Arctic Vs Antarctic Cruising

Have you ever thought about taking an Antarctic cruise or Arctic cruise? If so, you’re not alone. Arctic expedition and Antarctica cruising are often near the top of many people’s bucket lists.

But what is it like to go on an Arctic exploration or Antarctic adventure? Here, we look at Arctic Vs Antarctic cruising and the differences between Arctic and Antarctica expedition cruises, to help you choose which polar cruise is best for you.

We’ll start giving you an overview of the Polar Regions, what it’s like to be on an Antarctic or Arctic adventure cruise and look at the cruise ships that go to these regions; then look at Arctic cruises; Antarctic cruises; and the difference between the two to find the best Antarctica cruise or Arctic circle expedition for you.

The Polar Regions are the most unexplored regions on earth. They are the least populated by humans and are wild, untamed landscapes that we are drawn to, to feel the solitude and peacefulness of being among nature, away from human civilisation in the last land frontier to explore.

Antarctic cruise and Arctic cruise offer undisputedly the best way to see both regions without having to train for months for a polar expedition. Most of the action is seen in or from the water, and the land is either mostly water, snow, and ice (Arctic) or inhospitable to navigate without a lot of training (Antarctica). 

 

 

Expedition Cruising

Cruising allows you to get right into the most thrilling parts of the regions without trekking for days and freezing your digits off. Whether you are doing an Arctic or Antarctica adventure, the weather is similar in both regions: changeable with sunshine, heavy cloud, or snow – so bring layers. Both are generally cold, and thermals are almost always needed on Zodiac trips or kayaking.

 

Kayaking

Royal Caribbean Cruises goes to Iceland and Greenland, also stopping in other northern Europe ports including in Ireland, Scotland, and the Netherlands.

Celebrity offers multiple cruises to the area, including leaving from the UK, stopping in Iceland, Scottish islands, Greenland, and Ireland. As well as once in a lifetime 14-day trips to Antarctica sailing out of Buenos Aires. 

Princess Cruises has comprehensive options to cruise the Arctic area, with cruises going to the north of Norway, all the way up to Spitsbergen, to Iceland, Nova Scotia and Quebec in Canada, Denmark, and Greenland. They also have Antarctic cruises sailing from Buenos Aires to the Falkland Islands, to the Antarctic Peninsula around Cape Horn to around Ushuaia in Argentina to Punta Arenas then Santiago in Chile. 

Norwegian Cruise Lines have exciting cruises to the Arctic area in Iceland and Norway sailing from the UK, plus sailings to Iceland and Greenland on roundtrips from Reykjavik in Iceland.

P&O heads to the Arctic in Norway and Iceland, conveniently sailing out of Southampton. 

Azamara offers several itineraries in the Arctic region.

Carnival offer Arctic trips stopping in Greenland, around Iceland and to the Scottish islands.

Cunard heads to the fjords of Iceland and the British Isles.

Fred. Olsen have various Arctic adventures visiting Iceland, Norway including all the way up to Spitsbergen, and Greenland – all with UK departures.

Holland America Line has a great mix of Arctic and Antarctic cruises on offer, with itineraries including Iceland, Greenland, Norway, the Antarctic Channel, and the Falkland Islands.

MSC has exciting Arctic cruises planned to include going north through Scandinavia.

Oceania visits the Arctic in Norway and Iceland, sailing from Southampton or Reykjavik.

What does the Arctic and Antarctic have in common?

Cruising to both regions includes having experts on-board with you, such as naturalists or marine biologists. In both regions, visitors will learn more about the polar exploration adventurers of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The weather on both Polar cruises will be mostly cold, so taking lots of layers is advised – in particular to wear on Zodiac excursions.

Which is better – Arctic or Antarctic? And what is the difference between the Arctic and Antarctic? How do you choose which of the 12,500 miles apart polar regions to cruise to? Or which to visit first?

Here are some highlights of both regions to help you decide.

Royal Caribbean Cruises, Celebrity, Princess Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Lines, P&O, Oceania, MSC, Holland America Line, Fred. Olsen, Cunard, Carnival and Azamara offer excellent polar cruises, taking you to the edge of the world in luxury with experts on the regions to help visitors understand why the areas are like they are, and how the animals and people survive there, bringing the area to life.

