Zodiac cruises: Key points

  • Zodiacs are hard rubber inflatable boats that allow intimate access to Antarctica’s remotest bays and coastlines
  • Only trained guides may drive zodiacs, with cruises taking place only under safe weather conditions
  • Flexibility and spontaneity are at the heart of any zodiac cruise, with guides in constant contact with each other to find the best wildlife and photo opportunities for passengers
  • Zodiacs allow unprecedented wildlife encounters, whether you’re watching penguins swimming past you, seals on ice floes or even a diving humpback whale
  • Cruising through brash ice and around grounded icebergs are an essential part of any zodiac cruise, showing Antarctica’s frozen beauty in true close up
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Swoop says

The shared experience of a zodiac cruise is on of the most joyful things you can do in Antarctica: there's nothing like drifting around an iceberg looking for penguins to break the (metaphorical) ice between passengers.

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What our customers think about zodiac cruising

It was safe and efficient. Zodiac cruises offered wildlife and scenery. We saw penguin parties, whales in groups and feeding, seal parties, and different spectacular icebergs, glaciers and scenery. Read the full review

Travelled: March 2024

Winifred Hok-Wing Bacon - UK

I had a great time on the excursions. Never once did I have to worry about my safety. Each driver was extremely responsible in handling the vessel. The embarking/disembarking was also handled professionally. Read the full review

Travelled: March 2024

Kyle Torster - USA

Most memorable moment? Having Adelie penguins porpoising and playing around our zodiacs and groups of humpbacks surrounding the zodiacs, surfacing, feeding and fluking literally in front of us. Read the full review

Travelled: March 2024

Hui Hua Chua - USA

My most favorite thing on this trip was the zodiac cruising. It's safe enough and I could be close to the ice, icebergs, and animals, especially whales. Read the full review

Travelled: March 2024

Guohua Li - China

Getting on and off the zodiacs was done safely and efficiently every time and in many different conditions. The zodiac trips are an integral part in the Antarctic experience. They provide the opportunity to get up close to the water, icebergs, and wildlife. Loved the time in the zodiac. Read the full review

Travelled: February 2024

Laurie Anne Douglas - USA

Being able to participate in the Citizen Science zodiac trip to do water sampling was fantastic. Our science leader was so passionate about the project. Read the full review

Travelled: February 2024

Laurie Anne Douglas - USA

I always felt safe on the zodiac excursions. We got to see so many wonderful things. The team did a great job of taking us to shore and also getting us close to wildlife. My most memorable moment was being so close to a humpback whale that I could smell its breath! Read the full review

Travelled: February 2024

Mike Stafford - USA

The zodiac cruises were amazing. Felt very safe & provided a great bonding experience. Read the full review

Travelled: February 2024

Finola Corbett - USA

Zodiac cruises are fantastic. Always felt very safe! Read the full review

Travelled: February 2024

Nicole MacDonald - Canada

Enjoyed the zodiac cruises. Felt safe at all times. Most memorable cruise was slowly moving through the icy water early morning or all of a sudden catching penguins leaping off the side of the zodiac. Read the full review

Travelled: February 2024

Michelle Deeton - Canada

We enjoyed the zodiac excursions very much! We felt very safe and appreciated the care the crew took to teach us basic zodiac safety: how to put on the life vests, the fact that they repeated the safety measures each time before we set out exploring. We saw something memorable on every excursion, but the most memorable was when, during a single excursion, we saw three different kinds of seals, penguins on icebergs and humpback whales. Read the full review

Travelled: February 2024

Shirley Sutton - USA

The zodiac cruises were fun. Great drivers, attention to safety and details such as proper lifejacket wear, gangplank, entering and exiting zodiacs. I always felt safe. Read the full review

Travelled: February 2024

Monica Palme - USA

I enjoyed them and definitely felt safe at all times. Being on the zodiac for more than 90 minutes when it was cold and blowing was the only time I felt cold. Read the full review

