Cruising is a way to see some of the most remote and fascinating parts of our world, including the polar regions – the Artic in the north and the Antarctic in the south. Which would you choose? It may be helpful to know that while the Arctic and Antarctic have many similarities, they have some significant differences.
Antarctica is a continent that’s entirely made of ice. It has no Indigenous people, and the only human residents are military personnel and scientists at a few research stations. Antarctica’s extreme whiteness, tinged with glacial blues, can feel like a different planet. The rugged scenery includes massive glaciers, icebergs, and ice floes, but no vegetation except some lichens that grow at the edges of the ice.
The Arctic isn’t a continent, but a frozen ocean bordered by landmasses such as Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Scandinavia, and Russia. Indigenous peoples have inhabited the Arctic for centuries, so there’s human history and culture to explore. In addition to glaciers and icebergs, the Arctic has more greenery – even tiny, tundra-loving flowers – than you may expect.
Antarctica is home to millions of penguins, including the Gentoo, Adelie, chinstrap, king, and emperor species. In the water, you may see humpbacks and other types of whales, as well as Weddell and leopard seals. Albatross and storm petrels glide through the sky.
The Arctic is home to polar bears (though they can be shy), as well as foxes, wolves, muskoxen, and reindeer. There aren’t any penguins, but there are lots of other birds, from kittiwakes to puffins. Arctic waters – a little warmer than in the Antarctic – are home to walrus, seals, and several types of whales.
Cruise ships sail to Antarctica from November to March. Some ships offer only scenic cruising, but many use inflatable Zodiac craft to take passengers from the ship to the icy shore. Some itineraries offer activities like camping, kayaking, skiing, and even scuba diving.
The Arctic cruise season is May through September, but there’s a trend toward cruising the Arctic in early spring, when it’s easier to see spectacular northern lights. Your ship will call on seaside villages, and excursions may include kayaking, hiking, camping, ice fishing, dog sledding, and mountain biking.
Several cruise lines can take you to the polar regions, including Hurtigruten, Ponant, Princess, Silversea, Viking, and more. Talk with Anita, your professional travel advisor, about how you can sail to the Arctic or the Antarctic – or both.
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