 

Arctic

The Arctic region is not too far to get to from the UK, so an expedition to the Arctic does not need you to have two-three free weeks, you can see parts of it in a week. There are multiple expedition options to join trips to various parts of it.

The Arctic is not a landmass at all – it is an icy sea surrounded by land. This is why the Arctic is not a continent like Antarctica, as it is a land mass surrounded by icy sea.

Arctic cruising is becoming more popular due to its proximity to the UK, more lines going there and excellent adventure options for all levels of physical ability being on offer. All lines that go there have experts on the area onboard to teach you about the flora, fauna, geology, and landscape of this incredible region.

The people: Does the Arctic or Antarctic have permanent inhabitants?

While Antarctica is uninhabited, except for researchers studying the ice continent, the Arctic has rich traditions from the Native tribes who have lived there for thousands of years. The Inuit live at the border at North America and Greenland. The Sami tribe are in the north of Europe are the Sami. And the Yakuts live at the border with Siberia in Russia. The peoples who live in this area are resourceful and tough, being able to live in this harsh landscape.

A highlight of cruising to the Arctic is going on an excursion to meet local people and see how they live in this tough environment and see how they still use many traditional ways of living today.

What wildlife could I spot during my Arctic cruise?

Polar Bear - The word Arctic means ‘near the bear,’ coming from the Greek work arktikos. This makes sense as it is the home of the world’s largest land predator, the polar bear. Weighing in at up to 1,500lb and nose-to-tail length of up to 8ft 6’, it’s easy to see why seeing the magnificent – and endangered –polar bear in the wild is one of the main draws to the Arctic. 

Arctic Fox - Despite the seemingly desolate landscape, the Arctic is home to many exciting animals, including caribou, reindeer, and Arctic foxes on land.

Snowy Owl - In the sky, the ptarmigan, three types of goose, snowy owls, divers, gulls, and clown-like Atlantic puffins fly high. The most impressive of birds of both Polar regions, is the Arctic tern. It is named the Arctic tern, as it starts life in the Arctic, but migrates to Antarctica to experience both summers, travelling up to 1.5 million miles over its lifetime.

Walrus - In the sea, walrus, beluga whales and narwhal live under the icy cold water, popping up appearing to greet visitors every now and then

Landscape

The Arctic is a sea of ice, surrounded by land, most of which is made up of tundra, frozen, barren land too cold for trees to grow on.

The Arctic area spans from Norway’s northern regions, the Svalbard archipelago, Greenland, Finland, Sweden, Russia, Canada, Iceland, and the USA (Alaska), and accounts for six percent of the earth’s surface.

Excursions

The Arctic boast fantastic shore excursions on all cruises. As well as official guided excursions, some vessels have their own Zodiac boats, which will have guided tours taken by experts onboard. See details for the cruise line you are travelling with for specific information for your ship.

Here are a few of our top picks of organised excursions in the Arctic:

Royal Caribbean Cruises

Celebrity has excellent shore excursions. Some of our favourites include the Qaqortoq Town Walk to get a feel of what it is like to live in this remote region, and the Boat tour to Uunartoq Hot Springs to see the natural beauty of the landscape up close in Qaqortoq, Greenland.

Princess Cruises has a plethora of exciting shore excursions for all levels of fitness and tastes, including in Akureyri in Iceland, the fantastic trip to Godafoss Waterfall, Lava Labyrinth and Hot Springs to see the spectacular falls, springs and learn about the mythology of the area. Iceland is known for its horses, and a great way to really connect with the land and make some four-legged friends is to go on the Icelandic Horseback Riding tour here.

Norwegian Cruise Lines has some great excursions for thrill seekers, including the Rib Ride Rigid Inflatable Boat, where you speed along the waters around the town, then look for wildlife. Culture vultures enjoy the City Walk and Art Nouveau Centre to learn about the city Alesund’s place as one of the last three Art Nouveau cities in Europe in this interesting museum.

Holland America Line have in-depth cultural shore excursions as part of their EXC Program (Exploration Central), with tours that get you in touch with local wildlife, landscapes, people, culture, and food of the ports. In Honningsvåg in the north of Norway, you can take a tour to the North Cape Hall and Cliffs Transfer, where you go to the top of the world, at the most northern point of Europe’s land mass, at a latitude of 71 degree, 10’ north. Learn about the area and gaze out at the 1,000ft drop from the cliffs onto the cold Arctic Sea below.

