Beautiful scenery in Antarctica

Antarctica Cruise From Ushuaia – A Full Day By Day Itinerary

What To Expect On An Antarctica Cruise

When contemplating visiting a place that less than 1% of the world’s population has visited, there are bound to be some questions. Initially, the potentially rough water of the Drake Passage crossing made Kim hesitate to take this trip but after talking it over we decided to take the plunge and travel to the White Continent. And to be honest, our experience in Antarctica was truly exceptional.

We have seen some beautiful places and until now would have said New Zealand is the most scenic place we have seen. But never have we experienced such pristine, untouched beauty with breathtaking landscapes and such awesome sights as what we saw in Antarctica.

Gentoo penguin

Since, itineraries are typically fluid and most stops are at the discretion of the Captain, at the time we were planning this trip, we didn’t know what each day would look like and what to expect for the trip overall.

So, during the trip, we documented our experience in detail and are sharing it here so you can see exactly what can be expected on an Antarctica cruise from Ushuaia. We hope this will help those with planning a voyage to this amazing location.

Top Highlights Of An Antarctica Cruise From Ushuaia

Best Antarctica Cruise From Ushuaia

We may be biased based on our amazing experience but we feel that Atlas Ocean Voyages provides an excellent expedition experience coupled with the utmost in comfort. We enjoyed cruising through this incredible area, learning from our expedition team about what we were observing and enjoying a pleasant onboard experience of a spacious stateroom, terrific dining, and top-notch service.

Atlas World Navigator ship

This cruise line offers an expedition experience with a level of luxury, and this was a perfect match for us.

How Long Is The Cruise From Ushuaia To Antarctica?

If you are wondering, can you visit Antarctica from Ushuaia – the answer is yes. This is where most Antarctica cruises depart from. Crossing the Drake Passage can take between 1 ½ to 2 days. The journey time depends completely on the weather at the time of the crossing.

We were fortunate that our crossing on the way down was relatively smooth, and we made it to the South Shetland islands by mid-day of the second day of sailing.  On the way back we had two full days of sailing.

Ushuaia To Antarctica Distance

It is just under 1000 kms from Ushuaia to the first stop that Antarctica cruises usually make in the South Shetland Islands.

Ushuaia To Antarctica Map

Below is the map of the Drake Passage – it is 1000km from the tip of Argentina to the South Shetland Islands – the most northern part of the Antarctica area.

Map of Drake Passage

Our Personal Experience On An Antarctica Cruise From Ushuaia

Our adventure to Antarctica started with a direct flight to Buenos Aires where we spent three nights in advance of the cruise.  Having been to Buenos Aires previously, we were excited to be going back to our favourite South American city.  We toured around to enjoy parts of the city that we hadn’t seen before and joined the group at the Hilton the night before the cruise. 

Obelisk in Buenos Aires

Atlas Ocean Voyages provides a pre-stay night so everyone is in the same location for an early morning flight. The Hilton is a very nice property but located a little more out of the way from the major sites.  We were thrilled that our rooms were ready for an early check-in and once those formalities were complete, we found the Atlas courtesy desk to receive our package of information for the trip. 

Atlas courtesy desk

We were advised of the process for luggage – it needed to be left outside rooms by 8:00pm for collection – and the times for the multiple buses for group transfers to the airport for our 7:00am flight.  Buses were scheduled to begin at 4:20am but then later in the evening, we were informed our flight would be an hour later so our pick-up time was moved forward by one hour as well.

We enjoyed our last evening in Buenos Aires and had drinks with friends before retiring for the night in anticipation of our early morning start.

Day 1

Atlas provides a pastry and coffee, tea, or orange juice in the morning, in the lobby of the Hilton, while people are waiting to be loaded into the coaches. Being one of the last scheduled buses, we were fortunate to have some time to grab a quick bite and then load onto the bus.

Bus for airport transfer

The ride to the international airport is approximately 30 minutes. It was well organized, and the ground personnel provided our airline boarding passes as soon as we were seated on the bus.

Bus to the airport

We had only carry-on luggage but for those who had checked bags, it had already been taken through and checked in, so it was a nice seamless process. Upon arrival at the airport, we had a small queue for security and were through quite quickly to the lounge to wait for the call to board.

airport lounge

The FlyBondi flight was a charter so everyone on the flight would also be aboard our ship along with us. The flight attendants were pleasant and offered us a choice of snack or sandwich along with an option of coffee, water, or orange juice. There is no entertainment system on the flight, but we found it was quick – approximately 3 ½ hours.

