What's better than standing amid hundreds of chinstraps on an ice floe in Antarctica, reveling in the perky penguins knowing that an aromatherapy massage, craft martinis, a lobster dinner and designer bedsheets await back onboard your luxury cruise ship.
With interest in expedition cruising at an all-time peak, cruise lines race to unveil posh new ice-class ships that provide both jaw-dropping experiences and sumptuous cruise travel. Check out our alphabetically arranged insider's list on the best luxury Antarctica cruises. Then, you decide which cruise ship and expedition style capture your White Continent fancy.
Admired for its expertise and experience, luxury tour operator Abercrombie & Kent is a longtime player in polar fields. The company charters Ponant's Le Lyrial, a stunningly sleek ice-class yacht with a chic interior design, and amenities including private balconies for all accommodations, suite butler service, two restaurants and an open-air bar. Although Ponant is a French bilingual line, on A&K charters, only English is spoken. Plus, A&K brings its own expedition lecturers and experts onboard (and an accredited physician) ensuring that they meet their company's highest standards. With just 199 passengers onboard, all cruisers can easily participate in every shore excursion.
Onboard lectures by historians and Polar Medal winners (honorees for major achievement in polar regions) -- not just expedition scientists -- are an A&K hallmark. Cruisers receive a complimentary parka, backpack and water bottle, and complimentary use of boots, waterproof pants and trekking poles delivered to staterooms. An open bar, Wi-Fi, all Zodiac excursions (led by naturalist driver-guides, of course), laundry service and gratuities are among fare inclusions. A&K Antarctica sails also add a two-night pre-cruise handpicked luxury hotel stay in Buenos Aires, and roundtrip charter flights and transfers between Buenos Aires and Ushuaia, Argentina, the embarkation and debarkation ports.
Cruises run between 13 and 18 days. In 2023, plans are in the works for an expedition even farther south, crossing the Antarctic Circle and venturing where few expedition cruise ships go. This luxury tour operator's pre- and post-cruise packages are worth perusing; A&K seamlessly moves cruisers between land and sea exploration. Consider the four-day Iguazu Falls journey (visiting both Argentinean and Brazilian sides), which includes luxury hotel accommodations and engrossing tours, as a notable pre-cruise adventure.
If you like sipping Veuve Clicquot on an iceberg, you'll love Ponant. This French bilingual expedition line sails five 199-passenger sleek luxury yachts to Antarctica: L'Austral, Le Boreal, Le Lyrial, Le Soleal and new-build icebreaker Le Commandant Charcot. (More on this newcomer in a minute.) Admirable shared amenities on all five shiops include two restaurants and bars, swimming pool, library, tea room, hair salon, gym and spa with a hammam. Count on an alluring ambiance throughout the ships, conjuring up ocean moods in a clever sophisticated style.
New-build 245-passenger (200 in polar regions) Le Commandant Charcot, Ponant’s latest expedition ship, is a wonder. This luxurious icebreaker is powered by liquified natural gas, and features extensive environmentally conscious attributes. With a Polar Class 2 icebreaking rating, Le Commandant Charcot can voyage far deeper into thick ice in the most remote Antarctic regions where other luxury expedition vessels cannot go. Expect 19-to-23 naturalist guides and experts, such as glaciologists and geologists, onboard. Passengers can work with onboard scientists on citizen science experiments.
Among eyepopping amenities, split-level suites equipped with private terraces and whirlpools, heated indoor resistance pool, fitness center, spa with nail bar and snow room rank high among them. World-acclaimed chef Alain Ducasse consults on all three restaurants.
With so many Ponant ships sailing luxury Antarctica cruises, expect plentiful opportunities to find your perfect sail date. Ponant provides a hotel overnight in a posh Santiago or Buenos Aires hotel, complimentary flights to Ushuaia (some one-way, some round trip, depending upon embarkation and debarkation ports), airport transfers, a polar parka and free boot rental. Cruises are primarily 10-or-11 day, with some two-week or longer. For instance, Unexplored Antarctica Between Two Continents on Le Commandant Charcot promises a 30-day (28 onboard) nonstop adventure.
