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There’s travel and then there’s exploration.

Exploring a destination goes well beyond hitting the top attractions and sharing a few selfies on social media. Explorers travel in order to truly learn about destinations and to then share their importance with the world. An explorer looks to protect and give back to the places they experience, not take from or leave a negative impact.

To be human is to want to explore, it’s in our blood. And nearly all of us dream of following in the footsteps of the world’s great explorers.

While many of the world’s greatest expeditions are suited to the small minority who are willing to sacrifice their lives for the expedition, there is one incredible expedition that anyone can experience without having to subject themself to brutal conditions.

Antarctica remains one of the least explored and largely untouched regions of the world. But these days it is also one of the very rare expeditions that you can experience in luxury.

A Ponant Antarctica cruise is an unforgettable journey to a place that only a select few have ever been blessed with the opportunity to experience. So let’s explore just why Antarctica has continued to captivate us ever since it was first sighted in 1820.

What You Can Expect on a Luxury Antarctic Cruise

A Brief History of Early Antarctic Expeditions

Although Antarctica has become a dream destination for most of us, it was anything but glamorous or enjoyable for early explorers.

The mighty waves of the Drake Passage wreaked havoc on early ships trying to reach the icy continent. For those ships managing to make it across the Passage, many would be crushed by pack ice, such as was the fate of Shackleton’s infamous Endurance.

Even when man finally set foot on Antarctica, they were subjected to freezing temperatures with nowhere near the protective clothing and gear we are blessed with today. Accommodation was often a simple cave dug in a snow bank and meals were extremely small and infrequent, often consisting of penguin, seal, and sadly even dog meat.

An expedition to Antarctica in the not so distant past gave no assurance that you would safely return. While explorers like Mawson and Amundsen would experience successful missions, many would perish over the years. Those who did manage to survive Antarctica often suffered frostbite, snow blindness, and scurvy.

But today we are blessed with luxury ships that not only guarantee our safety but also promise to provide us with an unforgettable experience of a truly remarkable land.

Why Small Cruise Ships

It really is quite incredible how far we have come to be able to visit such an inhospitable place as Antarctica while also enjoying the ultimate in comforts. What this means for the world is that anybody has the chance to become an Antarctic explorer.

While you do find large cruise ships offering trips to Antarctic, you would be doing yourself a great disservice by throwing away the experience in this way. The only way to truly experience Antarctica is by taking a luxury small ship cruise.

Small ships with a few hundred passengers offer a much more personalized and emotional experience you won’t find on those carrying thousands of travelers.

The atmosphere of the experience is much more intimate, and you’ll feel more like an explorer than a traveler. They also leave a far lesser impact on the environment.

Ponant’s Antarctic voyage ships limit passengers to between 180 and 240 per expedition. Whether you find yourself on their Le Boreal, Le Soleal, Le Lyrial, or L’austral, you can be assured you will be treated to absolute luxury.

 Image: © Richard Harker for Ponant

Life Onboard Today’s Luxury Antarctica Ships

Life onboard today’s luxury Antarctic ships couldn’t be more different to ship life experienced by the first explorers.

You’ll find find on-board spas equipped with massage booths, a hair salon, and a fitness room, all which offer panoramic ocean views so you don’t miss a thing.

Learn more about the recent wildlife you witness by grabbing a book from the library or sitting in on a lecture led by naturalists or experienced guides in the grand theatre. After a day of exciting expeditions, relax in a heated seawater pool or grab a drink at the bar.

Enjoy exquisite meals crafted from fresh products and carefully selected ingredients, which can be catered to meet your dietary requirements.

Pack light and take advantage of laundry service, or book an eligible suite that offers butler service for the ultimate in personalized service.

Dessert Cake RF

Antarctica ©Ponant

Images: Mantra Media / © Ponant

Safety Onboard Today’s Luxury Antarctica Ships

Technology has advanced in leaps and bounds since the days of Shackleton’s Endurance, so you don’t have to worry about meeting a similar fate.

When it comes to safety, be comforted by the fact that your ship is equipped with a reinforced hull and a structure certified by Bureau Veritas. Ponant ships are “Ice 1C” certified making them fit to sail in polar zones.

If you’re thinking an Antarctic adventure might be a couple of years off, in 2021 look for a new ship to be added to Ponant’s fleet which will take their dedication to protecting the environment to the next level.

The PONANT Icebreaker will become the first PC2 Polar Class luxury cruise ship to grace the icy waters of Antarctica. It will be a hybrid electric icebreaker powered by Liquified Natural Gas which will reduce emissions of SO2, NOX, and CO2.

It will make use of advanced diesel engine technology along with an electric hybrid mode that will give off little to no emissions. The ship will be a frontrunner in terms of complying with new environmental protection efforts.

Antarctica Ice Shelf RF

Images: Matt Palmer / © Ponant

Antarctica Today and Why You Should Visit Now

The Antarctic Peninsula has risen over 5 degrees Fahrenheit since 1950, making it one of the most rapidly warming regions in the world. Simply put, the Antarctica we are blessed with today may not be around in the not so distant future.

Large sections of ice shelves, such as the Larsen-C have begun to break away from the continent and close to 600 square miles of underwater Antarctic ice has melted away in the past decade.

More icebergs in the waters surrounding Antarctica could equate to a much higher difficulty for tourists ships to visit many of the area’s popular spots in the future.

Climate change, pollution, and overfishing could lead to a dramatic decrease in Antarctic wildlife populations. This could result in making it rather difficult to locate animals such as penguin colonies, seals, and whales.

With the fate of Antarctic uncertain, now may be the best time to experience it.

Thankfully the importance of Antarctica has led to numerous protection measures such as the Paris Agreement and the Antarctic Treaty System. Only time will tell if these measures will be enough to save Antarctica.

