Antarctic Cruises – When and What

Deciding on an Antarctic cruise is a difficult task, there are a lot of considerations as to which company to choose and which itinerary is best, after all these are expensive trips and it’s important to make the right decision.

‘When and What’ Will cover such things as when’s the best time to go, what kinds of ships are available, what’s the temperature likely to be, as well as covering some of the basic background information on what you can expect of an Antarctic cruise.

One and a half times larger than the USA and twice the size of Australia, the Antarctic is one of the most amazing places on the planet, it’s the driest, coldest, windiest, iciest desert in the world and yet so many of us want to go there.  In fact today around 30,000 people a year visit the continent by ship, the majority never actually stepping foot on the land itself.

There are in the region of 20 ships that cruise the waters of Antarctica the smallest carrying 45 passengers and the largest 280, their itineraries vary and last between one week and one month.  Sailings usually take place between November and March, the Antarctic summer and concentrate on the coastal zones of the peninsula that are ice free, this is also the time of most daylight and the highest temperatures which range from -6°C to +10°C (20°F to 50°F).

Most of us with a general interest in the area would probably travel anytime during the season and each month holds something different, but if there is something that you are particularly interested in seeing here’s a brief idea of what happens and when.

November to early December

  • Giant Icebergs starting to break up
  • Elephant and Fur Seals coming together for the breeding season
  • Courting season for seabirds and penguins

Mid December to January

  • Antarctic chicks hatch
  • Possibility to explore further in as the pack ice has melted
  • More daylight hours, good for photography

February and March

  • Best time for sighting whales
  • Greater number of fur seals
  • Penguin chicks start to fledge

There are two types of ship which are used in the area, the first and most common are the ice strengthened ships, as the name suggests these ships are adapted for the conditions, the other option are the icebreaker ships.  These ships have extra thick hulls and so are capable of going further into the continent, they are also equipped with onboard helicopters and both types of vessels carry zodiacs for going ashore. On board you can expect well informed staff and guides who give daily lectures on all aspects of the continent and during the evening there will be time so socialise with your fellow passengers and crew in the bar.

An important consideration when deciding on a cruise is to check whether the operator and ship are a member of IAATO (International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators).   Members of the organisation agree to rules which help preserve the delicate environment, one of the guidelines to reduce impact is to agree to land a maximum of 100 passengers at any one time in any one place.  This will mean that if you are in a ship with over 100 other guests you won’t be getting off every day, better to choose a ship with less than 100 guests if that’s what you want to do.

This is by no means a comprehensive answer to all the questions you will be asking yourself but maybe it’s a start.  One of the next decisions will be where do I cruise from and which places will I visit, more about that in the two articles in the series Antarctic Cruises from Australia & New Zealand and Antarctic Cruises from South America.

Related posts:

  1. Antarctic Cruises from South America
  2. Antarctic Cruises from Australia and New Zealand
  3. G.A.P Adventures : Eco-tourism Cruising

Comments are closed.