What will you see on an Antarctic cruise?
March 15th, 2023 / Burnham Arlidge
For many people, visiting the White Continent is a bucket list top hit. But what will you actually see on an Antarctic cruise?
When we think of Antarctica we often conjure a white landscape, pure and untouched by humans. Yet there is so much more to Antarctica than just this. The landscape is incredibly varied, not to mention the wildlife that inhabits it.
So, in this article we discuss what you will actually see on your Antarctic cruise.
You will see thousands of Penguins
Yes, you guessed it, penguins! The Antarctic region is home to millions of penguins, including breeds such as king, gentoo, chinstrap, adelie, and emperor penguins.
Most cruises will explore the Antarctic Peninsula region where you will visit multiple penguin rookeries. The most commonly seen penguin is the gentoo, but you also see chinstrap and adelie penguins. For king penguins you will need to visit South Georgia and for emperor penguins you will have to take a specialist interior tour.
Penguins are very charismatic creatures and great fun to watch. They are not afraid of humans and will often approach you if you stay still. Just be warned, although they are great to watch, they are also noisy and very smelly!
You will witness beautiful snow-capped landscapes
Snow-capped landscapes are what many of us imagine when we think of Antarctica. It is more than that though - Antarctica offers an environment both marine and land based.
There are not many places on earth where you can frame the sea in the foreground with snowy peaks rising above in the background. Imagine the snowy alps in winter if they sat on the sea.
Remember, if you visit at the start of the season, you will see a landscape completely covered in snow, whilst later in the season the snow has melted revealing a rocky landscape dotted with ice and snow.
You will see plenty of whales
Thanks to the Antarctic Convergence, the region is packed with krill and draws whales in their thousands here each summer to feed.
These giants of the sea are commonly seen on Antarctic cruises. Because whales are curious creatures, they will often approach zodiacs and kayaks. It is almost indescribable the feeling of seeing a whale surface two feet from where you are sitting. The sheer size and power of the animals is breathtaking.
Commonly seen species include humpbacks, minke whales, blue whales and fin whales. For the best chance to see whales, make sure you visit later in the season when they have stopped feeding and are simply cruising the waters.
You will witness amazing icebergs
Icebergs are a favourite of many visitors to Antarctica. They come in all shapes, sizes and colours and change from day to day.
Many icebergs look as though they have been crafted by master sculptures and from close up look almost like ice cathedrals rising from the blue sea.
You will see plenty of icebergs on your trip, but there will be more early in the season when the weather is still cool.
Some of the longer itineraries visit the largest icebergs on earth, often bigger than countries and too immense to really take in properly.
If you are lucky you will see an iceberg that has recently flipped over. This usually results in a bright blue colour that makes for some beautiful photographs.
You will see seals
Seals are commonly seen on all Antarctic cruises no matter what part of the season you sail in. The most notable species you are likely to see are crabeater and leopard seals, although weddell seals are also seen occasionally.
For close up encounters with large elephant and fur seals you will need to visit South Georgia. Be warned though, the males can be quite aggressive and you need to keep your eyes peeled when you are in their vicinity.
When you visit a penguin rookery, keep an eye out for leopard seals prowling the shallow waters. Their long, reptilian neck marks them out easily, even from a distance.
You can explore old expedition huts
For the history lovers, Antarctica offers up a host of expedition remains, including seven expedition huts.
Thanks to the ice, many of these expedition huts have remained intact and perfectly preserved. Stepping inside is like going back in time a hundred years and feeling what it was truly like for pioneering explorers like Ross and Shackleton.
Keep in mind that if you want to visit any of the historic huts that still remain you will have to take an extended ‘East Antarctica’ cruise itinerary.
Some of the more notable huts include Shackleton’s hut at Cape Royds, Ross Island, Mawson’s hut at Commonwealth Bay, and Ross’s hut at Cape Evans, Ross Island.
See the largest flying bird by wingspan
Although they may look like seagulls at a distance, up close albatross are one of the most impressive birds on the planet.
Their sheer size is simply incredible and very hard to appreciate unless you see them soaring close by your ship. Luckily, albatross often follow the expedition vessels, wheeling and swooping around the ship, giving passengers plenty of opportunity to take pictures.
One of the joys of sailing across the Drake Passage is watching albatross glide over the waves, skilfully skimming them with the tips of their wings.
Experience the open ocean
Unless you are taking a fly-cruise option, you are going to spend at least 2 days in the open sea. To reach Antarctica you have to cross the notorious Drake Passage, a journey that takes roughly 48 hours each way.
If the conditions are good, this is a great time to spend on deck taking in the open ocean and watching out for sea birds and whales. There is something incredibly calming about being in the open ocean and seeing nothing for miles in any direction.
If this does not sound like your thing then do not panic, there are other options when at sea. Most notable is listening to the expedition staff give lectures on the surrounding environment and wildlife.
About the Author Burnham Arlidge
Burnham started his career as a professional tennis player before retiring due to injury. Since then Burnham has thrown himself into adventure travel. He has visited some of the most iconic and obscure parts of the planet - his most memorable experience is Antarctica!
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