Travelled: February 2024

Eileen Guida Hebert - Canada

The drivers were very polite. They were aware of human needs and wildlife needs. They respected the wildlife. Read the full review

Travelled: February 2024

Deanna Graham - USA

These were incredible! We were able to see so much and enjoy the wonders of Antarctica without worry about safety. The guides on the zodiacs were full of information which they readily shared. Memorable zodiac cruise – with the whales! Read the full review

Travelled: January 2024

Elaine McClure - USA

Just awesome! We always felts perfectly safe under the guidance of the expedition staff. I would have to say the first encounter, in heavy snow, with the humpback whales was one of the most memorable. All the excursions were done with great care for the environment and the passengers. Read the full review

Travelled: January 2024

William McClure - USA

Zodiac crew were educational and fun. They made sure we were safe and comfortable. Knew what to look for when it looked like there was nothing to see. Each excursion was somehow better than the previous. Read the full review

Travelled: January 2024

Becky Ahern - USA

We discovered something different and amazing on each zodiac cruise. The crew always made sure we were safe and as comfortable as possible and that we all had the chance to witness wildlife. We also were educated on everything we saw. Read the full review

Travelled: January 2024

Kelli Alexander - USA

Loved them! Was my first experience and to be honest I was somewhat apprehensive as I’m not the best swimmer, but from the get-go I felt safe and in great hands. So much that I never was uncomfortable and was able to focus on enjoying the sights and taking photos. Read the full review

Travelled: January 2024

Morris Guy - Canada

The scenery was stunning. Someone said it was like an art gallery. Nature’s Art Gallery. Read the full review

Travelled: January 2024

Cynthia Hauke - USA

The crew was always very interested in ensuring safety first. Having the assistance to board and exit the zodiacs was very helpful – especially for passengers who were not as agile. Being able to enjoy the pristine surroundings up close and personal was amazing. The best cruise was when we were surrounded by birds, penguins, seals and whales - all reasonably close and able to be captured in photos. Read the full review

Travelled: January 2024

Annette Stanley - USA

They were a blast! Very safe. The drivers were also the scientists, explorers, etc, so every trip was full of interesting and exciting information. They would not only take you to your destination but cruise to where the action was: whales, seals, etc. Read the full review

Travelled: January 2024

Joanne March - USA

I loved them and felt safe at all times. There was so much to see and do - from seeing icebergs to seals to penguins to birds. Read the full review

Travelled: January 2024

Gina Vickrey - USA

The zodiac cruises were great. We were able to see a lot without going on land. The crew was very cautious and safety oriented, and I felt safe at all times. My favorite cruises were probably the one to Hercules Bay to see all the macaroni penguins and the cruise through Cierva Cove through all the floating ice and past the glaciers. Read the full review

Travelled: January 2024

Carole Gates - USA

I loved the zodiac cruises! They gave us a chance to see all the wildlife, AND ESPECIALLY THE WHALES, from a whole new point of view. Wow, the whale watching on the cruises was just the best. Love. Read the full review

Travelled: January 2024

Amy Ergle - USA

Always safe and without the zodiac excursions the trip would not be nearly as terrific. Read the full review

Travelled: January 2024

James Bachrach - USA

The zodiac cruises were a surprise. Physical landings are NOT always the best way to view wildlife in certain areas. The mobility of the zodiac often provides a wider range of options for both viewing and photography. For example, if whales are spotted in an area, the zodiacs will more likely provide a closer encounter than viewing from land. Imagine the surprise when a humpback whale unexpectedly surfaces right next to you. Not only do you capture the visuals but also the unique sounds of the whales when up that close. Also, for capturing images of penguins and other wildlife in sheer rocky areas, the only way to capture great images from a low angle are from the Zodiacs. Some of my best images of macaroni penguins came from a zodiac in an area inaccessible by foot. The zodiacs are extremely stable and I always felt safe. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2023

Steven Thacker - USA

The zodiac tours were excellent, safe and enjoyable. We saw many close-up views of whales, seals and penguins, not to mention navigating through the incredible icebergs. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2023

