An expedition to Antarctica is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure for intrepid travelers who want to explore this remote destination at the bottom of the world. The landscapes are surreal, with eerily blue icebergs, towering ice-capped mountains, dramatic weather conditions that change within seconds and species of wildlife that exist nowhere else on Earth – it’s hard to imagine until you’ve made the long journey yourself.
The fifth-largest continent is home to the largest ice sheet on the planet, the Antarctic Ice Sheet, as well as the Transantarctic Mountains, with peaks soaring more than 14,700 feet into the sky. West Antarctica has volcanoes that are part of a tectonically active area around the Pacific Ocean known as the “Ring of Fire.” This incredibly diverse and magical part of the world also has the coldest temperature ever recorded at -135.8 degrees Fahrenheit in 2010.
U.S. News has compiled a selection of seven different Antarctic experiences to help you plan your bucket list adventure to the White Continent.
Atlas Ocean Voyages: 11-night Ushuaia Roundtrip
(Courtesy of Atlas Ocean Voyages)
This 11-night expedition with Atlas is available on several dates in 2024. One highlight of the voyage is crossing the Antarctic Circle, along with four days exploring Antarctica and two days spent in the South Shetland Islands. You’ll also have two days en route to Antarctica and two days on the return trip on the famed Drake Passage – also known as the “Drake Lake” (on smooth days) or the “Drake Shake” (when the seas are rough).
During your days at sea, take in all the onboard lectures and films about Antarctica, and head outside on the decks to see petrels and albatrosses soaring overhead. This is the perfect opportunity to practice your photography skills before reaching the Antarctic Peninsula, where you want to take nothing but pictures and leave nothing but footprints.
Atlas’ Jan. 14 expedition is on the line’s newest ship, World Voyager. The purpose-built yacht-style vessel features a hydro-jet propulsion system that’s quieter and less disruptive to the fragile ecosystem. This feature also provides the opportunity for guests to see more wildlife during up-close encounters. Pricing is all-inclusive on board the ship with free open bars; all meals, wines, spirits and craft beers; a stocked in-room minibar; all landings, Zodiac excursions and lectures; the use of kayaks, walking sticks, knee boots and binoculars; and a souvenir Atlas jacket to take home. Fares also include a one-night pre-cruise stay and private charter jet service round-trip from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia, Argentina.
Aurora Expeditions: Antarctic Peninsula in Depth
Tyson Mayr|Courtesy of Aurora Expeditions
Aurora offers a 14-night Antarctic intensive voyage sailing round-trip from Ushuaia on Nov. 6, 2024, aboard the 132-passenger purpose-built expedition ship Greg Mortimer. This vessel was the first passenger ship to utilize the state-of-the-art Ulstein X-BOW, which provides a smoother, quicker and more efficient transit across the ocean. The ship also incorporates many environmentally conscious features, including low energy consumption and virtual anchoring, which protects the sea floor and minimizes damage caused by traditional anchors.
Guests will find expansive observation decks and hydraulic viewing platforms for optimal wildlife viewing on board. Other highlights of the expedition are nine full days to explore the Antarctic Peninsula in nearly 24 hours of daylight at the peak of summer. During this time, you can expect to see whales arriving to feed on the plentiful krill, fur seal pups and many entertaining penguins.
Prices are mostly all-inclusive, with a one-night hotel stay before boarding the ship; all meals, snacks and complimentary nonalcoholic beverages; beer and house wine at lunch and dinner; the use of Muck Boots for the expedition; all shore excursions and Zodiac cruises; educational lectures; and more. Adventurous explorers can add on activities (at an additional cost) such as sea kayaking, snowshoeing, camping, and skiing or snowboarding. The line also offers longer 20- to 24-day expeditions that include South Georgia Island.
