Discovering Antarctica Via Cruise Ship

Four months out of the year—from November through February, when the climate is between 30 and 50 degrees—Antarctica becomes inhabitable, allowing thrill seekers an opportunity to visit the White Continent.

Cruising Antarctica is meant for seasoned cruisers, says Stephen Rodoquino, president of The International Traveler based in Miami.

"The region is for the well-traveled, high-income-bracket traveler," he says. "They are adventurers—looking to go places where no man has gone before."

 Hapag-Lloyd's Bremen in Antarctica

Antarctica, as an emerging destination for cruisers, is a testament to the growing popularity of cruising and travelers—particularly baby boomers—looking to collect personal experiences.

A Destination for Veteran Cruisers

"Lines have gone there over the years," says Rodoquino, "but with the great boom in cruising, people are looking for new places to go. The Caribbean is struggling and the older veteran cruiser is looking for a new niche."

Some 98 percent of Antarctica is covered by ice, meaning the larger ships would have a tough time navigating the ubiquitous jagged ice floes that are indigenous to the region. That leaves the task to smaller, mostly luxury ships, which have better maneuvering capabilities.

A Selection of Ships

An Antarctica cruise can be experienced on its own or, more typically, as part of a larger South America itinerary. Crystal Cruises sets off its Antarctica season in December with its 18-day Grand Holiday Passage voyage aboard Crystal Symphony that embarks from Valparaiso in Chile. It stops in Ushuaia, Argentina, the world's southernmost city, before heading to Antarctica.

Regent Seven Seas offers an Antarctica-specific program roundtrip from Ushuaia on its expedition-built ship, Explorer II.

The 11-, 14- and 16-night voyages begin in November and run through February. Special fares begin at $9,395 per person, which includes roundtrip airfare and exploration gear.

Perhaps the line most equipped to service Antarctica is Norwegian Coastal Voyage. Its newest addition, the 268-passenger Fram, conducts a 13-day program, which, weather permitting, offers landings at such must-sees as DeceptionIsland (known for its black volcanic beach and warm spring). NCV also offers 19- and 21-day itineraries on the Nordnorge and Nordkapp.

"Antarctica is for the been-there done-that crowd who wants enrichment," says Bo Fridsberg, vice president of sales for Norwegian Coastal Voyage, adding that the region's newfound draw coincides with the popularity of the documentary, March of the Penguins.

Although Rodoquino says booking at least a year out is necessary to secure availability, Fridsberg notes that space is still available with Norwegian Coastal Voyage for this season's sailings.

Other expedition lines travel agents can take a look at include Hapag-Lloyd, which offers 15- to 20-day itineraries roundtrip from Ushuaia, which start at just a shade under $9,000 per person.

Lindblad Expeditions has 15- and 25-day itineraries on its National Geographic Endeavor ship, operated through a collaboration with the National Geographic Society, which provides photographers and experts on each sailing.