Stories & Inspiration

Swoop’s 2023/24 Antarctic season in review

At Swoop, we like to think that no one knows Antarctica better than us. Every year, we send more team members to the Antarctic than any other polar travel agency to keep our knowledge of the White Continent and the polar cruise fleet as sharp as it can be. 

In the 2023/24 season that’s just finished, we sent nearly 1500 travellers to Antarctica, but we also sent a record 21 of our Antarctic specialists south as well. They sailed on 12 different cruise ships and collectively logged more than 900 hours sailing across the Drake Passage, plus a few more in the air flying to Antarctica as well. We do this so that we can offer our clients the best expert knowledge to find exactly the right trip for them.

The Swoop team in Antarctica throughout the 2023/24 season

But what were our Swoopers’ personal highlights of their trips? We asked each one to pick out the one moment that stood out about their trip to the end of the earth.

Pristine snow, polar plunges & penguins

Lauren’s fresh penguin highways in the snow

“Few things for me are as exciting as Antarctica at the start of spring, when it’s at its freshest and whitest and the continent feels reborn and open to the world again. Every footstep I took in the snow felt like the first one I ever made. The penguin highways were crisp, and even the expedition team were playful in their excitement, having waited months to return with the promise of the new season to come.” 

Lauren sailed on our Antarctic Peninsula Explorer cruise, sailing on Sylvia Earle

“The day we visited Damoy Point I woke up to bright sunshine and a view of porpoising penguins from my bed. All morning there were hundreds and hundreds of penguins darting across the bay, all returning to their nesting sites. They skimmed around our zodiacs like an honour guard as we headed towards the shore ourselves. What better way to arrive for a landing in Antarctica?”

Heather was on our Antarctic Peninsula Explorer trip, sailing on Sylvia Earle

Polar plunge in Antarctica
Helen’s polar plunge

“I’m a keen river swimmer at home, so my highlight was always going to be the polar plunge. As I jumped in, time played a surreal trick on me: slowing down as I made the leap, then accelerating to a hundred miles an hour when I hit the water. It was the coldest water I’ve ever encountered by far – but the celebrations of us plungers in the lounge that night definitely raised the temperature!”

Helen sailed on our Antarctic Peninsula Explorer trip on board Sylvia Earle

“Sometimes the seemingly simplest things in Antarctica can be the best. You can see so many penguins that you almost start taking them for granted, then you pinch yourself to remember where you are and look again with fresh eyes. A troop of gentoo penguins standing on the top of an iceberg and then waddling down to dive into the sea? What could be finer? They’re the original polar plungers.”

Otto sailed on World Explorer on our Antarctic Explorer Refined cruise.

Helicopters & emperors

“This season I got to view a new perspective on Antarctica from above with some helicopter flightseeing, to discover how amazing it is from the air. From the crevasses in glaciers pouring down from the mountains and supersized snow sculptures carved by the wind to great sheets of pack ice on the sea, I saw a face of Antarctica I had only ever seen in documentaries – and it blew me away.”

Nardus sailed on Ultramarine for our Emperor Penguin Expedition in Style trip

Emperor penguin chick with parents
Daniel’s emperor penguins at Snow Hill

“Getting to see emperor penguins in their frozen heartland was a truly extraordinary experience. Standing on a great expanse of sea ice littered with icebergs captured by its grip was amazing enough, but to be faced with hundreds of these majestic creatures with their fluffy grey chicks was overwhelmingly powerful. For many of our group it was the culmination of a long-held dream – there were plenty of happy tears.”

Daniel was on our Emperor Penguin Expedition in Style cruise, sailing on Ultramarine

Camping, climbing & inner calm

“Camping was the most magical way to experience the complete serenity that Antarctica has to offer. I dug my snow hole and then lay awake for hours listening to the water against the icebergs and the occasional calving of ice from the glaciers nearby. I felt like I was the only person on the planet, with Antarctica making me feel small and insignificant in the best way possible.”

Maddi joined our Antarctic Basecamp Adventure on board Hondius.

Ian tackles Spigot Peak

“I got to try mountaineering on Spigot Peak in Orne Harbour and Javid Peak at Damoy Point. As a volunteer member of a mountain rescue team at home, it was pure joy to get out of a zodiac and start climbing. Being part of a small group in such a vast landscape was incredible – I could really feel the remote desolation of the White Continent properly.”

Ian sailed on Hondius for our Antarctic Basecamp Adventure

“One night when I woke up I decided to get dressed and see what Antarctica looked like in the dead of night. The fog was dense but the visibility was OK and the sea was a serene dark blue dotted with bright white ice. There was snow falling and everything was so peaceful that I could hear penguins calling in the far distance. All alone, I spent a silent minute that never ended and has stayed with me ever since.”

Stefano joined our Original Fly & Cruise Luxury Adventure on Magellan Explorer.

Ben’s moody Lemaire Channel

“I got to discover why the Lemaire Channel is one of the most beautiful places in Antarctica. This narrow stretch of water is flanked by enormous mountains on each side, and low clouds gave it a moody and slightly forbidding atmosphere when we first sailed through. What must the first explorers have thought? On the return journey, the clouds lifted – revealing the magnificent beauty of the channel in all its glory.”

