Picking the right Antarctica cruise is not an easy endeavour, we get that, but with a bit of guidance and expert tips, we think we can help you make the perfect choice. Your intended destination is perhaps the best determiner of ship and trip duration (not all ships sail to the same places) so starting with that specific choice will help you wade through the at-times confusing options.
Click the links below to skip through the article:
There are many ways to choose your ideal Antarctica cruisealthough all require the same initial decision: what’s the most important thing to you? Whether it’s to see Emperor Penguins or cross the Antarctic Circle, be on the shortest itinerary possible or the one that sails further than all others, trust us when we say: there is an Antarctica cruise that’s just right for you.
Whilst you’ll certainly be getting your wildlife feasting on the Antarctic Peninsula proper, the most animal-dense destinations to include on your cruise itinerary are the islands of the Falklands and South Georgia, the latter dubbed ‘the wildlife creche of the south’. The kind of wildlife encounters you can enjoy in these two destinations are unparalleled.
You’re no doubt familiar with the Falklands – or Malvinas, as they are known locally – whose tumultuous history actually makes this a very fascinating spot to visit of its own accord. Yet for Antarctica cruise passengers, the appeal of the Falklands lies very much in its vast array of wildlife. Amidst the remnants of war-time ships run aground, you’ll discover nesting colonies of Macaroni, Rockhopper, Magellanic and King penguins as well as large pods of elephant and leopard seals, southern sea lions and a variety of dolphins and whales. South Georgia is very much like the Falklands, except on steroids: the wildlife is similar yet it’s the sheer mind-boggling quantity that leaves visitors absolutely speechless.
The Emperor is the largest of the world’s 17 penguin species and is, by far, the hardest to spot, despite its very impressive size. They live further inland on the Antarctica Peninsula than any other creature and are actually the only ones that brave the winter to live here, permanently. The most famous rookery of Emperor Penguins is at Snow Hill Island, a small and almost completely snow-covered islet in the Weddell Sea, floating just off the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula. Various Antarctica cruises include a visit here (usually by helicopter) although the often-treacherous conditions make this a rare – albeit spellbinding – event. The rookery here is the northernmost colony ever discovered and is about the only place you can see the mighty Emperor. Many visitors will specifically choose a Weddell Sea Antarctica cruise just for the chance to see this immensely unique highlight.
An Antarctica cruise across the Ross Sea delivers on the goods in this instance, serving up much larger icebergs and a greater variety of shapes and sizes than any seen on the northern coast of Antarctica. Antarctic cruises departing Australia and New Zealand offer this as a magical enticement: reach a seldom-visited corner of the continent, enjoy the experience of sailing in much more remote seas and then, finally, be rewarding with a rugged landscape and utterly majestic icebergs.
On the western side of the Peninsula, the largest icebergs can be seen the further south you sail, which brings us to the next option…
Crossing the Antarctic Circle
Some might bemoan this for being ‘another marketing gimmick’ yet ask anyone who’s actually done it and they’ll tell you that being ‘where few people have ever been before’ is an immensely moving experience. Cruises which cross the famed and invisible Antarctic Circleare obviously a little longer than the classic options, obviously, but they do offer guests the chance to join an illustriously small niche of adventurers. Not many have ever sailed this far in history and, nowadays, only a few hundred manage the feat every year. Sail further south along the western side of the Antarctica Peninsula and you’ll be on a less-trodden path, encountering much larger icebergs to boot.
By now, you will have realised that an Antarctica travel experience is so much more than just one single place. There are countless amazing islands to discover down south! The amazing aspect of being immersed in a wildlife-enriched archipelago this far south is that the seas in between are usually calmer which means migrating whales and dolphins tend to stick around awhile, creating ‘wildlife-watching corridors’ that are out of this world. Moreover, islands and their calm waters allow for much easier Zodiac landings, so they’re really an unmissable highlight.
Aside from the Falklands and South Georgia, the most special highlights are around Pourquoi Pas Island (and its spellbinding fjords), Petermann and Pleneau islands (ideal for birdwatching), Horseshoe and Stonington Islands (both part of the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust) and King George Island, the largest in the startling archipelago of the South Shetlands.
Several Antarctica cruise ships are heavily vested in reducing their carbon emission and the overall impact of their guests upon the pristine environment of Antarctica. The MS Roald Amundsen is a brand-new hybrid vessel, an environmentally sustainable queen of the seas that’s just casting off in 2019 and aims to show the world that “sustainable hybrid propulsion on large ships is totally possible” thus drastically reducing their environmental impact. CO2 emissions are expected to be slashed by a whopping 20%.
