What happens on an Antarctic expedition cruise?

Travelling to Antarctica is unlike any other trip you’ll ever take - it's like stepping into another world. We all know what to expect on a typical holiday, but understanding what you’ll get up to on an Antarctic expeditionary cruise is a different matter.

We specialise in small ship A​ntarctic ​expedition cruises​ ​which ​are​ ​active by their very nature​ - the antithesis of a traditional cruise - and focused on delivering a ‘fully immersive’ experience. You’ll ​regularly ​get off the ship ​to​ explore ​Antarctica ​on foot and by zodiac​, adventure activities will more than likely be available and the voyage will have a strong educational focus.

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What will I do on an adventure cruise?

Zodiac Safaris

The small rubber zodiac boats, which comfortably accommodate approx. 8 - 12 people, are Antarctica’s modus operandi. They are used daily, for getting you on to land and cruising around on safari, searching for both wildlife and spectacular photo opportunities. Being flat bottomed, zodiacs are very stable and practical, as well as huge amounts of fun.

Whether slaloming between icebergs, sitting quietly watching whales at close quarters or skimming through a glittering bay, zodiac safaris are exhilarating and always harbour that frisson of discovery.

What To Expect On An Antarctic Cruise


Having a strong educational element is one of the key characteristics of an expeditionary cruise. The expeditionary team is composed of Polar specialists who between them offer a broad range of expertise - incorporating geology, zoology, history and ice. They share this through a series of structured lectures and more informal talks and one-to-one conversations while in the field.

Many have been travelling in the Polar Regions for many years and often are leading lights in their particular field. Not only is it a real privilege to travel with them, but most have got some great stories to regale you with.

What To Expect On An Antarctic Cruise


At the initial booking stage your imagination may have been captured by the thrill of future zodiac safaris, kayaking through brash ice or joining the brave in undertaking a Polar Plunge. These are the more obvious potential highlights, however what’s less obvious is that simply watching the magnificent icescapes slide past from the warm of the lounge or spotting wildlife from the ship’s bridge can be just as rewarding.

It's always well worth keeping a sharp eye out as the Antarctic wildlife is full of surprises and the long hours of daylight help to maximise your chances.

What To Expect On An Antarctic Cruise

Smooth waters, peppered with thousands of bits of ice


For many it’s the actual planned daily landings on Antarctica which hold the greatest allure, and rightly so. These landings - both on the actual continent and outlying islands - are a central pillar of daily life in Antarctica. They provide not only the chance to land on the 7th Continent - a long held ambition for many polar visitors - but also to spend time ‘in Antarctica’.

Landings are typically focused on visiting penguin rookeries, research stations or places of historic interest and can vary from spending time sitting amongst clownish chinstraps to sending a postcard home from the Port Lockroy Post Office. Once on land the visit is largely unstructured and you’re free to do your own thing within the delineated area.

What To Expect On An Antarctic Cruise

Emperor penguin on fast ice

Adventure Activities

The majority of Antarctic ships offer a selection of mouth-watering optional activities which don’t typically require specialist prior knowledge and should definitely be considered as they are a great way to further enhance your trip.

Kayaking and camping are the most common activities and very popular, along with snow shoeing when snow conditions allow. Diving, mountaineering, cross country skiing and paddle boarding are also offered on select departures.

Each activity normally carries an additional charge and has limited a limited number of places, so it's important to book these at the same time you secure your cabin.

What To Expect On An Antarctic Cruise

Kayak amongst icebergs (optional)

The Polar Plunge

Guaranteed to raise admiring looks when you get back home, the Polar Plunge is a long standing polar tradition and is normally offered just once on all voyages. It’s very much optional, but most people who have done it agree that the short term ‘pain’ is well worth the experience and tot of rum afterwards!

The plunge itself take two forms: either from the beach at Whaler’s Bay in Deception Island, which features on most ship’s itineraries, or a full plunge off the ship into deep water, when you would be attached to a safety harness. In our experience it’s an integral part of the whole trip and definitely shouldn’t be missed.