When Scenic Eclipse launched in 2019, cruisers were abuzz over this posh custom-built, all-inclusive superyacht. The company, long a top player in the luxury river cruising arena, was taking its first plunge into the expedition world. The 200-passenger (in polar regions) vessel features butler service, all-suite accommodations with verandas, 10 dining experiences, nine bars and lounges, plunge pools, gym and even a yoga and Pilates studio. If that wasn’t enough to delight passengers, passengers can peruse a pillow menu, too.
As a relatively new build with a PC 6 rating, this environmentally-savvy vessel features many advantages, such as unrestricted global navigation, GPS dynamic positioning and customized zero-speed stabilizers up to 50% larger than other ships. Passengers venture off-ship twice daily (as always, weather permitting) in custom-made Zodiacs, paddleboards and kayaks with 20 polar specialists leading the way. Count on complimentary snowshoeing, too. Scenic Eclipse ups the expedition ante by offering two seven-seat helicopters and a seven-seat submarine for eye-popping exploration; note that these extreme outings come with an extra fee.
All passengers receive complimentary parkas and a water bottle, and polar boots to borrow. Flights between Buenos Aires or Montevideo and Ushuaia, and airport transfers are included. Cruises range from 12 to 22 days, with the longest cruises adding destinations like the Chilean fjords, South Georgia and the Falkland Islands to the itinerary. The ultimate exploration may be a 15-day Antarctica and the Weddell Sea, with the ability to reach the rarely seen, unforgettable Emperor penguin colonies – the ultimate Antarctic reward. Look out for Scenic Eclipse II, a twin with slight tweaks, debuting in 2023. This new superyacht will also sail polar regions.
In 2022, ultra-luxury line Seabourn debuted Seabourn Venture, its first expedition vessel. This 264-passenger (200 in polar regions) ship possesses many of the indulgent attributes of its traditional ocean-liner siblings, from a casually elegant country club style, to passenger pampering by an attentive crew, and all-inclusive amenities such as eight dining experiences, free-flowing champagne and caviar and all-suite accommodations (the most grand is two-story). Count on a fully stocked suite bar, personalized stationery, four outdoor whirlpools and a photo studio, too. Note the heated drying closet for expedition gear in passenger suites.
Seabourn Venture replaces Seabourn Quest in most polar pursuits, although the latter ship offers a few lengthy voyages embracing surrounding regions along with Antarctica, like a whopping 33-day voyage from Lima to Buenos Aires. Seabourn introduces its second expedition vessel, Seabourn Pursuit (a Seabourn Venture twin) in Fall 2023.
For most Antarctic cruises, guests book their flights in and out of Buenos Aries, Argentina, but Seabourn covers the rest of the legwork for the trip, including some airport transfers, pre-cruise accommodations at a swanky hotel depending on the itinerary and charter flights between Buenos Aries and Ushuaia, Argentina.
In addition, passengers receive a complimentary expedition-grade parka and waterproof backpack delivered to their suite, and can use the suites’ high-end Swarovski Optik binoculars.
Seabourn Venture offers several journeys to explore the White Continent. Several are 13-day, with five full days of Antarctica highlights via Zodiacs, double kayaks and treks. Other, longer sails, include the Falkland and South Georgia Islands. Antarctic voyages including the Chilean fjords are also possible.
Silversea now features three super-luxe 200-passenger ships sailing to Antarctica: Silver Cloud, Silver Wind and Silver Endeavour. All ships are all-suite and all-inclusive, including complimentary Wi-Fi and designer perks like Bulgari toiletries and Pratesi linens. There's even a nine-choice pillow menu. No matter which category accommodation, a white-gloved butler can stir a custom martini, serve dinner course-by-course in-suite and generally spoil you rotten. Speaking of upmost pampering, passengers can request complimentary caviar with all its accoutrements, anytime, anywhere. Other amenities include a spa, beauty salon, fitness center, four restaurants, boutique, cigar bar, afternoon tea service, whirlpools and multiple lounges.
