6 reasons to book a Weddell Sea adventure

  • Explore a remote part of Antarctica whose frozen waters mean that only a very small number of ships can visit here each year.
  • Spend more time exploring Antarctica, with longer itineraries in the Weddell Sea than classic Peninsula cruises.
  • Sail through one of the world’s greatest iceberg nurseries, gazing in awe at the shining white cliffs of vast tabular icebergs.
  • Be inspired by the heroic story of Shackleton and his lost ship Endurance, recently rediscovered under the the Weddell Sea ice.
  • Witness one of nature’s greatest spectacles at Snow Hill Island, one of the few emperor penguin colonies accessible to visitors.
  • Land where few travellers have ever stepped foot, visiting immense Adelie penguin rookeries and distant ice-strewn shores.

Our voyages to the Weddell Sea

Special Offers:Swoop has access to the widest range of offers and can help you find the right trip, cabin, & price.

Quest for the Emperor Penguins of Snow Hill Island

The iconic emperor penguin is the goal of this expedition for wildlife enthusiasts, as your ice-strengthened ship sails into Antarctica’s challenging and little-visited Weddell Sea. Delve deep into historically significant and ice-laden waters, heading for the remote emperor rookery…

  • 11 Days
  • $12,100
Emperor Penguin Expedition in Style

Maximise your time looking for Antarctica’s most iconic species, the emperor penguin, on this luxurious expedition to the remote Weddell Sea. If conditions allow, two sleek twin engine helicopters will fly you over vast tabular icebergs to Snow Hill Island,…

  • 14 Days
  • $32,290

Highlights of the Weddell Sea


The Weddell Sea is home to Antarctica’s most spectacular icebergs and travellers here can expect to be enthralled by vast tabular icebergs with cliffs as high as tower blocks and great sheets of pack ice.

Geography accounts for the Weddell being so ice-choked. Its slow clockwise current rotates against the Eastern arm of the Peninsula, trapping winter sea ice rather than allowing it to all melt away every summer. This frozen pack then adds to the jumble of tabular bergs calving in great sheets off the landlocked Ronne Ice Shelf.

As a result, ice-free waters in the Weddell Sea are restricted to just a few short months of the year, giving expedition cruise ships only a narrow window to safely visit and enjoy this extraordinary landscape. 

Tabular iceberg in the Weddell Sea

Snow Hill emperor penguins

The Weddell Sea offers a rare opportunity to see Antarctica’s most iconic species: the emperor penguin. Absent on the more-visited Western side of the Peninsula, emperors may be seen on Snow Hill Island, their northernmost colony in Antarctica.

Snow Hill only be accessed in November, and even then its ice-bound location means that it can only be reached by ships with their own helicopters. 

To avoid disturbing the penguins, helicopters aren't allowed to fly within a mile of the colony, so must visitors walk across the ice to the rookery, excitement building as they are guided by the sounds of the rookery.

Seeing of 10,000 tall handsome adult emperors and their fat fluffy chicks, set against an unearthly frozen landscape, can be an overwhelming experience and is surely one of the world's greatest wildlife encounters. 

Emperor penguins and chick at Snow Hill in the Weddell Sea
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Nardus says

Seeing the emperor penguins at Snow Hill is one of the greatest experiences that Antarctica has to offer. It feels like an immense privilege to get a tiny glimpse into their world of permanent ice – prepare yourself for a powerful flood of emotions when you're there.

Nardus Erasmus Polar Consultant


From the days of the first explorers to the modern quest for the wreck of the Endurance, the Weddell Sea continues to be a backdrop for the most extraordinary stories, waiting to be retold by onboard historian guides.

Shackleton's lost ship Endurance was rediscovered here in 2022, and while it continues to sleep undisturbed beneath the ice, sailing cannot fail to evoke wonder at the survival story that followed: from the months spent camping on the ice, to the dash to Elephant Island and the miraculous 800-mile voyage to South Georgia. 

The Weddell Sea is also the backdrop to lesser known stories of Antarctic survival and heroism, like the 1902 Nordenskjold Expedition who were stranded on Snow Hill Island, and their relief expedition who were forced to take overwinter on Paulet Island when their own ship sank in the ice.

Wreck of Shackleton's ship Endurance beneath the Weddell Sea


Emperor penguins are the Weddell Sea's signature species. While only a trip to the Snow hill rookery will provide you with a close encounter, there's always the chance of spotting individual penguins out on the ice in here. 

The Weddell Sea is a great stronghold for Adelie penguins however, and they breed here in huge numbers. Their rookery on Paulet Island is estimated to be around 100,000 pairs strong.

It’s unsurprising that Weddell seals abound on the ice here, along with leopard seals, but the Weddell Sea also offers the chance to see plenty of crabeater seals, a species far less commonly seen on Peninsula cruises. The restriction of most Weddell Sea trips from January to March means that the Weddell Sea is great for whale watching.

