Antarctica beautiful landscape, blue icebergs, nature wilderness
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Best Antarctica Cruise – What you Need to Know!

If you are thinking of a trip to the ellusive 7th continent, I highly recommen you take a vacation to Antarctica! The scenery is surreal and it is an experience you will treasure your entire lifetime. One of the best ways to visit is on a cruise ship, which allows you an easy, affordable Antarctica vacation. Let me tell you what to look for so you can take the best Antarctica vacation.

If you are thinking of a trip to the ellusive 7th continent, I highly recommen you take a vacation to Antarctica! The scenery is surreal and it is an experience you will treasure your entire lifetime. One of the best ways to visit is on a cruise ship, which allows you an easy, affordable Antarctica vacation. Let me tell you what to look for so you can take the best Antarctica vacation.

Best Antarctica Cruise

From sparkling glaciers to majestic wildlife like penguins, seals, and whales – Antarctica is a truly unique destination that offers a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Imagine exploring the pristine landscapes, witnessing the beauty of glaciers, and crossing the Antarctic Circle. Whether you’re an adventurous traveler looking for a new challenge or simply in awe of the beauty of nature, Antarctica is sure to leave you speechless. My family of 8 recently returned from an epic Antarctica Cruise and I cannot recommend this trip enough. Before you ask me what cruise line we took I want to walk through things to consider when picking the best cruise line for Antarctica, what you can expect to see, and the best time to go to Antarctica.

Learn more about visiting Antarctica (this is our family trip), grab our cute Antarctica coloring pages, get our free Antarctica worksheets for elementary age students, and this fun hands-on snow dough antarctica activities for preschoolers

Big cruise ship in the Antarctic watersBig cruise ship in the Antarctic watersBig cruise ship in Antarctic waters

visiting antarctica

Visiting Antarctica is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that requires careful planning and preparation. One of the most popular ways to visit Antarctica is by taking a cruise. There are many tour operators that offer expeditions to the continent, with different itineraries ranging from a few days to several weeks. These cruises typically depart from Ushuaia, Argentina, Punta Arenas, Chile, or Buenos Aires, Argentina. Depending on your itinerary, you may get a chance to see some South American ports in Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, and Falkland Islands as well. Every cruise to Antarctica includes passing through the treacherous waters of the Drake Passage. The highlight of your trip will undoubtedly be reaching the Antarctic Peninsula. You will enjoy amazing vistas, animal sightings, and stunning sunsets.

There are lots of choices as far as major cruiseline or small ships that sail to Antarctica that I will dive into later in the article. Whichever option you choose, it’s important to prepare for the harsh conditions of Antarctica. Make sure to pack warm and waterproof clothing, as well as sturdy boots for exploring on land. Don’t forget your camera to capture the stunning beauty of this icy wonderland.

Emperor Penguins with chick
Emperor Penguins with chick Snow Hill in Antarctica

best time to visit antarctica

The best time to visit this incredible icy paradise is during the austral summer, which runs from November to March.  For most of us, that means the Antarctica summer occurs during our winter. This time frame offers longer daylight hours, milder temperatures, and the opportunity to witness iconic wildlife like penguins, seals, and whales. November is perfect for witnessing the breeding season of seals and penguins, while December to February provides the best chances to see whales in their natural habitat. March is ideal for avid photographers looking to capture stunning landscapes in the soft light of the autumn sun.  We visited in early March and whie we had a great experience, we felt like we were on the tail end of the season. If we were to go again, I woudl visit in December or January.

Antarctic Cruising
Head to Antarctica in December for more snow, active animals, and babies!

best time to go to antarctica

We went with our kids, our youngest was 7 and our oldest is 18. We saw other famlies with babies, but the majority of the other passengers on our itinerary were in their 50s and up. I think partly, if you don’t find the deals, the trip can be expensive. We got a great deal so the most expensive part was the airfare. The other problem for families is that you need to visit during the school year, so you’d need to be homeschooling like us or pull your kids from school.  If you can swing the 2+ weeks of time and the finances to go – I highly recommend going with your family. Not only will this be an amazing experience to share together, but you will have the rest of your life to talk about it!  I think anyone can take this trip, although I personally wouldn’t take a baby. I think 7 was about the right age for the youngest. He is old enough to behave and remember experiences he has.