 

Arctic Excursion

Where will you sail to?

Since the Arctic covers such a large area, there are multiple areas to visit within it, with the season and weather dictating where can be visited when. Classic Norway and Spitsbergen voyages often depart from British or Scandinavian ports, sailing along the Norwegian coastline, up to the Lofoten Islands or past the North Cape, up to the Svalbard Archipelago, up to Ny Ålesund research station and Magdalena Bay. Greenland and Canada sailing go to Arctic Greenland, sailing along Greenland’s coast or to Canada’s high Arctic territories. Sailing the Northwest Passage often starts joining a ship in Nunavut or Alaska, or from Iceland or Greenland.

What is the best month to visit the Arctic?

The main Arctic cruise season runs from May to September, to coincide with the summer season. Peak season is July and August as the snow has mostly melted on land, plants and flowers have grown, and animals are rearing their young. Smaller ships can push farther north in the height of summer as the ice retreats.

Winter trips are becoming more popular to see the Aurora Borealis and participate in winter adventure activities.

 

Aurora Borealis

How long is a cruise to the Arctic?

Cruise lengths vary and can be from just seven days to three weeks in length if you wish to take in more of the Arctic regions. Check out all the options here.

How long does it take to get there?

It takes less than a day each way to get to a cruise heading to the Arctic. Fly from the UK to the main Arctic cruise starting points of Spitsbergen, Reykjavik, or Nome. Flights to Reykjavik from London only take just over three hours, and many Arctic cruises even start sailing from the UK.

History

Local indigenous peoples have populated the Arctic region for thousands of years, including the Inuit in the part of it in North America and Greenland, the Sami in the north of Europe and the Yakuts in Siberia in Russia.

There is some controversy about which westerner reached the North Pole first. The main contenders include New York doctor Cook who claims to have reached it in 1908 but had to winter there after being stuck by bad weather; American explorer Robert Peary in 1909; and the airship Norge, led by Roald Amundsen flew over it in 1926.

Which companies and cruise ships go to the Arctic?

Royal Caribbean Cruises, Celebrity, Princess Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Lines, P&O, Oceania, MSC, Holland America Line, Fred. Olsen, Cunard, Carnival and Azamara all have various cruises going to the Arctic.

See all of our Polar Region cruises here.

 

Antarctica

All ships, including cruise ships, can only sail in Antarctica with special permits and the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) strictly monitors activity of vessels visiting the continent.

Cruising is the way to go to get closer to Antarctica’s incredible landscape and wildlife.

All ships sailing there have to have an educational purpose, not simply pleasure cruising – which means all ships visiting Antarctica have experts onboard to teach you about the history, nature, landscapes, geology, and wildlife of the area.

Cruise lines have to apply annually for a permit to sail in Antarctica. They have to meet strict guidelines, proving that their activities will have less than a minor impact on the environment.

Antarctica will not be open for tourists forever, so if this is on your bucket list, there’s no better time to book than now!

The seventh continent

While the Arctic covers part of eight countries – Canada, the USA, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia – Antarctica does not belong to any country but is its own continent. So, for travellers who are keen to tick that final seventh continent off their bucket list, Antarctica does that.

What wildlife could I spot during my Antarctic cruise?

The most popular animal in Antarctica, and the one everyone wants to meet, is the charming penguin. Eight of the world’s seventeen species of penguin are found in the Antarctic area: Adelie, macaroni, chinstrap, king, rockhopper, Magellanic, Gentoo and the regal emperor penguins. Antarctic cruises that stop in the Falkland Islands take you out to land on land to visit colonies of various species of the humour-filled birds up close. They are so engaging, that after a few minutes, you will even forget the smell!

 

 

Land

Antarctica, although at first, seemingly barren and too harsh a climate for much wildlife, is actually home to a plethora of fascinating animals. But there are no land mammals, only a few species of insect.

Sky

The skies above Antarctica have a plethora of predatory birds, including five species of albatross – among them the world’s largest bird, the wandering albatross, which has a wingspan of 11.5ft – ten species of petrel, three species of prion and the Antarctic and super-migrator, the Arctic tern.

