Setting foot on the Antarctic Peninsula is a bucket list item for many but no one can really prepare themselves for this incredible experience. Enormous tabular icebergs that dwarf the ship will take your breath away. Close encounters with inquisitive penguins, playful seals and breaching whales, create a wildlife experience like no other. Pristine landscapes with crystal clear water and glacier rimmed peaks create a stunning backdrop for any photographer.
One of your toughest decisions will be which voyage to choose? Our advice is to seriously consider if your time and budget will stretch to a longer voyage; one that heads south the Antarctic Circle or perhaps one that also includes South Georgia. This beautiful island is often described as the most incredible wildlife show on earth as it is the breeding ground for King Penguins, seals and sea lions and home to the wandering albatross.
Making the choice as to which voyage, when, which ship or operator is where we help; unlike ship owners/operators we’re not obliged to sell the ships we own/operate – we offer independent expert advice and can match the best experience for you.
To help you understand the options, and there a many, we have a specialist and dedicated Antarctic Luxury & Expedition Cruises web site featuring (Antarctic Peninsula, South Georgia, Falkland Islands, Ross Sea and New Zealand Sub-Antarctic Islands). Click here and you’ll be taken to this site.
The other option is to call us 1300 668 112 and we will share our first hand knowledge (we have been fortunate to visit Antarctica, the Falkland Islands and South Georgia on several different ships) and suggest ships and itineraries we think will best suit your interests, style and budget.
Penguins and seals are found in abundance on the Antarctic Peninsula. You will have the opportunity to view wildlife up close on shore landings. Inquisitive penguins often come over take a closer look at you. For some incredible photographs we recommend just finding a nice place to sit or lie down and capture images of penguins (Gentoo, Chinstrap & Adelie) and seals as they wonder past.
Note; it is unlikely that you will see King or Emperor penguins on Peninsula only voyages. There are small colonies of King penguins on the Falklands Islands and hundreds of thousands on South Georgia. Emperor penguins (like those see in March of the Penguins) are rarely seen, this species nests on sea ice – once that breaks up (mid November) they are difficult to find/see. Please call if you have particular wildlife interests.
Glaciers, icebergs and bergy bits – the variety of colours, shapes and sizes are impossible to adequately describe. Each voyage will spend time Zodiac cruising among icebergs that are thousands of years old, some black, some blue, all amazing and a photographer’s dream.
The island is the flooded caldera of an active volcano and a narrow gap, known as Neptune’s Bellows, affords access into this natural harbour. The volcano, an abandoned whaling station, and an old airstrip are three of the interesting features of Deception Island. For those inclined there are some great hikes and, on a clear day, some stunning views.
Note: All sites in Antarctica allow a maximum 100 passengers ashore at one time (an IAATO regulation to minimise site impact). Ships with more than 100 guests will have some guests waiting whilst the others go ashore, once the first visitors return the other guests can go ashore.
Ice can sometimes block the entrance, particularly on early season voyages, please take a flexible attitude as the weather is something the captains don’t control.
Just 1600m wide at its narrowest point and hemmed by steep cliffs, this is an 11km-long strait between the Antarctic continent (Graham Land) and Booth Island with its 1000m-high peaks. The channel’s protected waters are often as still as a lake, a relatively rare occurrence in the Southern Ocean, and provide incredible photographic opportunities of nature at its best. The principal difficulty encountered is that icebergs may fill the channel, especially early in the season.
Spanning an area of around 2,800,000 square kilometres, the Weddell Sea is a spectacular part of the Southern Ocean enclosed by the Antarctic Peninsula on the west, Cape Norvegia on the east and Filchner and Ronne ice shelves to the south. This rarely visited, beautifully remote area of Antarctica is home to penguin rookeries, a large number of seals – particularly the Weddell Seal, the southernmost living mammal, and an abundance of marine life. Named after James Weddell, a British Sailor who sailed to the sea in 1823, this stretch of water is home to many incredible stories of exploration and adventure. There are a variety of Antarctic Itineraries that enable you to visit this incredible sanctuary surrounding one of the most incredible places on the Earth.
Whales are present throughout the season – minke, humpback, sei, fin, orca and for the very lucky few, blue whales. Earlier in the season (November and December) they are more intent on feeding and often you will see dorsal fins, ‘blows’, or the tail flukes as they dive to feed. Later in the season, in late February and March, having ‘filled up’, they tend to be more inquisitive, perhaps ‘spy-hopping’ right beside your Zodiac. Several ships offer specialist cruises dedicated to whale watching in March each year.
Some sites don’t lend themselves to a physical landing or may be best seen from water level. Zodiacs (rubber inflatable boats) offer a safe way to explore and are an integral part of any day on the Antarctic Peninsula. Zodiac cruises may also be offered on larger ships (up to 200 guests) whilst waiting for the 100 who’ve gone ashore.
Note: Please ensure you are adequately dressed as it can get cold; waterproof pants are essential.
Kayaking is offered on many Antarctic ships. It is an incredible experience to silently paddle close to icebergs and perhaps sleeping whales. Experienced guides and a zodiac (at a distance) accompany up to 20 ‘kayakers’ in double and single kayaks. Some prior experience is necessary. Some of our clients decide to take a short course in Australian waters before heading south.
NB: On most it is an additional cost and something you sign up to prior to the voyage.
Generally Antarctica cruise ships that are expedition style have a greater emphasis on maximising time off the vessel or out on deck than on a larger more ‘luxury’ ship.
Where an Expedition ship has less than, or close to (<130), 100 clients all guests can go ashore at the same time. Expedition ships with 130-200 guests will have to operate zodiac cruises and landings simultaneously: assuming conditions permit, if not, you’ll spend more time waiting on-board.
On most days an Expedition ship will offer two off ship excursions. The expedition team works closely with the ship’s captain and crew to deliver a high level of service and a flexible approach which means they can react to local circumstances; like a group of feeding whales, if possible they will stop and launch the zodiacs. The cabins are comfortable, the food of a very high standard.
An expedition client is anyone who wants to maximise their opportunities to get off the ship and learn. Guests on-board are of all ages however you will need to be physically able to climb some relatively steep stairs and get in and out of a Zodiac.
As the name suggests these Antarctic cruise ships are a hybrid of an Expedition Ship and a Luxury Ship. Some are small ships with close to 100 guests and can offer two landings a day and focus on maximising opportunities for exploring as on an expedition vessel but with the added comfort of having larger, more comfortable cabins and common areas. Those with up to 200 guests generally offer one off ship excursion a day (largely due to time factors associated with the IAATO 100 passenger ashore limit) and still have an adventurous soul. Generally cabins are larger or perhaps the ship is newer than an Expedition ship. Meals are a mix of buffet and served courses and the cuisine is of a very high standard.
Luxury Antarctic cruise ships combine more traditional-style cruising with an Antarctic adventure. They offer large, very comfortable cabins with en-suite facilities; many suites have private balconies. Excellent cuisine options are available on board. Zodiac dinghies and an expedition team enable you to explore the Antarctic Peninsula and come home to an exquisite ship. A luxury ship puts greater emphasis on the on-board experience; so if you like your creature comforts one of these ships might be the best option for you.
As with any style of ship (Expedition, Expedition-Luxury and Luxury) the size of the ship will affect your experience; IAATO regulations limit the number of guests ashore at any one time to 100. If you want a Luxury ship and still want to maximise your time ashore look at those with closer to 100 guests – or perhaps select a Expedition-Luxury style ship.