Eric Gabel - USA

A blast. Very safe, drivers were great. Suggest wearing a face covering. It gets cold when the zodiac is zipping along. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2023

Charles Johnson - USA

Each zodiac excursion was an opportunity to get out into another world. It was an opportunity to get a holistic experience about the planned experience. It was about seeing things closer, smelling the ocean and the animals, hearing the sounds of the water lapping against the ice and rocks, and it was an opportunity to taste the salty waters too. I loved the zipping feeling I got as we meandered around icebergs the size of buses. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2023

William Ramirez - Hong Kong

Zodiac cruising is the most enjoyable of pastimes. The safety briefings were comprehensive, so we knew what each of us should be doing when on the zodiacs, allowing us to feel safe at all times. The expedition team members driving the zodiacs often headed off to give us a better view of wildlife, keeping in radio contact with each other to share their finds. All the zodiac journeys were incredible. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2023

Julie Stuttard - UK

The zodiac cruises were an absolute delight! To be able to be on the water and observe the penguins seals and icebergs were the highlight of our day. We absolutely felt safe at all times! Read the full review

Travelled: December 2023

Patricia Zobel de Ayala - The Philippines

They made us feel very safe. Every zodiac trip was great. Pilots made every effort to find wildlife and scenic sites. Drivers were also very knowledgeable about the Antarctic and its wildlife. On one trip we saw numerous humpback whales that were beautiful and graceful to watch. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2023

Scott Burbank - USA

Each zodiac excursion was led by a capable and knowledgable researcher. They were not only smart and interesting but a lot of fun. We learned so much on each excursion. Also, we were surrounded by penguins, whales, seals, icebergs, and the beauty of Antarctica the entire time. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2023

Love Zubiller - USA

I LOVED the zodiac cruises - the expedition team was awesome, they showed us such amazing things, wildlife, icebergs, and kept us safe getting in and out of the zodiacs. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2023

Deb Smith - USA

Zodiac excursions were great. Fantastic way to explore the water and different areas. And super fun and efficient way to get to and from our landing sites. I felt safe on the zodiacs, and felt that the staff took our safety on the zodiacs very seriously. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2023

Lindsay Wilson - Canada

Absolutely incredible. Every time we went out on a zodiac we saw something amazing. Safety was also a top priority for the crew. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2023

Marilyn Burbidge - Canada

It was a great idea to include the zodiac cruises. It provided the opportunity to see many areas that would otherwise use be missed if only land visits were made. Many passengers mentioned how much they enjoyed them. Read the full review

Travelled: November 2023

Arthur Edward Salgado - USA

The expedition team always made us feel safe on the zodiac excursions. The most memorable zodiac cruise was definitely Kinnes Cove in Antarctica. It was amazing. We saw thousands of Adelie and gentoo penguins, including some slipping and sliding on icebergs. The wildlife and the scenery were absolutely stunning. Read the full review

Travelled: November 2023

Neil Gibson - Australia

Immensely enjoyable and felt completely safe. YeeeeHawwww - that speaks for itself. Read the full review

Travelled: November 2023

Judith Tobery - USA

The zodiac cruises were better than I'd imagined. Always felt comfortable in the hands of our expedition team. True professionals who love and want to share what they do. Makes for an unbelievable experience. Read the full review

Travelled: November 2023

Paul Tobery - USA

An exciting part of the adventure. The first time stepping off the wobbly platform onto the zodiac was an adventure of its own, but it always felt safe, and after the first time was easy. We toured Gourdin Island by zodiac and saw 3 different seals, including a leopard resting after a meal and a crabeater juvenile, maybe only 2 months old. Floated around many icebergs and watched Adelie and gentoo penguins in and out of the water. Read the full review

Travelled: November 2023

Michael Robert Perata - USA

The zodiac excursions were very enjoyable. Being out there on the water, close to the icebergs and swimming wildlife, and listening to the glaciers thunder was exhilarating. Read the full review

Travelled: November 2023

Karen Yamamoto-Fosberg - USA

These were fabulous, exciting, informative, a wonderful way to get close to nature and at all times you felt super safe. Read the full review

Travelled: November 2023

Penelope Simcox - New Zealand

These were very exciting. They got us right up close to everything we wanted to see and do both efficiently and safely. Read the full review

Travelled: October 2023

Keith Lorin Harris - USA

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

Review:

What is a zodiac?

