Here are seven of the most memorable things you'll see on your Antarctic expedition cruise…
These endearing creatures are synonymous with Antarctica, and the chance to walk amongst them and star in your own David Attenborough documentary is a key reason to travel there. Vast rookeries are dotted throughout the region, where nesting pairs raise their cute chicks between December and February. The slightly comic appearance of penguins on land is in stark contrast to their staggering agility in the water. You'll find that the penguins are completely unbothered by the presence of humans, so you'll be able to see these extraordinary birds up close.
You'll begin to comprehend the vast scale of Antarctica when you start to see the ice floes on your approach to the continent. The huge tabular icebergs are a staggering sight, with their sheer sides plunging far below the water. The variety and beauty of Antarctica's icebergs will have you reaching for your camera every five minutes, whilst on land huge hanging glaciers cling to the mountains or carve their way to the water's edge. The audible cracking and popping from the creeping ice provides an eerie soundtrack to your cruise.
3. Human history
There are few places on earth where the past feels so close to the present. Vast areas of untouched Antarctic wilderness are exactly as the explorers of the 'Heroic Age' would have experienced them. You can see evidence of these extraordinary expeditions at sites such as Scott's hut at Cape Evans and Shackleton's hut at Cape Royds, accessed via the Ross Sea. The expedition parties stayed here with their provisions, and they have remained remarkably well preserved.
On the Antarctic Peninsula visit Point Wild, from where Shackleton launched his arduous journey to South Georgia, an island inextricably linked to his Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition and his final resting place. At Port Lockroy visit a former British scientific research station, now a living museum, and see the remnants of past exploration and human activity including collapsed stone shelters, weathered wooden boats and the former whaling stations that dot the coastline.
Antarctica and the outlying subantarctic islands offer fantastic birdwatching opportunities. As you cross the Drake Passage the birdlife will come to you, as hitchhikers ride the ship's updraft to ease their passage across the ocean. For true twitchers, New Zealand's subantarctic islands are a must-visit, with a chance to see species including Buller's albatross, the endemic Reischek's parakeet, southern royal albatross, red-crowned parakeets, shy albatross and Gibson's wandering albatross.
South Georgia is home to species including light-mantled sooty albatross, the South Georgia pintail, the South Georgia pipit and the wandering albatross, whilst the Falkland Islands offer shelter to the black-browed albatross and the rare Falklands flightless steamer duck.
Antarctica is a fantastic destination to see whales lured south by an abundance of krill, and sightings are common throughout the season, with the unmistakable sound of their blowhole alerting you to their presence. February to March affords the best chance to spot humpback, sperm, minke and southern right whales, as well as pods of hungry orca hunting penguins amongst the ice floes.
Seals are another highlight of a trip to Antarctica, with several specials calling the Antarctic Peninsula and subantarctic islands home. On South Georgia you'll experience the breathtaking spectacle of millions of fur and elephant seals crammed on to the beaches, with aggressive male elephant seals fighting to protect their harem of females. Around the Antarctic Peninsula you'll have the chance to witness nature red in tooth and claw, as leopard seals hunt penguins in the shallows, and you can often see the endearing Weddell and crabeater seals sunning themselves on the ice.
7. Polar sunsets
The twilight of an Antarctic evening creates the most magical sunsets, with hues of blue, orange, pink and purple spreading across the sky and reflected in the mirror calm waters, punctuated by the drifting ice. A truly unforgettable scene.