Hurtigruten Expeditions: Antarctica, Patagonia and Chilean Fjords Expedition
Dan Avila|Courtesy of Hurtigruten Expeditions
For an extended adventure that includes crossing the Drake Passage twice, spending up to five days in Antarctica and then landing on Cape Horn in Chile (weather permitting), consider the 25-night grand expedition cruise aboard the Hutrigruten Expeditions’ MS Roald Amundsen. Additional highlights are scenic cruising in Garibaldi Fjord in Alberto de Agostini National Park to see the Garibaldi Glacier; visiting the town of Puerto Natales, the gateway to Torres del Paine National Park; and seeing the longest Southern Hemisphere glacier outside of Antarctica (which grows by as much as 150 feet a day), the Pio XI Glacier in Bernado O’Higgins National Park. This epic adventure begins March 9, 2024, in Buenos Aires and ends in Valparaíso, Chile.
The ship for the voyage, MS Roald Amundsen, is a hybrid vessel that reduces CO2 emissions by using electrical propulsion – and it’s designed specifically for use in polar waters. The vessel carries just 500 guests (to adhere to regulations for visiting Antarctica) and features all exterior cabins with Scandinavian inspired decor. Guests will also find an Explorer lounge and bar, three dining venues, the Science Center, a sauna and spa, and other amenities. Fares are mostly all-inclusive, covering a complimentary expedition jacket; the use of expedition equipment like boots and trekking poles; landing activities; most dining options; and wine, beer and soft drinks at meals.
Lindblad Expeditions – National Geographic: Journey to Antarctica: The White Continent
Ralph Lee Hopkins|Courtesy of Lindblad Expeditions
Lindblad Expeditions was the first company to bring citizen explorers to Antarctica in 1966, pioneering travel to this remote destination. The line’s 13-night expedition to Antarctica is offered nearly 20 times throughout the summer season in 2024 on one of three ships. Depending on the ship, guests will have one evening in either Buenos Aires or Santiago, Chile, before flying to Ushuaia the next morning to embark the vessel.
With about five days to explore Antarctica, you’ll have time to take in the awe-inspiring landscapes and look for seals and blue-eyed shags up close from Zodiacs. On land, watch thousands of Adélie and gentoo penguins as they playfully slide down the snow-covered hills on their bellies – one right after the other – diving headfirst into the icy waters. After the adventure, a private charter flight will return you to either Buenos Aires or Santiago before your return flight home.
The line’s newest expedition vessel, National Geographic Resolution, accommodates just 138 guests – and there are two new cabins for solo cruisers. Guests on the Polar Class 5 vessel will have a National Geographic photographer and a Lindblad-National Geographic-certified photo instructor and video chronicler documenting the trip. Onboard amenities include a yoga studio, a wellness specialist, infinity-style hot tubs, two restaurants and a chef’s table, and plenty of indoor and outdoor viewing areas. This ship also carries an ROV (a remotely operated vehicle) for underwater exploration and other high-tech video gear.
You can even book an overnight stay in an igloo (on a first-come, first-served basis) and spend the evening under the polar sky. Fares are mostly all-inclusive and include all onboard meals and most meals ashore; nonalcoholic and alcoholic beverages; transfers; excursions; a complimentary jacket; and more.
Silversea: King George Island to King George Island (Antarctica Bridge)
(Courtesy of Silversea)
Silversea’s six-night Antarctica Bridge expedition takes guests round-trip by a business class flight directly to the Antarctica Peninsula, flying into King George Island from Punta Arenas, Chile. This itinerary is offered several times throughout the season for guests who don’t have extensive time to travel – or are nervous about sailing the Drake Passage. Silversea‘s pricing is all-inclusive, and guests can choose between door-to-door or port-to-port fares.
While the weather determines the specific itinerary in Antarctica, guests can expect to have several excursions in the Antarctic Sound and as many as nine excursions on the Antarctic Peninsula that include hiking, kayaking and scenic Zodiac cruises with the expedition team. There’s also one excursion in the South Shetland Islands, where you can look for massive elephant seals. There will be an abundance of bird and animal viewing on wildlife-rich King George Island, the largest of the South Shetland Islands, which is home to Adélie, chinstrap and gentoo penguins as well as Weddell and leopard seals.
