A journey to Antarctica, often considered the pinnacle of adventurous travel, stands as a quintessential bucket list experience for intrepid explorers. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime odyssey that takes you far beyond the realms of typical travel destinations, immersing you in a destination where the hand of human civilization has scarcely left its mark.
The allure of Antarctica lies not only in its pristine landscapes but also in the extraordinary abundance of wildlife that populates this remote continent. Yet, an expedition to this distant land offers more than just encounters with various types of penguins, seals, and whales; it’s a voyage that will test your tenacity as you navigate the waters of the Drake Passage, considered some of the roughest seas on Earth. Moreover, amidst the breathtaking vistas and serene surroundings, it provides a rare opportunity for profound soul-searching and self-reflection.
When it comes to going on this remarkable adventure, there’s no better way than through the “Highlights of Antarctica” expedition with Hurtigruten. Their commitment to sustainability, educational offerings onboard, and a touch of luxury make this journey a true holiday, marrying adventure with comfort in one of the world’s most inhospitable environments.
Departure and logistics
If you are considering going on the Highlights of Antarctica cruise with Hurtigruten, you are most likely to travel on one of the two ships: MS Fridtjof Nansen or MS Roald Amundsen. They are considered sister ships and have the same layout.
The Highlights of Antarctica cruise starts from Ushuaia, the most southern city in the world.
Hurtigruten often allows you to purchase a package holiday, with flights, transfers and hotels included from your starting point. These are typically one-off promotions, but they represent excellent value for money, so we highly recommend waiting for one of these offers before booking!
Alternatively, you can opt for “cruise only”, and book all your travel yourself. We have also seen an option to make independent plans to go to Buenos Aires, and then have flights and transfers arranged by Hurtigruten from there on.
For our expedition cruise, we opted for a package holiday. The flight from London took us to Buenos Aires, where we spent a day exploring (optional excursions are offered by Hurtigruten too), and a night in a luxury 5-star hotel.
An early morning flight (a charter flight and a few scheduled flights we arranged for us) took us to Ushuaia. Our luggage was taken straight to the ship from the airport. There was an option to book an excursion around Tierra Del Fuego before we boarded the ship or you could spend the morning exploring Ushuaia itself.
In the afternoon, we boarded a hybrid-powered expedition ship – MS Fridtjof Nansen and our trip to Antarctic Peninsula truly began!
Highlights of Antarctica: Hurtigruten Expeditions facts
Duration: 12 days from Buenos Aires (1-2 days extra depending on where you’re travelling from)
Days in Antarctica: 5 days of exploration
Ships: MS Fridtjof Nansen or MS Roald Amundsen
Requirements: Travel insurance, visa (if required), doctor’s medical screening note (Fit-For-Travel form) signed by your general practitioner (family doctor).
What is included in the Highlights of Antarctica cruise?
As discussed above, you may have flights, transfers and hotels included from your starting point or Buenos Aires, depending on the package/ promotion that you book. But you may be wondering what is included in the price of the cruise once you’re on board.
- Accommodation. You can choose your cabin at the time of booking: a window cabin (windows are huge!), a balcony cabin of one of the suites. Of all of our cruises, we rate Nansen ship cabins the highest – they are comfortable and luxurious. Read more about our cabin in the MS Fridtjof Nansen Ship review.
- All meals. You have breakfast, lunch and dinner served in the Aune dining room, and fast food options in Fredheim, plus Lindstrøm for suite guests only. There are no snack stations during the day, but the guys at the bar in the Explorer Lounge often have cake and cookies if you ask them 🙂 There is no room service onboard, but Fredheim offers a take-away service. Read more about Dining on MS Fridtjof Nansen ship.
- House wine and beer (with lunch and dinner only). You may purchase extra drinks at the bar.
- Tea, coffee and water throughout the day.
- WI-FI! Yes, you get free Starlink internet in Antarctica. Whilst some people complain that it is not reliable, we had an internet connection 95% of the time whilst on the Highlights of Antarctica cruise.
- A waterproof windproof jacket and a reusable water bottle to keep. And boots for landings that you must return at the end of your Antarctic adventure.
- A bunch of on-board facilities, including a sauna, hot tubs, pool and gym.
- Lectures, workshops, educational talks and use of Science Centre.
