But with ever more cruise lines visiting the 'white continent', it can be tricky to work out which ship is the right one for you. As you would expect, travelling to Antarctica is not cheap, so this is an important decision to get right. For some travellers, luxury and comfort will be of the utmost importance, while others will be more concerned with the quality of the onboard expedition team or the tools and gadgets on offer to facilitate in-depth exploration.
With this in mind, we've put together this short guide to six of the best Antarctica expedition cruise operators…
Silversea have operated the Silver Explorer in Antarctica for some years, and the newly converted Silver Cloud is about to join the expedition fleet, enhancing the comfort levels on board. The Silversea all-inclusive proposition ensures you avoid any added extras to the (admittedly high) up-front cost. Most cruises depart from Ushuaia, and Silversea offer a chartered air connection from Buenos Aires or Santiago.
Lectures are of a high standard, and you can expect to always to be with an expert, whether in the zodiacs or ashore, as a result of the excellent guest to guide ratio of about one guide to every 12 guests. You can expect two landings per day, weather permitting.
The pioneer Lars-Eric Lindblad led the first-ever citizen-explorer expedition to Antarctica in 1966, inventing the concept of expedition travel. Experience matters, particularly when you are travelling way off the beaten track. For safety and insight, Lindblad, with hundreds of Antarctic expeditions under their belts, really stand out.
Lindblad ships carry a whole range of 'Tools for Exploration': Zodiacs and kayaks of course, but also a remote-controlled crow's nest camera with real-time footage broadcast on video screens within each cabin; a video microscope to view Antarctica's invisible facets, and a hydrophone to listen in on whales.
Their ice masters and expedition leaders are the best, and include an undersea specialist aboard every voyage who dives to capture video footage shown in the ship's lounge. National Geographic Explorer and Orion are also each equipped with an ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) capable of exploring depths up to 1,000 feet. What's more, there's a National Geographic photographer on every departure.
Quark's expertise is specifically polar - they focus on Arctic and Antarctic sailings only. With a variety of vessels and price points, you have quite a choice of different itineraries, including a rare opportunity to sail as far south as the Antarctic Circle (66 degrees 33) which few travellers achieve.
Look out for sailings with included opportunities for camping, kayaking and SUPs, which distinguish some Quark vessels from the competition. They even have a very small vessel, Hans Hansson, with only 12 guests, giving you more time ashore and an additional focus on your specific interests.
Those wishing to avoid the potentially bumpy journey across the Drake Passage can fly the Drake from Punta Arenas and join their ship in King George Island. This is an interesting option but one that may suffer from adverse weather conditions.
With over 100 years of experience in operating the renowned Norwegian Coastal Voyage, taking equipment, post and people along the coast of Norway from Bergen every single day of the year, Hurtigruten is no stranger to the operation of hardy vessels in inhospitable waters.
More recently their purpose-built expedition ship Fram, and the ice class Midnatsol, have begun venturing to another hemisphere during our winter to explore the Southern Seas. Another expedition ship, Roald Amundsen, is due to join the fleet in 2018. Look out for Midnatsol's unusual itineraries, which include exploration of the Chilean Fjords and several days in the Falklands as well as time on the Antarctic Peninsula.
The Hurtigruten vessels are some of the largest in the region, which limits landings, but they offer an excellent cost effective option.
Scenic Eclipse, Scenic's new 'Discovery Yacht', launches in 2018, and is set to offer high levels of luxury on board, with the most exciting programme of adventures ashore. Extras include a helicopter, a submarine (at an additional charge) and kayaks, and the ship will be equipped with state-of-the-art technology.
This will arguably be the most luxurious vessel operating in Antarctica, with all-inclusive pricing and 6-star service including butlers for every suite, and all suites featuring a private verandah. Lots of dining options and an outstanding spa will enhance your experience on board.
Scenic Eclipse's first Antarctica season will be December 2018 to March 2019, and guest numbers will be restricted to 200 in Antarctica to give the opportunity for frequent landings.
Hapag-Lloyd's Hanseatic has been wintering in Antarctica since the early '90s, and was for years the only luxury operator in the area, with a stand-out Berlitz five star rating.
To make the most of your extraordinary Antarctica voyage, you need high levels of expertise from the operator. The key issues are of course safety, an efficient and speedy operation for landings and zodiac excursions, and an outstanding team of experts, naturalists, expedition leaders and guides.
As regular visitors to the area, Hapag-Lloyd have rightly achieved a prestigious status and reputation amongst experts and customers alike, and will ensure a very special Antarctica experience.
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