What To Expect On An Antarctic Cruise

Watch John from Swoop doing the Polar Plunge

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What our customers think of What To Expect On An Antarctic Cruise

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Whenever we went out, I always felt extremely safe and happy, whether that be in zodiacs, kayaking, mountaineering or snow shoeing. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2019

Sarah Gillett - Switzerland

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Take every opportunity to go up to the bridge and even on the days through the Drake passage, go outside if possible to take in the whole experience. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2018

Gill & Richard Starling - United Kingdom

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The zodiac excursions and shore landings are what makes Antarctica special. This is what brings you to nature. You get to see the rawness of icebergs up and wildlife up close. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2018

Terrie Mandina - United States Of America

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Hubby even went for the Polar Plunge and when I put it on Facebook had rave comments about his daring & courage...very appreciated when you are 75 years old!

Travelled: January 2018

Lucien & Marie-Eve - South Africa

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Excursions were the highlights of the trip. I can't point a finger to any of them saying that one was the best. They were all fantastic! Read the full review

Travelled: January 2018

Zoltan & Stephen Nemeth - Florida

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What I enjoyed most about the landings was walking around the animals. There was one morning on Danco Island where the snow was fresh, so I laid in it for a long time while watching the penguins waddle around.

Travelled: December 2017

Christine & Rollence - California

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I really enjoyed the amount of time I spent walking around amongst the penguins, seals and birds. There were times where I would just sit on a rock (or in the snow!), close my eyes, and absorb everything. I'll never forget the feeling of the first time I stepped on land and saw the penguins. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2017

Christine & Rollence Patugan - United States Of America

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Zodiac cruises and landings were great. The ability to land and spend a decent amount of time ashore among the wildlife and scenery was fantastic and provided time to absorb the experience.

Travelled: March 2017

Erika - Australia

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I cannot say enough about the abundance of amazing wildlife and the phenomenal encounters we had. The icebergs were breathtaking and awe inspiring.

Travelled: February 2017

Karen - Pennsylvania

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I thoroughly enjoyed the landings and the zodiac rides. We landed safely every time thanks to the experience of the expedition leader and guides.

Travelled: February 2017

Patricia - Canada

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The whales took our breath away. We all froze when one went under our Zodiac.

Travelled: January 2017

Nancy - Texas

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The lectures and talks we had from the expedition staff, were great - and a wonderful way to pass the time on the long sailing days across the Drake Passage.

Travelled: December 2016

Declan - UK

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It's hard to say which excursions were my favorite, but our Top 3 zodiac experiences were to Paulet Island, Cuverville Island and our last day on Spert Island. Our best landings were on Brown Bluff and Cuverville Island.

Travelled: November 2016

Ryan - Massachusetts

We dressed most warmly, and that was a good idea because of the wind off the water. We managed the getting onto and off the Zodiacs with no problems. The crew was great at always emphasizing the sailor's grip and taking the steps slowly, then sitting down and sliding along the Zodiac. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2021

Mike Walcher - USA

It more than met our expectations - we know you can't control wildlife, but we saw absolutely everything. Even the orcas were obliging enough to swim alongside the vessel. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2021

Katie Goodman - USA

Know that the staff will guide you, it’s not a test, it’s there to be enjoyed at any level. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2021

Chris Dixon - UK

Be willing to go with the flow because plan B often means plan BETTER! Plans were constantly changing but were changing for the better and to make a better trip so be willing to go with the flow! Read the full review

Travelled: December 2021

Lisa Weeks - USA

Come with an open mind because Antarctica can be totally unpredictable. If you have the chance to go, do it while you can. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2021

Jade Griffin - USA

I will never take anything for granted, ever again. This was a lifelong dream of mine and I can't wait to make my way back as soon as humanely possible. Read the full review