- Landings: although landing activities are not guided per se, the paths are clearly marked, and there are members of the expedition team to assist you or answer any questions along the way.
What is more, zodiac boat tours, birdwatching, cloud watching and other activities from the observation decks, and occasional South American snack is included in the price of the cruise. Whilst gratuities are not explicitly included, they are not expected.
The check-in process was somewhat different on the Hurtigruten cruise. Our documents were submitted online and we were given our room cards on our bus transfer to the ship. Our luggage was later delivered to our cabins.
The first couple of days, whilst crossing the Drake Passage were filled with activities: safety drills, environmental protection lectures, collecting the coat and boots, and vacuum cleaning outerwear to ensure no seeds, bugs or non-native biological matter enter Antarctica.
The first dinner time was also allocated for us automatically, but we could make our own reservations for the following days on the Hurtigruten app.
The app also had a daily program for each day, with opening times of various onboard facilities, times for lectures and workshops, and special promotions at the spa and onboard shop. You could also get a printed copy at the reception desk.
There are plenty of things to do onboard the ship, even when you spend 48 hours crossing the Drake Passage, so you will not be bored:
- We had some excellent educational talks about Sustainable travel, Antarctica’s History, the impact of climate change and the Wildlife we can expect to see in Antarctica
- Citizens Science Programme NASA cloud observations
- Hands-on rock and ice lectures in the onboard science centre
- Sea birdwatching sessions on deck with the ship’s ornithologist and environmentalist
- Navigation and Bird Photography Workshops
- And many more…
You will also find a board game corner, a gym, a spa, and even a knitting corner! Crew members often organize specific gatherings for solo travellers or those with similar interests.
At the beginning of your cruise, passengers get assigned a group named after one of the birds or animals of Antarctica, like Minke Whales, Snow Petrels, Weddel Seals, etc.
On your daily programme, you will get an approximate timing of your landing and any other activities, like zodiac cruising or extra-charge excursions, like kayaking or snowshoeing. You will then wait for an announcement that is heard through the speakers all around the ship whose turn it is to go onshore.
Once you hear your group being called, get dressed, put the boots provided by Hurtigruten on, and always wear a life jacket that you will find in your room. Do not forget your room card. Head down to the tender pit, where you will board one of the zodiac boats that will take you to shore.
Every time you leave the ship, your card will get scanned, so that the expedition team can keep track of who is on board and who is out on an adventure. What is more, landing sites in Antractica do not allow more than 100 passengers to be onshore at any given time to minimise environmental impact and disruption of wildlife.
At the beginning of the cruise, we were taught how to get into a zodiac boat safely, and there were always crew members, making sure you didn’t trip over or fall in the water.
The skipper will navigate the zodiac to the designated landing area, where additional crew members will be on hand to assist you as you disembark. They will also provide you with information regarding the specific hiking zone, including any important instructions and the designated return time.
Landings are categorized as either “wet” or “dry” depending on whether you’ll need to wade through water or not. Wet landings entail stepping into water that reaches higher than your ankles, and considering the frigid temperatures of Antarctica’s waters, it’s natural to feel a hint of apprehension about taking that plunge. However, it’s essential to note that the boots provided for your Antarctica expedition are specifically designed to ensure a smooth and comfortable experience during these landings.
When it is time to come back, you will repeat the process in reverse – hopping onto the zodiac boat and returning to the ship. Once back on board, you will be asked to walk through a boot cleaning machine, that scrubs them well to prevent cross-contamination between landings and to keep the ship clean.
Your card is then scanned again and you are free to go on your way.
Our Highlight of Antarctica itinerary
Each Antractica cruise is different, and you will rarely find an exact itinerary advertised on the Hurtigruten website. Antractica is unpredictable, and the route may change due to weather, wind and sea ice blocking the landing sites. But Highlights of Antarctica expedition promises you 5 magical days in Antractica, and they truly delivered on our cruise. Here are all the places we visited from leaving London Heathrow:
DAY 1: Overnight flight to Buenos Aires
An evening flight, booked for us by Hurtigruten, left London Heathrow, stopping at São Paulo, Brazil (we did not have to leave the plane). We arrived in Buenos Aires the next morning.