Once we arrived in Ushuaia we were reminded of the beauty of the surrounding area with the mountains and sea and the small town nestled at the edge of the water.  Once everyone had collected their luggage, we were advised to leave it in a designated spot for it to be transferred to the ship. 

Luggage collection area

From there all the guests were loaded onto coaches for a tour of Tierra del Fuego. Having been to Ushuaia previously and having done a similar tour, we opted to explore Ushuaia on our own, but we can confirm what was included since we had visited all the planned stops.

Boxed lunch in Ushuaia

The tour is perfect for the first-time visitor and a box lunch is provided at the start. There is a stop at the End of the World Post Office which is located at a beautiful lake. It is a great place to visit and from here you can send a postcard home that shows you were at this unique location.  You can also receive a souvenir stamp on your passport.

End of the World Post Office

Insider Tip

We have heard that souvenir stamps can cause issues for some passport holders concerning validity so be sure to check on this in advance. You could always have the stamp and stickers applied on a separate piece of paper as well.

The tour continues with a stop at the Bahia Lapataia – the location of the end of Highway 1 which starts in Alaska 17,000 kms away – this is a great spot for a photo opportunity.

Lapataia

It then continues up to the visitor centre which is surrounded by some incredible scenery and a stop at one of the numerous lakes in the area. It gives one a nice introduction to this very beautiful area.

Lakefront in Ushuaia

Once the tour was complete, the group headed to the ship – for our embarkation day this was around 4:00pm.

It is a very simple check-in onboard. You are taken to the lounge area and given sparkling wine and appetizers while you relax in the lovely room with glass windows all around. An Atlas crew member comes to verify your passport details and add a credit card to your onboard account. Within just a few minutes you are issued your key card along with a small, printed deck plan. 

Welcome drinks onboard

Then another friendly crew member escorts you to your cabin and gives you a quick tour of the amenities. Your luggage is waiting for you when you arrive to your cabin.

The cabin was beautifully appointed and very spacious. At 270 sq feet, our Horizon balcony was a great option for us. We loved the ability to have the half window open and look out but also have a nice sitting area.  Given we were sailing in Antarctica we found this to be perfect since the cooler temperatures weren’t typically conducive to sitting outside on a traditional balcony.

Horizon balcony on Atlas World Navigator

We settled in, unpacking and exploring the stateroom and then headed off to the muster drill where it was required to check in while wearing your life jacket. It had been some time since we had done an in-person muster drill, but we figured the safety element of this ship was important given the body of water we would be crossing.

In our lifejackets for the muster drill

Then we attended our first briefing in the auditorium. Here we were introduced to the officers and the expedition team. It was the first glimpse into what we could expect over the next couple of days. 

Introduction of the Expedition team

This was followed by dinner in the dining room. Service was great and we enjoyed a nice meal from various options on the menu. The ship departed at 7:00pm. It was early to bed since we had been up quite early.

Going to bed the seas had been relatively calm, but we were awoken around 2:00am with a lot of increased movement. Depending on your sensitivity to motion it may prove to be challenging. Kim had taken preventative medication but found the motion was quite intense. For Denis, it wasn’t a big deal.

It was an intermittent night of sleep and the rocking continued until approximately noon that day.  This was combatted by taking some Bonine motion sickness medication.

Day 2

It was a quiet and late start to the day as Kim was feeling a bit woozy. It was highly recommended by the crew that you not skip meals, so we made sure to make it to a late breakfast. It was then off to a mandatory zodiac briefing to cover the process of making landings. These sessions were followed by briefings for those participating in the kayak and camping optional activities.

After lunch, most of the early afternoon was spent resting and attending a lecture on whales delivered by a member of the expedition team. There was also a time assigned to each cabin to complete a biosecurity check.

Biosecurity check of gear

This is where you bring down any of your gear that has been utilized previously so they can check it for any foreign materials. All items are reviewed and thoroughly checked and, in some cases, vacuumed to remove any materials from being brought onto the continent.

Vacuuming away any debris

We then had a boot and parka fitting to ensure all our gear that was being provided fit correctly. Atlas provides a warm, high-quality parka that each guest can take home with them. It was good practice to try on the gear with a life jacket as this would be the process for several days to come.

Parka fitting

Insider Tip

We suggest that you bring along a pair of slides to wear from your stateroom to the mud room. Having slip on footwear is great when you are wearing two pairs of socks. They can be left in your locker when you are out on excursion.

