeditions: A pioneer in expedition cruising with more than 50 years of experience in the region, Lindblad Expeditions offers a half-dozen Antarctic itineraries from November to March aboard three ships, including the recently launched Polar Class 5-rated sister ships National Geographic Endurance and National Geographic Resolution, each accommodating 128 guests. The 14-day Journey to Antarctica: The White Continent features a classic exploration of the Antarctic Peninsula while the 34-night Epic Antarctica: From the Peninsula to the Ross Sea & Beyond promises a chance to venture far west to the Ross Sea to set foot on ice no other humans have touched and on to the remote sub-Antarctic islands of Australia and New Zealand.
Norwegian Cruise Line: Antarctic itineraries are also offered by Norwegian Cruise Line aboard the 2,348-guest Norwegian Star. While these 13-night roundtrip cruises from Buenos Aires visit Ushuaia, Argentina; Montevideo, Uruguay; Punta Arenas, Chile; and the Falkland Islands, the Antarctica portion of the itinerary involves only scenic cruising in Admiralty Bay and Elephant Island with no actual landings.
Oceania Cruises: Oceania Cruises' 24-day Antarctic & Patagonian Joy voyage, which takes place aboard the 1,250-guest Oceania Marina, sails from Lima to Buenos Aires. It crosses the Drake Passage for scenic sailing along the Antarctic Peninsula near Half Moon Island, Deception Island, and Paradise Bay; however, there are no actual landings.
Ponant: French cruise line Ponant has been growing its fleet of expedition-class ships and currently offers 10- to 21-night Antarctica sailings aboard Le Lyrial, Le Boreal, L’Austral, Le Soleal, and the icebreaker Le Commandant Charcot. The 10-night Emblematic Antarctica itinerary cruises roundtrip from Ushuaia across the Drake Passage to landing points along the Antarctic Peninsula, while the 21-night Scott & Shackleton’s Antarctic - Ross Sea Expedition itinerary sails roundtrip from Dunedin (New Zealand).
Princess Cruises: Princess offers a 15-night Antarctica & Cape Horn cruise aboard the 2,670-passenger Sapphire Princess, which sets sail in December 2023 and January 2024 from Buenos Aires to Santiago (and vice-versa). The itinerary features four days of scenic cruising along the Antarctic Peninsula (with no landings) as well as port calls on Montevideo, Uruguay; Ushuaia, Argentina; the Falkland Islands; and Punta Arenas, Chile.
Quark Expeditions: Polar specialist Quark Expeditions offers Antarctic itineraries that range in length from eight to 23 days aboard several expedition-class ships. Options include the 22-night Epic Antarctica cruise, which sails roundtrip from Ushuaia aboard 199-guest Ultramarine and includes crossing the Antarctic Circle and visiting South Georgia Island and the Falkland Islands. The more classic Antarctic Explorer, which takes place aboard the 128-passenger Ocean Adventurer or the 172-passenger World Explorer, offers four days of Zodiac exploration, guided kayak paddles, and hikes on the Antarctic Peninsula.
Scenic: When Scenic Eclipse began cruising to Antarctica in December 2019, the Polar 6 class-rated luxury expedition ship offered amenities not seen before in the region: two state-of-the-art onboard helicopters that can take guests soaring above the glacier-and-iceberg-studded landscape and a submarine, Scenic Neptune, that can carry them beneath the surface for unparalleled views. On the ship’s Antarctica itineraries — which range from 13 to 25 days, including some that cross the Antarctic Circle and others that visit South Georgia Island — adventurous guests can also try their hand at kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding, guided by a 20-member Specialist Polar Discovery Team. Scenic Eclipse II, which launched in April 2023, also offers Antarctica sailings.
Seabourn: Seabourn Expeditions, a division of small-ship luxury line Seabourn, will in August 2023 introduce its second 264-guest polar-rated expedition ship, Seabourn Pursuit, to join 2022’s Seabourn Venture in offering Antarctica itineraries. The 11-day The Great White Continent and 13-day Antarctica Exploration sailings include landings along the Antarctic Peninsula, while longer voyages call on the Falkland Islands and South Georgia Island. Both ships carry two submarines, 24 Zodiac, kayaks, and a 26-person expedition team.
Silversea Cruises: Silversea Cruises, another small-ship luxury line, entered the adventure cruise market with Silversea Expeditions, which now features sailings on three ships: 200-guest Silver Endeavour, 254-guest Silver Cloud, and 274-guest Silver Wind, all known for Silversea’s signature focus on exceptional dining and five-star service. Antarctica itineraries range from 10 to 40 days. For passengers who prefer to skip a Drake Passage crossing but still set foot on the Antarctic Peninsula, Silversea offers five-night King George Island sailings with air transfers to/from Punta Arenas, Chile to King George Island and five days of Zodiac landings along the Antarctic Peninsula and South Shetland Islands.
Viking: With Viking Expeditions, river and ocean cruise line Viking has added two 378-guest Polar Class 6-rated expedition ships, Viking Octantis and Viking Polaris, to its ever-growing fleet. Both ships offer Antarctic itineraries ranging from the 13-day Antarctic Explorer cruises (roundtrip from Ushuaia) with eight days exploring the Antarctic Peninsula to 19-day Antarctica & South Georgia Island sailings that also visit the Falklands and South Georgia islands. All itineraries include expedition-team-led Zodiac landings, kayak tours, and scenic outings by Special Operations Boat. Equipment, including two submarines, is stored in The Hangar, while onboard lectures take place in the Aula, which offers 270-degree views, and the onboard spa is an oasis with picture-window views and soothing hot tubs and saunas.
Is the Drake Passage as bad as everyone says it is?
It depends. This roughly 500-mile stretch of the Southern Ocean between Ushuaia and the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula can be either the Drake Lake (calm and smooth as can be) or the Drake Shake (a rocking and rolling journey with pounding waves). Which you experience depends on the weather, especially the wind, which can be highly unpredictable at these lower latitudes. Passengers are advised to pack seasickness medication.
What will the weather be like?
Yes, it will be summer in Antarctica, and that does mean the best weather of the year with some sunny and potentially warm-ish (think: 50 or so degrees) days, but for the most part travelers can expect daytime temperatures just above freezing during the daytime. It’s important to know that the weather in the region is highly unpredictable and can change at a moment’s notice.
What do I need to pack for a cruise to Antarctica?
Casual and comfortable layers in a mix of natural and performance fabrics —moisture-wicking or thermal base layers, polar fleeces, thermal leggings, waterproof jackets and pants, hats, gloves, and casual elegant evening attire — is optimal. While you’ll need to supply your own weather gear on large-ship sailings that don’t include landings, many of the luxury expedition cruise lines provide polar-tested jackets, pants, gloves, boots, and other equipment required for transfers via Zodiac across sub-zero waters.
How much does a cruise to Antarctica cost?
No other cruise destination has such a wide range of cruise fares. Travelers who opt to book an Antarctica itinerary on one of the major cruise lines, such as Celebrity, Holland America, Norwegian, or Princess, for a scenic cruising experience along the Antarctic Peninsula with no landings can expect to pay between $1,500 and $2,000 per person for an inside cabin and $2,500 per person and up for a balcony cabin. Most eight- to 13-night itineraries aboard luxury expedition ships, such as those operated by Atlas, Hurtigruten, Lindblad, Scenic, Seabourn, Silversea, and Viking cost between $8,000 and $17,000 per person. And when booking a longer voyage that visits South Georgia Island or cruises below the Antarctic Circle, fares can range from $15,000 to more than $50,000 per person.
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