A zodiac is the workhorse of Antarctic expedition cruising – a large, heavy-duty inflatable boat, also known as a rubber inflatable boat or RIB. They carry up to a dozen passengers plus a driver and are used for transferring people to and from the ship.

Zodiacs are light, fast and tough, making them the perfect craft to operate in polar conditions. Their shallow draft means they can easily access otherwise inaccessible locations or land on beaches, while their low centre of gravity makes them stable for passengers and easy to navigate for their pilots.

Internally, zodiacs have six air-filled internal compartments of very hard rubber for flotation. These are connected by valves to regulate pressure, allowing the craft to maintain buoyancy even if one compartment should become deflated. They’re both a very safe and reliable form of transport.

Empty zodiac in Antarctica

What to expect on a zodiac cruise

Wildlife watching

Zodiac cruises are one of the best ways to have close encounters with some of Antarctica’s wildlife. Penguins are charming enough when they’re waddling on shore, but it’s only when you see them at water level that you truly appreciate how extraordinary they are, as they porpoise past you with endless style.

Zodiacs allow you to quietly approach ice floes to watch happily snoozing Weddell seals, or see the enormous yawn of a leopard seal up close

Whales may approach your zodiac while out on a cruise, particularly in late season, Watching a humpback up close from a zodiac as it shows its flukes before diving is one of the most extraordinary wildlife experience anywhere in the world.

A zodiac with tourists watching a humpback whale in Antarctica

Ice encounters

It's very common for people to visit Antarctica with wildlife on their mind but leave entranced by the endless beauty of its ice. Many of these revelations happen while out on a zodiac cruise.

Zodiacs are the ideal craft for exploring remote coastlines that are inaccessible to larger vessels, touring Antarctica’s bays and inlets. There is ice here in wonderful abundance: loose brash ice that makes you feel like a true adventurer as you pass through it, larger floes that can be scouted for wildlife, and huge icebergs that have been grounded in shallow waters to be sculpted into weird shapes by the wind and waves.

The flexibility of a zodiac cruise allows for great spontaneity in your explorations, with your guide able to quickly pivot to a new location or linger for more photo opportunities.

Zodiac cruising by an iceberg in Fournier Bay
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Marta says

Silently drifting on a zodiac cruise, we got to hear the secret sounds of Antarctica: the glassy tinkle of brash ice against our hull, and the quiet pop of millennia-old air escaping from glacial ice we scooped from the water.

Marta Laver Antarctica Sales Specialist

Education & citizen science

Your ship’s expedition team are also trained zodiac drivers, so on every zodiac cruise you’ll be accompanied by a naturalist, geologist, photographer or historian. They’ll bring all their knowledge to explain exactly what you’re seeing – carrying the talks they give on board the ship out into the field to deepen your Antarctic experience.

Zodiacs are also a key platform for carrying out many citizen science projects. Even an act as modest as leaning over the side to take a plankton sample can be a powerfully transformative moment, turning you from an observer to an active participant in the polar world, and possibly even reframing the entire way you look at the Antarctic ecosystem.

Secchi disk citizen science in Antarctica

How does a zodiac cruise work?

What to wear on a zodiac cruise

Good waterproof and windproof kit is essential to wear on a zodiac cruise. You’ll be provided with a comprehensive packing list before you travel.

Dressing with warm layers is perhaps even more essential for a zodiac cruise than if you are expecting to make a landing. You won’t be moving around on a zodiac, so it’s easy to cool down faster than you expect: if in doubt, wear an extra layer. It’s also important to note that weather conditions can change rapidly in Antarctica, so dress as if you’re expecting the worst weather.

