All cruises to Antarctica begin the same -- crossing Drake Passage -- but expedition cruising differs dramatically from large-ship cruising once you arrive in Antarctica.
Expedition ships carry anywhere from 80 to 350 passengers and cruise the secluded bays and inlets of the Antarctic Peninsula that larger ships cannot access, providing an up-close and personal view of the continent. From the ship, expedition cruisers will see endless glaciers reaching out to sea, icebergs of innumerable size, shape and color, and possibly orcas or whales breaching or spy-hopping, the curious behavior where cetaceans raise their heads above water to look around.
During each day in Antarctica, and in most weather conditions, expedition cruisers will travel among icebergs and ice floes in motorized, inflatable rafts called Zodiacs, marveling at penguins that seem to fly through the water, photographing lounging seals, gazing at remarkable ice forms sculpted by the sea, and much more.
Only expedition cruisers get the thrilling experience of exploring onshore, which usually begins with a "wet landing" where guests slide off the front of their Zodiac into ankle-deep water. On the rugged coastline of the Antarctic Peninsula and on its islands, expect to see rookeries with hundreds and sometimes thousands of penguins of various species, seals, interesting seabirds, abandoned whaling stations, collapsed volcanoes, hot springs and postcard vistas. Some itineraries even offer the most adventurous an opportunity to swim in freezing Antarctic waters!
Only an expedition cruise gives you the chance to see a broad range of iconic Antarctic marine and bird life, often at arm's length. Much like animals in the Galapagos, the seals, penguins and birds of Antarctica are largely unafraid of humans, enabling expedition cruisers to take astounding photographs others would only dream of.
Excursions are led by naturalists who are experts on Antarctica and typically lecture onboard about marine biology, geology, ornithology, glaciology, history and photography. Guests get ample time to visit and even dine with these unique individuals.
Accommodations and amenities onboard these vessels are more limited than traditional cruise ships, with the exception of Silversea's Prince Albert II and Orion Expedition's Orion, which offer additional amenities and services.
Weather in Antarctica is unpredictable, so expedition cruisers must be prepared for cold temperatures, rain, sleet, snow and wind. Foul-weather gear like wind- and waterproof pants, a heavy jacket, base layers, a hat and gloves are a necessity.
If you are looking for the complete Antarctic experience and want to better understand the adventures of early explorers like Roald Amundsen and Ernest Shackleton, expedition cruising is for you.
To see dates and prices for all expedition cruises visiting Antarctica, click