Home to amazing wildlife and majestic landscapes of towering snow and ice, Antarctica is a winter wonderland that few have the privilege to experience. There are two ways to explore Antarctica -- on a ship that sails the region and offers amazing vistas but doesn't offer shore landings, or on a vessel that also takes guests ashore via small boats where expert guides lead excursions on foot.
On a ship that cruises Antarctica only with no shore landings, you'll spend time sightseeing from the comfort of your cruise ship, equipped with binoculars and a cup of hot chocolate. From your private balcony or out on deck, you can enjoy the sights of the Antarctic Sound -- Hope Bay, Paulet and Elephant islands -- or watch for signs of wildlife on the shores of the South Shetland Islands. You might cruise around Deception Island for great views of the island's crater or observe nesting penguins frolicking on black-sand beaches. Some itineraries will visit the Wilhelm Archipelago, which is an ideal spot for viewing rookeries of gentoo and Adelie penguins. Anvers Island is home to Palmer Station and its team of scientists, who have been known to go aboard cruise ships to greet passengers and share their findings. If you're lucky, you might also see a whale gliding through the water or an albatross gracefully soaring across the sky before your Antarctic journey ends.
On ships that features shore landings, you'll depart the vessel in a small boat, or Zodiac, and head for shore to explore with a member of the ship's expedition team. See spectacular iceberg sculptures up close, wander near rookeries of gentoo penguins or catch a glimpse of a Weddell seal sunbathing. Other activities include a stop in Port Lockroy, where you can mail a postcard from Antarctica's only post office, or a visit to one of the region's research stations to grasp what life is like on the White Continent. Back on board, you can attend fascinating lectures on the history, wildlife and geology of the region.
Some cruises that operate landings on the Antarctic Peninsula also visit South Georgia Island, which is part of a British overseas territory. Nature enthusiasts will find astounding wildlife viewing opportunities, as king penguins, macaroni penguins, fur seals and other creatures thrive on the island, while numerous whale species might be seen nearby. This is also where Sir Ernest Shackleton sought help to rescue his crew stranded on Elephant Island in 1916 after a hapless attempt to cross Antarctica by land. Visitors can see the grave of Shackleton, who died here during a later expedition in 1922.
Regardless of your cruising style, a number of itineraries will stop at Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands, where colorful cottage-lined streets and traditional pubs bring life to this tiny community. Consider touring the city's 19th-century Anglican Cathedral, which boasts a unique arch constructed from the jaws of two blue whales, or visit the Bluff Cove Penguin Rookery for an up-close look at penguins.