Highlights of Antarctica

Your entire journey to Antarctica will be unlike any experience you have ever had. It quite literally allows you to step into the shoes of a National Geographic explorer.

While setting foot on the continent may be one of the greatest highlights, you will equally enjoy the many wildlife-rich islands you get to explore.

Your journey begins in Ushuaia, “The End of the World”. Here you find large glaciers and lush forests filled with Andean foxes, guanacos, and condors. From here you may get the chance to experience the Falkland Islands or South Georgia Island.

When Charles Darwin spent time in the Falklands he found them remarkable with their rockhopper and macaroni penguins, albatrosses, elephant seals, and orcas. South Georgia Island offers the chance to experience historic whaling stations, king penguins, and Grytviken Cemetery where Ernest Shackleton was buried.

As you near the Antarctic continent, set foot on captivating islands such as Elephant Island with its colonies of adorable gentoo and chinstrap penguins as well as the volcanic Deception Island with its geothermal heated beach sand.

And of course you have the Antarctic Peninsula with its overwhelming and awe-inspiring landscapes. No words can express how magical the continent is.

Antarctica Penguins Wildlife RF

Images:  Ian Parker / © Isabelle Vareille for Ponant

The Role of National Geographic & Ponant in Antarctica

About the Partnership

It has just been announced that National Geographic and Ponant will partner to offer co-branded luxury expedition cruises. It only makes sense that these two companies would join forces when you consider their dedication to protecting the environment and promotion of responsible travel experiences.

Over the next four years, the two companies will be offering the chance to partake in 130 once in a lifetime expeditions across all 7 continents, though will have a special focus on the polar regions.

National Geographic was one of the first to bring images of Antarctica to the world back in 1907. Since then they have featured stunning imagery including the early work of Herbert Ponting, which showed the first intimate look at Antarctic life long before climate change became an issue.

Join onboard National Geographic experts and photographers as you take a journey to one of the world’s last truly wild places. A portion of the proceeds are donated to the NG Society to fund projects and research that is needed to protect wildlife and fragile environments worldwide.


Megan is an Australian Journalist and award-winning travel writer who has been blogging since 2007. Her husband Mike is the American naturalist and wildlife photographer behind Waking Up Wild; an online magazine dedicated to opening your eyes to the wonders of the wild & natural world.

Having visited 50+ countries across all seven continents, Megan’s travels focus on cultural immersion, authentic discovery and incredible journeys. She has a strong passion for ecotourism, and aims to promote responsible travel experiences.



  1. Would love to do this one day!

    • It truly was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. I hope you do have the opportunity to make it happen too!

  2. Amazing Meg. On my list of places to see and doing it luxe style makes it sweeter. A different experience from our ancestors LOL. Tweeted.


    • Definitely a much different experience from our ancestors, I often wonder what Shackleton would say if he could see how luxurious it is to get to Antarctica these days!!

      Thanks for the share Ryan, so glad you enjoyed the post :)

  3. Great story Meg Jerrard. This is like a dream trip.

    • Thanks Amit! I hope you have the chance to travel soon too :)

  4. Definitely on my bucket list!

    • The best cruise of our life! Definitely worthwhile :)

  5. You’re Antarctica article got my wanderlust juices flowing…it’s in the top 5 of my bucket list!

    • One of the best trips of my life – if I never could travel again I’d still be happy lol

    • Wow that’s a bold statement! I’ll be headed there as soon as my piggy bank fills up!

    • It’s definitely worth the wait re the time to save :)

  6. What an unbelievable experience. Yes to small ships, I’m glad to hear that companies are prioritizing low impact travel for such a vulnerable region.

    • Absolutely Martha, the one thing that really impressed us about the tourism scene in Antarctica was that companies were very strong believers in low impact travel and preserving the environment. You’ll find that sustainability is a core focus of most cruises which is fabulous.

  7. Alas I might have to wait until I have saved a LOT more than my current piggy bank, but it’s a definite dream to see Antarctica this way. One day!

    • It’s definitely worth the cost and the time it takes to save up :)

  8. #Lifegoals

    • I hope you Antarctica dream comes true!

  9. I WISH! Antarctica sounds incredible. The Arctic is a little more accessible for me being in the UK, so that might come first, but hopefully I’ll be able to say I visited both poles within my lifetime some day.

    • The Arctic is on our list, hoping next summer to make our way up to Greenland, it looks just as incredible to be honest!

  10. This is THE trip of all trips. I heard you can get it cheaper if you just rock up for last minute tickets. True?

    • Hi Cheryl, absolutely, last minute deals are readily available if you’re willing to show up in Ushuaia in November/December; you may need to be flexible with dates, however can potentially save a few thousand dollars. That said cruises these days are starting to sell out, so it’s one of those things that could be hit or miss. Definitely worth giving it a go though :)

  11. It’s all about affording it!

    • Definitely not a cheap experience, but absolutely worthwhile :)

  12. Definitely jealous of this trip.

    • The ultimate once in a lifetime :) Hope you have the opportunity to experience it too!

  13. So happy for you that you got to experience this, and thankyou for recounting it so vividly that we could imagine being there with you which is the next best thing.

    • Thankyou Willian! I hope you have the opportunity to experience an Antarctic Cruise at some stage too :)

  14. Thanks for teh awesome view mappingmegan in the Antarctica, you really rock sister. I love the background.

    • You’re welcome Denis, so glad you enjoyed the post :)

  15. These pictures are good to behold. Let’s say you’re not a vegetarian, how many penguins ? would you eat per day?

    • Hi Adeleke, glad you enjoyed the photos … All expeditions must be prepared with enough food so that there is no hunting on the continent :)

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