By 6:30pm it was time for the evening briefing where we were advised what was planned for the next day. There was also a session about what types of services and amenities we could find onboard this incredible ship. This was followed by a wonderful dinner in the dining room.

By this time, we had covered a significant amount of the Drake Passage and it was anticipated that we would be arriving early and be able to participate in an afternoon excursion in the South Shetland Islands. Everyone onboard was super excited and anticipating the next day.

Day 3

We woke to some calmer seas and after enjoying our breakfast there were some lectures available including one on the Antarctica Treaty and another on identifying whales. It was a quick morning followed by lunch and then the excitement of arriving in the South Shetland islands. Along the way, we started to see penguins darting along in the water.

It was a bit of a dreary day with very overcast skies and some light snow, but it didn’t matter as this would be our first opportunity to step on the Antarctica continent! 

Rules are in place that limit the number of people on the landings to 100 at a time. So, each cabin is assigned a group – A, B, C & D.  Those travelling together can ask to be assigned to the same group. Every day each group is assigned a specific time based on their group and this rotates each day to give each group equal opportunity for touring first.

We were one of the later groups on this first excursion. We assembled in the mud room for the first time to dress in all our gear.  It is quite the process for getting ready and takes a little getting used to. The Atlas crew is great and helps to get you sorted – even doing up your zipper and assisting with getting your life jacket on over top.

Getting dressed to go outside

The mud room had dance music playing and a tremendous air of excitement as we all prepared to board our first zodiac.  Before going ashore, each person walks through a boot cleaning system with bristles that remove any contaminants from your boots.

Boot cleaning system

Once you walk through that, you are assisted down the stairs by the crew and walk onto a platform from which you step on the edge of the zodiac and then down onto a step in the boat. The water was quite calm on this first transfer, so it was super easy.

Boarding the zodiacs

Each person takes a seat on the edge of the zodiac – up to 10 people and then we were off! Our first step onto land was on Barrientos Island and it was a wet landing. This means you enter the water after sliding your legs over the side of the zodiac.

Disembarking zodiac
Exiting the zodiac

The island is located on the west side of the South Shetland Islands and is completely free of ice. It was quite surprising to see since it was very green. This was due to the location and how much sun it receives combined with the large number of penguins here trampling over the snow. However, it was snowing lightly so it wasn’t exactly tropical.

Barrientos Island that you can see on an Antarctica cruise from Ushuaia
Penguin rookery

Interestingly this island is part of the Andes Mountain range that begins up in South America and continues down under the water with a large loop called the Scotia Arc and then resumes above water in the Shetland Islands. The island is a volcanic terrain with basalt columns and since it sits on its own plate between the South American and Pacific Plates there is volcanic activity in this area. Really fascinating geography!

Barrientos Island

The island was small – only approximately 2 kms squared – with landscape that was rocky with a lot of moss and penguin poop covering the ground. There is no way around stepping in the poop – you just need to think of it as mud. As a result, there is quite a strong smell too. We were able to observe both Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins here – 1000s of them!

Gentoo penguin
Chinstrap penguin

The crew had laid out a path in a loop for us to follow that provided an excellent opportunity to view the penguin groups amongst the hills and overlooking the beach where they were congregated. It was amazing to watch them waddling around, squawking at each other, and generally making a raucous.

Penguins at the beach

We saw many sitting on nests with eggs and varying ages of chicks that are so adorable with their soft, fluffy fur.  Such an awesome first glimpse of what we could expect for the days to come.

Gentoo penguin feeding

After walking around the island for 75 minutes, our boots were quite messy, so the crew had a portable boot washer at the water’s edge for us take as much off as we could. We found out that it was very important to remove everything from our outerwear to ensure we weren’t bringing anything on to the ship.

At the time we were visiting, there was an issue with Avian Bird flu and it was important that we didn’t contribute to the ongoing problem. We then boarded the zodiac from the water and headed back to the ship.

Cleaning our boots

We boarded the ship from the platform and after changing out of our gear in the mud room were offered hot towels and hot cinnamon apple tea. A perfect warm up after the chilly excursion.

After a brief rest we went to the day’s recap and briefing. This is where the expedition leaders present some highlights from the day and also provide an overview of the next day’s activities.  Then we were off to the Captain’s Reception to meet the officers and enjoy a glass of bubbly with appetizers.