Travelled: November 2021

Lindsay Ferguson - USA

The food was a surprise, I didn’t expect such high standards of cuisine and so much choice. The salads, fruit and veg were just as fresh at the end of our trip. Read the full review

Travelled: November 2021

Jean Kernan - UK

Out in the elements, the weather changes by the hour, but it can get really really windy: head, neck, fingers and ears get cold when out on zodiacs for 2 hours plus. Read the full review

Travelled: November 2021

Jean Kernan - UK

We did plan well for the zodiac trips which can be splashy and sometimes downright wet, depending on conditions. Read the full review

Travelled: November 2021

Paul Parris - USA

The zodiac excursions felt very safe and in general we managed the periodic "bath" from the process of traveling in zodiacs pretty well. Read the full review

Travelled: November 2021

Paul Parris - USA

I felt completely safe getting on and off the zodiaks. Staff were completely helpful and did a good job training us. A couple memorable moments: 1 was Coming back in from a ride in Wilhelmina Bay once the wind picked up and the seas suddenly became incredibly rough. We were completely drenched (except for the parts covered by the coat/pants/boots) and had a wild ride. Read the full review

Travelled: February 2020

Kathleen Walton - United States Of America

Our guide, Steffie, told us to put down our cameras when we were on an outing on the zodiac, and just listen! It was surreal - the peace that surrounded us, the sound of the whales, blowing through their blowhole, the water lapping around us - I realized, I have not actually been listening for years! Read the full review

Travelled: February 2020

Rosarii Nuala Falvey - United States Of America

The humpback whales in Charlotte Bay, they were ALL around us in our little Zodiac! Absolutely epic experience! Read the full review

Travelled: February 2020

Patty Hunt - United States Of America

Enjoyed all the zodiac cruises, but they could be chilly at times so wrap up! Getting up close to icebergs and wildlife was amazing. Always felt safe getting on and off the zodiacs and while whizzing around too. The first zodiac cruise was spectacular, in an iceberg graveyard. Read the full review

Travelled: February 2020

Ann Freeman - United Kingdom

The Expedition Team were fabulous. They were excellent at giving briefings and keeping us posted on what was happening at all times. The other members of the team were so knowledgeable. Some great lectures on subjects that I really didn't think would interest me but absolutely did. Sarah on icebergs, Anthony on photography and the whaling industry, Scott on birds, Chris on botany and Julia on the Port Lockroy Post Office. The Expedition Team were about the ship all the time, on the lookout for wildlife, happy to chat. They really were fabulous. Read the full review

Travelled: February 2020

Ann Freeman - United Kingdom

It was refreshing to know that everyone onboard was an expert in some way on Antarctica, the wildlife, the ocean / climate, etc. We had really good lectures during times we were sailing, which helped to pass the time but also was very informative. Read the full review

Travelled: February 2020

George Parson - Australia

Each zodiac landing on Antarctica and walking on the continent itself was memorable. What an adventure! Being able to see penguins and seals in their natural environment and watch them walk right by me was a real thrill! Read the full review

Travelled: January 2020

Ellen Dysart - United States Of America

You have this idea that you’re going to freeze to death before you go but that’s not the case. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2019

Donald Emeigh - United States Of America

Ice climbing; camping, especially the feeling when our zodiac pulled away and I found myself somehow connected with Shackleton and the seabirds flying overhead; seeing a dozen or more Elephant Seals woven together in the pebbles surrounded by penguins; and the sheer exhilaration of participating in the polar plunge with like-minded thrill seekers! Read the full review

Travelled: December 2019

Rex - Len Hunt - United States Of America

The Zodiac rides were safe (aided by calm seas) and usually took us to places that we couldn't travel to on the ship. I especially liked it when the guides took us out a little further to see if there was any new wildlife that we could interact with. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2019

Steve Kelemen - United States Of America

I loved our cruise to Antarctica. Every landing was a highlight and it is definiely the best place I have ever visited. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2019

Sabine - Austria

The Zodiac rides were definitely fun excursions, as this was our best chance to see wildlife up close. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2019

