Best in Ice Class, Most Likely to Circumnavigate, Most Attractive Penguins… these high-school-style superlatives might not be the best way to choose your trip to Antarctica, but Antarctica truly is a land of rankings—it’s the coldest, windiest and driest continent on the planet. We recommend making your trip here stand out even further by adding a unique spin.
So without further ado, we announce our Antarctica superlatives to help you do just that: 9 of the most unique ways to experience the White Continent.
1) Stand-up Paddleboard in Antarctica
Sail on the 199-guest Ocean Endeavour, or 126-guest-average Greg Mortimer or Sylvia Earle if you want to experience the calming, surreal feeling of standing and gliding on the water’s surface among ice floes. These three expedition ships are the only ones currently offering stand-up paddleboarding as an optional (added cost) adventure activity. The sport of stand-up paddleboarding, a hybrid of surfing and kayaking, gives you a very personal perspective of Antarctica as you stand solo on the stable surf-style board, propelling your way forward with a single, long oar. Guides take out small groups of 10 (Ocean Endeavour) or 3-8 (Greg Mortimer & Sylvia Earle) paddleboarders in good weather conditions on calm bays and harbors.
2) Go the Fastest
Choose these polar expedition ships for their top speeds if you want the fastest Drake Passage crossing: National Geographic Explorer (18 knots), Expedition (17 knots), World Explorer (16 knots) or Ultramarine (16 knots). Or opt for an air cruise, like the Antarctica Air Cruise, Antarctica Express Air Cruise, Polar Circle Air Cruise or Antarctic Express: Fly The Drake, which shaves off the days-long Drake Passage Crossing with one-way or round-trip flights.
3) Snorkel or Scuba Dive in Antarctica
Sail aboard the Plancius, Ortelius, Greg Mortimer or Sylvia Earle to experience Antarctica’s underwater world; the latter two ships additionally offer polar snorkeling. More than just ice, you’ll encounter marine life like kelp walls, sea snails, crabs, sea butterflies, jellyfish, sea-hedgehogs, starfish, krill and giant isopods. You may have the possibility to share the water with fur seals, leopard seals and penguins. Dive sites on board these four ships are varied and may include shallow ice diving and diving along a wall, and entering the water from a beach or from the Zodiac. The maximum depth is around 20 meters, or 60 feet. Note that scuba diving comes at an added cost, and is for experienced divers only who are familiar with cold water diving and dry suit diving (at least 20 dives).
4) Cruise on the Smallest Ship
Ocean Nova, with 72 guests and at 240 feet in length, is the smallest ship of AdventureSmith’s Antarctica trips. Choose this vessel if you want the most intimate of Antarctic experiences and a nimble ship. You will truly feel small among the largeness of Antarctica’s icescapes. Ocean Nova’s modern Danish design adds to the ambiance. Or go for the least amount of passengers on a slightly larger ship, the brand new Magellan Explorer. Built for 100 and only carrying one flight’s capacity of 73 passengers, this ship is quite roomy and the excursions are easily accessible.
5) Backcountry Ski or Snowboard in Antarctica
In addition to its stand-up paddleboarding, sister ships Greg Mortimer and Sylvia Earle are the only expedition ships we travel with that offer backcountry skiing or snowboarding as an add-on activity. Antarctica’s pristine snow makes it the perfect place to ski, with penguins providing the soundtrack to your journey. On select departures, history buffs wishing to reenact Shackleton’s famous journey across the interior of South Georgia can experience the 2- or 3-day expedition on skis or snowboard (or by foot). Backcountry snowboarding and skiing is only available on certain itineraries, so be sure to book early.
6) Camp in Antarctica
Imagine the ultimate quiet of a night spent sleeping outdoors in Antarctica. The exposure, the remoteness… the occasional penguin passing by your tent. Sleeping out in the elements in Antarctica calls to the more adventurous. And there’s a good chance you’ll have more intimate encounters with wildlife camping on the 7th Continent. Many expedition ships offer this add-on to your journey. Look for options aboard Expedition, Plancius, Ortelius, Ocean Adventurer, Ocean Endeavour, Ocean Diamond, Hebridean Sky, Greg Mortimer and Sylvia Earle.
7) Travel with Famed Explorers and Scientists
National Geographic The White Continent and National Geographic Antarctica, South Georgia & Falkland Islands expeditions offer an extensive Global Perspectives program, with scientists, artists, historians, explorers and other influentials joining their Antarctic voyages as expert guest speakers. Sailing with you are the likes of Peter Hillary, the son of Everest’s Sir Edmund Hillary; Jamling Tenzing Norgay, son of the Everest pioneer Tenzing Norgay; Global Perspectives guest speaker Lee Hotz, science columnist for the Wall Street Journal; and many accomplished photographers.
Additionally, the Whale Science Voyage lets budding citizen scientists team up with researchers, photographers and videographers to support cutting-edge marine mammal studies; contributions from this annual expedition add to an ongoing collaboration with the world’s leading independent non-profit organization dedicated to ocean research, exploration and education in the U.S.
8) Ride in a Helicopter
See Antarctica as few do: from the sky on the Weddell Sea Emperor Penguin Voyage, when three days are allotted to visit remote Emperor penguin rookeries via helicopter for a fascinating once-in-a-lifetime experience. On the month-long Spectacular Ross Sea: West Antarctica Cruise, explore the entire western Antarctic shoreline by ship and then head into the interior via two helicopters. Additionally, expeditions aboard World Explorer and Ultramarine use helicopters for more than just the pretty view.
9) See a Total Solar Eclipse in the Weddell Sea
Want bragging rights forever? What could top a full solar eclipse in Antarctica? Many ships will be offering specific Antarctica eclipse cruises to sail in the path of totality for the December 4th, 2021, solar eclipse. The select few who book early (as surely these spots will fill quickly) get to witness the wild light transformation playing on and around the tabular icebergs of the Weddell Sea.
Want more ideas for a unique Antarctic expedition? Contact the experts at AdventureSmith for a customized way to make your journey extra special or to find out more about any of our favorite Antarctica superlatives listed above.
This post was originally published in February 2017 but has since been updated to reflect the latest of unique Antarctica travel options; our most recent update occurred July 2018.