Captains Reception

The evening continued with dinner and afterwards the cruise director entertained us with Italian opera singing in the lounge. It had been a great first day.

Cruise Director singing opera

Day 4

Our next day started with the sighting of our first major icebergs.  We woke to see a large one floating by our window and this was a very exciting moment – it kind of made it real in a sense.

Our first iceberg

After our breakfast, we went to the mud room to get our gear on and proceeded to the zodiacs when called for our excursion to Palaver Point. The surrounding scenery was much different than the previous day with large glaciers and icebergs everywhere.

Glaciers

It was very exciting to speed across the water to our wet landing on to rocks. 

Our zodiac ride to Palaver

The expedition crew had already gone ahead to prepare the site for us, and they created two paths for hiking.  One was very steep and quite a way up a hill and the other was still uphill but not as high. We chose the lower walk which was still challenging in its own way.

Path up the hill

The snow was fresh and powdery making it deeper in some areas and as more people started to walk on it, it became more slippery. We worked our way up the hill gradually and took in the incredible glaciers around us.

Trekking in the snow

We were advised that the island we were walking on was connected to another island by an ice bridge. But it was not recommended to cross it due to the large number of crevices. But it was truly spectacular to look at.

Connected island

Our walk was rewarded at the end by clear viewing of a Chinstrap penguin rookery and their penguin highway that ran from the water’s edge up the side of the mountain. Watching them toddle along their paths is super cute. Sometimes they trip and then do their best to right themselves, but it seems difficult given their body structure.

Penguin highway
Trekking up the penguin highway

It is hard to walk away from watching them, but we eventually had to make our way back down the mountainside and onto the zodiac to return to the ship.

On the way back down
Our picture on Palaver Point

The vantage from the zodiac was great as it gave us a full view of the penguin highway and the penguins at the bottom where they were jumping into the water from the rocks. We bounced around in this area for a while and enjoyed the view.

Penguin highway view from the water
Penguin rookery view from the water
Penguins at the water's edge

We enjoyed a lovely lunch while the ship repositioned to Charlotte Bay.  This area was discovered on a Belgian expedition between 1877-1879. The afternoon excursion would be a zodiac ride around the Bay to take in the stunning icebergs and a magical experience with humpback whales.

Beautiful scenery in Charlottes Bay
Whales in Charlottes Bay

Our guide was able to find some whales in the area so we could watch them breaching, rolling, and playing in the waves. Our entire group was mesmerized by these massive creatures who were incredibly graceful. 

Whale tail

This was also our first time to see the icebergs up close. Our guide Fabrice sped through the water navigating over some of the smaller chunks of ice in a zig zag formation to keep the ride as comfortable as possible given the wind and temperature.  It was exhilarating.

Iceberg in Charlottes Bay
Our picture in front of the enormous icebergs

Back at the ship, we spent some time in the Dome observatory just loving the scenery and were told that an Atlas sister ship the Traveller would be passing by in the same area. We waved at the ship and then were off to the recap for the day and briefing for the next day’s exciting itinerary.

The World Traveller sister ship

Following dinner there was music being played by the onboard musician as well as a showing of the documentary “March of the Penguins” in the auditorium complete with popcorn. It had been a full and exciting day with two successful landings.

This evening was one of the only ones where we observed a slight sunset. We went up on the Water’s Edge observation deck to see the beautiful sky and take a few pretty pictures. Most nights there wasn’t an obvious sunset. And in fact, as we progressed further south it didn’t actually get dark at night. There was a dusk and then it would almost immediately start to get light again. It made for nice long evenings.

Sunset in Antarctica

Day 5

This morning we woke up early to watch as the captain expertly guided us through the Lemaire Passage. This area was gorgeous, and we were so happy we went down in the early morning to observe it. The entrance to the channel was narrow and had huge, snow topped mountains on either side. The many glaciers were undisturbed and made for a truly spectacular sight.

Entrance to the Lemaire Passage

We sailed through the channel admiring the large icebergs, the smaller chunks and were shocked when we passed over the larger pieces and heard them smash on the underside of the ship. There was a lot of ice in the passage, so the ship had to proceed slowly but it was a great opportunity to really enjoy this entire area.

Cruising in the Lemaire Passage

Along the way were whales, penguins, and seals all swimming or resting in this serene area. It was hard to leave it but we had ordered room service breakfast, so we went back to our cabin to enjoy the view from our balcony.  And to our surprise, we had a whale swimming right by our cabin window. So unexpected and exciting!

