The Antarctic Peninsula is part of the larger peninsula of West Antarctica and is usually the classic Antarctica cruise itinerary, a version of which will be offered by every expedition line, making it the most popular choice for those visiting Antarctica for the first time.
Your Guide to Antarctic Peninsula Cruises
How to get to the Antarctic Peninsula
Every classic Antarctica expedition cruise itinerary explores the Antarctic Peninsula, usually sailing round-trip from the port of Ushuaia. The crossing to Antarctica takes two days during which guests will need to traverse the notorious Drake Passage. Considered a rite of passage by many, you can expect to see dramatic scenery, icebergs, seals, whales (depending on the time of year) and plenty of penguins.
There is the option, though, to fly the Drake Passage for those travellers who may be time-poor, allowing you to embark your ship in Antarctica for a week cruising in the calmer waters around the Antarctic Peninsula.
Location of the Antarctic Peninsula
The Antarctic Peninsula is the finger-like strip of land that extends northwards towards South America, and once you catch your first sight of Antarctica, the - usually somewhat hairy - Drake crossing is soon forgotten.
You'll visit a number of different landing sites on both the mainland and the surrounding islands, making several landings as well as cruising through scenic channels, usually for between five and seven days on a classic Antarctic Peninsula itinerary.
Wildlife of the Antarctic Peninsula
Antarctica is one of the world's best wildlife destinations, and no species is perhaps more emblematic than the penguin. On your Antarctic Peninsula cruise you can expect to see plenty of penguins, though do be aware that you won't see king or emperor penguins on the Antarctic Peninsula - king colonies can only be seen on South Georgia, the subantarctic islands and occasionally the South Sandwich Islands, while emperor colonies can only be seen on Snow Hill.
You will see, however; Adélie, chinstrap and gentoo penguins, as well as a myriad of birdlife including skua, petrel, cormorant and sheathbill. Humpback, sperm, minke and southern right whales, as well as pods of hungry orca, are best spotted between February and March, while several species of seal also call the Antarctic Peninsula home such as as leopard seals who hunt penguins in the shallows, and you can often see Weddell and crabeater seals slumped on the ice.
Best Antarctic Peninsula Cruises
One of the polar industry leaders AE Expeditions (part of Aurora Expeditions) offer twice-monthly departures to the Antarctic Peninsula between November and March on their revolutionary ships Greg Mortimer and Sylvia Earle. Their voyages, departing around three times a month, sail from Ushuaia as well as laid back and welcoming Punta Arenas on the shores of the Strait of Magellan, making for a dramatic start to your journey.
There's then also the option to fly to King George Island on their Antarctic Explorer Express itineraries ready for seven days of discovering the Antarctic Peninsula. Alongside the experienced, enthusiastic expedition team, you can expect everything from trekking, scuba diving in polar ice, sea kayaking and ski touring to polar snorkelling, snowshoeing, and even camping in Antarctica on offer.
For a classic Antarctic Peninsula cruise, Seabourn's 11-day The Great White Continent itineraries take the classic route from Ushuaia via the Drake Passage, with five magical days exploring the Antarctic Peninsula's giant icebergs and endless wildlife.
What's more, you'll return each day to Seabourn's luxurious new expedition ships Seabourn Venture or Pursuit with their beautiful, well-appointed veranda suite accommodation, a range of fine dining options and high-tech toys for exploration including a pair of six-seater submarines.
Quark's expertise is specifically polar and you have quite a choice of different itineraries, but their classic 11-night Antarctic Explorer is the perfect introduction to the stunning Antarctic Peninsula. Alternatively, their Antarctic Express: Fly the Drake sees you embark a charter plane to land at King George Island before exploring the Antarctic Peninsula by ship on eight exciting days of shore visits and Zodiac cruises. There's also the option to cross the famed Drake Passage on the way there but enjoy a convenient return flight home.
If you want to venture a little further, Quark also sail as far south as the Antarctic Circle (66 degrees 33) as well as calling into the Falklands, South Georgia and Patagonian fjords. Whichever you choose, look out for sailings with included opportunities for camping, kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding, which distinguish some Quark vessels from the competition.
Silversea's spectacular Silver Endeavour, with its PC6 ice class capabilities and state of the art technology, as well as Silver Wind and Silver Cloud, home to ice-strengthened hulls and 18 zodiacs, depart on all-inclusive Antarctic Peninsula voyages from Ushuaia or Puerto Williams. You can also avoid the Drake Passage crossing with Silversea's shorter 6-night itineraries, which include return flights between Punta Arenas and King George Island.
Look to classic Antarctic Peninsula cruises on Silversea that call in at Antarctic Sound on the way, filled with vast icebergs that have broken free from the Larsen Ice Shelf and home to wildlife including Gentoo penguins and whales, as well as the South Shetland Islands on return, about 100 miles north of the Antarctic peninsula where thousands of penguins, seals and sea lions reside. Back on board expect expert lectures and an excellent guest-to-guide ratio of about one guide to every 12 guests, with two landings per day, weather permitting.
French cruise line Ponant are known for taking guests to areas of Antarctica that other ships can't reach, but their 10-night Emblematic Antarctica cruises are the perfect choice for a classic Antarctic Peninsula voyage.
Departing from Ushuaia around three times a month on Ponant's wonderful small ships Le Boréal, Le Soléal, L'Austral and Le Lyrial after an included flight from Buenos Areas, explore the alien landscape of snow-covered mountains, jagged icebergs and extraordinary wildlife of the Antarctic Peninsula for five days, returning to the luxury and intimacy of the ships' discreet elegance and tasteful décor, equipped with the latest environmentally friendly tech.
Scenic Eclipse and sister ship Scenic Eclipse II offer high levels of luxury on board on their Antarctica Peninsula cruises, with an exciting programme of adventures offered ashore. Their Antarctica in Depth itineraries sail round-trip from Ushuaia with six days exploring the Peninsula, departing around once a month. Guest numbers are restricted to 200 in Antarctica to give the opportunity for frequent landings and extras include a helicopter, a submarine (at an additional charge) and kayaks.
If you have more time Scenic also offer longer 18-night itineraries that mix in stops at the Falklands and South Georgia. Whichever you choose, each day you'll return to 6-star service including butlers for every suite, lots of dining options and an outstanding spa.
Add ons to your Antarctic Peninsula Cruise
If you have more time, opt for an itinerary that sails to the Falkland Islands en route, rich in birdlife and of particular historical interest to British travellers. South Georgia is another consideration; while it may add several extra sea days to your itinerary, it's almost certainly worth it - the summer breeding season in South Georgia is home to approximately 5 million breeding pairs of macaroni penguins, over 100,000 pairs of king penguins and millions of fur seals; along with elephant seals, whales and a plethora of sea birds.