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Polar Tours: Everything You Need to Know

Polar cruising is a true bucket list experience. The untouched wilderness, the natural beauty, and the extreme weather make for an unforgettable journey, and you’ll come home forever changed for the better. The two main destinations for polar tours are the Arctic Circle and Antarctica. When you cruise the Arctic Circle, you have a number of destinations to choose from, from Greenland to Svalbard in Norway. However, a polar cruise in Antarctica’s more wild and untamed atmosphere doesn't have to mean only exploring the Antarctic Peninsula, the continent’s northernmost point. You can also visit Falkland Islands and South Georgia Islands, both with breathtaking views!

What wildlife can you see on a polar tour?

While you’ll often see similar landscapes in both the Arctic and the Antarctic - ice, snow, and incredible lights overhead - the two destinations actually offer very different things in terms of wildlife! If you want to see animals such as polar bears, reindeer, foxes, and certain species of whale, the wider region of the Arctic is probably best for you. Learn more about Arctic wildlife.

However, if you want to see penguins, seals, and the rare blue whale, take a chance on Antarctica. You’ll be able to see some species of whale and seal in both destinations, so if whale watching is number one on your list, the occasionally milder Arctic Circle may be best.Learn more about Antarctic wildlife.

Do you want to go on a polar cruise or a tour?

Once you’ve decided where you’d like to go and when you’d like to visit, the next step is to choose between a polar cruise or a polar tour. Polar cruises, of course, take place aboard a ship! You’ll have plenty of activities to keep you occupied, as well as expert scientists and guides to tell you all about your destination. Keep in mind that polar cruises are often the only option when travelling to Antarctica, as there is nowhere to stay on land (the continent itself is only a permanent home to a handful of research scientists!) 

Polar tours, on the other hand, are more like traditional tours you can experience elsewhere in the world. With a polar tour, you’ll stay in hotels, guest houses, or hostels, and travel by rail, road, or air to each destination. As is the case with all touring, you’ll have an expert guide to show you the way! Popular destinations for polar tours include Finland, Norway, Canada, and Alaska. 

Did You Know?

There are 8 countries that lay within Arctic Cricle
Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark (Greenland),Canada, Russia, USA (Alaska) and Iceland
Population of Arctic Circle is 1,000 time greater than population of Antarctica
Antarctica's population varies from 1,000 during winter to 4,000 during summer. While approximately 4 million people live within Arctic Circle
Antarctica was the last continent to be discovered
Charles Wilkes first caught sight of it on January 19, 1840
North Pole is warmer than South Pole
The lowest temperature recorded in the Arctic is –68 C (–90.4 F) in Siberia. The lowest temperature recorded in Antarctica was –89.2 C (–128.5 F)

Explore the North & South Pole

Visiting the Arctic or Antarctic is one adventure lucky travellers will never forget. Whether you decide to go on an Arctic tour and hike across glaciers, or an Arctic cruise, where you’ll be able to sail amongst whales and narwhals, this exhilarating journey will be one you’ll talk about for years to come. Or maybe you’re dreaming of the opposite end of the world? Visiting the South Pole means frosty temperatures, encounters with wildlife such as penguins, and one exhilarating adventure after another!

Popular Polar Cruises & Tours

Where to Visit on an Antarctic Cruise

Just because Antarctica has a much smaller population than the Arctic, doesn’t mean there aren’t several beautiful places to visit on a polar cruise! Let us help you decide where to go in Antarctica.

Top Destinations in the Arctic Circle

Does the phrase “Arctic Circle” make you think of barren landscapes and no civilization? Think again! There are plenty of places to visit in the Arctic Circle, each with its own unique draws.

Things to Do On a Polar Expedition

How to Choose the Right Polar Cruise Ship

Did you know there are two main types of polar ship? The difference between the two can lead to remarkably different trips, so if you’re planning a polar cruise, study up and make the best choice for you!

Expedition Cruise Ships

Expedition cruise ships are former working ships, providing an authentic experience with few frills, and accommodate about 80 passengers at a time. If you’re looking to see the Arctic or Antarctic the way scientists and explorers have in the past, an expedition cruise is probably what you’re looking for. You may not have amenities such as an on-board gym or luxury cabins (with some exceptions tho!), but you’ll definitely have a life-changing experience when you explore on an expedition cruise ship!

Luxury Polar Ships

Luxury polar cruise ships accommodate double the amount of passengers than an expedition ship (160), and are more focused on comfort. Here, you’ll find hotel rooms over cabins, fine dining, and generally, a more comfortable experience - for a price! If you want to splurge and spend your trip to Antarctica in a more relaxed environment, a luxury ship can provide modern, sleek design, comfortable rooms, and a generally more upscale experience.