Seal in the Lemaire Passage
Penguins playing in the water
whale outside our window

The ship was a little late arriving to the first open area for the day due to the large amounts of ice in the water and careful maneuvering that was necessary.

Everyone was excited to move down to the zodiacs for a fabulous ride through this area of the Berthelot Islands. The water was like glass and the icebergs immense.

Huge icebergs in the bay

Our first order of business was to find the crab eater seal that had been spotted from the ship. Our leader Jonathan was able to bring us close to an ice floe to observe the animal. Crab eaters are the most abundant seals in Antarctica and it is estimated there are between ten to thirty million.

Crab eater seal

It is the smallest of the seals in Antarctica and has very sharp teeth. Their name would suggest that they eat crab but that is not accurate – they eat mostly krill.

Crab eater seal

After observing this seal that was lounging on the ice, we heard a call from the ship that there were leopard seals also in the area. Jonathan was quite excited when over the course of the morning we eventually saw four leopard seals, since in the entirety of Antarctica there are only tens of thousands of them.

Leopard seal

They are a top predator since there is nothing that eats them. They are quite distinctive with a very large head and a slim neck so you can see their shape quite easily. They have a long flipper that they use for steering when they are following prey.

Leopard seal

We cruised around in the beautiful bay and were excited to see some whales playing in the distance. After approaching quietly and keeping our distance, the whales (a mother and calf) made their way close to us and we spent some magical moments just watching them enjoying their morning.

Watching whales
Breaching whale

From here we admired the landscape around us and appreciated the large icebergs, bergy bits (1-5 m in size) and growlers (small pieces of ice) floating in the water around us.

Stunning scenery in the bay

We ended up on an extended zodiac ride when it was radioed in that there were several elephant seals sitting up on a rocky area. They climb up on the land to shed their skin and must stay there for approximately a week since they cannot swim in the cold water until some of their fur has grown back.

Elephant seals

They were nestled in among a lot of Gentoo penguins with many chicks – all of them were busy squawking and feeding their young. It was a great site to see.

Gentoo penguin families
Gentoo penguin colony

After observing this awesome wildlife, we received an interesting talk about the water and how the ice is a different colour depending on the size and number of trapped air bubbles in the ice.  Ice at the top of the iceberg is not as compressed and has larger air bubbles than ice at the bottom of the iceberg.  The less compressed ice appears white and the more compressed ice with smaller bubbles appears blue in colour.

Stunning icebergs in the Bay

We held a piece of ice to see the differences and even enjoyed a bite from the smaller pieces – it was not salty as we expected but cool and fresh. We were told that some of the oldest ice in this area is 4 million years old! And the largest iceberg has been in existence for around 37 years.

A piece of Antarctic ice

Upon our return to the ship, we enjoyed a couple of hours rest and some lunch, and then the ship had brought us to the Yalour Islands. The Yalour Islands were discovered by a French expedition in 1903-1905. This area has some interesting geology with the rocks mainly composed of a grey or black gabbro giving it a fascinating appearance. Much of this area was formed by the Pacific plate sliding under the Antarctica plate creating these striking islands.

Mountains of the Yalour Islands

We were moored only about 100m from a small island on an inlet. Here there is a large rookery of Adelie penguins. This penguin species is endemic to Antarctica and it is estimated that there are approximately 4 million in existence.

On this archipelago that we were visiting there were approximately 2500 pairs. After a wet landing to the island, we had a great walk around in a loop with some stately mountains as a backdrop. It was quite a beautiful setting.

Walking on Yalour Island
Adelie penguins

We immediately noticed that the Adelie penguins like to slide around on their bellies which made them super cute. This is their most efficient way for transportation when the snow is icy. It was fascinating to watch them zooming around on their bellies sliding down their penguin highways.

Adelie penguin on his back

There were many with nests made of stones and all the colonies are clustered on the tops of hills.  They will lay one or two eggs at a time and the incubation period is approximately 40 days followed by a 20 day period for maturing during which time the father and mother take care of the chick.

