Expedition cruises have skyrocketed in popularity and interest in Antarctica sailings has never been higher. This must-visit destination attracts numerous world travelers seeking epic lifetime experiences, avid photographers and adventure-seekers, and those on a mission to check off their seventh continent.
The White Continent is a magical destination filled with snow-covered mountains, brilliant electric-blue icebergs, amazing wildlife, and otherworldly landscapes. It’s a place of extreme contrasts and quiet, haunting beauty. In addition to the extraordinary wildlife encounters and immersive experiences, Antarctica’s untamed majesty and indescribable stillness are what I remember most.
Recently, our TravelAwaits readers voted for their favorite Antarctica expedition cruises in this year’s Best Of Travel Awards. Here are their top choices to inform and inspire you when planning your unforgettable trip to Antarctica.
1. Hurtigruten Expeditions (Winner)
Norway-based Hurtigruten Expeditions is celebrating 130 years of voyaging in polar waters. The company has been sailing to Antarctica for over 2 decades and is one of the destination’s most experienced operators. Hurtigruten’s Antarctica expedition voyages top bucket lists for our TravelAwaits readers and other travelers with more than an 800 percent increase in Antarctica bookings over the last 10 years.
Hurtigruten Expeditions operates multiple ships in Antarctica, accommodating 318–530 guests. The company’s wide variety of Antarctica itineraries ranges from 12–23 days in length, enabling explorers to become fully immersed in Antarctica’s icy splendor. As a green energy leader, the ships reflect Hurtigruten’s core commitment to highly sustainable expedition travel. Ships feature exceptional onboard expedition teams, well-equipped science centers, expansive observation decks, spacious staterooms and suites with balconies, restaurants, an explorer lounge and bar, a fitness room, saunas, and hot tubs.
Guests on Hurtigruten’s Antarctica expeditions can participate in many enriching, immersive experiences. Dr. Verena Meraldi, the cruise industry’s only on-staff chief scientist, oversees Hurtigruten Expeditions’ superb Citizen Science Program. You can take part in a variety of hands-on research projects that complement the extensive array of lectures and demonstrations on Hurtigruten’s Antarctica voyages. Additional memorable activities include land and sea adventures such as camping in Antarctica, opportunities for a polar plunge, sea kayaking and Zodiac excursions through Antarctica’s crystal-clear waters, and hiking and snowshoeing treks to rarely visited areas with awe-inspiring views.
2. Adventure Canada
Adventure Canada operates small-ship expedition cruises to some of the world’s most remote places. The adventure cruise line offers two voyages to Antarctica in February aboard Ocean Endeavour — Adventure Canada’s ice-strengthened vessel with a capacity of 198 guests. The ship is equipped with 20 Zodiacs, advanced navigation equipment, restaurant facilities, and an onboard gym, sauna, spa, pool deck with a hot tub, and other amenities.
Adventure Canada is known for its spirit of exploration and learning, outstanding leaders and experiences, and support for arts, sciences, and scholarship. On Adventure Canada’s Antarctica expedition voyages, guests are accompanied by superb expert leaders and guides who share their knowledge and skills through presentations, programming, and interpretive discussions throughout the journey. Antarctica cruises include ample opportunities for wildlife and polar landscape viewing from the Ocean Endeavour via Zodiac cruises and on guided landings.
The company’s “Journey to the Antarctic Circle” voyage takes guests on a journey of exploration through the Drake Passage, the Shetland Islands, and into Antarctica’s deeper polar areas. This Adventure Canada expedition attempts to cross the fabled Antarctic Circle. Adventure Canada’s “Best of Antarctica: Whale Journey” occurs during peak whale migration season. On this expedition, guests can take part in a whale-related Citizen Science project and view the various Antarctic whale species and wildlife that call this pristine region home for at least part of the year.
3. Lindblad Expeditions
Over 50 years ago, pioneer Lars-Eric Lindblad led the first band of “citizen” explorers to Antarctica. Since then, Lindblad Expeditions has brought many adventurers to the White Continent, sharing its exceptional experience and deep institutional knowledge of the region. Lindblad Expeditions’ partnership with National Geographic adds even more enriching benefits for its guests.
Lindblad Expeditions sails an array of 14- to 35-day Antarctica itineraries on three ships accommodating just 138–148 guests. The line’s fully stabilized expedition ships of the highest ice class offer luxuriously appointed interiors, fully equipped staterooms, numerous observation areas, and a number of unique elements. The National Geographic Endurance and National Geographic Resolution feature a game-changing patented bow design that provides outstanding stability in all types of conditions — which can be highly valued when sailing through the infamous Drake Passage. Guests on both ships can also soak up Antarctica’s icy splendor in an infinity-edged hot tub, followed by a night of stargazing under the polar sky in a geodesic glass igloo.
