The two most remote and - comparatively speaking - least explored regions on the planet appeal to visitors for many different reasons. First-time polar visitors who have yet to visit either the Arctic or the Antarctic will learn a lot about the two respective polar regions when they dive into the Arctic verses Antarctic cruise debate.
Why Go on an Arctic Cruise?
The wildlife of the Arctic differs from the Antarctic - though there are a few species that inhabit both polar regions. However, the Arctic is home to specific species which are among the ‘must see’ wildlife sightings for legions of travellers, namely the iconic polar bear, which doesn't exist in Antarctica. But there are also muskoxen, deer, Arctic foxes, the Arctic tern and numerous whale species.
One of the reasons many travellers choose an Arctic cruise is because of the choice of destinations within the region. The Arctic extends across northern Canada, Arctic Norway (namely, the Svalbard archipelago), Greenland, Russia and the northernmost part of Iceland. And there are communities of people living in the Arctic - unlike Antarctica which is not ‘owned’ by any one nation and there are no traditional human settlements (though there are in the sub-Antarctic regions such as the Falkland Islands). In the Arctic, visitors can explore Inuit communities in Nunavut in the Canadian Arctic and Indigenous Greenland communities. The richness of Inuit culture draws travellers from around the globe.
Also in the Arctic, you can witness the incredible Northern Lights. The lure to witness the aurora borealis is the reason many plan an Arctic cruise during the northern winter.
What to Expect From an Arctic Cruise
Most Arctic cruises operate between May and late September or early October. The focus of your cruise will depend on the season and which part of the Arctic you’re exploring – like Greenland, Spitsbergen, Baffin Island or the North Pole.
In the Arctic, you’ll experience what's considered a true expedition, where the captain of the ship and the expedition leader jointly consider all prevailing factors (climate, ice, precipitation and wildlife) in deciding which way to steer. Like the early polar explorers, you’ll be on a voyage of discovery which is the true spirit of expedition travel. You don't completely know where you're going or what you'll see around the next glacier, iceberg or fjord - except that it will be stunning and potentially life-changing.
Why Go on an Antarctic Cruise?
Seasoned polar travellers have compared the Antarctic to ‘the Disney of wildlife’. Everywhere you look are thousands and thousands of penguins, seals and whales, with penguins as one of the mainstays of wildlife experiences in the Antarctic. You’ll have the chance to see multiple species such as gentoo, Adelie, rockhopper, emperor penguin, king, chinstrap and Magellanic.
For other travellers, the main reason to choose an Antarctic cruise is to fulfill the dream of crossing the Antarctic Circle
What to Expect From an Antarctic Cruise
The list of sites and experiences in Antarctica is almost limitless and very different from the sights you'll take in on a cruise to the Arctic. You could cross the legendary 800-km wide Drake Passage that separates the tip of South America from Antarctica. There's wildlife-rich South Georgia - which is often called the ‘Galapagos of the South Seas’ - and the historic sub-Antarctic Falkland Islands (one of the only places included on an Antarctic voyage where you will find people).
The landscapes of the Antarctic Peninsula are without equal. So too is Snow Hill Island in the remote Weddell Sea where you can immerse yourself in one of the rarest wildlife experiences on the planet amid a 10,000-strong emperor penguin colony.
So Which Cruise to Choose?
Ultimately, both polar destinations are incredible.
For travellers who wish to see thousand-folk rookeries of penguins, cross the Antarctic Circle, tackle the Drake Passage, see incredibly large populations of wildlife and explore a domain where there are no human settlements and where no one country or nation is in charge, then an Antarctic cruise will more than satisfy.
On the other hand, if you absolutely must see polar bears in the wild, want to visit Inuit settlements and hope to witness the Northern Lights, head north to the Arctic.
Regardless of your polar preference, you'll have the expedition of a lifetime and not only travel off the beaten path, but travel to places where there are no paths at all!
Get in contact with your local Travellers Choice agent to book an unforgettable polar adventure.
Penguins or polar bears? Are you interested in travelling to the most remote destination of the Northern Hemisphere or the southernmost part of the Southern Hemisphere? Do you wish to book a polar voyage where you'll meet people who live in the polar region you're visiting? Or do you think you're more drawn to a remote polar region where no one lives at all? These are some of the questions that automatically arise for any traveller grappling with the question of whether to do an Arctic or Antarctic cruise.