DAY 2: Transfer to hotel in Buenos Aires
At the airport, we were greeted by a Hurtigruten representative and got to meet fellow travellers on the transfer to the hotel. Hurtigruten has arranged an overnight stay at a luxurious Sofitel Recoleta Hotel for us.
At the hotel were again met by Hurtigruten representatives who gave us all the information about the flight to Ushuaia the next day, and the optional excursion we booked for the afternoon (The Highlights of Buenos Aires). We then spent an afternoon exploring Buenos Aires with a local guide.
DAY 3: Flight to Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego & embarkation
It was an extremely early start for us: we grabbed a packaged breakfast and left the hotel at 3 a.m. to catch a charter flight to Ushuaia.
When we arrived, our luggage was transferred directly to the ship. We had rebooked a half-day excursion to Tierra del Fuego National Park via Hurtigruten, but you will have the option to go directly to the cruise port or explore Ushuaia independently.
We got handed our cruise cards (room keys) on the bus transfer to the port from our excursion and did not need to check in again once onboard. The card simply got scanned as we walked onto the ship.
The first afternoon was busy unpacking, attending the welcome dinner, meeting the expedition team, exploring the ship and attending all the compulsory briefings.
DAY 4-5: Drake Passage
Drake Passage is a price you need to pay to get rewarded with the spectacular views of Antractica, once you get there. This infamous passage of water is known for being the roughest seas in the world, and it is an adventure in its own right! If you feel well enough, or you are lucky to get the Drake Lake (as opposed to Drake Shake) you will have plenty of lectures to attend and lots of bird and whale watching opportunities in their natural habitat. We saw hundreds of Humpback whales surrounding the ship on our way to Antarctica and we would have thought the cruise was value for money even if it was the end of the cruise.
DAY 6: Yalor Islands and Petermann Island
The first sight of Antarctica will live in our memories forever. As soon as we looked out the window the magical antarctic scenery unfolded. The day was sunny, there was no wind, and the snow-capped mountains in the distance took our breath away. For the first time in our lives, we actually forgot about breakfast and stayed on deck!
On our first day in Antractica, we were meant to do a landing on one of the Yalor Islands, but we soon realised how unpredictable this trip was going to be. The landing site was completely blocked by sea ice. The expedition team on the Highlights of Antarctica cruise was excellent at rearranging the plans quickly and making sure everyone was informed about the changes in the itinerary. We spend the morning cruising around the Yalour Islands with the ship’s expert on ice, getting amazing photographs of the Antarctic icebergs and penguins jumping in and out of the water.
In the afternoon, we did our first landing on Petermann Island known for its large colony of gentoo penguins.
DAY 7: Port Charcot
The next day we arrived at Port Charcot on Booth Island and hiked up from the Salpêtrière Bay to the cairn signifying the French Expedition led by Jean-Baptiste Charcot. The place was full of Gentoo penguins that were completely unphased by our arrival. And we even spotted the first Chinstrap penguins.
We were scheduled to camp here overnight. Unfortunately, it was cancelled due to strong winds.
DAY 8: Port Lockroy, Jougla Point and Lemaire Channel
Nestled within the breathtaking Antarctic landscapes, Port Lockroy stands as an intriguing blend of historical significance, scientific pursuit, and a thriving penguin habitat. Situated on Goudier Island in the pristine waters of the Antarctic Peninsula, this former wartime outpost has transitioned from a covert military installation to a magnet for intrepid adventurers and inquisitive travellers. Notably, it now hosts the southernmost Post Office in the world.
Two staff members from Port Lockroy came on board to tell us more about their lives on this remote island.
In the afternoon, we cruised around Jougla Point, witnessing the remains of the whaling past! Lots of whale bones lie onshore, surrounded by playful penguin colonies, and colossal glaciers. It’s a sight to be seen!
Sailing through the renowned Lemaire Channel in Antarctica was nothing short of a mesmerizing voyage. With an experienced captain at the helm skillfully navigating the colossal icebergs, we were transported back in time to an era reminiscent of the great explorers. As we sailed through this amazing world of ice and water, the natural majesty of the Antarctic landscape unfolded before our eyes. The sight of penguins, seabirds, and the occasional seal only heightened the sense of wonder and connection with the region’s rich Antarctic wildlife. What made this experience even more unforgettable was the fact that we sailed through this great spot at sunset, casting an enchanting and romantic aura over the entire journey.