Zodiac sailing in front of Roald Amundsen cruise ship
Cruise from New Zealand or Australia to Antarctica
Longer, pricier and immensely more adventurous, cruises from New Zealand and Australia are the domain of those who want that ‘old world explorer’ Antarctica travel experience. Given the much greater distance, expeditions from this neck of the woods last much longer than classic routes from South America, will include more days at sea and will, eventually, explore a much more rugged and remote corner of Antarctica: the famous eastern coast. You’ll cross the Ross Sea, the most marine-life enriched seas in the world, and will have more chances to spot migrating whales, ginormous icebergs and the most important historical sites of famous New Zealand and Australian Antarctic explorers. It is often said that any expedition to the south is a once-in-a-lifetime experience yet Antarctica cruises from New Zealand and Australia offer that little extra pinch of magic.
If the mere thought of crossing the infamous Drake Passage by boat makes you queasy – or if you simply want to slash two days off your trip – you’ll find the fly+cruise options very appealing indeed. Let everyone else (maybe) suffer the pits of seasickness for two days whilst you take a flight right over them, to join the ship docked in Antarctica, on King George Island. ‘Fly the Drake’ cruises are quite popular and to be honest, although we absolutely love the thrilling experience of crossing the Drake Passage, we understand not everyone’s keen and, this way, they do get to still experience the overwhelming beauty of Antarctica. Check out the7-day Fly the Drake trip, or the 12-day Fly Sail option, the latter giving you the chance to experience the Drake Passage one way and fly the other.
Oh, now the fun REALLY starts! Which Antarctica cruise ship is right for you?
At Viva Expeditions, we proudly boast one of the largest selections of Antarctic expedition ships on the market. You can view the full list here but, as you may imagine, we do have a few of our absolute favourites we’d love for you to hear about.
You’d be hard-pressed to find an Antarctica cruise ship that offers better value-for-money trips than the Ocean Endeavour – in fact, this spacious and very stable vessel boast quite a few scoops: she has the best crew to guest ratio of any boat, offers single occupancy at NO extra supplement, includes activities such as kayaking, camping, snowshoeing and yoga classes and offers an array of itinerary options.
Brand new and sleek like few others, the Greg Mortimeris a real head turner. She offers cabins with private balconies and a host of exclusive activities such as ski touring, hiking and diving. Hydraulic-powered viewing platforms offer unencumbered landscape viewing and state-of-the-art Zodiac launching pads that allow for seamless on-shore excursions. The Mortimer is a luxury ship that really takes Antarctic expeditions to a whole new level.
The Hurtigruten Group are pouring in some serious investments into their hybrid vessels, the Amundsen being the first in two ships set for launch. This vessel totally looks the part in Antarctica, black and fierce and ready to take on that ice like nothing else out there. The two-level observation deck wraps around the bow, allowing for all-encompassing viewing; and the world-class Science Centre enlightening guests on all they’ll be discovering on their Antarctica travels. Cabin choice is impressive, with all suites facing outside and half boasting private balconies. Aft suites even boast hot tubs with startling views, for that extra touch of Antarctica indulgence.
The Hondius is the strongest Polar vessel ever built, being the first to be classified as an LR PC6 class ship, the highest possible for Antarctica expeditions which considers the actual integrity and strength of the boat as well as its emission rating. The super luxe cabins, saloons and dining rooms offer a hotel-style experience, making the Hondiusideal for those who do want more creature comforts whilst still getting a very up-close and interactive Antarctica experience. Spacious, comfortable and stable, the Hondius offers a wealth of activities as well as efficient Zodiac excursions to maximise your time ashore.
Fortified to deal with the harshest conditions Antarctica can muster, the Ortelius is one of the best vessels to take on the remotest reaches of the continent, including a crossing of the Ross Sea. Ortelius started her seafaring life as a Russian scientific research vessel in the late 1980s and, as such, is specially fitted with large observation decks. What you give up in luxury décor, aboard this ship, you more than reap in adventurous rewards: for exceptional expeditions to Antarctica, this is one of the most formidable choices you could make.
Fully refurbished in 2015, this small-sized ship is perfect if you’re looking for an intimate expedition with plenty of activities (camping, skiing and ice-climbing) alongside daily Zodiac excursions. Over a dozen cabins feature private balconies and if you’re lucky enough to snatch the Owner’s Suite, you will be suitably impressed.
Cruise ship Ocean Atlantic sailing through the icebergs
Want even more intimacy and exclusivity? Then the MS Expedition will do the trick! Wonderfully refurbished and offering the priceless chance to explore smaller channels and tighter fjords most large ships simply can’t reach, the Expedition can simply bring you closer to Antarctica – offering shorter transfer times ashore and more chances for superb on-board wildlife-watching.
Small cruise ship MS Expedition sailing in Antarctica
The Sea Spirit certainly brings plenty of glamour along for the ride, the super luxe ship offering an exquisite Antarctica travel experience to those who want nothing but the best – all thanks to her multi-million dollar refurbishment. Every cabin boasts astonishing views with quite a few offering private balconies as well. Service is impeccable, activities aplenty and inclusions (how’s about an expedition jacket for you to keep?) just sweetening the wonderful deal. A wide-choice of itineraries means you can set sail on the Sea Spirit on a classic route, as well as a journey to South Georgia and the Falklands.
