Antarctic Cruises | The "White Continent"
Explore the last untouched continent on an Antarctic Cruise
Antarctic Cruises - Like no other place on the Earth.
Untamed and pristine where the nature has reigned supreme for millennia best describes the land you will see from an Antarctic cruise. This rugged state is largely uninhabited by humans because of the harsh weather conditions during most of the year meaning that an Antarctic Cruise will not have you visiting bustling touristy ports of call rather enjoying the sheer beauty of nature that is practically untouched by man.
Since there are no indigenous people and no economy, just a wealth of spectacular sights and plentiful arctic wildlife, an Antarctic cruise primarily appeals to naturalists, geographic photographers, and the like or those intrepid travelers looking to experience nature in it's purest form. Observe whales, penguins, sea lions and albatross as your ship leisurely sails past towering white icebergs.
The season for taking Antarctic Cruises typically begins in November and lasts through to March which makes up the warmest season in the southern hemisphere. When the Antarctic cruise season ends the region becomes very dark and brutally cold with temperatures that drop way below freezing. During the prime Antarctic cruising months you'll find that December and January are the warmest months that also have the most sunlight (typically eighteen to 24 hours a day). February and March are the best times to see whales on Antarctic Cruises with the spring months being best for viewing the wildflowers bloom.
Most Antarctic Cruises actually begin at various ports in South America and last anywhere from a couple of weeks to a few months. If you need to keep your costs down a shorter Antarctic cruise will be suffice, but if you have the funds, it's highly recommended to spend the extra money and cruise for a longer period of time to fully take in the strikingly beautiful landscape which is chock full of white and blue hued icebergs, impressively huge ice shelves and an interesting array of arctic animals.
Antarctic cruises can be booked on large cruise ships operated by some popular cruise lines like Holland America, Crystal Cruises, Celebrity Cruises and Princess Cruises. Large ship cruising has it's advantages and disadvantages because you will be able to experience the scenic beauty of the area aboard a luxurious ship with lots of amenities but without ever setting foot on actual Antarctic land. For travelers that would like to actually be able to interact with the region, on an Antarctic Cruise, by going ashore are better suited on smaller to mid-sized vessels like those offered by Orion Expeditions or the Seabourn Cruise Line. Sometimes the smaller ships carry inflatable landing crafts so that guests can venture to the shore and set foot on land. Mid-sized ship cruises to the Antarctic tend to be the most popular way to see the region though.
Antarctic Cruise itineraries usually fall into three basic categories and are determined primarily by the size of vessel you are on. Small expedition vessels and mid-sized cruise ships can take you through Classic Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falkland Islands where passengers can actually make onshore excursions and get more up-close and personal with your Antarctic cruise. The large ships are limited to "Around Cape Horn" itineraries that sail around the cape of South America allowing for scenic views of the region but without any land excursion options on Antarctica itself.
Another note about Antarctic Cruises is that they are entirely weather dependent. It can get very windy and dangerous to land the Zodiac inflatables that are available on most expedition cruises and mid-sized ship cruises. And no matter your small ship or large ship itinerary choice all Antarctic Cruises have to sail across the Drake Passage which can equate into 36 hours of gale-force winds and choppy seas on wild days, so when packing your bags make sure to include a healthy supply of seasick patches or pills.
For the small and mid-sized ship vessels that offer shore excursions by way of Zodiac here are a few of the port highlights on Antarctic Cruises:
Deception Island: One of the most popular landing signs on Antarctic cruises as you arrive here through Neptune's Bellows (a 200-meter-wide gap in the wall of a caldera) to an active volcano island covered in black ash giving it a very monochrome-like look. On shore you'll find an abandoned British Antarctic Survey base, some great hiking and ample swimming if you dare!
Elephant Island: Chinstrap and gentoo penguins abound here for your wildlife viewing pleasure. This is also the spot where the infamous Shackleton Expedition occurred where the captain and his crew were stranded, though all survived, for one grueling Antarctic winter.
Port Lockroy: This British Station on Wienke Island was secretly established during World War II by Winston Churchill to report enemy activity and provide weather reports. It now stands as a time capsule slash museum where a small team of scientists spend each summer monitoring the effects of visitors on the penguin rookeries. Bring cash cause there's a great selection of souvenirs for purchasing.
Half Moon Island: This South Shetland island is crescent moon-shaped and the site of an Argentine research station. You'll also find the wreck of an old wooden whaling boat, a large chinstrap penguin colony and elephant seals lazing on the beach or fighting the ferocious surf.