DAY 8: Orne Harbour and Danco Island
Famous for its large colony of chinstrap penguins and majestic landscapes, Orne Harbour was also the only continental landing that we did, so it was truly a 7th Continent experience. This was probably our favourite location we got to explore on our Highlights of Antarctica trip.
We also cruised around Danco Island, where we got to see some of the most intricate icebergs.
DAY 9: Deception Island
There are a few possible landing sites on Deception Island, including Whalers Bay which is home to an abandoned whaling station known as Hektor, as well as a derelict British base. You may also land in Pendulum Cove or Fumarole Bay. On our trip, we went to Telefon Bay, from which we did a strenuous but extremely scenic hike around the caldera.
This was our final day in Antractica, and we finished it with a polar plunge! Read more about Deception Island and the polar plunge experience!
DAY 10-11: Crossing Drake Passage
The next couple of days were spent at sea, crossing the Drake Passage. And we were rewarded with mostly calm seas, spending lots of time on deck bird watching. We also got to visit the bridge on the last day.
We arrived back in Ushuaia on the evening of Day 11 and spent the night on board the ship whilst docked at the port.
DAY 12: Disembarkation day
Lucky for us, we came back to Ushuaia on the day when Argentina won the FIFA World Cup! It was amazing to see all the celebrations and joy of the Argentinian people!
We were meant to fly to Buenos Aires the next morning, but due to technical issues, stayed in a hotel in Ushuaia overnight. Since we booked a package holiday, all the flights (including connections) were arranged by Hurtigruten.
DAY 13-14: Overnight stay in Buenos Aires & flight back home
On the way back, we were transferred to a 5-star hotel in Buenos Aires (Emperador). Due to a cancelled flight from Ushuaia, and travel disruptions due to celebrations of the win of FIFA, we were running 2 days late to come back home. Hurtigruten has arranged a free dinner at the hotel for us as a kind gesture.
All the landings and zodiac cruises are included in the price of your polar expedition. But there are some optional activities that you may consider booking for an extra charge. Here are the extras that were offered on our Highlights of Antarctica expedition cruise on MS Fridtjof Nansen.
1. Camping in Antractica
One of the most extraordinary extra activities offered on an Antarctica cruise is the opportunity to camp overnight on this pristine continent. The chance to spend a night in a tent amidst the frozen wilderness, listening to the enchanting sounds of the wildlife of Antarctica, and basking in the glow of the midnight sun is an experience like no other.
However, this adventure is in high demand, and getting selected is akin to winning a lottery ticket, reflecting the exclusivity of the opportunity. While the cost is on the higher side, the experience promises to be worth every penny. Those fortunate enough to secure a spot must undergo a training session to prepare for the unique challenges of camping in Antarctica.
Once on the shore, you’ll set up your own tent using gear provided by Hurtigruten, adding an element of self-sufficiency to the adventure. It’s important to note that, in the spirit of conservation, no food or drinks (except for water) are allowed on the shore during the camping experience. However, despite all the anticipation, we, regrettably, found our camping adventure cancelled due to strong winds, leaving us with a sense of missed adventure but also an understanding of the unpredictable nature of this extraordinary journey.
Kayaking in Antarctica offers a truly immersive and intimate experience with the icy wonderland that is the White Continent. This highly sought-after adventure is an unparalleled opportunity for exploration and connection with the pristine polar environment. Due to its popularity, securing a spot for kayaking is akin to winning a lottery, emphasizing the exclusivity of the experience.
Paddling in the company of icebergs, seals, and curious penguins while surrounded by the breathtaking Antarctic scenery is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. Whether it’s navigating serene waters or encountering wildlife in their natural habitat, kayaking in Antarctica promises an unparalleled connection to the world’s most remote and awe-inspiring wilderness.
Snowshoeing in Antarctica is an extraordinary adventure that allows you to explore the pristine landscapes in a unique and intimate manner. However, during our expedition in December, an unusual amount of unseasonal snow blanketed the region. This unexpected abundance of snow serves as a stark reminder of the rapidly changing climate, impacting the continent in unprecedented ways. Sadly, this situation made snowshoeing impossible during our journey. It underscores the need for increased awareness and conservation efforts to safeguard the fragile Antarctic ecosystem in the face of climate change. While our plans to venture into the snow-covered expanses may have been thwarted, it serves as a poignant reminder of the delicate balance that sustains this remarkable environment, and the urgent need to address the climate challenges it faces.