Each Antarctica sailing includes a highly seasoned expedition leader, top-notch naturalists, undersea specialists, National Geographic photographers, and other experts. You can enjoy outstanding presentations and participate in an extensive array of immersive experiences including enriching Citizen Science programs, kayaking, hiking, exploring Antarctica’s undersea world with a remotely operated vehicle and underwater specialist, and cross-country skiing or snowshoeing at certain times. Select departures also provide exciting activities for kids and teens through Lindblad’s Global Explorers Program.
4. Viking Cruises
Viking offers enrichment-oriented Antarctica expedition voyages on its two purpose-built polar-class expedition ships, Viking Octantis and Viking Polaris. Both ships accommodate 378 guests and feature extensive expedition equipment, including two submarines for underwater exploration, Zodiacs, and an industry-first hangar for easy Special Operations Boat embarkation and debarkation inside the ship. On Viking’s Antarctica cruises, guests can enjoy landings and scenic sailings around the Antarctic Peninsula while discovering the world’s most remote wild frontier.
Those who have sailed with Viking will recognize some of the Scandinavian design features and amenities on the line’s expedition ships. In a first for polar expedition vessels, all staterooms feature a Nordic balcony — a large floor-to-ceiling window that opens from the top. Viking’s expedition ships also offer a variety of dining choices, the Nordic Spa, an extensively equipped science lab, an expedition central hub for expedition team meetings, and a stunning panoramic auditorium. Guests will enjoy the many indoor and outdoor viewing areas on Viking Octantis and Viking Polaris.
Viking has partnered with leading academic institutions to create an exceptional scientific enrichment environment on their expedition ships. You can join visiting researchers and Viking’s Expedition Team in hands-on scientific work and participate in shore excursions and world-class lectures. Other activities include guided kayaking experiences, scenic Zodiac or Special Operations Boat cruises, snowshoeing under certain conditions, and landings to observe seals, penguins, and other wildlife.
5. Abercrombie & Kent Luxury Expedition Cruises
Premier luxury tour operator Abercrombie & Kent (A&K) launched its first Antarctica expedition in 1991. The company’s more than 30 years of experience is clearly displayed in its exceptional all-inclusive luxury Antarctica expedition cruises for discerning travelers wishing to explore the remote White Continent. A&K is highly committed to protecting Antarctica’s wildlife and fragile ecosystem, employing cutting-edge technology and supporting non-profit organizations through A&K Philanthropy.
On Abercrombie & Kent’s Antarctica expeditions accommodating just 199 guests, travelers enjoy the luxury of an all-inclusive, small-group experience. The company charters the stylish Le Lyrial — one of Ponant’s finest ice-class expedition ships — for its Antarctica voyages. The intimate guest size means there are no significant constraints on the number of landings in Antarctica, which average twice daily. On the amenity-rich Le Lyrial, all luxurious staterooms feature private balconies and butler services are provided with every suite. A&K’s Antarctica voyages include a pre-cruise hotel stay and excursion, complimentary polar gear for Antarctica expeditions, immersive enrichment programs, Zodiac excursions, a French-inspired culinary program, 24-hour room service, gratuities, free Wi-Fi, and more.
A&K’s outstanding polar expedition teams provide enriching lectures, guidance, and insightful commentary on board and ashore. A&K’s hand-selected teams include research scientists, conservationists, naturalists, historians, wildlife photographers, and highly credentialed polar experts. Families and multigenerational groups will also appreciate A&K’s Young Explorers Program, offering younger guests a wealth of fun, adventurous, and learning opportunities throughout their voyage.
6. Atlas Ocean Voyages
Atlas Ocean Voyages offers an extensive array of all-inclusive voyages to Antarctica on their sleek, ice-class luxury expedition yachts. Itineraries range from shorter Antarctica expeditions and 9- to 11-night round-trip voyages to deep polar immersions of 13 nights or more. The line’s new “Fly & Sail” expeditions include private charter flights to Antarctica’s King George Island, enabling travelers to skip the Drake Channel ship crossing. Atlas Ocean Voyages’ vessels carry less than 200 guests and feature numerous dining options, 98 elegant suites, solo suites without any single supplements, and comfortable staterooms.
On Atlas Ocean Voyages, you’ll find a highly inclusive approach to luxury expedition cruising. Antarctica fares include complimentary air transportation via a private charter jet, pre-cruise hotel stays, unlimited beverages, dining venues with a wide variety of menu choices, ship-wide Wi-Fi, gratuities, emergency medical evacuation insurance, and additional amenities. Guests will also enjoy numerous enrichment lectures and destination briefings by the highly experienced expedition team.
Viewing Antarctica’s surreal snow-filled landscapes is always a high priority on voyages to the White Continent. Atlas Ocean Voyages’ ships feature The Water’s Edge Lookout — the industry’s closest-to-the-waterline observation bow area with heated seating perfect for spending time outdoors. Antarctica expeditions include up to two daily Zodiac outings, where guests can observe graceful humpback whales, wildlife seemingly oblivious to your presence, and adorable penguins tobogganing down snowy hillsides. The ships’ nearly 1:1 guest-to-staff ratio helps to ensure a personalized experience on your Antarctica journey.
Read more from our 2023 Best Of Travel Awards.