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10 amazing cruises to Antarctica - how to pick the best cruise for you

Author: Kaye Holland

Published on:

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Antarctica cruises are on the travel bucket list for many adventure seekers and rightly so; the white continent is a land of majesty and mystery. So which are the best cruise holidays to visit?

Antarctica cruises are once again back on the map thanks to the recent removal of Chile and Argentina from the UK’s red list.

Consequently, for those not yet bored by isolation, Antarctica – the world’s most remote continent, and the only one without any full-time residents – is now open in time for the region’s short cruising season which runs from November to March when temperatures edge above freezing and days are long.

Arguably no place on earth can compare to Antarctica with its mountain ranges, icy shelves, and impressive wildlife: Expect to see enormous whales, emperor penguins, elephant seals, albatrosses, and more.

Large, mainstream cruise lines do visit Antarctica but bear in mind that, according to regulations set by the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO), only 100 passengers are permitted to disembark at any one time while ships carrying more than 500 passengers aren’t allowed to land – meaning you might have to content yourself to watching the white continent pass by from your cabin’s balcony.

Smaller expedition ships may lack the bells and whistles of the bigger ships (forget shows, discos, dance classes and casinos) but offer a more intimate onboard atmosphere, as well as a diverse team of experts – from naturalists to regional specialists – who share their knowledge and insights and lead shore excursions and Zodiac and kayak tours enabling you to encounter this otherworldly place close-up.

Most cruises to Antarctica depart from Ushuaia, the world's most southerly city, in Argentina, although both Silversea and Hurtigruten have announced that they will set sail from Punta Arenas in Chile for the foreseeable future.

Ready to embark on an other-worldly adventure after our collective annus horribilis? Here are 10 of the best cruises to Antarctica.

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Classic Antarctica

Cultural expedition cruise leader, Swan Hellenic, is sailing to Antarctica for the very first time this year aboard the line’s purpose-designed new ice-class flagship SH Minerva.

Their 10-day ‘Classic Antarctica’ trip takes passengers across the notorious Drake Passage straight to the frozen Antarctic Peninsula – where mesmerising icy scenes of both the Gerlache Strait and Antarctic Sound await. Step ashore onto beaches packed with penguins for fabulous photo opportunities before returning to Ushuaia via the South Shetland Islands.

Departs December 12, 2021. From £5,713pp swanhellenic.com

- READ MORE: Complete guide to adventure cruises -

Explore more

Silversea’s Silver Explorer has been operating in Antarctica for some years offering a series of 10-12 day explorations of the Antarctic Peninsula and the South Shetland Islands. For those looking to spend a little longer on the White Continent, the line has launched its first two-day Deep South Expedition.

Departing from Puerto Williams, passengers will have the chance to cross the notorious Drake Passage not once but twice, in addition to stepping foot on the enigmatic Antarctic Peninsula.

The real selling point however is the seven consecutive days at sea – taking passengers to parts of Antarctica that are previously uncharted.

Departs January 22, 2022. From £22,300pp including flights silversea.com

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Antarctica cruise: Silversea’s Silver Explorer has been operating in Antarctica for some years. Credit: Silversea

Antarctica for adventure lovers

Aurora Expeditions’ new ship Sylvia Earle, named after the American oceanographer and explorer, will embark on her debut season in Antarctica next October.

On Aurora’s 12-day ‘Spirit of Antarctica’ expedition, there’s the opportunity to zodiac-cruise through pack ice, camp under pastel polar skies, kayak, snorkel, and sign up for a scenic snowshoeing adventure.

There’s also the ‘Shackleton Crossing’, a three-day, two-night trek across the ice following in the footsteps of the famed Antarctic explorer himself. For adventure lovers, this is the quintessential Antarctic voyage.

Departs November 19, 2022. From £8,255pp auroraexpeditions.co.uk

- READ MORE: South America & Antarctica with Fred. Olsen in 2023 -

The best of both worlds

Fred Olsen’s Balmoral is set to circumnavigate South America in early 2023 and, for the first time in the cruise line’s history, sail to Antarctica.

Highlights of the Antarctica section of the 78-night voyage involve admiring the rugged icy landscapes as you pass ice-covered Elephant Island, and penguin and seal spotting on the beaches of the Falklands.

Other standout ports of call include Buenos Aires, Argentina’s charismatic capital, and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s sun-kissed party city.

As its name suggests, this ‘Exploration of South America and the Antarctic’ cruise allows passengers to effectively experience tropical South America and icy Antarctica in just one holiday.

