Cruising to Antarctica: Everything You Need to Know

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.

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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?

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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 17-night Antarctica itineraries aboard Le Lyrial (a Ponant ship, see below) with five days of expert-led landings via Zodiac along the Antarctic Peninsula and South Shetland Islands; longer itineraries also visit South Georgia Island and the Falklands.

Atlas Ocean Voyages: Newcomer Atlas Ocean Voyages offers nine- 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 several 13-night cruises to Antarctica in January and February 2024 and 2025 that sail roundtrip from Buenos Aires. 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 2025 sailings take place aboard Celebrity Eclipse and Celebrity Equinox, respectively.

Holland America Line: Holland America also offers three 21-night sailings from December 2023 to February 2024, 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. 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 11-night Highlights of Antarctica, which offers landings along the Antarctic Peninsula, to the 22-night 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 17-night 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 13-night 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 as part of its Extraordinary Journeys sailings. 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 offers half a dozen South America sailings through March 2024, mostly aboard 1,250-guest Oceania Marina, that cross the Drake Passage for scenic sailing along the Antarctic Peninsula near Half Moon Island, Deception Island, and Paradise Bay, but offer no actual landings. These 19- to 29-night cruises depart from Buenos Aires, Lima, and Santiago.

Ponant: French cruise line Ponant has been growing its fleet of expedition-class ships and currently offers 9- to 17-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 17-night In the Footsteps of Shackleton & the Endurance itinerary, whcih sails from Ushuaia to Montevideo, visits the Weddell Sea, the North Antarctic Peninsula, the South Shetland Islands, the South Orkney Islands, and South Georgia Islands.

Princess Cruises: Princess offers a 15-night Antarctica & Cape Horn cruise aboard 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 seven to 22 nights aboard four 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 10-night Antarctic Explorer, which takes place aboard 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 12 to 18 nights, 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 will launch in April 2023. 

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 10- to 25-night  Antarctica itineraries. The 10-night The Great White Continent and 12-night 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 classic nine-night roundtrip sailings from Puerto Williams, Chile with Zodiac landings along the Antarctic Peninsula to 14-night sailings, also roundtrip from Puerto Williams, that also visit South Georgia Island. 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 12-night Antarctic Explorer cruises (roundtrip from Ushuaia) with eight days exploring the Antarctic Peninsula to 18-night 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?

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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. 

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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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