4. Spa treatments
Whilst MS Fridtjof Nansen doesn’t have a wellness area per se (although sauna, pools and hot tubs are included in the price of the cruise) they do have a wonderful span. Whilst crossing the Drake Passage you will have plenty of time, so consider booking a relaxing appointment.
5. Polar plunge
One of the most exhilarating optional activities on an Antarctica expedition is the legendary Polar Plunge (and it comes at no extra cost). Our opportunity for this daring adventure came on the last day of our journey, at the captivating Deception Island. Facing the icy, pristine polar waters, we took the plunge, immersing ourselves in the frigid Antarctic sea. The feeling of braving the elements in this unique fashion is truly unforgettable and symbolizes the incredible spirit of exploration that defines any Antarctic expedition.
6. Pre-Cruise excursions and extensions
Hurtigruten offers a few excursions in Buenos Aires and Ushuaia at an extra charge. If you don’t fancy relaxing in your hotel room or exploring the cities independently, see if you may be interested in making the most of your time in South America with the guided tours.
7. Post-Cruise Excursions and Extensions
Similarly, you may be interested in a post-cruise excursion.
Expedition team makes the trip
What truly sets the “Highlights of Antarctica” cruise apart is the exceptional Expedition Team that accompanies each journey. These dedicated individuals are unwaveringly focused on education, ensuring that every traveller gains a deep understanding of the polar regions they explore. With whale experts onboard conducting scientific research, the expedition becomes an opportunity not just for exploration but for meaningful contribution to our understanding of this remote land.
The team shares their expertise through a series of captivating lectures and presentations, offering insights into their latest findings. Moreover, the presence of professional photographers and crew who return to Antarctica again and again speaks to their passion for the region, infusing each voyage with boundless enthusiasm.
The ship’s Science Centre, equipped with a wealth of scientific tools, encourages travellers to immerse themselves in hands-on experiences and become a part of the scientific community, further enhancing the educational aspect of these unforgettable Antarctica expeditions.
Highlights of Antarctica FAQs
Hurtigruten Expeditions stands out as truly exceptional for several reasons. Firstly, their commitment to inclusivity is evident through their single supplement policy, making solo travel more accessible and affordable. Secondly, the unique experience of travelling on Hurtigruten ships, renowned for their combination of comfort and sustainability, adds an extra layer of distinction to these journeys. The incorporation of a Citizen Science Programme allows passengers to actively engage in scientific research, contributing to a deeper understanding of the remote regions of the world they explore. Additionally, the small passenger size fosters a more intimate and personalized experience, while the provision of scientific equipment empowers travellers to actively participate in data collection and analysis. All these elements combined make Hurtigruten Expeditions an unparalleled choice for those seeking to embark on transformative adventures in some of the most remote regions of the world.
Hurtigruten’s hybrid-powered ship, MS Fridtjof Nansen was the most luxurious ship we’ve ever been on. It is small and cosy, toned-down in decor, but the quality shone through. From toiletries to the quality of the equipment provided, from the comfort of the bed to the customer service onboard, Hurtigruten screams luxury. The only slight letdown was the food in Aune restaurant, but in all honesty, nobody goes on an Antarctic expedition for Michelin-star cuisine anyway!
Mostly English, but there were a few interpreters on board, and the lectures were translated into German and/ or French through an earpiece.
Not quite sure, if the Antarctica trip is for you? We have 21 reasons why you should visit Antarctica ASAP!
The most surprising part of Antarctica for us was this: we had extremely high expectations and we almost expected to be slightly disappointed. But the trip to the bottom of the world completely blew us away. So much so, that we are hoping to go back as soon as we can, and we would no doubt choose Hurtigruten Expeditions to travel to the frozen continent again. Even with the unpredictable weather and changes in our route, the expedition team created the best possible itinerary for us! We truly believe that this trip was the best way to experience Antarctica for the first time, combining comfort, adventure and enrichment all in one voyage!