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8 best cruises to Antarctica

Sail to the end of the world — and wave to penguins along the way.

Updated

Antartica cruise

With temperatures well below zero and little trace of civilization, cruising to Antarctica is more of an expedition than a leisurely vacation. Expert tip? The smaller the ship, the better the cruise — the closer you’ll get to the earth’s last uninhabited land.

These companies offer some of the best Antarctica expeditions out there, offering a safe journey with as little environmental impact as possible.

Best Antarctica cruises

Quark

Sail with the pioneers of polar exploration. Trek through snowy mountains to reach points for 360° views — and visit a penguin colony on Danco island.
Bragging rights? On select itineraries, you can join scientists on a penguin-watch cruise as they collect long-term data and use genetic analysis to understand how the penguin population is evolving.
  • Explore with the help of experts in the field and learn about polar wildlife, history and landscapes
  • Best price guarantee on seasonal expedition fares up to 60 days prior to departure date
  • Its small icebreaker expedition ships carry under 200 passengers each

Silversea

Cruise to the end of the world in ultimate luxury — without sacrificing astounding shore excursions. You'll go from a comfortable suite to the extreme outdoors and back again.
Bragging rights? Most suites have a wide private veranda. And longer itineraries spend more time in and around Antarctica than other cruise lines on this list.
  • Ross Sea and Antarctic peninsula cruises
  • Small ships merge the perks of traditional cruising with the accessibility of an expedition
  • Free economy class airfare, hotel and transfers are included
Price range
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Celebrity

Enjoy a classically comfortable, stylish cruise through Paradise Bay and the Gerlache Straight with top dining and entertainment along the way.
Keep in mind You probably won't be able to set foot on Antarctica itself, as big ships aren't allowed to dock at Antarctica ports. Instead, you'll admire Antarctic landscape from the comfort of your ship.
  • You probably won't be able to set foot on Antarctica itself, as big ships aren't allowed to dock at Antarctica ports. Instead, you'll admire Antarctic landscape from the comfort of your ship.
  • World-class, personalized service with traditional staterooms and amenities
  • Variety of onboard activities, from exhilarating to relaxing including a spa and casino
Price range
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Bungee jumping in Norwegian

G Adventures

Provides an expert to every 10 guests, ranging from historians and marine biologists to naturalists, so you’ll get educational insight on each jaw-dropping excursion.

Bragging rights?

    Focuses on sustainable travel and authentic experiences, so you’ll feel more like an explorer than a tourist.
  • Antarctica Peninsula only
  • Free G Expedition parka with every booking
  • 100% guaranteed departures
People doing an expedition

Intrepid Travel

Travel to Antarctica on voyages up to 23 days in length.

Bragging rights? Intrepid has a huge range of itineraries to choose from, so if you’re hoping to hit up South Georgia Island, Deception Island, the Falkland Islands and beyond, there’s a route for you.
Bonus: Cabins for solo travelers are the same price as some twins.

  • Antarctica Peninsula only
  • Kayaking, snowshoeing and camping adventures are available for thrill-seekers
  • Sustainable traveling helps to offset the carbon footprint. Onboard, it’s conscious of recycling and using biodegradable cleaning materials.
People doing an expedition

Peregrine Adventures

Experience the essence of Antarctica, and leave no trace behind. Voyages from Peregrine Adventures are carbon-offset, it doesn’t use plastics on board and it cooks with sustainably-sourced, local seafood.

Bragging rights? It’ll take you on two excursions per day — and has waterproof boots for you to use.
Need to know: Peregrene Adventures is owned by Intrepid Travel, so you’ll see similar tours and features available from each.

  • Antarctica Peninsula only
  • Expeditions are led by experts who’ve sailed the route hundreds of times
  • Set foot on land surrounded by penguins
People doing an expedition

Chimu Adventures

Cruise to the white continent with one of the few operators with tours to Antarctica departing from Australia or New Zealand.

Bragging rights? Its rates are cheaper than the other cruise lines on this page — but the itineraries are equally good.

  • Australian-owned company
  • Easily add land tours to the beginning or end of your tour
  • Jacuzzi, sauna and pool on board its yacht-style ships
People doing an expedition

Oceanwide Expeditions

Running truly immersive polar expeditions for 20 years, Oceanwide Expeditions has been named the world’s leading polar expedition operator four times at the World Travel Awards.

Bragging rights? Its whale-watching discovery voyage features photo and video workshops with world-renowned pros. Plus, there’s live music on board.

  • Ross Sea and Antarctic Peninsula cruises
  • Guided excursions include helicopter transfers, sea kayaking, polar diving and ski trekking
  • Trace the footsteps of famed polar explorers

3 things you need to know before you book

  • There are no hotels in Antarctica, so you’ll have to find your sea legs. Cruises are generally the only way to do an Antarctica trip, and the ships serve as your accommodation. However, Intrepid and Peregine offer overnight camping adventures as add-ons, if you’re set on spending a night at the world’s end.
  • There’s no going in winter. The ice packs are too thick and conditions are too unpredictable. There are about five months each year when tourists can visit.
  • Antarctica trips mostly depart from Argentina and Australia/New Zealand. Factor in airfare when comparing cruise options. Routes that depart from Argentina are far more common overall.

Ross Sea vs. Antarctic Peninsula: Choose your destination

Your departure point will also determine your destination.

  • Australia/New Zealand. Trips mostly depart from Tasmania or New Zealand’s south island and explore the Ross Sea area.
  • Argentina. Trips mostly depart from Ushuaia, the world’s southern-most city, and explore the Antarctic Peninsula.