Penguin standing on the rock in front of the cruise ship Sea Spirit
The Midnight Sun, as the name of this translates in Norwegian, is as bright and cosy as it sounds – a luxury expedition ship decked out with colourful artwork and bright décor that’ll make your stay very memorable. A two-floor panoramic lounge offers unrivalled landscape viewing yet the on-deck jacuzzi is probably what will capture your heart most of all. Ideal for family Antarctica cruises thanks to its Explorer’s programme specifically aimed at satisfying young and curious minds, this lovely ship is one of the most distinctive large vessels sailing Antarctica today.
If you’d rather pay for a small-ship experience than opulent luxury, the MV Plancius is the ideal choice. This ship is the perfect mid-range vessel – certainly comfortable and spacious enough to offer an excellent experience, minus the kind of opulence seen in sleeker numbers. Plancius expeditions very much hone in on the exploratory side of Antarctica journeys, maximising your time ashore yet recent refurbishments still make for comfortable journeys.
Mid range vessel Plancius cruising in Antarctica waters
Almost all Antarctica cruise passengers admit to having a special ‘must-have’ list when it comes to ship choice, be it a specific activity or the inclusion of a gym or wellness centre. These are the most popular requests we field:
Not a trivial subject for many, seasickness can put a serious damper on any cruise. Generally speaking, the larger the vessel, the less sway it will suffer at sea, although in the case of the newest ships you’ll find start-of-the-art stabilizers very impressive indeed. It also pays to note that whilst seasickness can be a real issue if the Drake Passage plays up on your crossing, waters in inlets, channels and around the coast of Antarctica tend to be calmer and more protected. Once the Drake is out of the way, most guests’ chances of sea-sickness are almost non-existent. You can certainly choose a cruise ship by its stability level and we can help you make that choice. The design of Greg Mortimer’s X-bow, for example, is a revolutionary new tool helping dramatically reduce curb sway and sea-sickness in guests.
If there’s one thing all Antarctica cruise ships have in common it is a fervent desire to educate and inform visitors about the unique ecosystem, they will set foot on. To this end, you’ll find the on-board evening itinerary to be filled with an exciting presentation on all manner of scientific research, explorations, wildlife discoveries and so forth. Some ships are particularly focused on this, boasting expert scientists, researchers and even photographers who give specialised lectures and guided excursions. If this is of particular interest to you, let us know, and we’ll find the expedition that matches your wishes.
Soaking up startling views of icebergs floating buy as you soak in your own private hot tub is pretty neat yet the single most rewarding aspect of Antarctica cruises are its Zodiac expeditions. Hop on these sturdy inflatables and off you go, setting foot ashore to mingle with wildlife and enjoying breathtaking closer looks of icebergs and whales. Weather permitting, Zodiac excursion are made daily, with a host of landing sites allowing for close-up discoveries, hikes and amazing photography. You need to be a little agile to get in and out of the Zodiac (lest you fall into the frigid waters) and this is inarguably the most demanding part of any Antarctic expedition, although if you’re fit and able it won’t be an issue at all.
Tourists taking pictures of seals on the zodiac tour
There’s a ton of fun stuff to do in Antarctica aside form Zodiac expeditions and this is perhaps the one aspect that sets all the ships apart. There are some vessels that offer photographic workshops whilst others offer skiing and ice-camping; some have kayaks on boards whilst others are fully-kitted for Polar SCUBA diving (how crazy!). A few special ships have SUP boards for intrepid athletes whilst others offer snowshoeing, snorkelling, snowboarding, skiing and multi-day hiking trips – either all in one or only a couple. Found something that caught your fancy? Hit us up, we’ll point you in the right direction!
The Ocean Endeavour has a huge following among the yoga-loving crowd yet fact is all ships that offer wellness programs and gym equipment are immensely popular. And why not? Whilst it’s true that Antarctica expeditions are, by their very essence, active enough, it’s also true that stretching, working out and relaxing with a glorious massage are all wonderful ways to debrief after an exciting day on the ice.
You probably aren’t even thinking about your culinary exploits when planning your Antarctica travel and most people just hope they simply get ‘enough food’ to cover their calorific output. Yet you’ll be surprised at the amazing gastronomic delights of our many boats. Some are positively gourmet, offering exquisite wining and dining experiences. Antarctica expeditions are famously all-inclusive although some will also include alcoholic beverages to the package deal.
Cabin choice and configuration is an important aspect of any ship, especially true if you have a very specific desire – be it to have your own private balcony or, perhaps, to go with the smallest (and cheapest) cabin available to bag a spot on a smaller or more luxurious ship. The most coveted plus for single travellers is surely the no-single-supplement (as offered by the Ocean Endeavour as well as a few others) and, for families, larger cabins with an array of configurations that can accommodate a small brood. Cabin choices abound across the board, with single, twin, triple and master suites offering the right accommodation for everyone of any budget.