Antarctic tourists watch a leopard seal from the Zodiac on an ice floe in Cierva Cove
Antarctic tourists watch a leopard seal from the Zodiac on an ice floe in Cierva Cove

What to pack for a trip to antarctica

What you take while depend on when you are going and the type of trip you have chosen. Even for the easiest trip on a cruiseline, you will want to bring a warm winter coat, hats, gloves, scarf for around your face, and wool layering pieces. Make sure to bring sunscreen and after sun as the sun is surprisingly powerful.

Don’t forget to bring your:

  • camera – it’s totally worth bringing your “good camera” with all the lenses. You are going to want to zoom in on all the amazing animals to see their unblurry expressions
  • charging cables and an extra battery (for your phone and camera)
  • external hard drive on hand to back up your pictures to make sure you don’t loose any of those amazing memories
  • good binocular is also a must to watch all the cute penguins floating by on the glaciers or the whales breaching in the nearby water
  • Dramamine, Bonine, patches, etc. – the Drake Passage can have 35 foot swells like ours did (or more) you will want to plan to bring anti-motion sickness mediations. It wasn’t as bad as we expected and no one in our group got sick using those meds. It is actually such a fun adventure that will make great stories
  • good book, games, and a kindle charged up with lots of favorite movies to keep you busy during the day. There is lots to see, but it is a longer trip with lots of sea days
  • winter coat, hats, gloves, gator
  • wool layering pieces – it gets cold on deck and unless you want to be inside warming up when the whale breaches, you really want to be warm
  • good shoes that are comfortable, warm, and waterproof is helpful if you plan to be outside on those days when the waves are active
Gentoo Penguins on Danko Island on the Antarctic Peninsula in Antarctica
Gentoo Penguins on Danko Island on the Antarctic Peninsula in Antarctica

top antarctica cruises

You need to do research about the cruiseline you take. I cannot stress this enough. Read reviews from those who took the exact same trip, find previous travel groups on Facebook, etc. so you are sure you will get the type of trip you are looking for. Chances are you are only going to take this trip once and you want to do it right.  Here are some things to look for and consider when planning your cruise.

  • Choose an itinerary that is at least 2 weeks – any shorter and it’s just not worth getting down there
  • Faulkland Islands are a MUST!
  • Fly down at least a day early; strikes are common in this area of the world as are travel delays. You don’t want to miss your boat because of travel hiccups.
  • Ushuai is a MUST!
  • Puerto Madryn is a MUST!
  • Plan to see penguins in several ports in case a port gets cancelled
  • Plan to see other regional offerings like Tango and Estancias
  • There are 18 types of penguins in the world, you should be able to see at least 4-5 on your trip if you plan your shore excursions well
  • Take note of which ports are tender ports, it seems they end up not making at least 1/2 tener ports because of choppy waters that make it unsafe
  • Book shore excursions through your cruiseline because as your itinerary gets updated, they will adjust your shore excursions and make sure you get there and get back on time

    sailing through the chilean fjords on antarctica cruise in march 2024 on major cruiseline
    sailing through the chilean fjords on antarctica cruise in march 2024 on major cruiseline
  • Chilean Fjords are worth it – Sailing through the snow capped Andes Mountains is stunning! For an entire day you wil have 360 views that will leave you speachless.
  • Pick a trip that spends at least 4 days in Antarctica. Recently Norweigan changed the itinerary of their Antarctica  trip and they cut the days down to 1! Make sure your itinerary is there for several days to ensure you will actually get there and stay there long enough to see all that there is to see. Animals and weather don’t always cooperate, so make sure there is a padding built into your trip.
  • Secure your shore excursions as soon as you book your cruise to make sure they have availability. The good stuff gets booked up quickly!
  • Make sure your cruise does lectures on Antarctica – you are making the effort to come down, make sure you are learning about what you are going to see
  • Research your specific vessel and the passengers satisfaction – look for previous travel groups on facebook,  online forums, etc.  (here is a good example of why you should research before hand from Good Morning America news)Antarctica beautiful landscape, blue icebergs, nature wilderness
  • Make sure to disembark at each port to see incredible sights. It’s a great opportunity to see amazing animals, experience new cultures, and break up the days spent at sea. You won’t want to miss out on exploring each destination.
  • pick your stateroom carefully – those mid-ship staterooms are even more important if you are prone to motion sickness
  • Consider upgrading to a stateroom for your voyage. Since you’ll be spending a lot of time on the ship, it’s worth investing in a more comfortable room. While opting for the cheapest room may be more affordable, it’s important to prioritize your comfort during the journey. Not having a window or being in an obscrurred view for 2 weeks will be hard.
  • A balcony stateroom may not be that helpful – While it may seem like you will use your personal balcony a lot, and you might. Know that when you are in Antarctica or when animal sightings come up your small view of the water will not allow you to see a lot of the wildlife. You will want to be on a deck where you can quickly move from side to side to see whatever is the current “action”
  • The crowd is good for spotting wildlife. With more people on deck with you, there is a higher chance of people seeing things. The cruise staff will try to point things out, but we found that passengers were so much quicker seeing things, and saw more things
  • If the budget allows, consider going on a ship that only does antarctica. Why? It’s there bread-and-butter so to speak and they will make sure you get there and see what you want to see
  • Be realistic! You are not going to the middle of Antarctica to hang out with scientists doing research. Your visit will take you to the coast of the northernmost part of Antarctica. This allows for pretty much everyone to visit, and visit safely. You are still in Antarctica!