Adelie penguin chicks

By this time in the trip, we had now seen the three types of Brush tailed species that are available to see on the Antarctica peninsula. Here are some interesting common facts about these penguins:

✦ They are the most highly evolved aquatic animals in the world

✦ Most of their life is spent at sea – they only come on land during breeding season

✦ Penguins have hydrophobic feathers like overlapping scales that form a wet suit that is almost waterproof

✦ Down underneath their feathers keeps them warm

✦ They are made of all muscle and have very dense bones

✦ Penguins have excellent underwater vision

✦ Their bodies are shaped for swimming – their flippers are made of fused bones that are very strong and dense to counteract being buoyant in the water

✦ Their beaks are adapted for fishing

✦ There are papillae bristles that trap prey in their beaks

After we had made our loop to take in the many clusters, we headed back to the zodiacs for our ride back to the ship. We spotted a single penguin who had come down to the edge to wave everyone off. He was super cute!

An Adelie penguin waving goodbye
Our selfie with the Adelie penguins

Since the weather was quite mild, we decided to try out the pool and hot tubs on our ship. This was a nice way to continue to enjoy the stunning scenery around us as our ship repositioned slightly to another landing area. Our evening finished off with the recap for the day, briefing for the next morning, and another tasty dinner. 

Swimming in Antarctica

Since the weather was excellent, those that had signed up for camping were getting ready for a night under the stars. We waved off the campers and wished them well as we headed off to our warm beds.

Day 6

We woke to a beautiful sunshiny day with bright blue skies. After having had several overcast days in a row it was a treat to see this region bathed in sunlight. The snowy peaks and beautiful icebergs look that much more lovely with the sun sparkling all around us.

The beauty on an Antarctica cruise from Ushuaia

Insider Tip

Be sure to bring sunglasses. The sun reflecting off the ice and snow can be very strong and it is best have some kind of protection for your eyes.

Our group was excited to get out and start the day with a zodiac ride around Flanders Bay. This area is located along the west coast of the peninsula and was discovered by a Belgian explorer in 1898 who named it after the historical area of Flanders.

Scenery in Flanders Bay

This is a wide-open bay with five coves, many glaciers and majestic mountains making for stunning scenery.  This area has a lot of icebergs because it is a closed bay so the large pieces of ice stay here longer and remain intact.

Beautiful icebergs

We spent a little over an hour cruising on the calm waters of the bay taking in the massive icebergs. Some of them were the largest we had seen on the trip so far and seeing them reflecting in the sea was fantastic.

Enormous icebergs

We had the incredible experience of watching an iceberg start to calve and turn slightly to settle once again. We could see the smooth areas that had originally been underwater, and several different levels created as it shifted over time. 

One of the great things about expedition cruising is learning from the experts about the region we were visiting. Here we learned that in the wintertime, the coastal areas of the peninsula receive between 5-6 metres of snow each year and since it is the warmest and wettest area the coldest it will get is -18.

Beautiful shades of blue and green ice

This is compared to the interior of Antarctica that only receives approximately 1 inch of snow per year. However, the temperatures are approximately -30 in the summer and can go as low as -70 or -80 in the wintertime. Not a place we will ever find ourselves visiting!!

Some other interesting facts are that 98% of the continent is completely white and flat – only 2% is mountains.  Additionally, there is 3200m of ice to the bedrock and the Antarctica continent is 50% under sea level.  How amazing is that??

Whales in Flanders Bay

When we came back, we enjoyed the views of the mountains surrounding the bay from the comfort of the Dome Observatory where you can see a 180-degree view through the glass windows. We just couldn’t get enough of this gorgeous location.

Views of the icebergs from the Dome Observatory

Due to some extra time required for travelling to our next stop, our recap and next day briefing was held at 3:00pm.  Our next planned excursion was to be Neko Harbour. This location was discovered by a Belgian explorer during the early 20th century. It was named after a Scottish whaling boat.

Once the ship had arrived and the spotting teams had prepared the landing, we headed out on the zodiacs to our next adventure.

Heading to Neko Harbour

Arriving at this location, we immediately saw a Weddell seal basking in the sun.  There were many Gentoo penguins down by the water’s edge and they also darted on to the beach after their swim.

Weddell seal
Gentoo penguins by the water

Our team leaders had created a path for us to take to climb up the hill and observe the area. This is an important place for Gentoo penguin breeding with more than 250 pairs, and we could see multiple penguin highways crisscrossing the snow. Penguins always have the right of way so it can take some time to make it up the hill if they are working their way up or down at the same time.

Penguin highway

After trekking up the hill we found many nests and lots of small chicks. The penguins make their nests high up from the beach area to avoid having them washed away by the large waves that can wash ashore when the huge glacier in this area calves.

Penguins nesting on the rocks
Gentoo penguins

The day we were there was 9 degrees and we witnessed multiple pieces of the glacier crashing into the water. The sight and sound are magnificent and can be heard from quite a distance.

