Antarctica is the most southerly continent in the world. It's also the least populated, with its thousand or so human inhabitants living in research bases from countries as diverse as Russia and South Africa. Only a handful of cruise ships sail the icy waters here and they can only do it because they're specially built to deal with the harsh conditions.
However, the continent is one of stunning scenery, with rugged mountains, vast expanses of ice and hot springs. Wildlife here consists mainly of marine mammals such as whales as well as migratory birds, including penguins. Cruises generally visit the Antarctic Peninsula, the Ross Sea, the South Shetland Islands and Anvord Bay.
The season for cruises is the southern summer, which peaks from December to February. Days are very long during this time and you may even experience the midnight sun. Temperatures are very low but aren't necessarily freezing in summer. However, the weather can be unpredictable and you should be open to the idea of last-minute changes to your itinerary.
Most cruises around Antarctica are quite casual and your clothing should focus on warmth rather than on style. You'll also need waterproof gear, especially footwear, for getting around on the ice. For the hot springs, you'll want your bathing suit. Sunscreen is essential since severe sunburn is a real risk and you may also want to bring sunglasses for the glare. Remember to bring everything you might need, since you can't simply buy supplies at your destination.
Because you'll be spending quite a bit of money, you need to choose your cruise company with care. Check their itinerary to see whether you'll be able to visit destinations on land or whether you'll only be sailing past. The size of the vessel they use makes a difference too, since large ships are better in rough seas but smaller boats can get to more places. Most importantly, check that the operator is a member of the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators and has a reputation for environmental responsibility.
Cruises set out from various destinations. One of the most popular starting points is Ushuaia in Argentina, also known as the world's southernmost city. You may want to explore Patagonia before your departure. Otherwise, set sail from Hobart in Tasmania, Australia; from Invercargill or Port of Bluff in New Zealand; from Santiago in Chile or from Cape Town in South Africa. It's well worth building in some extra time before your cruise so that you can explore these wonderful locations too.
You can book cruises to Antarctica once you're in a port that offers voyages there, such as in Ushuaia. However, it's easier to simply book online. Online is a better option too because you can compare deals and customer feedback.
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