Sea lion lying on ice in Antarctica

antarctica Cruise Ship

So, which ship should you sail on to Antarctica? The Antarctica cruise ship you choose will depend on your preferences with the following options:

  • What you can afford – Major crusielines like Celebrity, Holland America, Norweigan, Royal Carribean, Princess, etc offer the cheapest prices by at least 75%
  • How long you can be on vacation – major cruiseline sailing are at least 14 days whereas small boats have sailing in just 9 days
  • Flexibility on dates – major cruiselines only offer 1-3 sailings a year so they have fewer options, small boats offer many opttions from Nov- March.
  • Saling with kids? Age of your kids – some ships dont’ allow kids and others have a minimum age of 8 or 10. Major cruiselines allow kids and offer programing geared just for them
  • Entertainment you value – largers ships offer broadways shows, magic tricks, pools, etc. whereas the smaller ships focus on Antarctica lectures, dining, and expeditions
  • Do you want to stand on Antarctica – if you are okay with being in Antarctica region while still seeing icebergs and animals you can do a major cruiseline. If you want to stand on the mainland, you will need to take a small ship.
small boat excursion in antarctica with whail tail
WILHELMINA BAY, ANTARCTICA, Humpback whale tail with kayak, boat

best cruise line for antarctica

National Geographic Antarctica Cruise

This is probably the gold standard as far as cruises to Antarctica because of the rich ihstory and knowledge you are going to be able to tap into. There are about 10 sailing dates a year. Including sea days crossing the drake passage both ways, you will spend 5 days in Antarctica. The 12 day itinerary  will run you $15-23k per person. It’s not cheap, but you will have amazing experts sharing this continent with you and will get daily excursions to get up close to glaciers and animals like you won’t on other ships.

National Geographic explains, “One day, you may take Zodiacs out to see towering icebergs at close range, walk a beach covered with seals and penguins, or hike to a summit for a breathtaking view. The next, you may kayak amid glittering brash ice or along a cliffside rookery in search of blue-eyed shags. And the next, you might experience the thrill of the ship crunching through the pack ice”

Pros – Except for your flight there, everything is included from transfers to food, excursions in Antarctica to alcoholic beverages and gratuities on board. You will really focus on the reason you choose Antarctica and will see and experience wildlife in an up-close, personal way.

Cons – Expensive. You will only see Antarctica as it does not stop in other ports along the way. The ship is smaller and not really dedicated to entertainment, so no trivia, pool, nightly shows, kids clubs, etc.

zodiac boat with tourists landing to see the king penguins in Antarctica
zodiac boat with tourists landing to see the king penguins in Antarctica

Small Ship Antarctica Cruise

Join a small ship expedition like Viking Cruises (adult only), Hurtigruten, Kensington Tours, Poseidon, Quark Expeiditions, Adventure Life, and more. These small cruise ships, like National Geographic, focus pretty much extensively on Antarctica. You are not going to get a lot of other ports (but you can always do South America for a different vacation). Instead, you will see Antarctica much more in depth. Each of these trip, at about 12 days in length, will cost at least $10k per person.  The ships are smaller without lots of bells and whistles (think childcare / entertainment), but you will have daily excursions ON and around Antarctica in a more personal way that the major cruiseships just can’t do.  While the itinerary still includes time to cross the drake passage, all of these itineraries include 3-6 days IN Antarctica.