Calving glacier

Once we had spent some time taking in the glacier and the penguins, we made our way back down to the bottom of the hill.  There were some other guests that had a banner that indicated we had made it to the 7th continent so our group took a great picture.

Picture of us with the 7th continent banner

Our guide told us that this was one of the places on the peninsula that was part of the mainland. This meant that should be want to – we could actually walk to the south pole. This was different than the other locations we had visited that were islands.

When we boarded our zodiac, it took a while longer for our leader to navigate around the many pieces of ice that were now between the shore and our ship.  This was from the constant calving on the glacier.  It doesn’t cause a concern when you are farther out in the water when it calves but can cause an issue if your boat is closer to the shore when these large waves come up.

Loads of ice in the water due to calving glaciers

Upon our return it was just about time for dinner. While in the dining room, there was an announcement that there were several orca whales being sighted from the ship.  Nearly everyone in the dining room rushed to see these animals that are not often viewed.  They are super fast but we managed to capture some video of them swimming along beside and in front of our vessel.  It was very exciting.

After dinner we enjoyed the cruise director Aleks singing music from the 80s. It was a fun ending to the day.

Day 7

Due to some weather concerns, the Captain had decided that he would take the ship back towards the Shetland Islands for our last day. This was to avoid two storms that were coming into the area. 

On our approach to Deception Island, the crew advised the entrance into Port Foster caldera would be an interesting sight to see. The weather was quite foggy and rainy, so we sat to watch the entrance from the Dome Observation deck. 

Entrance to Port Foster caldera

The scenery was very different than other stops during this trip and it was very cool to see an entire caldera filled with water because of a volcano that imploded more than 10,000 years ago.  This is quite different than the Ngorongoro Crater, also a caldera, we had visited in Tanzania that had a grass bottom.

Port Foster caldera

Our first stop was to Pendulum Cove where we landed by zodiac. The name of the Cove was declared by a British expedition that observed pendulum and magnetic research in the area. As you come to the water’s edge you can see the black sand beach and steam rising from the water. This is a phenomenon that takes place only at low tide.

Pendulum Cove

After our wet landing, we were advised to touch the water and it was very hot.  Of course, once you go out further, it again turns to extremely cold temperatures.

Hot water at Pendulum Cove

Our guide took us on a walk around the cove telling us about the volcano that erupted here in 1969 and then another in 1971.  This was a devastating eruption and spewed enormous amounts of black ash all over the land.  There was a Chilean research station in this location that was completely buried.

Buried Chilean research station

Thankfully there was enough warning that the 80 people at the station were able to flee over the hills to another station at Whalers Bay where they were ultimately rescued by helicopter.

It was quite chilling to see the remnants of the station – some of it such as light posts and building structures – peeking up from under the ash. There is still research going on in the area as they continue to monitor the active volcano.

Structures peeking out from the ash

After our walk, we were allowed to do a Polar Plunge from the beach. We both decided to do this as it seemed a little easier to walk into the water. The water was really cold, and it was a brief submersion, but we did it. After coming out of the cold water, the water at the edge felt like it was burning our feet! We quickly dressed, enjoyed some hot chocolate on the beach and headed back on the last zodiac.

Polar Plunge from the beach in Pendulum Cove

It was time for some lunch and the ship repositioned to Whalers Bay which is still within the caldera.  From here we took the zodiacs out again and after a wet landing explored the abandoned whaling station. With all the buildings and tankers left in this area, it has become an open-air museum of sorts.

Abandoned tanks in Whalers Bay
Abandoned whaler station

Our guide took us to see whale bones, discarded buildings, the tanks that would have held whale oil and even some graves of the people who didn’t make it home.

Destroyed buildings in Whalers Bay
Grave of a whaler

It was an interesting place to see but the weather was not pleasant – it was snowing and there were strong winds so after walking around for approximately an hour we were happy to head back to the ship.

Once back onboard, it was announced that the crew would also hold a traditional Polar Plunge from the side of the ship.  Kim also participated in this one and found it to be easier given the entry into the frigid water is immediate. The crew plays loud music and there is a lot of excitement as they line the passengers up to jump into the 1-degree water.  The harness ensures that no one drifts away, and it helps to pull you back out of the water very quickly. 

Polar plunge from the World Navigator

You are then rewarded with a warm hot chocolate (and it can have a shot of Baileys in it if you like). Quite the experience!