Ross Sea trips from Australia will usually be more expensive, since it’s a longer journey. It takes about two days to cross the Drake Straight and reach Antarctica from Ushuaia, but about a week to reach Antarctica from Australia or New Zealand. Even the shortest cruises from Australia are generally at least 20 days.

The first step is deciding whether you want an Antarctic Peninsula (Argentina) or Ross Sea (Australia) trip. Check out the comparison table below:

Antarctic PeninsulaRoss Sea
PriceLess expensiveMore expensive
Trip duration6 days+20 days+
Attractions
  • These trips are often much richer in wildlife and let you take in the Falkland Islands and other great spots.
  • The landscape is varied and unique, but much busier as a number of cruises travel the area.
  • If you want whale-watching, penguin colonies or other unique wildlife, this is the better option.
  • See some of the world’s most unique and impressive landmarks like the Ross Ice Shelf and Mount Erebus.
  • Rich in history and home to the Mawson and Shackleton huts.
  • The wildlife is less abundant, but it’s a better place to see Emperor penguins.
  • It’s much less busy with more pristine and untouched terrain.

The best way to get to Ushuaia from Australia

Many cruise lines offer combined flight and cruise packages, but this usually costs more than making your own way to Ushuaia. It’s ideal to book a flight to Buenos Aires and then fly from there to Ushuaia.Once you arrive in Buenos Aires, there are flights to Ushuaia daily.

When’s the best time to visit Antarctica?

Once you’ve chosen your destination, you can pick the best time to head for the South Pole.

Tourist season is during the Antarctic summer, from November to March, and most expeditions leave during this period.

Month
NovemberThe start of the season.
  • Colder and darker than later months
  • A great time to see the largest, most impressive icebergs and landscape formed over the winter
  • Whales aren’t as abundant yet
  • Generally the only time to see the famous elephant seal mating fights
  • Plenty of penguins, but too early for penguin chicks
  • Some areas might be blocked off and impassable, with fewer onshore opportunities
DecemberThe weather is distinctly warmer, but still extremely cold. It’s a popular time to visit, being right in the holiday season.
  • Warmer and brighter
  • The landscape is mostly pristine from the winter, but is now better lit
  • Whales and other wildlife start becoming more plentiful
  • Early-season conditions mean a better chance of onshore exploration
  • The tail-end of elephant seal mating season
  • Penguins have yet to hatch
JanuaryThe weather starts warming up, penguin hatchlings come out and whales are becoming more abundant.
  • One of the warmest times overall
  • Expect more onshore opportunities, but fewer impressive icebergs
  • Some areas become more tracked up from previous expeditions
  • The best time to start seeing penguin chicks
  • It’s not yet prime whale-watching season
FebruaryIt’s now late summer, bringing a wide range of wildlife opportunities, but the landscape might be weathered.
  • You can expect plenty of penguin chicks
  • Prime whale-watching season
  • Landings are showing heavy use and you may walk on more mud and rocks than snow
MarchThe tail-end of Antarctica’s travel season. The weather is becoming colder and unpredictable, which could disrupt journeys.
  • There’s a chance of seeing the southern lights on your cruise
  • The penguins have mostly grown up
  • There are fewer ships, and unpredictable weather might interrupt shore landings
  • Still prime whale-watching season

What to expect from your cruise:

  • Departure. Your cruise starts heading south, and it gets colder the further you go. It takes a few days, but Antarctic cruise ships are packed with amenities, so there’s plenty to do.
  • You’re in Antarctic waters. More time is spent on deck while you’re cruising through the ice, taking in the scenery and getting a guided tour from the onboard experts. You’ll be informed if large icebergs, pods of whales or other interesting sights are spotted.
  • Landfall and day trips. On smaller cruise ships, you’ll head ashore in sturdy inflatable boats to minimize environmental impact while seeing the area’s best attractions. You’ll have a chance to go hiking, view spectacular scenery up close and spend time among penguin colonies, seals and other wildlife.

    What are the best cruise excursions in Antarctica?

    • Spot a penguin. Adelie, King, Macaroni, Rockhopper and Emperor penguins all call Antarctica home, and you’re just about guaranteed to see some on your journey.
    • Watch for whales. From Humpbacks to Blue, Minke and Sei whales — and many more — spotting these great beasts might take your breath away.
    • Kayak through glaciers. Paddle alongside seals and other wildlife in glassy glacial waters.
    • Take the polar plunge. Not for the faint of heart, this adrenaline rush is exactly what it sounds like: jumping into the frigid sea water.
    • Follow in the footsteps of early explorers. Walk on the snowy lands of Antarctica, like Shackleton and Mawson did all those years ago.
    • Camp on ice. Rugged up in lots of warm clothes, take the chance to spend the night on the Antarctic shelf.

    If you have your heart set on an activity or tour, check to make sure it’s available on your desired cruise line’s itinerary.

    How we chose these cruises

    When choosing cruises for this list, we prioritized routes that spend maximum time in and around Antarctica, favoring cruise lines that offer shore excursions — so you can actually set foot on the continent — and expert guidance along the way. We weighed onboard amenities and dining against price point, making sure you’re getting the most value for your money.

    Additionally, we researched the carbon footprint of each cruise line, selecting companies that’ve made it their mission to preserve the environment through which they sail.

    Finally, we sought out customer reviews on travel websites and personal travel blogs, considering first-person experiences and each company’s overall reputation.

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    Bottom line

    Most people who have cruised to Antarctica swear that it’s worth every penny — an experience they’ll never forget. If you’re ready to book your fare, browse coupons to save money on your polar expedition.

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