We help you navigate your way through the world of Antarctic cruises to better understand what each expedition itinerary has to offer.
An overwhelming sense of achievement, awe-inspiring wildlife encounters and jaw-dropping scenery that’ll stay with you for the rest of your life: these are the things all Antarctica cruises have in common. Yet this doesn’t mean that all Antarctica cruise itineraries are created equal: some are more adventurous and sail further south than others, whilst some veer to specific destinations that increase your chances of wildlife spotting.
Alongside our comprehensive Antarctica Travel Guide – which details a lot of crucial information you ought to know – being aware of the differences in Antarctica cruise itineraries means you’ll be one step closer to choosing the right experience for you.
For ease of planning, we’ve detailed the itineraries in ascending order of cost – from the most economical to the most expensive – as we know that budgeting for an Antarctica cruise expedition is a huge factor in most people’s planning.
Do note, however, that Antarctic expedition costs don’t only come down to itinerary: choice of ship and cabin category can also greatly influence the price of your expedition.
1. Antarctic Peninsula Voyages
South Shetland Islands, Antarctic Peninsula
These are the most economical expeditions to the southern continent and offer a fantastic introduction to the wonder of Antarctica. You’ll see plenty of wildlife and be truly humbled by the landscapes – all in just under two weeks and for as little as +- AUD 7,000
These classic cruises are the first and last to cast off, departing from late-October/early November (the beginning of the cruising season) all the way until early March (the end of the cruising season)
The ‘classic route’ followed by the greatest majority of expedition ships, Antarctica Peninsula voyages last around 11 days and, in the industry, are known as ‘standard expeditions’; although rest assured no expedition this far south is ever standard-fare. Departing from the southernmost tip of South America, you’ll cross the Drake Passage in two days and sight land on day 3, when you’ll reach the South Shetland Islands, floating just north of the Antarctic Peninsula. Your first landfall will hopefully be on the Shetlands and will be followed by four more days of on-shore explorations on the Peninsula proper. See what amazing things Conde Nast Traveler had to say about the remarkable South Shetlands.
Example itinerary: 11-day Discover Antarctica
2. Antarctic Circle Voyages
South Shetland Islands, Antarctic Peninsula, Crossing the Antarctic Circle
Few people (and expedition ships) ever make it past the Antarctic Circle every summer – this is a bucket-list experience that speaks to the soul of the consummate adventurer
To cross the Antarctic Circle, ships wait until there’s been sufficient ice melt, so these expeditions set off in the second half of the cruising season, in January & February
Add just a few more days to a classic Antarctic Peninsula voyage and you’ll have the enviable chance to cross the fabled line of the Antarctic Circle. These slightly longer expeditions sail further southwest along the coast of the Antarctic Peninsula, in the hope of crossing the 66.5” south parallel. When you head further south than most other ships, you’ll be privy to lesser-visited sites and will see much bigger icebergs. You may see more wildlife on Antarctic Circle cruises but that’ll purely because you will be in Antarctica for a few extra days. Sailing further south is no guarantee of more animal sightings – it simply gifts you more time down south, overall. Read more about the superb highlights you can expect on Antarctic Circle expeditions.
Example itinerary: 15-day Wildest Antarctica
3. Antarctic Fly/Cruise Voyages
Fly over the Drake Passage and join a classic cruise to the South Shetland Islands and the Antarctic Peninsula – then fly back.
This option removes the need to cruise across the dreaded Drake Passage: ideal for those who suffer sea-sickness or those who are short on time
The option to fly over the Drake Passage is available as long as there are cruises running (ie. all season long)
A convenient airport on King George Island (the largest isle of the South Shetlands) allows for much shorter (yet pricier) expeditions. With this option, you can fly right over the dreaded Drake Passage and join an expedition ship directly in Antarctica, enjoying what is essentially a classic Antarctic Peninsula Voyage from here. Choose to fly one-way and you’ll shave two days off a classic itinerary – choose to fly return and you’ll have four sailing days, in total.
If you’re really not keen on the long sailing days or are particularly short on travel-time, this is an ideal option indeed. Given that almost all Antarctic expeditions do touch base on King George Island, it means that you can add a ‘fly’ option on several different Antarctica cruise categories.
Example itinerary: 8-day World Explorer Fly the Drake
4. Antarctic Voyages + the Falklands + South Georgia
Cruise to the Falkland Islands and South Georgia and then head south to the South Shetland and the Antarctic Peninsula
The Falklands and South Georgia are particularly revered for their unrivalled concentration of Antarctic wildlife. The latter is renowned as ‘the crèche of Antarctica’ and is home to the largest King Penguin colony in the world’. These cruises offer more wildlife encounters than any other
The first South Georgia & Falklands Antarctic voyages depart from mid-November onwards and run until the end of the cruising season
If you have more time (and travel funds) up your sleeve, then you’ll want to consider the most comprehensive Antarctica cruise category of all: the Antarctic voyage that also visits the Falklands and South Georgia. These longer expeditions are in a league of their own, immersing visitors in some of the least-visited but most jaw-dropping destinations on the entire planet. South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, in particular, are perhaps the most coveted destinations for wildlife enthusiasts heading to Antarctica and, given that they can only be reached by expedition ship, during summer, it makes this the most desired Antarctica cruise category of all.
Example itinerary: 20 nights on the Ocean Endeavour
Choosing the right Antarctica cruise itinerary is one of the most important decisions you will make – for so many, a journey to the end of the world is a once-in-a-lifetime dream. Need more help deciding which one’s right for you? Then check out this collection of our 10 Best Antarctica Cruises of all and, when you’re ready to ask more specific questions, simply contact us, right here.
Author: Laura Pattara
“Laura Pattara is a modern nomad who’s been vagabonding around the world, non-stop, for the past 15 years. She’s tour-guided overland trips through South America and Africa, travelled independently through the Middle East and has completed a 6-year motorbike trip from Europe to Australia. What ticks her fancy most? Animal encounters in remote wilderness, authentic experiences off the beaten trail and spectacular Autumn colours in Patagonia.”