Departs January 5, 2023. From £8,999pp fredolsencruises.com

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Antarctic cruise: Viking’s 15-day ‘Antarctic Adventure’ takes place on its brand new expedition ship Octantis. Credit: Viking Cruises

Christmas in Antarctica

If you fancy a Christmas free from over-cooked Brussel sprouts, the Queen’s speech and Eastenders omnibus, Viking’s 15-day ‘Antarctic Adventure’ onboard new expedition ship Viking Octantis (slated to launch in January 2022) could be the answer.

Forgo a traditional Christmas in favour of an ultimate adventure discovering the Antarctic peninsula. Witness towering glaciers and enormous icebergs while following in the footsteps of explorers such as Amundsen, Shackleton, and Scott – before touching back down in Blighty in time to ring in the New Year.

Departs December 13, 2022. From £14,795pp viking.com

- READ MORE: Polar explorer Felicity Aston shares awe-inspiring Antarctica stories -

Antarctica for families

Lindblad Expeditions has certainly announced their return to Antarctica, after the Covid hiatus, with a bang. The expedition line will have three ships in the region from November 3, 2021 – their new polar vessels, National Geographic Resolution and National Geographic Endurance, plus National Geographic Explorer.

Itineraries include a 14-day Journey to Antarctica: The White Continent, 24-day Antarctica, South Georgia & the Falklands, 19-day South Georgia & the Falklands, 20-day Patagonia & Antarctica: Legendary Ice and Epic Fjords, and 33-day Epic Antarctica: South Sandwich Islands, South Georgia & the Peninsula cruise.

And with the increase of family travel to Antarctica, Lindblad is rolling out their National Geographic Global Explorers programme onboard all of its ships so as to help little ones make the most of their expedition.

Departs from November 3, 2021. From £10,063pp world.expeditions.com

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Antarctic cruise: Highlights of the region include kayaking around icebergs, traversing the 11km-long Lemaire Channel. Credit: Fred. Olsen

Antarctica and Buenos Aires

If both Antarctica and Buenos Aires – the land of sizzling steaks, tango, and Evita – are on your bucket list then Scenic’s 16-day ‘Antarctica in-depth’ cruise aboard Scenic Eclipse is the one for you.

The all-inclusive voyage gives passengers a full day in BA at each end of the trip – allowing you to check off La Casa Rosa (the pink palace where Evita used to address her legion of fans) and the bohemian barrio of San Telmo as well as the white continent.

Here highlights include kayaking around icebergs, traversing the 11km-long Lemaire Channel, and visiting a working scientific base where staff will give you the low-down on life in Antarctica.

Departs February 4, 2022. From £10,107pp scenic.co.uk

- READ MORE: Marine scientist shares his love of the White Continent -

Antarctica for first-timers

If it’s your first time visiting Antarctica, look no further than Quark Expeditions’ ‘Antarctic Explorer: Discovering the 7th Continent’ voyage – aimed at introducing polar newbies to the stunning Antarctic Peninsula.

Explore majestic natural environments by zodiac and on foot; get up close and personal with penguins, whales, and other wildlife; and enjoy talks on history, biology, and glaciology by onboard polar experts.

The 11-day sailing takes place aboard Ultramarine, a purpose-built vessel designed to extend the boundaries of polar exploration.

Departs February 11, 2022, from £9,075pp quarkexpeditions.com

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Antarctic cruise: Get up close and personal with penguins, whales and other wildlife. Credit: Shutterstock

Antarctica for solo travellers

G Adventures’ Antarctica Classic tour aboard G Expedition has departures up to March 2023 and is ideal for solo passengers.

Meet fellow guests at the daily onboard lectures where the expedition team will brief you about the sites and wildlife you are encountering, or by paddling in a two-man canoe past towering icebergs or camping overnight in the coldest, driest and windiest continent on the planet.

The 11-day voyage starts and ends in Ushuaia – a jumping-off point for exploring the lakes, valleys, and forests of the Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego.

Departs March 4, 2023. From £4,999pp excluding flights gadventures.com

- READ MORE: Inside Seabourn's luxury adventure ship sailing to Antarctica in 2022 -

Luxury Antarctica

Ultra-luxury cruise line, Seabourn, has unveiled new ‘Extraordinary expedition’ itineraries in Antarctica aboard Seabourn Venture, the first of the line’s two ultra-luxury purpose-built expedition ships.

The new 2022-2023 itineraries include 15 distinct 10- to 21-day Antarctic expeditions with extended voyage options available up to 30 days. We’ve got our eye on the ‘Great White Continent’ itinerary featuring multiple daily Zodiacs landings and Zodiac cruises along the Antarctic Peninsula.

Departs January 7, 2023. From £11,399pp seabourn.com

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