Antarctica, the Falkland Islands and South Georgia provide exceptional experiences for all who visit. We’ve selected the best Antarctic Cruise ships to deliver you to these wondrous wilderness areas, organised into four categories: Expedition, Expedition-Luxury, Luxury, and Fly Cruise.
WHILE DIFFERENT SIZES, ALL SHIPS HAVE KEY CHARACTERISTICS IN COMMON:
All the Antarctic cruise ships and their operators are well known by us and we know they will safely deliver a high quality operation. For the safety of guests, crew and the environment, all vessels have two engines (or in the case of Ocean Nova an auxiliary engine that can bring the ship back to port).
All ships are IAATO members (as is the Antarctica Travel Centre). All operate with a high ratio of crew to guests.
These luxurious Antarctic cruise ships combine more traditional-style cruising with an Antarctic adventure. They offer large, very comfortable cabins with en-suite facilities; many suites have private balconies.
Excellent cuisine options are available on board. Zodiac dinghies and an expedition team enable you to explore the Antarctic Peninsula and come home to an exquisite ship.
A luxury ship puts greater emphasis on the on-board experience. Onboard the bigger luxury vessels there are limitations on the number of landing made as at most sites the limit of people ashore is 100.
As the name suggests these Antarctic cruise ships are a hybrid of an Expedition Ship and a Luxury Ship. Some are small ships with close to 100 guests and can offer two landings a day and focus on maximising opportunities for exploring as on an expedition vessel but with the added comfort of having larger, more comfortable cabins and common areas. Those with up to 200 guests generally offer one off ship excursion a day (largely due to time factors associated with the 100 passenger ashore limit) and still have an adventurous soul. Generally cabins are larger or perhaps the ship is newer than an Expedition ship. Meals are a mix of buffet and served courses and the cuisine is of a very high standard.
Generally Antarctica cruise ships that are expedition style have a greater emphasis on maximising time off the vessel or out on deck than on a larger more ‘luxury’ ship. This is helped by having fewer than 100 guests, hence all guests can go ashore at the same time. On most days an Expedition ship will offer two off ship excursions. The expedition team works closely with the ship’s captain and crew to deliver a high level of service and a flexible approach which means they can react to local circumstances; like a group of feeding whales, if possible they will stop and launch the zodiacs. The cabins are comfortable, the food of a very high standard.
An expedition client is someone who wants to maximise their opportunities to get off the ship and learn. Guests onboard are of all ages however you will be physically able to climb some relatively steep stairs and get in and out of a Zodiac.
Fly-Cruise voyages afford two major objectives; they avoid lengthy sea crossings and dependent upon operator can also realise more time in Antarctica, the Falkland Island or South Georgia than a ship that cruises all the way. A flight takes you from Punta Arenas in Chile to King George Island (the largest of the South Shetland Islands, close to the Antarctic Peninsula) or to Mount Pleasant on the Falkland Islands where you board your ship. For Antarctic Peninsula only voyages the flight also affords a visit to Antarctica in a shorter period of time.
Here we have the ships that offer flights in both directions, to and from King George Island. Some ships choose to fly one way and cruise across the Drake Passage the other.
The BAE-146 aircraft was manufactured in the United Kingdom by British Aerospace (which later became part of BAE Systems). It is a high-wing aircraft with very short runway requirements, which makes it particularly suited for landing and take-off in Antarctica. The aircraft is expertly operated by Aerovías DAP, which has more than 20 years of experience flying in Patagonia and Antarctica.
The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) regulates the frequency and number of guests visiting all sites. No more than 100 guests can land at the same site at the same time. If you choose a ship with less than, or close to, 100 guests all guests will be able to go ashore the same time.
Ships with up to 130 guests will often have kayakers (not going ashore) which means the remaining clients can all land.
If your chosen Antarctic cruise ship has up to 200 guests wishing to go ashore at the same site, some guests will have to wait. On the Antarctic Peninsula it is sometimes possible (but not always) to position the ship close to two sites, allowing half the passengers to visit one site and half at the other. It is fair to say that sometimes this will not be possible and there is a strong likelihood that these vessels will visit fewer sites (than those with fewer than 100 guests) – as a result of taking longer to allow all clients to go ashore.
Whilst only 100 guests can go ashore at the one time, ships with under 200 guests can still visit most sites on the Antarctic Peninsula. Zodiac cruises are often offered whilst waiting for the first 100 clients to finish their time ashore.
Ships with over 200 guests and less than 500 can visit a very limited number of sites. Given the number of clients it will also take more time to get everyone off the ship.
Ships with over 500 guests are not allowed to have excursions ashore from the ship – they are ‘Cruise Only’.
We are proud to be Associate Members of IAATO.
IAATO is a member organization founded in 1991 to advocate and promote the practice of safe and environmentally responsible private-sector travel to the Antarctic.
Currently, more than 100 Antarctica-bound outfitters are voluntary members of our organization, the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO). Together we have established extensive procedures and guidelines that ensure appropriate, safe and environmentally sound private-sector travel to the Antarctic: regulations and restrictions on numbers of people ashore; staff-to-passenger ratios; site-specific and activity guidelines; wildlife watching; pre- and post-visit activity reporting; passenger, crew and staff briefings; previous Antarctic experience for tour staff; contingency and emergency medical evacuation plans; and more.
IAATO is an industry group that has resolved to set the highest possible tourism operating standards in its effort to protect Antarctica. This effort is unique, and the challenge to maintain environmentally responsible tourism exists to this extent in no other region of the world. Our membership comprises ship operators, land-based operators, ship agents, travel agents, one government office and travel companies that charter ships and airplanes from existing operators.
Zodiac excursions can be used either for a cruise or a shore landing; throughout the course of your Antarctic expedition, you’ll have the chance to visit historic huts used by the explorers of old, scientific research bases and whaling sites – all of which is made possible thanks to our sturdy Zodiacs. Zodiac cruises will enable you to explore icebergs, get up-close with whales or seals hauled out on the ice. On ships with over 100 guests Zodiac cruises are often offered whilst other clients are ashore.
Immerse yourself in the incredible scenery of Antarctica on-board a kayak. Cruise past ice formations and see wildlife swim past as you glide along. You will be in groups of up to 12 with an experienced kayak guide who will take you to interesting locations, many that can only able to be reached by kayaks.