Oceanwide Expeditions and Swoop Antarctica: Quest for the Emperor Penguins of Snow Hill Island
Swoop Antarctica’s 10-night adventure-filled journey takes wildlife and history enthusiasts into the ice-choked waters of the Weddell Sea, past towering tabular icebergs, in search of the emperor penguin’s rookery on Snow Hill: one of the most remote penguin rookeries on the planet. The incredible itinerary also sails through the same waters where famed Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship, the Endurance, sank in 1915 – and to the rarely seen west slopes of the Antarctic Sound.
Other highlights include Zodiac and helicopter landings (weather permitting) to additional remote locales, including Seymour Island, where the Swedish Antarctic Expedition of 1901 to 1904 spent a winter season; Brown Bluff, one of the most scenic places on the northern tip of the Antarctic Continent and home to a large Adélie penguin rookery; and the volcanic crater of Deception Island.
There are two sailings in November 2024 on board the 1A-class, ice-strengthened Oceanwide Expeditions’ Ortelius: a 108-passenger former Russian research vessel. Fares includes all meals and nonalcoholic beverages, all Zodiac and shore excursions, educational lectures, helicopter transfers, and group transfers. Optional adventure activities, alcoholic beverages and other personal expenses are at an additional cost.
The onboard helicopter pad is one of the features of the vessel and is used on select expeditions in the Weddell and Ross seas. It’s important to note that very few companies offer expeditions to the Weddell Sea that include Snow Hill Island. While Ortelius is not a luxury vessel like other ships mentioned in this list, it is a stable expedition-style ship built for these icy – and at times treacherous – waters and weather conditions.
Viking: Antarctica & South Georgia Island
(Courtesy of Viking)
Viking’s 18-night Antarctica and South Georgia Island expedition begins with an overnight stay in Buenos Aires followed by a flight the next morning to Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world. The first two stops on the expedition are in the Falkland Islands, where you’ll find beautiful scenery with imposing cliffs, many types of marine birds and five species of penguins. In South Georgia, watch for king penguins and seals. Then, it’s on to Antarctica for days 12 through 16. Guests will have the option to reserve a spot on the Viking DNV-classed submarine for a thrilling journey into the depths of the frigid waters in Antarctica. The return sailing, by way of the Drake Passage, disembarks in Ushuaia.
In 2024, this itinerary is available Jan. 31 and again Dec. 15 on Viking Octantis. The purpose-built Polar Class 6 vessel accommodates up to 378 guests and offers many of the same venues found on Viking’s ocean ships, including the Explorers’ Lounge, World Café, Mamsen’s, Manfredi’s Italian Restaurant and the Nordic Spa. There are also expedition-specific features, such as Expedition Central, the Science Lab and – for educational lectures and briefings – the Aula theater. Viking’s fares are mostly all-inclusive, with all meals and wine and beer served with lunch and dinner; 24-hour specialty teas, coffees and nonalcoholic beverages; a keepsake Viking jacket; complimentary use of the excursion gear; and more.
Expert tips on Antarctica expeditions
There are many factors to consider when planning an Antarctica expedition, including where you want to travel to, the length of the trip and whether you want to sail the famed Drake Passage twice.
To provide helpful insights and information to plan your trip, U.S. News reached out to an expert in the region, Aurora Expeditions’ expedition leader, Ashley Perrin, for tips on planning your adventure to the White Continent. Perrin has degrees in both geography and oceanography from the University of Southampton. She was appointed as the first woman boating officer in Antarctica by the British Antarctic Survey in 2009, and has led multiple expeditions to Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falklands.
Which month is best (in your opinion) to travel to Antarctica and why?
Perrin: “My favorite time to travel to Antarctica is the end of December or beginning of January, because the penguin chicks are starting to come out and you get the most wildlife spotting opportunities, with marine mammals, penguins and albatross – on top of the spectacular scenery.”
What length of trip do you recommend for first-time visitors?
Perrin: “The 10- to 12-day Spirit of Antarctica or Antarctic Explorer (with Aurora Expeditions) is a fantastic introduction to the Antarctic Peninsula. If you had the additional time and opportunity, ideally you would also opt for a voyage that visits South Georgia. For many travelers, this is really the jewel in the crown of the Antarctic experience because of the incredible wildlife opportunities here.”
What should you look for in an expedition ship/tour when planning a trip to Antarctica?