Getting wet from waves and spray is commonplace on zodiac cruises. As well as protecting yourself, take care extra with your gear. Bring a dry bag for your kit, protection for your camera and a waterproof cover for your phone.

Zodiac cruising in the snow in Antarctica

Zodiac cruise safety

Many people can be daunted the first time they get into a zodiac, but quickly take to it with the ease of an old sailor. Passengers of any age can take part provided they have a reasonable level of fitness and mobility.

All passengers wear lifejackets during any zodiac trip. When embarking to and from the ship, the crew will assist you as you step in and out of the craft. During the zodiac cruise, you sit along the sides of the boat.

Zodiacs only operate in calm conditions: if the wind or swell are too high, zodiac cruises will not be offered. If conditions change during your cruise, you’ll return to the ship as quickly and safely as possible. Even in big waves however, a zodiac’s low profile makes it virtually impossible to flip.

Hand grip getting out of a zodiac in Antarctica

Photography on a zodiac cruise

The stable profile of zodiacs makes them great platforms for photography. Your expedition guides will always do their best to ensure that you have every opportunity to capture the best of Antarctica on camera when you’re out on a zodiac cruise: many are keen photographers themselves, and will always be looking out for the best shot.

When a zodiac is stationary and in calm waters, your guide may allow you to stand to take photos. For safety reasons, you may only stand when advised and must never stand when the zodiac is moving.

As you’ll be exposed to the elements, changing lenses isn’t advised during a zodiac cruise. Bring waterproof protection for your camera is absolutely essential, particularly for when the zodiac is on the move.

A zodiac full of photographers in the Antarctic peninsula

Zodiac cruises: FAQs

  • How safe are zodiacs to ride in?

    Zodiacs are an incredibly safe form of transport. Their low stable profile and hard rubber internal compartments make them virtually impossible to flip or sink.

    For safety reasons, zodiac cruising is only permitted in good weather conditions. If the wind is too strong or the waves are too high, you won’t be allowed out on the water.

    Only trained guides can drive a zodiac. During a cruise, they are in constant radio contact with the ship and each other. While driving, the guide wears a kill switch attached to the outboard motor, so in case of any accident the engine will stop automatically.  All zodiacs carry a full medical and survival kit on board should extreme conditions arise during an excursion.

  • How easy is to get in and out of a zodiac?

    Getting in and out of a zodiac is a lot easier than you might initially think, and is manageable by anyone with good mobility.

    Embarking and disembarking from the ship, you’ll enter and leave the zodiac from steps. Crew members will help you in and out.

    If you are going ashore, you’ll make what’s called a wet landing, sitting on the side of the boat in shallow water and swinging your legs in or out of the vessel. It soon becomes second nature.

    If there are swells, you’ll need to take extra care getting in and out of a zodiac, but the crew will assist you.

  • How long do zodiac cruises last?

    Depending on the weather and the location, most zodiac cruises last between 45 minutes to two hours. Your expedition team will always maximise the time you’ll have to experience Antarctica up close.

  • What should I wear on a zodiac cruise?

    Dress for wet and cold weather, with plenty of layers under your waterproof and windproof parka and trousers. Your expedition ship will provide you with waterproof boots. You’ll be mostly stationary while on a zodiac cruise, so will cool down faster than if you were on a landing, so wear extra layers. A hat and gloves are essential.

    You will definitely get splashed on a zodiac cruise, so bring a dry bag to keep your camera, phone and gear protected.

  • How close will I get to the wildlife on a zodiac cruise?

    Zodiac cruises offer some of the most up close and intimate wildlife encounters anywhere in the world. You may be surrounded by penguins in the water, or drift close to seals on an ice floe.

    Strict wildlife watching guidelines require that zodiacs may not approach any animal closer than 15 feet (5 m), or within 330 feet (100 m) of a whale. Guides will retreat to a safe distance if there is any chance of disturbing the animal. In practice, many animals in the water may approach you and swim around your zodiac. In the late season, it's not unusual to even have whales surface next to a stationary zodiac so close that you can taste their fishy breath.

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