Silver Endeavour, Silversea’s newest expedition vessel with an impressive PC6 ice-class rating, takes both exploration and indulgence to new levels. Along with a one-to-one crew-passenger ratio, the line’s new spa concept Otium (which debuted on Silver Dawn), emphasizes pampering, decadence and personalized service. For instance, a spa robe is delivered to a suite pre-treatment with a handwritten note. Post-treatment, passengers may relax in a lounge sipping champagne and house-made chocolates before retiring to their suite where a butler has an aromatherapy-infused bath waiting. Passengers can swim in a glass-enclosed heated pool, maybe doing backstrokes while ogling the unforgettable scenery.
Cruisers are provided with a parka, rain jacket, exploration hat, neck gaiter and water bottle. They're lent binoculars and waterproof boots. A one-night pre-cruise luxury hotel stay and round trip charter flights from Puerto Williams, Chile are also included.
Despite the abundance of onboard amenities, passengers are keen to explore with expedition team members who not only possess advanced degrees but also extensive polar experience.
Expect twice-daily outings in the 18 Zodiacs led by the 20-member expedition team, and kayaking (14 kayaks onboard) guided by an expert.
Silversea offers 10- to 18-day luxury cruise itineraries; longer sails include visits to the Falkland and South Shetland Islands. If passengers want to bypass the potentially rough seas of the two-day roundtrip Drake Passage crossing (which keeps many cruisers from going to Antarctica), they can book the ultimate experience - an Antarctica Bridge sail, which are five-to-nine days. Passengers fly business class directly to and from King George Island in the South Shetland Islands. From there, the ship awaits and it’s about 75 miles to the Antarctic Peninsula.
Some Antarctic cruises offer pre-and-post-cruise land programs, such as a four-day Patagonia adventure.
While Viking does not bill itself as a luxury line, it still features many vital elements of luxury cruising. Viking recently expanded to the expedition genre with two new custom-built vessels, Viking Polaris and Viking Octantis, which sail to Antarctica with 378 passengers. Most sail 13-to-19 days from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia, Argentina; these cruises allow time to experience the colorful South American city. Passengers visit Tierra del Fuego National Park, sail the Drake Passage and then spend six days fully exploring the Antarctic Peninsula.
Perhaps Viking’s most notable contribution to expedition cruising is its sheltered Hangar, where passengers easily board and debark two 12-seater Special Operations Boats from inside the ship, protected from elements. Consider this amenity a particular advantage to physically challenged travelers or those simply hesitant to board a vessel that might be bouncing in wind and waves.
Kayaking among glaciers in two-seater kayaks with a pedal system – so hands are free to snap pictures - is a highlight of adventure activities, along with Zodiac rides and shore landings. Another bonus – Viking’s submarines are put to use in Antarctica.
Viking considers Polaris and Octantis to double as classrooms; passengers relish lectures given by expedition guides, learn about this polar region from resident scientists, participate in citizen science experiments and even, score one-on-one time with these charismatic experts.
Passengers receive complimentary keepsake Viking Expedition jackets, all Viking excursion gear needed for relevant excursions and return flights to Buenos Aires with airport transfers. Passengers may also use stateroom binoculars. Staterooms feature king-size beds, spacious bathrooms with glass-enclosed showers and heated floors, 24-hour room service and a floor-to-ceiling drying closet that circulates warm air to dry and store clothing and expedition gear. Suite-booking passengers receive even more amenities depending upon the accommodation level, such as personal coffee machines (also available in Deluxe Nordic Balcony and Nordic Penthouse categories), complimentary laundry and dry cleaning.
Notable pre and post-cruise extensions include four-night Easter Island and five-night Atacama Desert pre-cruise, and five-night Patagonia post-sail.
Updated October 24, 2022