Warm drinks after the Polar Plunge

After the recap for the day, we had a very nice dinner and the ship departed through some rough seas.  The crew talent show was great entertainment for many and showed the personal side of some of the wonderful people who were so dedicated to taking care of us during our time onboard.

Day 8

The seas were quite rough during the majority of this day as we started our return crossing of the Drake Passage so Kim spent quite a bit of time resting. There were numerous things to do while at sea including several lectures – a leadership lecture about Shackleton, separate lectures on penguins, humpback whales, and seals.

Additionally, there was a galley tour given by the hotel manager and chef. It was fascinating to see the small kitchen that creates amazing meals every day for the crew and passengers onboard. They provided some insight into how things run down underneath the dining room and it gives you true gratitude for the work needed to make the meal service run well.

Galley tour on our ship

Today also provided an opportunity to watch a documentary created by our expedition leader Jonathan Zaccaria of his year spent in Antarctica. 

The day finished up with the recap, dinner, and live music in the lounge.

Day 9

On our final day at sea, the swells were much lower and we were both able to participate in the full program of lectures that were offered. Lectures covered a variety of topics including the Tierra del Fuego, The Bridge and Engine Operations, Antarctic glaciers and sea ice.

We also went to High Tea in the Dome Observation lounge and enjoyed crepes suzette before settling in for the recap and some live music by the cruise director Aleks.

The final night was celebrated with a Captain’s Farewell cocktail reception and a wonderful dinner. We were entertained by our incredible head waiter Bill who had come out of his quiet shell over the time we had spent together. It was sad to say goodbye.

Our Captain and officers
Our amazing server Bill

We did some quick packing and went to bed in anticipation of a long day of travel ahead of us.

Day 10

Since Atlas includes a private charter flight from Ushuaia it is scheduled at a reasonable time, giving us ample time in the morning to enjoy the last breakfast onboard. Then we caught the transfer to the airport and watched as the crew waved us a fond farewell.

Crew members bidding us farewell

We were transferred to the Ushuaia airport and boarded our flight to Buenos Aires for an onward flight home.

FAQs

When Is The Best Time To Visit Antarctica?

The season of cruising in Antarctica is technically from October to March. However, weather can be tricky in the early and later parts of the season. The end of November through January is typically the best recommended time to visit as the ice is starting to break up, providing more access to different locations and the penguins are nesting so there is ample opportunity to see the newborn chicks.

February and into March there is much less snow and ice which provides easier access, but the days are getting shorter, and the storms can be more prominent.

How Long Is An Antarctica Voyage?

We took a 9-night cruise and found this to be a perfect length to explore the Antarctica Peninsula. However, there are longer cruises available that cover other areas such as South Georgia or the Falkland Islands and these range from 11 to 18 to 21 nights.

Is An Antarctica Cruise Suitable For Everyone?

Visiting Antarctica on an Expedition ship requires good mobility as you must be able to transfer from the ship to a moving zodiac. The water can be rough so good balance is necessary. There are also treks up hills and over uneven, slippery surfaces. Some cruise lines have a minimum age requirement of 8 years old.

For those with mobility issues, you can choose a more traditional cruise ship.  While these ships sail through Antarctic waters, they are not allowed to make shore excursions but still offer an opportunity to see the continent’s spectacular landscape and wildlife from the decks and staterooms.

What Wildlife Can I Expect To See?

Since Antarctica has some very rough conditions the number of animal wildlife is relatively limited. If you are visiting the Antarctica Peninsula you can expect to see various types of whales, several types of seals and penguins. Additionally, there are a few species of birds in this region.

What Other Destinations Can I Combine An Antarctica Cruise With?

Spending time in Argentina before your cruise is a perfect complement to your cruise. Buenos Aires is one of our favourite cities to visit but you could also include time in Iguazu Falls or explore further into Patagonia.

The Final Word…On An Antarctica Cruise From Ushuaia

This type of expedition cruise is not for everyone and that is perfectly understandable. There are options for taking a larger, scenic cruise to this region that don’t make stops on the Peninsula. However, if you are looking for an exciting, once-in-a-lifetime experience, we highly recommend an Antarctica cruise from Ushuaia.

There is nowhere in the world that is as untouched or beautiful that provides intimate, up close experiences with nature as this remote part of the world. We highly recommend putting this unique location on your bucket list.

Need help with planning your Antarctica cruise from Ushuaia? Contact Kim at Explore The World Travel.

Our picture in front of an Antarctica banner