If you are looking to just zero in on Antarctica and can afford to pay $10k+ per person, I think this is a fabulous way to go. I would look at this as perfect for adult who aren’t bringing their young kids and are healthy enough to endure the cold, harsher climate for longer.

girl enjoying the stunning snowy view of Antarctica from inside major cruise ship large window

Major Cruiseline Antarctica Cruise

With the age of our kids, limited PTO, and finances – this is the route we took. You will get a chance to see Antarctica for 1-4 days, plus see other locations in South America, and still enjoy a cruise ship experience with nightly shows, children’s programming, onboard pools/hot tubs, etc.

The itinerary tends to require smaller ships so the oldest/smaller ships of the fleet tend to do these trips. So although it is still technically Royal Carribean, don’t expect the newest ships or even ships with all the fancy upgrades.  Because these ships do lots of itineraries and only pop down, they only have 1-4 Antarctica sailings a year. So you have more limitations as far as sail dates – typically late December, January, and possibly February.

major cruiseline sailing through Antarctica with elephant island in the background at sunset
Norweigan Star sailing through Antarctica with Elephant Island in the background at sunset (March 2024)

In addition the larger cruiselines tend to do at least 14 days for this trip, which is longer than the shortest small cruise itinerary. I think to make it worth the trip they just take longer and see more – South America. Personally that was a plus for me. If I am going to spend the money on an airplane ticket to fly down here, I want to make it worth my while. I LOVE that we got to see Antarctica AND South America in one vacation.

Price is a huge differentiating factor for how you choose to see Antarctica. The Major Cruiselines offer fairs up to 90% less than the small ship companies.  You will see right off the bat the price is about 75% less, even though it is a longer cruise with more on-ship offerings. Then add discounts or promotions and my family of 8, in 2 staterooms, paid less than $4000 for a room for 4! That is $1000 per person for a 14 day trip, about $71 per person per day. And that includes moving hotel accomidations, food, entertainment, onboard lectures, childcare, etc.

a group of penguins on a mission in antarctica

Major crusielines that offer this trip include:

  • Celebrity – 14 day, starting at $2000 per person, 4 days in Antarctica, typical ports below including Chilean Fjords
  • Holland America – 22 day minimum, starting at $3000 per person, 4 days in Antarctica, typical ports below including Chilean Fjords
  • Norweigan – 14 day,  only 1-2 days in Antarctica, most of typical ports, starting at $1600, but can be less if you find deals like Kids Sale Free**
  • Royal Carribean – 1 sailing a year is offered as part of their world cruise, $1600 or less if you find deals like Kids Sale Free, 2025 dates have not been announced yet
  • Princess – 17 day, starting at $1600 with some deals for 3rd/4th passenger, 4 days in Antarctica, typical ports below

**You will notice Norweigan does the fewest days in Antarctica, plus you saw the article above. I would NOT sail on Norweigan if you are going to Antarctica.

major cruiseline Antarctica cruise itinerary
Typical Itinerary for Antarctica Cruise with major cruiseline

 In addition to Antarctica most of these cruises also stop in these ports: (Click on each port below to read more about that location)

The biggest difference is on these cruises you will sail around the coast of Antarctica, but you will not take any excurions off the boat in Antarctica. You will see amazing sights stuch as glaciers, icebergs, whales, penguins, seals – but you will not get on any smaller rafts to get up close or join any landing parties to Antarctica. That may not be a deal breaker for you, it wasn’t for us. But you should know that is one of the biggest differences.

sunset in antarctica from cruise ship

antarctica vacation

So as you can see there are several options for your Antarctica cruise. Figure out your budget and that will narrow it down dramatically. Then research the ports and specific carriers to determine the best Antarctica cruise for YOU!

We have lots of ideas to help you plan the best vacation. Whether you are looking for family travel destinations, lots of disney trip planning information, best family cruise tips, best beach vacations for families, great travel tips, handy travel guides for cities from A-Z, or general help as you plan a family vacation. I’ve traveled to all 7 continents, all 50 states, over 52 countries and more with my large family of 8 and I can help you!

Ready for the best trip you'll ever take? Enjoy amazing scenery and wildlife on a vacation to Antarctica! Tons of tips from our family of 8!

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