Mark Jongewaard - United States Of America

Zodiac cruising was definitely a highlight as was the kayak excursion with our guide. The expedition crew were all top-notch. The Lemaire Channel navigation was absolutely a favourite. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2019

Edward Carter - United States Of America

The expedition staff far surpassed all my expectations. My favourite moment was just sitting with the penguin colonies and watching them interact with each other. An absolutely incredible experience! Read the full review

Travelled: December 2019

Jill Pickett - United States Of America

I traveled alone, so I didn't have a group as others did; however, I met very nice people from the US, Hong Kong, UK, Australia and New Zealand. Read the full review

Travelled: February 2019

Dennis Roy - United States Of America

The scenery, wildlife, the ship crew, the adventure guides and most of the guests on board. Magical was when the zodiacs were zig zaging through the loose ice floes. Read the full review

Travelled: January 2019

Annuar Faisal - Malaysia

There was bad weather, it was a bit cold but that’s what you get for going to the bottom of the earth! The cruise itinerary did change and we got to go to the Falkland Islands as well, what a lovely surprise. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2018

Raquel & David Shulman - Canada

Zodiac excursions were the best of the trip. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2017

An & Houmin Xiao (Luo) - United States Of America

I learnt a lot more about polar history than I thought I ever would thanks to Katie, the onboard historian. The wildlife experts, Dick, Jacque and Bruce are very knowledgeable and were always on hand to point out and explain about the animals sighted.

Travelled: February 2017

Chow - Singapore

The excursions were terrific being so close to the birds, seals and penguins and the landscape simply breath taking. As George Carlin says, 'Life is not measured by the number of breaths you take, but by the moments that take your breath away' - Antarctic certainly took my breath away.

Travelled: January 2017

Gary - USA

Even when it was time to go back to the boat, when magical moments happened (which was often), the expedition team stopped the zodiac - we were never rushed through experiences, and in fact, we were encouraged to experience as much as possible.

Travelled: January 2017

Colette - California

We saw both humpback and minki whales from the zodiacs. It was truly amazing. I especially liked cruising through the ice floes and seeing all the lounging seals.

Travelled: January 2017

Nicole - Illinois

Landing on ice floe we saw a elephant seal and could hear him breathing. The icebergs were surreal. A bird hovered over our zodiac, loved it! Each time out was a unique experience like no other.

Travelled: January 2017

Mary and John - New York

When we did not have excursion or landing, we still had a lot to do on board. The lectures taught us a lot about everything in Antarctica. Read the full review

Travelled: January 2017

Feng Zheng - China

Expedition cruises versus traditional cruises

While it's widely acknowledged that a ship still offers the best means of access to Antarctica, this doesn’t automatically mean that you’re going ‘cruising’, a word which for many instantaneously conjures up (with a shudder) thoughts of deck quoits, cocktail parties, evening floor shows and sharing your holiday with hundreds of others.

The traditional world of cruising - in the Mediterranean, Caribbean or on The Nile - couldn’t be a more different beast from an expeditionary voyage to Antarctica. In fact the two are hardly related - more like second cousins, twice removed.

Expeditionary Cruise

  • An adventurous experience
  • Fewer than than 120 passengers per ship
  • Flexible route / itinerary
  • High level of activity
  • Typically two land excursions per day
  • Optional adventure activities: camping, kayaking etc
  • Strong educational focus with onboard experts
  • Very informal dress code
What To Expect On An Antarctic Cruise

Traditional Cruise

  • A holiday rather than an expedition 500 - 4000 passengers per ship
  • Fixed route / itinerary
  • Passive level of activity
  • Limited land excursions
  • Adventure options not available
  • Wide variety of activities & onboard entertainment
  • Educational lectures on some ships, but not the main focus
  • Comfortable dress code by day, cocktail dress for evenings
What To Expect On An Antarctic Cruise

What is Citizen Science?

