Antarctica calls to modern-day explorers with its untouchability and expansiveness. Despite this allure, the continent remains a rarely visited place. In the 2017-18 cruise season (October-March), just 42,576 visitors set foot on the continent, less than half the number of spectators at the Super Bowl. Among these lucky few who get to experience the White Continent, repeat visitors are rare. If you are among the fortunate, you’ll want to make sure you sift through the many travel considerations to have your best single experience possible. Such a pristine, remote place should surely be done right. Here are our recommendations for planning an adventure that Antarctica deserves:

Group snowshoeing uphill in Antarctica with their small ship in the background.

1. Choose a Ship Under 200 Guests

Your trip to Antarctica should be a true journey, and turn you into an ambassador for the region, not just a passer-through. How to achieve this? Stay small and sustainable, on a ship carrying fewer than 200 guests. Ships, especially in Antarctica, need to be of a certain size for a bespoke, intimate and active experience. Only 100 guests are allowed ashore at one time in Antarctica, so larger vessels have a harder time getting guests ashore as often as a small ship can. Expedition vessels under 200 guests are known for a more hands-on, small group approach, with guests off the ship twice daily on Zodiac, kayak and on-land adventures.

Expedition vessels under 200 guests are known for a more hands-on, small group approach, with guests off the ship twice daily.

Aboard our partner vessels, you won’t find white-glove service, assigned seating or elaborate onboard entertainment, but you will have the most active and authentic experience of the White Continent with activity options and expert guides in the fields of geology and marine biology. View our diverse selection of ships with under 200 guests.

Small expedition cruise ship surrounded by the beautiful white landscape in Antarctica.

2. Know Your Activity Options

While all Antarctica expeditions on small ships offered by AdventureSmith Explorations include time off ship exploring by Zodiac and hike, most require you to book coveted added-cost space for excursions like kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, skiing, mountaineering, camping and even scuba diving. Thus, if you’re interested in a particular activity, you’ll want to know all your options. Most ships require you to pre-book and commit to an activity over the whole voyage, while some are beginning to offer one-time excursions starting with the 2019-20 season.

One of our top picks for active travelers is the all-activity-inclusive Antarctic Peninsula Basecamp Cruise, and National Geographic vessels are great options if you’re looking for inclusive activities without having to pre-book. If a particular excursion is important to you, having someone like an AdventureSmith Specialist guide you through the options is key as there are considerable price and seasonal variations depending on what you want to do.

Guest from a small cruise ship stand up paddle boarding in Antarctica close to the ice shelf and with ice floating in the water.

3. Pay Attention to Your Cabin & Ship Amenities

You will spend a lot of time on your ship in Antarctica, especially if you cross the Drake vs. fly on an air cruise option. Look to an all-suite ship like the 112-guest Island Sky, 114-guest Hebridean Sky or 114-guest Sea Spirit, or to one of the new Antarctica vessels setting sail soon, if you want the very latest technology and even more choice. Perks include private balconies, ensuite Nespresso machines, complimentary mini bars, bathtubs and other amenities like heated pools, helipads, running tracks and purpose-built systems to get you off the ship and out exploring as fast as possible.

Antarctica, unlike some warmer-weather sailing destinations, is a region where cabin choice does matter.

The icescapes of Antarctica are endless, and it’s an incredible bonus to have views in the privacy of your cabin. Antarctica, unlike some warmer-weather sailing destinations, is a region where cabin choice does matter. Intense winds, mixed precipitation and longer ocean crossings make having a comfortable, private homebase all the more important.

Spacious cabin on a small cruise ship with two beds and a view of Antarctica from its balcony.

4. Make Conservation (& Penguins) a Priority

You’re going to see A LOT of penguins; get to know them! In advance of any Antarctica trip, we encourage you to learn about the wildlife you’re going to see, plus any conservation organizations and research stations operating in Antarctica. While visits to research stations cannot be guaranteed on any route, knowing what research is being conducted and being informed about the environment enriches your journey.

At AdventureSmith, we support numerous conservation partners and are members of IAATO (International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators), founded in 1991 to advocate and promote safe, environmentally responsible travel to Antarctica. Plus, every AdventureSmith traveler in Antarctica is sailing carbon neutral as we launched the industry’s first carbon-free cruising campaign in 2005 and pay to offset each passenger’s cruise carbon footprint via MyClimate. If you are not traveling with us, research how to be an ambassador for the region and follow the current IAATO visitor guidelines for protecting Antarctic wildlife, respecting scientific research, being safe and keeping Antarctica pristine.

Two up close penguins in the snow on Antarctica as seen from a small ship cruise.
Guests on a skiff excursion up close to a breaching whale in Antarctica.

5. If Time Allows, Include South Georgia

This is a common wish of travelers who’ve already been to Antarctica: that they would have taken the time to include South Georgia. Though visiting this remote island tacks on quite a few days to your voyage, it’s well worth it: read Why Include South Georgia with Antarctica. This island isn’t just famous for its explorer history (Shackleton); it’s a haven for wildlife you can’t see elsewhere in Antarctica (like the giant king penguin rookery pictured below). Some of our favorite trips for the coming Antarctica seasons that include South Georgia are:

  • Explorers & Kings – Look for the new 176-guest World Explorer’s inaugural voyage on this Antarctica, Falkland Islands and South Georgia itinerary December 16, 2018.
  • Antarctic Wildlife Adventure – There are great early-booking offers on this Antarctica, South Georgia and Falkland Islands expedition aboard the all-suite 114-guest Sea Spirit.
  • Falklands, South Georgia & Antarctica – This is a classic option aboard one of 3 different expedition ships, including the brand-new 174-guest Hondius for the 2019-20 season. A notable new 23-day comprehensive itinerary on Feb 24, 2020, includes Elephant Island of Endurance fame and the Polar Circle.
  • Antarctica Air Cruise – New for the 2019-20 season is a 16-day departure (March 1, 2020) that allows you to fly to Antarctica, then sail back by way of Elephant Island and South Georgia—all aboard the stunning new 69-guest Magellan Explorer.
Large group of emperor penguins on land in South Georgia seen from a small ship excursion.

6. Book Early

To be matched with the best experience for your interests, book in advance. Antarctica rates and sailing dates are typically released over a year-and-a-half prior to the sailing season (October-March). Booking as soon as you can provides more date and ship choices, plus special offers like early-bird discounts. For example, if you’re booking now for the 2018-19 season (starting in October), then your date and cabin will be dictated by what’s left; if you book early for the 2019-20 season now, then you will get what’s best for you. Plan ahead to do it right once.

Guests on a skiff excursion in the middle of a large arc of an iceberg in Antarctica.

Our team of travel experts at AdventureSmith Explorations have become the go-to resource for the discerning traveler to Antarctica as we offer unbiased comparison of the options and know the nuances of polar travel thanks to our firsthand insight (read our staff Trip Reviews). For more detailed information on travel to Antarctica, read our comprehensive How to Choose Your Antarctica Cruise guide or view all our trips to Antarctica to find rates, dates and start selecting your journey.