Perrin: “Travelers should look for a high-quality educational experience, including lectures and opportunities for Citizen Science. This is such a fascinating and important destination, and you want to ensure you can learn and take as much in as you can. A pivotal factor in this is also choosing a company that offers low passenger numbers.
“Travelers don’t have enough of an understanding of the impact of this on their voyage. In the Antarctic Peninsula only 100 people are allowed on land at one time, while at some sites it is 30 to 50 people. Having smaller groups enables passengers to have more time off ship exploring and connecting with nature, and this has such a significant impact on your experience.
“If you like to be a little more active, I would also highly recommend an operator that offers activities, such as kayaking in Antarctica. This allows you to see Antarctica from a different viewpoint and the silence is amazing. You still have opportunities to do landings as well, so I think it’s the best of both worlds.”
Do you prefer the combination fly/sail for the Drake Passage or sailing the Drake Passage both ways?
Perrin: “I prefer to sail both ways as it’s how you earn your right to get to Antarctica! You also get more opportunities to see wildlife like seabirds, and it gives you extra time to prepare for the Antarctic experience through pre-lectures and education. Travelers arrive with more of an understanding of what to expect.”
Any other tips, advice or comments you’d like to share?
Perrin: “Do your research into the operator you are choosing and their different offerings – things like passenger numbers, expedition team experience and off ship activities – as these can all have a significant impact on the travel experience. There is also a big difference between traditional cruise operators and expedition operators and what travelers can expect. We ensure that our passengers are exploring and getting off the ship as much as possible.
“I would also add that it’s important to do your research into the areas that you’re most interested in. For example, it could be history, exploration and walking in someone’s footsteps (such as Sir Ernest Shackleton), or the types of wildlife you might see. Having a deeper understanding of the history and the region really does enhance the experience once you are there.”
Frequently Asked Questions
An expedition where you get off the ship and make landings on the Antarctic peninsula typically costs about $10,000 per person for a 10-night voyage. However, depending on the cruise line, the ship and dates of travel – and whether you sail or fly the Drake Passage – you could spend as much as $29,000 per person for a 12-night expedition or more. There are slightly lower prices for some expeditions, such as a few with Hurtigruten Expeditions, and you can find reduced fares and deals with lines like Atlas Ocean Voyages and Quark Expeditions. In addition, there are extended polar expeditions that range from a 14-night trip to the 94-night Pole-to-Pole Ultimate Bucket List Expedition Cruise with Hurtigruten Expeditions, which is priced at close to $48,000.
If you’re not interested in getting off the ship in Antarctica to see penguins and seals up close (but no closer than 15 feet, according to the Antarctic Treaty), you can opt for a voyage on a large cruise ship that sails around the continent for a much lower cost. Just know that you won’t be able to disembark at any point in Antarctica. For example, Norwegian Cruise Line has a 14-night Antarctica and South America voyage that makes a round trip from Buenos Aires, Argentina, for as low as $999 per person. You may be able to find even cheaper fares from lines such as Celebrity Cruises or Princess Cruises.
It’s important to note that by the rules set forth in the Antarctic Treaty, only ships carrying 500 or less passengers are permitted to make landings on the Antarctica peninsula. The Antarctic Treaty, along with the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators, has strict conservation protocols and regulates that no more than 100 passengers are allowed to go ashore at one time. The IAATO works with more than 100 Antarctica outfitters to create the guidelines and safety procedures to protect the fragile environment and wildlife in this remote part of the world.
The following cruise lines offer small ship expeditions in Antarctica with no more than 500 passengers. You can also look at tour companies – such as Abercrombie & Kent, G Adventures, Adventure Life and Swoop Antarctica – that exclusively charter ships or help navigate the decision-making process for their clients and book individual expeditions with the cruise lines.
- Atlas Ocean Voyages
- Aurora Expeditions
- Hapag-Lloyd Cruises
- Hurtigruten Expeditions
- Lindblad Expeditions – National Geographic
- Quark Expeditions
- Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours
- Seabourn Cruise Line
These larger cruise lines offer sailings around the Antarctic Peninsula, which may include scenic cruising in and around the Gerlache Strait, Elephant Island, Paradise Bay and Schollart Channel.
