The mean summer temperature is below zero and there's nary a diamond store in sight, yet Antarctica is a cruise destination growing in popularity. Case in point: Celebrity has just announced its first ever cruises to the White Continent, scheduled for early 2010. (Editor's note: Celebrity previously offered Antarctica cruises through its Xpeditions brand, but these were charters on the Kapitan Khlebnikov and not true Celebrity cruises on the line's own ships.)

Next year marks Celebrity's 10th season in South America, and in honor of that milestone, the cruise line is branching out with two new 14-night Antarctica cruises on January 31 and February 14, 2010. Celebrity Infinity will depart Buenos Aires for Antarctica, visiting Port Stanley, Falkland Islands; Ushuaia and Puerto Madryn, Argentina; and Montevideo, Uruguay, along the way.

But don't cancel your expedition cruise just yet. Celebrity's Antarctic voyages will be drive-by's only. Infinity will spend three days per cruise sailing past Elephant Island, Paradise Bay and Gerlache Strait, but, like most other big ship lines' Antarctica "itineraries," won't actually give passengers a chance to set foot on ice. Indeed, this voyage style is in keeping with other regular cruise lines -- such as Holland America, Princess and Crystal -- that offer scenic cruising off the coast of Antarctica as part of longer South America itineraries.

The only way to really explore Antarctica up close is to book a cruise on an expedition ship, typically a vessel with a strengthened hull able to navigate icy waters. Lines like Hurtigruten and Lindblad offer such trips -- Regent Seven Seas Cruises charters an expedition ship for Antarctic cruises a few times per year and Silversea is currently refurbishing an expedition ship that will join its fleet in June.

For the best account of an in-depth Antarctic experience that we've ever seen, check out our virtual cruise aboard Lindblad's National Geographic Endeavor.

--by Erica Silverstein, Associate Editor