Humpback whales and the most commonly seen here, as are orcas. Fin whales rarely choose to swim among the ice here.

Humpback whale in the Weddell Sea

Planning your Weddell Sea cruise

When to go to the Weddell Sea

The cruising season for the Weddell Sea runs from January through to March. Outside these months, the majority of the sea is mostly inaccessible due to sea ice. Some cruise ships on Peninsula trips may make opportunistic visits earlier if ice conditions allow but this cannot be guaranteed or predicted.

One exception is the small number of November trips to the very northern Weddell Sea and the emperor penguin colony at Snow Hill island. November is the only month this island is accessible: Weddell Sea trips running between January and March cannot offer the emperor penguins at Snow Hill.

One advantage of late season voyages is that most Weddell Sea trips also include time on the Antarctic Peninsula. This can give the best of both worlds: late season Peninsula action with penguin chicks on rocky beaches, while still enjoying pristine ice and snow in the Weddell Sea.

View of Ultramarine cruise ship in the Weddell Sea

Sailing to the Weddell Sea

The majority of Weddell Sea cruises sail from Ushuaia in Argentina, although a small number of voyages every year also operate from Punta Arenas in Chile, flying across the Drake Passage to Antarctica instead.

Occasionally, some ships may include South Georgia to a Weddell Sea itinerary, allowing travellers to follow the story of Shackleton’s Endurance voyage from start to finish where it all unfolded.

Weddell Sea cruises typically spend longer in Antarctica than traditional Peninsula cruises as they add extra time along the Peninsula to the Weddell section of the itinerary.

The northwestern part of the Weddell Sea is the only accessible section of the sea due to the thick sea ice that persists throughout the year. The relatively small window of opportunity to come here means that it remains relatively little-visited: fewer people visit the Weddell Sea each year than cross the Antarctic Circle.

Greg Mortimer cruise ship in the Weddell Sea
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Swoop says

Most Weddell Sea voyages also include time on the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula. Not only does this give you longer in Antarctica, but you get to compare and contrast these two dramatically different parts of the continent. 

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What our customers think of Weddell Sea Cruises

Weddell Sea Cruises trips scored 4.1/5 from 9 reviews

We got two brilliant days at Snow Hill with breathtaking views and thousands of penguin chicks. We had a couple of windy snowy days that provided a small view of the typical Antarctic early summer. Every day was filled with new views and great experiences. Read the full review

Travelled: November 2023

Michael Robert Perata - USA

We very much enjoyed our expedition into the Weddell Sea and the blending of the historical expedition of Nordenskjold as explained by Jack the historian and Roger the expedition leader on board. Read the full review

Travelled: February 2023

John Mark Bowles - USA

The most memorable moment must be the first sight of seeing the emperor penguin colony! It was amazing, just stunning! It was like a dream come true Read the full review

Travelled: November 2022

Grace Huang - USA

Fantastic experience, would recommend to anyone interested in wildlife and the history of the area. Walking on an ice floe in the Weddell sea was perfect. Read the full review

Travelled: November 2017

David & Jill Blaen - United Kingdom


Weddell Sea cruises: FAQs

  • What is the best time of year to visit the Weddell Sea?

    The best time to visit the Weddell Sea is during the height of the Austral summer in JanuaryFebruary and March when the sea ice in the Weddell breaks up enough to allow safe access for expedition cruise ships. 

    An exception are the voyages to see the emperor penguin colony on Snow Hill Island, which can only be visited in November. 

  • Why are there so few trips to the Weddell Sea?

    The geography of the Weddell Sea means that the sea ice breaks up far later in the season than around the Antarctic Peninsula, so there is a much smaller window of opportunity to visit it.

    Only a small number of ships sail here each year in January, February and March, putting visitors here in a pretty exclusive club. More people sail south of the Antarctic Circle every year than visit the Weddell Sea!

  • What makes the Weddell Sea different to the Antarctic Peninsula?

    The Weddell Sea has a much starker and more featureless landscape than the Western Side of the Antarctic Peninsula – but it's one that much more dominated by ice, from thick pack ice to gigantic tabular icebergs.

    The other key difference is how few ships and people each year explore the Weddell Sea.

  • Will I see Emperor penguins?

    The emperor penguin colony on Snow Hill island can only be visited on special November departures. The colony can only be accessed from the ship by helicopter.

    Outside of these months, you may be lucky enough to see a isolated emperor penguins on the ice – but as with all Antarctic wildlife sightings, this cannot be guaranteed. 

  • What's the danger of getting iced in as Shackleton's Endurance did?

    There is very little risk, though you may like to know that all expedition cruise ships visiting the Weddell Sea carry a high ice-class rating. Itineraries only visit the Weddell Sea during the most ice-free months, and none of them sail as far south as Shackleton. You'll be staying onboard in a comfortable cabin, rather than camped out on the ice eating sledging rations. 

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