- Celebrity Cruises
- Holland America Line
- Norwegian Cruise Line
- Oceania Cruises
- Princess Cruises
- Regent Seven Seas Cruises
- Royal Caribbean International
The answer depends on the expedition. The majority of passengers will depart from South America in either Ushuaia, Argentina – which is also known as the “End of the World” – or Punta Arenas, Chile. Then it will take approximately two days to cross the Drake Passage to reach the Antarctic Peninsula. Some lines also offer chartered flights from Punta Arenas to Antarctica, which only take about two hours. Some passengers who have taken the flight say it can be as unnerving as sailing the Drake Passage, since weather conditions can delay the flight for up to several days where you could potentially miss the trip.
Cruises on larger ships that only sail around the Antarctic Peninsula may embark in Buenos Aires; Santiago, Chile; Puerto Williams, Chile; Rio de Janeiro; ports in Florida or New Zealand; or even the South Shetland Islands.
The expedition and cruise season to Antarctica extends from November to March, which is during the austral summer in the Southern Hemisphere. But Antarctica is still the windiest, coldest and driest continent on Earth, so weather conditions are unpredictable and can change quickly – even during the summertime. One minute the sun may be out, and the next minute it can be snowing and extremely windy and cloudy.
Visitors in November can expect temperatures between a low of 25 degrees to a high of 32 degrees Fahrenheit. The warmest temperatures are typically in January, when you’ll find days ranging between 33 to 36 degrees before they start to drop again in February.
Most expedition companies provide jackets that you can take home, so you won’t need to bring a heavy parka if it’s given to you on board. They may also provide waterproof boots that you’ll need to use for wet landings. It’s best to check with your expedition line to see what’s available on the ship, what you can rent or buy, and what you’ll need to pack and bring with you. Due to the unpredictable weather, it’s advisable to bring different types of layers.
Here are some of the items you’ll want to pack:
Layers: Pack at least two top and two bottom quick-drying base layers (or more, depending on the length of your expedition) that wick moisture, such as those made of silk, wool or bamboo. It does get toasty when you’re layered up and moving around ashore, so choose lightweight options that will layer easily under the rest of your clothing and keep you warm and dry. For your mid-layer top, go with a lightweight polar fleece or vest; for the bottom, quick-drying warm tights or fleece pants are a good option.
You’ll also want to layer what’s on your feet, starting with a wicking pair of socks made from silk or synthetic polypropylene, followed by a good pair of merino wool socks from a brand like Smartwool. Glove liners are another must, especially if your hands tend to get cold. If you can, buy insulated waterproof gloves with removable liners to save packing an extra item. You may also want to toss a few hand and foot warmers in the suitcase in case you need extra warmth. Bring a lighter pair of insulated gloves for warmer days off the ship.
And don’t forget a lined wool beanie, a set of earmuffs, and a balaclava or fleece neck gaiter to keep your ears and face warm and your nose and mouth protected from the cold air and wind.
Waterproof gear: The parka and tall waterproof boots may be provided on the ship, but if they’re not, you’ll need to bring your own. You’ll also need wind- and waterproof pants to go over your base layer and mid-layers. If they’re tapered at the bottom, you should be able to tuck them into your boots. Perrin says this is one of the most important items you should purchase and pack for your expedition.
Comfy clothes and shoes for around the ship: Most people dress casual on Antarctica cruises, so bring clothes that will be comfortable for days and evenings around the ship. It can get rough when crossing the Drake Passage, so you’ll want flat or low-heeled shoes for those days at sea.
Other items you’ll want to pack:
Why Trust U.S. News Travel
Gwen Pratesi has been an avid cruiser since her early 20s. She has sailed on nearly every type of cruise ship built, including the newest megaships, paddle-wheelers on the Mississippi River, and an 18-stateroom river ship on the Mekong River in Vietnam and Cambodia. She has also cruised on a traditional masted sailing ship and on a small luxury expedition vessel in Antarctica crossing the notorious Drake Passage twice. Pratesi covers the travel and culinary industries for major publications including U.S. News & World Report.