Thinking About Going to Antarctica? This Cruise Gets it Right.

If you’re going all the way there, you should really dive in. Or ski. Or snorkel. Or kayak. Aurora Expeditions makes sure you can do all of that—and in a conscientious way.

A penguin near a black and red hut on Antarctica

Antarctica is the highest, driest, coldest and windiest continent on Earth—it’s also a fantastic cruise destination.

Courtesy of Aurora Expeditions

There is no way to truly know Antarctica: It’s too vast, too unpredictable, and too treacherous—a place so unlike the tamed world we live in that it might as well be another planet entirely.
Still, dozens of cruise ships strive to provide a glimpse of the White Continent every year, and due to strict regulations, most offer similar itineraries. But that doesn’t mean the experiences are identical. Options range from so-called cruise-by voyages, with more than 500 passengers who never set foot on land, to sailboat expeditions for hard-core adventurers.

As I kayaked in a remote bay where I was greeted by six humpback whales, I was glad to be traveling with Aurora Expeditions. The Australian company is committed to protecting Antarctica’s fragile environment, and it leans heavily into adventure without sacrificing comfort. Its new ship, the 132-passenger Sylvia Earle, is climate neutral and features an onboard citizen-science center so that passengers can join investigations into polar plankton, local geology, and more. On our 23-day “Antarctica Complete” cruise, we made stops at South Georgia Island, where we watched king penguins compete for real estate with SUV-size elephant seals, and in the Falklands, a paradise for birders.

A group of people snowshoeing on the Antarctican Peninsula

There are 80 research stations operated by 30 different countries located around the continent.

Courtesy of Aurora Expeditions

The relatively small size of our group allowed for two daily landings or activities, rather than the single one typically offered on bigger ships. And when passengers book the trip, Aurora requires them to commit to their excursion group for sports like kayaking, snorkeling, diving, or skiing. So, instead of being joined by a rotating cast of first-timers who might struggle to get into a dry suit, I was part of a tight-knit crew of paddlers who became more comfortable and bolder as the trip progressed. On land, we were often given a perimeter or a path and invited to explore at our own pace, rather than being guided as a single contingent. Even with everyone onshore at the same time, it was possible to seek out moments of solitude.

That spirit of exploration continued during long sea days across the Drake Passage. It’s normal for guides in Antarctica to take to the public address system for big-ticket sightings such as a breaching whale or a pod of orcas. But we didn’t miss the smaller moments either. We were rallied when a pair of albatrosses got unusually close, hovering above the ship like silent sentries. We were awakened for an especially spectacular sunrise that coated the surrounding mountains in a dusting of pinks and oranges. The message was clear: The reason we’d come all this way was not for a well-stocked bar or a beautifully appointed sauna or an extensive library—all of which the Sylvia Earle has. The reason is out there.

Sebastian Modak is a journalist based in New York. In the past, he’s toured the world as a drummer, spent a year in Botswana documenting the local hip-hop scene, and, in 2019, was the New York Times 52 Places Traveler.
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