What you can expect from a cruise to Antarctica

by | Antarctica

A Cruisers Guide to the Ins and Outs of Traveling to Antarctica

So, you’re thinking about a trip to Antarctica…

Do you have ANY idea what you are getting yourself into?


AKA the White Continent.  One of the last unspoiled landscapes of our planet.  The allure of this frozen desolate land is twofold:

For some, it is the chance to see the native wildlife: Penguins in their rookeries, sitting on their eggs. Baby penguin chicks being incubated under their parents bodies. Leopard seals lounging on the ice floes and whales breaching off the side of your zodiac, a mere few feet from where you are sitting.

For others, it affords them the luxury of crossing off the 7th and final continent from their bucket list.

How to get to Antarctica

A trip to Antarctica is not for the unadventurous or faint of heart.  It is a journey in itself to reach the jumping off point for most cruises.  The majority of expedition ships will leave from Ushuaia, Argentina.  Arriving here, you will have already achieved something spectacular – the southernmost city in the world. 

Punta Arenas, Chile is also port of embarkation for cruises to Antarctica, but the majority will leave from Ushuaia.

Getting to either of these cities requires the better part of two days to arrive.  If you are departing from the US, most flights will be overnight flights into Buenos Aires or Santiago. There, an overnight pit stop and a chance to do some exploring are on the menu.  With only a 2 hour time difference from the Eastern Seaboard, jet lag should not be too much of a problem.

From there, another 4 ½ hour flight to either Ushuaia or Punta Arenas.  Most expedition cruise lines will incorporate this as a charter flight from Buenos Aires or Santiago and transfers to the port of embarkation.

The Drake Passage

Now the real adventure begins.  Will you experience the Drake Shake or Drake Lake?

Make no mistake about it, the Drake Passage is not something to take lightly. While all ships are equipped with stabilizers and all of the modern sonar, radar and technology, the Drake passage can get ROUGH! And at 800km, it is not a short stretch.  Be prepared for deep swells and plenty of pitching and rolling, maybe even a chance to start that diet you were talking about!  Dramamine will be your best friend – make sure to keep yourself well stocked.  Rough seas are the norm, not the exception, but you could get lucky and witness the great Drake Lake – but don’t put money on it.

The White Continent

So, you survived the Drake Passage. Now what?

One of the great things about being on an expedition cruise is the freedom and flexibility of the captain to choose where to go, when and for how long. It is nothing like a traditional ocean cruise where port times are rigid and inflexible and where being late might mean missing the ship.

Most cruise lines also offer the ability to connect with a professional photographer on board who can help you take the most amazing Instagram worthy photographs you will ever have the pleasure of taking.  The penguins are unafraid and insatiably curious of us humans and although we are not able to seek them out and touch them, we can sit and wait patiently for them to come up to us and check us out.  Have your camera ready for the best photo shoot of your life!

Zodiacs: Your Chauffeured Limo to Paradise

Your main method of transportation will be by Zodiac. You will soon become an expert at boarding and unloading on one of these, but it may take a few tries to get it right.  Depending on which expedition cruise company you choose, you will have about 2 zodiac landings per day on “sea days”.  A chance to see icebergs,  land on the “beach” or the Antarctic peninsula dotted with thousands of pairs of penguins.  There will also be opportunities to kayak, or hike/walk.

Wait, what?  Did I just say “kayak”? 


Picture yourself kayaking in deafening silence amid icebergs, seals and even whales.  This is not a passive trip, this is an explorer’s trip, a do-ers trip. You can’t pay all that money to sit in a lounge chair and watch out the window.  You are an active participant in this once in a lifetime experience.

Back on board, the evenings are filled with lectures and discussions about the days events and what you can look forward to tomorrow.  No casinos, no Broadway shows here.

See the Rare Antarctic Undersea

Again, depending on which cruise line you travel with, some expeditions ships come equipped with their own undersea specialist, qualified to dive in polar waters.  The undersea specialist suits up and dives, or mans a ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) and films undersea life in real time –  no movies or edited footage.  The number of ships offering this technology today is limited, however, several top expedition cruise lines are building new vessels as I write and more of the companies are investing in these technologies for their ships.  Lindblad Expeditions is one of the few offering this now, but companies like Scenic, Ponant and Crystal all have new ships in the works that will offer this unique experience.

The Polar Plunge

What is the polar plunge?

Get ready for the most exhilarating 30 seconds of your life.  Jump off the ships loading platform into the icy, frigid waters of the Antarctic Ocean.  Brrrrrr!  Would you do it?  Not many people can say that they did.  Definitely something to put on your bucket list.  


Antarctica is a true once in a lifetime trip. And with the per person cost weighing in at the average price of a car, a decision that requires careful consideration. Despite this, these cruises book up fast – up to two years in advance. If you are dreaming about a life changing trip to the 7th continent, the time to start planning is now.  

What are you waiting for?

‘Til next time



P.S.  Download my free expedition guide to expedition cruising to get the down-lo on the cruise operators that sail to this remote and pristine continent at the bottom of the world.