PLANNING YOUR ANTARCTICA EXPEDITION
Antarctic Cruises operate in the summer months of November through March. This is the best time to visit, when the temperatures are at their mildest and the daylight hours long. This is also the breeding season for much of the local wildlife and there are different highlights as the season progresses.
NOVEMBER and EARLY DECEMBER
As the Continent warms the winter pack ice begins to melt and break up, creating ever-changing landscapes of pristine ice and iceberg sculptures. The breeding season begins, whole colonies of penguins and seabirds are courting and pinching the rocks from each other’s nests. Elephant and fur seals are feisty on shore and establishing their territories.
MID DECEMBER THROUGH JANUARY
Activity In the colonies is at its highest at this time of year, Antarctic chicks are hatching, the temperatures are warm and the sun is still up at midnight. As the Antarctic summer progresses whales are sighted regularly and as the ice breaks up, more opportunities for exploration arise.
FEBRUARY and MARCH
By late season, whale sightings are at their peak. Having had their fill of food for the summer, curiosity takes over and they can often be seen popping up right next to zodiacs! The penguin chicks have grown in strength and are beginning to fledge, the light can be stunning at this time of year, particularly as the sun rises and sets.
HOW TO GET THERE
Most cruises depart from Ushuaia, the southernmost tip of Argentina. Flights to Ushuaia route through Buenos Aires, a great spot to stop and explore for a few nights. Cruises also operate from Punta Arenas in Southern Chile, these typically include flights to and from King George Island in Antarctica or the Falkland Islands. Punta Arenas is one of the main airports serving the Patagonian region and these itineraries provide a great opportunity to extend your trip into spectacular Torres del Paine National Park.
WHICH SHIP IS RIGHT FOR YOU
Arguably even more important than what time of year you travel is which ship you choose to travel on. Like it or not size does matter; it is the most important factor when choosing a cruise. Size determines, price, itinerary, comfort and luxuries, time on shore and excursions to this remote destination.
Only vessels with less than 500 passengers are permitted to land their passengers ashore with only 100 passengers being allowed onshore at any given time. Ships that carry under 100 passengers are able to off-board all passengers on the ice at any one time however these ships are expedition ships that offer very basic facilities and comfort. The ideal ship size to balance a higher level of comfort with onshore accessibility are those that carry between 100 - 300 passengers. Ships such as Le Boreal and Le Lyrial offer incredible onshore experiences, with a relatively small passenger size providing a higher level of comfort and luxury and a better overall cruising experience. These ships are also more stable and handle the rough seas of the Drake Passage with greater ease.
For those keen to avoid sailing the Drake Passage in one or both directions Fly Cruises are available with Departures from Punta Arenas in Southern Chile. These are an excellent choice for those with limited time or concerns about sailing the open seas/sea sickness.
CHOOSING YOUR ITINERARY
The most popular cruises are those to the Antarctic Peninsula. These classic routes are typically 10-13 days long and often include a stop in the Shetland Islands; the longer routes reach as far south as the Polar Circle.
The Antarctic Peninsula is also where the Air Cruises operate to and from, utilising the landing strip on King George Island, these Fly Cruises allow travellers to see the Peninsula in a shorter time period.
ANTARCTIC PENINSULA, SOUTH GEORGIA and THE FALKLANDS
For those with more time, we highly recommend cruises, which extend to South Georgia and the Falkland Islands. These cruises are typically 18-23 days long but provide the opportunity to wander amongst the King penguins in their hundreds of thousands on South Georgia, and visit the magnificent albatross colonies of the Falkland Islands. The wildlife opportunities on these voyages are absolutely unrivalled – think Happy Feet and you will be getting close!
BEYOND ANTARCTICA and THE WEDDELL SEA
A select few of the Antarctic Peninsula and longer voyages also visit the remote Weddell sea to the east of the Antarctic Peninsula. These expeditions hope to encounter the more elusive and largest of all, the mighty emperor penguins, which can be seen on ice floes throughout this region.
WHEN TO BOOK
Many Antarctic Cruises fill up 12 months in advance, particularly those over the Christmas and New Year Period with preferential cabin categories booking out sooner.
If you’re thinking of travelling to Antarctica in the 2018-19 seasons now is the time to start planning your voyage. We can assist with all of your cruise and land arrangements within South America and book your flights once seating is released.
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