Antarctica Fly Cruise Travel Guide

Keen to visit Antarctica but don’t fancy a crossing of the infamous Drake Passage? Then an Antarctica Fly Cruise may just be your dream expedition.

Whether you wish to skip a possibly tumultuous crossing of the Drake Passage or simply don’t have enough days up your sleeve for a classic Antarctic cruise, choosing a flight + cruise option can make for a fantastic compromise. With a well-equipped airport just off the Antarctica Peninsula and two springboards in Patagonia, your options are varied: you can choose to fly only one way (and cruise the other) or skip the Drake altogether on return flights. Once in Antarctica proper, you can hop aboard an ice-strengthened expedition ship and visit all the magical sites offered on more classic cruises that sail directly from Ushuaia.

Half the time and less chance of seasickness with just as much excitement and as many experiences: Antarctica fly cruises offer the very best of both worlds.

People boarding an Antarctic Airways flight at remote airport on the South Shetland Islands, Antarctica.
People boarding an Antarctic flight on King George Island. Photo: Shutterstock.

Why an Antarctica Fly Cruise?

The Drake Passage bridges the gap between Antarctica and South America and sits at the convergence of three oceans, namely the Pacific, Atlantic and Southern. Considered one of the most unforgettable cruising experiences on earth, the Drake is notoriously unpredictable and, sometimes, expedition ship voyages can get a little rough, leaving some would-be visitors to Antarctica to feel hesitant about booking a voyage. Sure, many adventure-seekers see this unpredictability as an exhilarating challenge but not everyone feels the same.

Worried about experiencing a Drake Shake (rather than a Drake Lake?) Then these air cruise options are perfect for you.

An aerial view of King George Island, Antarctica.
Aerial view of King George Island, Antarctica. Photo: Shutterstock.

Highlights of Antarctica Fly Cruise expeditions

You Still Get to Enjoy an Exceptional Antarctica Cruise

Even if you choose to fly over the Drake, you’ll still experience the most anticipated and rewarding part of all Antarctic cruises: the exploration of the South Shetland and the Antarctic Peninsula. Once you land in Antarctica, it is cruising business as usual and you’ll be scouring the icy coast and making landfall like all expeditions do.

Rather than have you reach the continent on day 3 of a journey, however, these air + cruise options will see you reach Antarctica within just a couple of hours of leaving South America, and that’s an incredibly enticing prospect for many travellers.

Antarctic mountain landscape - South Shetland Islands, Antarctica
South Shetland Islands, Antarctica. Photo: Shutterstock.

The South Shetland Islands

Whether you cruise or fly from South America, the South Shetland Islands will always be your first port of call, and the first chance to set foot on land, in Antarctica  This cluster of marine-life enriched isles host a stunning array of unique wildlife, including Crabeater and Southern Elephant seals, Chinstrap penguins, petrels, skuas and cormorants that number in their thousands.

The largest island of this chain is King George, home to Antarctica’s only commercial airport, as well as a dozen international scientific research stations. When you choose an Antarctica fly cruise, this is where your plane will land and depart.

Chinstrap penguins on the South Shetland Islands, Antarctica.
Chinstrap penguins on the South Shetland Islands, Antarctica. Photo: Shutterstock.

The Antarctic Peninsula

The magnificent northern peninsula of Antarctica is just 150km south of the Shetland Islands and is the main destination on all expedition cruises. With its milder climate and a nearly infinite array of protected coves, the peninsula is an absolute hive of marine-life activity in the summer, attracting seals, sea lions, penguins and sea birds galore.

Framed by high ice-capped peaks and dotted with international research stations, the peninsula boasts a wealth of exceptional landing sights so you can look forward to daily excursions aboard inflatable Zodiacs. Which landing sites you will visit will depend highly on the weather conditions but rest assured your ship’s Captain will do his/her utmost to offer as much time on-shore as is possible on your chosen itinerary. Read more about the wonders of the Antarctic Peninsula and learn all about the exhilarating highlights.

Leopard seal resting on ice floe, looking at the photographer, blue sky, with icebergs in background, cloudy day, Antarctic peninsula
Leopard seal resting on an ice floe, Antarctic Peninsula. Photo: Shutterstock.

You Save Valuable Time

Antarctica fly + cruise expeditions aren’t only ideal for those who wish to skip the Drake but also for those who have limited time or, as is the case for many of our guests, those who are on a longer tour of Patagonia.

The shortest air + cruise experience lasts just 6 days (Antarctica Express) whilst, if you have 10 days to spare, you can also extend your cruise to include a crossing of the Antarctic Circle.

Antarctic, after crossing the Antarctic circle line, on Pourquoi Pas Island, Adele Penguin Colony at Bongrain Point
Adelie penguin colony below the Antarctic circle.

You Have Many More Cruising Options

Not every expedition cruise ship heading to Antarctica offers a flight + cruise option but those that do offer many more departure dates given their expeditions last fewer days.

This is also what makes Antarctica air cruises great options for last-minute bookings, especially at the height of cruising season. If you’re searching for a last-minute cruise and can’t find availability on ships departing from Ushuaia, ask us about air cruise options instead. Given the flexibility of flights and the sheer number of express cruises, chances are we’ll be able to find you an available berth.

Best Way to Travel to Enjoy an Antarctica Fly Cruise

The two departure points in South America are Ushuaia (the springboard for 99% of Antarctica cruises) and Punta Arenas, in Chilean Patagonia.

Punta Arenas is the main departure point for flights whilst Ushuaia is the main port for cruises.  Those on a two-way flight + cruise will make a return trip from Punta Arenas whilst passengers wishing to only fly one-way will make a loop voyage: flying from (or into) Punta Arenas and cruising to (or from) Ushuaia.

Antarctica Fly Cruise Map
Antarctica Fly Cruise Itinerary.

Learn all there is to know about this incredible place from our comprehensive Antarctica Travel Guide and when you’re ready to take the next step, contact us for more personalised advice.

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.”