Ben sailed on Ocean Nova for our Original Fly & Cruise Expedition Cruise

Submarines & citizen science

“I was in the first group for a continental landing at Neko Harbour and got to spend a delightful hour watching all the activity in the penguin rookeries, and the birds coming and going along the penguin highways. When we returned to the ship, we were treated to amazing views from the bow of a passing humpback whale – topped off by the sight of an immense iceberg flipping.”

Emma sailed on our Elegant Antarctic Peninsula cruise on board Seabourn Venture.

Sharon’s mini-submarine

“I dove through a glitterball of krill! My ship had two mini-submarines that showed us a whole new side of Antarctica. During our excursion we passed through a giant swarm of krill, lit up by the submarine’s lights. Everything in Antarctica seems to eat krill from penguins to whales, but few people ever get to see them. And who would have thought that such tiny creatures could be so exciting, or light up like a marine disco?”

Sharon was on board Seabourn Venture on our Elegant Antarctic Peninsula cruise. 

“My first excursion at Cuverville Island was a highlight as I was lucky enough to be on the first citizen science zodiac of the voyage and we were conducting research on phytoplankton for scientists who had listed the landing as an area of importance. Having the chance to do this felt like a real privilege – not just appreciating the stunning scenery around us but also contributing to scientific research in the area.”

Rebecca sailed on Seaventure for our Antarctic Peninsula Classic cruise.

Kate’s leopard seal

“A lifelong dream of mine was to see a leopard seal and we saw two on the voyage, both resting on flat ice floes in the most beautiful settings, in bays strewn with icebergs and ringed by snowy mountains. The seals were both stunning and formidable all at once – not just one of the world’s top predators, but a huge highlight for me personally.”

Kate was on our Heart of Antarctica cruise on board  L’Austral

Happy humpbacks

“In Antarctica, there are strict wildlife watching guidelines about how close you can get to wildlife, but sometimes the wildlife doesn’t pay much attention to the rules. We were out on Fournier Bay when a humpback whale swam right beneath our zodiac. It was quite unbelievable to experience its power as it silently glided below us and reappeared with an explosive fishy breath just a few metres away.”

Louise was on our Antarctic Peninsula Classic cruise on board Seaventure

Mariposa, the Swoop Antarctica whale
Burnham’s humpback whale

“As I was travelling late in the season I was hoping for some great whale encounters and some perfect golden hour light to photograph them in, and I wasn’t disappointed. As we were sailing on a luxury ship, we were all enjoying a champagne zodiac cruise when a humpback surfaced near us and presented us with a perfect pair of flukes before it dived. Snap! I got the shot.”

Burnham joined L’Austral for our Heart of Antarctica cruise. 

“We were on the last ship to sail through the Lemaire Channel when the season was closing down for winter, and the water was like whale soup. We must have seen forty humpbacks or more spouting close to us. It felt like Antarctica at its most peaceful – even more so after visiting the ruins of an old whaling station on Deception Island when ships came to the same waters to hunt these amazing animals.”

Julie was on our Antarctic Peninsula Explorer trip on board Sylvia Earle

Lizzie’s tail-slapping humpback whale

“Sailing out of Wilhelmina Bay, a humpback whale popped up near the ship and began repeatedly slapping its massive tail fluke. The noise was like a gunshot and ricocheted off the surrounding glaciers. The ship was running silently using its hybrid electric batteries, so the sound was completely pure and undiluted.  In eight trips to Antarctica I’ve never encountered anything quite like it.”

Lizzie sailed on MS Fridtjof Nansen and is currently developing new Swoop trips on the ship

Sunsets & Shackleton

“After many years and a dozen trips to Antarctica, I finally got to try kayaking there. It was incredible to paddle through brash ice and get close to the shore where penguins watched how ungainly we must have seemed with complete indifference. When we got back on board, grinning, we were greeted by crew members with hot cups of tea – a charming and very welcome touch.”

Cassia sailed on Silver Endeavour for our Highlights of the Antarctic Peninsula cruise. 

Marta’s late season sunset

“We were blessed with one particularly amazing late season sunset on our trip. There was an evening’s parade of constantly changing colours, with the icy blues of the landscape set against a sky of warm oranges and pinks, all reflected in a sea almost as calm as a mirror. We were eating dinner and kept running out to the deck between every course to take photos as the light changed.”

Marta was on our Highlights of the Antarctic Peninsula cruise, sailing on Silver Endeavour.

Mike’s Shackleton tribute at Elephant Island

“A change in our itinerary due to weather offered us the rare privilege of visiting Cape Wild on Elephant Island, where Shackleton’s men were stranded for four months after the sinking of their ship Endurance. It has to be the bleakest and most inhospitable spit of land on the planet – it’s too exposed for even zodiac cruising –  and yet all survived to be rescued by the man they called “The Boss”. A humbling sight when you’re travelling in a comfortable cruise ship!”

Mike sailed on Sylvia Earle for our Antarctic Peninsula Explorer cruise. 

Collectively at Swoop, we’ve now logged more than 150 trips to Antarctica. We can’t wait to add to that tally in the next season – and help you find your perfect Antarctica trip along the way.


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Paul Clammer

Guidebook Editor

Paul came to Swoop after spending nearly 20 years researching and writing guidebooks for Lonely Planet. On his most recent trip for Swoop, he fell in love with the epic landscapes and uncountable wildlife of South Georgia.