Sea

The sea is home to seals, whales, birds – and everyone’s favourite, penguins. The crabeater seal is the most common, and Weddell seals are often seen resting on icebergs during breeding season in November and December. Ten species of whale migrate to Antarctica in October to March during feeding and breeding season. Humpback, minke, orca, southern right, sperm – and even the elusive blue whale are often seen very close to vessels.

 

Landscape

The landscape of Antarctica is truly breath-taking. The Antarctic Ice Sheet is the largest mass of ice in the world, with some parts up to four miles thick. It is the world’s largest desert, and its Dry Valleys being the driest place on earth with so little moisture, that snow and ice cannot even accumulate there. It is the windiest place on earth, with winds of up to two hundred miles per hour.

 

Excursions

Antarctica has thrilling shore excursions on cruises.

Only ships with five hundred or fewer berths are permitted to make landings in Antarctica, so while ships sail to Antarctica, most cannot land there.

See details for the cruise line you are travelling with for specific information for your ship.

Here are a few of our top picks of organised excursions for each cruise line in Antarctica:

Celebrity if you love penguins – and let’s face it, who doesn’t? – the North Pond Penguin Tour in Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands is for you. You get up close and personal with Gentoo and Magellanic penguins on a 4x4 taking you around the cape to the penguin-filled beach, where you’ll be surrounded by the lovable birds. If you love nature, visiting Tierra del Fuego National Park is not to miss in Ushuaia. See the glory of the 150,000-acre park filled with lakes, rivers, peat bogs and forests.

Princess Cruises if you’re a oenophile, you may want to spend your time in Montevideo in Uruguay on the Local Connections: Best of Montevideo and Spinoglio Winery Tour learning about the people, history and wine of the area. In Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands, Bertha’s Beach and Flatlands Wildlife Excursion takes you to see 800 Gentoo penguins, as well as other local birds including black-necked swan, migratory white-rumped sandpipers, Patagonian crested ducks in this IBA (Important Bird Area.

Holland America Line take you to Volunteer Point King Penguin Rookery on their World Wonders Collection tour to meet around a thousand adult – plus several hundred chicks – of the rarely seen King Penguin, plus around 1,000 Gentoos and several thousand Magellan penguins. This is the tour for avid penguin fans. Foodie fans will love their Southern King Crab Fishing and Gourmet Experience in Ushuaia, in partnership with Food and Wine Magazine, spending the day in a picturesque village on the Beagle Channel, getting to know local life and food.

 

Where will you sail to?

Most vessels sail to the Antarctic Peninsula, which stretches from the great white continent towards South America. Some ships also sail to the Ross Sea from New Zealand.

What is the best month to visit Antarctica?

Expeditions to Antarctica take place from November to March, with December, with January and February being the main season. This is when the ice has melted the most at the height of Antarctic summer, giving the longest daylight hours and better ice conditions to allow safe navigation. The Antarctic Peninsula is the first area to thaw and be reachable.

How long is a cruise to Antarctica?

Cruise lengths vary, depending on where you start your cruise and which areas you wish to visit, but they are generally between 14-21 days. Check out all the options here.

How long does it take to get there?

It takes at least two days each way to get to and from a ship sailing to Antarctica. You fly from the UK to usually Buenos Aires, stay a night, then fly to Ushuaia in southern Argentina, to join most cruises.

 

History

Antarctica’s history with humans only started in 1820 when it was officially discovered by a Russian expedition led by Mikhail Lazarev and Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen.

Antarctica has no indigenous people, and still has no permanent residents. The only humans that live there are the multinational scientists who stay there for set amounts of time to study it.

Which companies and cruise ships go to Antarctica?

Celebrity, Princess Cruises and Holland America Line have excellent cruises that sail in the Antarctic Peninsula, usually sailing out of Ushuaia, and landing in the Falkland Islands – the best place to see penguins up close.

 

If polar bears, rich Indigenous culture from eight countries, lots of wildlife to see on land, in the sea and sky and possibly making it all the way to the actual North Pole is your thing, and you like the shorter trip to get there – head to the Arctic first.

There are multiple itineraries where you can visit the magic of the Arctic, so start with the one that grabs your attention most first.

We hope this has given you a little something to consider on which Polar Region cruise might be the best one for you. Take a look through all the Polar Region cruises on Cruise118.com and call our Concierge as soon as you’ve found one you like the look of or have more questions about, and to get a quote.

We are here and ready to help you plan that trip of a lifetime to one of the bucket list Polar destinations.