Citizen science

Citizen Science i​​s a way to harness the power of thousands of trave​l​lers around the world to observe, record​ ​and report on natural phenomena. This is particularly helpful in remote and difficult destinations, like the Antarctic, where it is challenging to support year-round academic observation teams.

On certain ​more educationally focused ​Antarctic ​voyages, guest​s​ are encouraged to participate in a variety of activities that support important research projects in five major disciplines: Oceanography, Glaciology, Ornithology, Marine Biology and Meteorology. The data collected ​helps ​directly contribute to a better understanding of climate change and how it's affecting the Antarctic Continent.

Past​ ​research​ ​projects have included: ​

  • Collect​ing phytoplankton samples for the Scripps Institute of Oceanography to better understand the health of the Antarctic Biosphere
  • Penguin surveys for Stony Brook University, NY, studying the population dynamics of Adelie v​ersu​s Gentoo penguins
  • Cloud mapping for NASA's Globe Observer program, helping scientists track changes in clouds in support of climate research
  • Analyzing ice shelves and glaciers for Durham University to track changes in support of climate research
  • Photographing and identifying whales using​ the website​ happywhale​.com​ ​to ​help ​track the migratory and feeding patterns of whales worldwide
  • Collecting water samples for the Global Microplastics Initiative to help in compiling a comprehensive database of microplastic concentration.

Read more about Citizen Science here in an article written by Seb Coulthard, a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and an expedition team member on one of the participating vessels.​

Things to do in Antarctica: FAQs

  • How close will I get to wildlife?

    The extraordinary characteristic about the majority of Antarctica’s wildlife is that they show very little, if any, fear of people. The official IAATO guideline is that you should keep a minimum of 5 metres between you and wildlife, but this isn’t always easy to strictly adhere to as nobody seems to have told the wildlife! If you sit quietly in a rookery you may well have curious penguins pecking your wellington boot, while close interactions with whales is far from uncommon.

  • How fit do I need to be for an Antarctic expedition cruise?

    Not very is the short answer! The distances you’ll be walking during the landings tend to be quite short (under half a mile / 1 km) and even when longer walks are offered, there are always shorter alternative routes.

    However, to get the most from your time in Antarctica it's definitely well worth making sure you’re in good physical shape and capable of walking across broken, icy ground (a walking pole is a useful third point of balance for anyone to pack).

  • Do I need to bring any specialist equipment with me?

    Over and above your Antarctic clothing, you won’t need to bring any specialist equipment to take part in any of the activities and excursions, apart from diving. Where specialist equipment is required - for camping, kayaking, snowshoeing, paddle boarding, etc - all equipment will be provided for you by the boat.

  • How easy is it getting in and out of the zodiacs?

    On a calm day getting from the ship into a zodiac or vice versa isn’t challenging at all. To help assist, there are always 1-2 crew members on hand to lock arms with in a ‘sailor’s grip’ to help you.

    Where it becomes more challenging is when the wind gets up and the zodiacs are being tossed around by the swell. When this happens the captain can re-position the ship so the gangway is on the protected lee side and the skill of the zodiac drivers is called upon. If there is any concern about passenger safety, the zodiacs simply won’t be launched and a more sheltered place sought.

  • Can the planned excursions be affected by weather?

    With the weather and ice conditions being the two largest influences on an Antarctic cruise, the answer is Yes. Your expeditionary leader will be keeping a close eye on the weather in particular throughout your trip and will always have a Plan B up their sleeve. So while the weather might influence your trip, it's rare that it ever affects it to the point that landings are missed.

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Ready to plan your Antarctic adventure?



We'll spend some time listening to your aspirations, then discuss the kind of experience that might suit you.



Next we'll discuss the options, shortlist the best trips for you and present you our impartial recommendations.



We'll place a 24 hour hold on your preferred option - without obligation - whilst we talk through the details.

With over 50 years of Antarctic experience between us, we can help guide you to exactly the right trip for you.