Places to Start Your Arctic Adventure

Places to Start Your Antarctica Exploration

Your Polar Tour Questions, Answered

  • What is 'Fly & Cruise Trip'?

    Fly & Cruise tours combine all the comfort and expediency of flying closer to Antarctica, allowing travellers an extended time in Antarctica cruising the gorgeous scenery.
  • Where do Antarctic cruise leave from?

    Embarkation ports vary however, most Antarctic polar cruises depart from Ushuaia, Argentina. Montevideo, Uruguay and Buenos Aires, Argentina are another ports for Antarctica cruise departures.
  • How much does a polar cruise cost?

    This destination is a trip of a lifetime, but it does come at a premium.  Depending on your travel style prices, will range from on average EUR500 per day for budget cruises and tours, to over EUR1000 per day for a luxury expedition cruise experience.
  • How risky is polar travel?

    Weather and ice can cause problems on shore and on the ship. However, Cruise Operators will always prioritize safety for their guests and crew. The ships are designed and built for the polar region, equipped with GPS and other equipment necessary for navigating this region and are manned by a highly experienced crew. Cruises to the polar regions are scheduled during the favourable season (summer) for optimal expedition success.
  • Do I have to be in good shape for a polar tour?

    To enjoy the trip in full you should be in good general health and able to walk reasonable distances, sometimes over uneven terrain and are able to get in and out of a Zodiac with ease. For those who are seeking more adventure, some cruise operators offer one or more activities such as sea kayaking, cross-country skiing, camping, snowshoeing, mountaineering, or diving as options where a higher level of fitness is required. Remember, you are always welcome to stay on board if you prefer.
  • What is there to do on the polar ship?

    There are plenty of activities to choose from while sailing to the polar regions. Depending on the chosen itinerary and cruise operator, you will be able to learn about the history and environment by attending on-board lectures conducted by regional experts. There are other activities, such as board games to play in the lounges and fully-stocked libraries.
  • What documents must I complete to participate in the expedition?

    Forms may differ depending on the tour operator and destination. Generally, you will need to sign a cruise contract, and fill in personal and medical forms. Your tour operator might also ask you for your flight information in order to arrange a pickup. Keep in mind to always check visa requirements prior to your departure.
  • Can I extend my stay in the disembarkation city?

    An extension of stay is usually possible, but it can vary depending on the tour operator. If you wish to have extra time exploring the disembarkation city, contact your tour operator and ask for possible options.
  • Is there a doctor onboard?

    Yes, polar cruises will most likely include a doctor onboard to ensure safety of the passengers. Some ships also have clinics with medical equipment for emergencies.
  • Are single travellers welcomed?

    Yes, many travellers interested in polar regions travel solo. If you are open to sharing a room, choose your preferred cabin size and your tour operator will match you with other solo travellers of the same sex. If you wish to have your own cabin, there might be a single supplement charge, depending on the tour operator.
  • Are there family polar tours?

    Although children are not discouraged from an Antarctic trip, some cruise operators won't take passengers who are under 6 or 12, depending.  Please check with your TourRadar Polar Specialist for cruise operators who offer family expeditions.
  • How far in advance should I start planning my trip?

    We recommend travellers book their tour 12-18 months in advance. Booking in advance allows you to secure your preferred cabin size and choose additional activities you wish to take part in. Depending on the cruise, you might choose to kayak, camp, or hike. Keep in mind that Antarctica is accessible only between late October and late March, with each month having different highlights, so plan in advance to be able to choose your dream cruise.
  • When and where can I see the Northern Lights?

    The Northern Lights can be seen in few countries: Canada, Alaska, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Finland, Sweden, and Russia. The best time to see the Northern Lights will differ depending on the place you choose, but in general, the best time to see them is between October and March.
  • Where can I see Polar Bears?

    Polar bears live above the Arctic Circle and the best places to spot them are Alaska, Northern Canada, Greenland, Svalbard, and Russia. The best time to watch polar bears will vary depending on the place you choose, and whether you prefer to take a polar cruise or polar tour. Usually, polar cruises operate between June and September.
  • What type of clothing should I pack?

    As the weather can be harsh in polar regions, it’s important to be prepared. Make sure your clothes are waterproof, windproof, good quality, and, preferably, thermal. Waterproof pants are a must, and it’s also advisable to dress in layers. 
  • Are expedition jackets provided?

    Check with your cruise operator before departing, as many do provide a parka suitable for polar conditions. Most operators also provide rubber boots for those who want to pack lighter.
  • Should I expect rough seas cruising from South America to Antarctica?

    You should expect rough conditions at some point during your cruise. However, depending on the weather conditions, you may experience water as clear and smooth as glass. Take care navigating through the ship, as you could bump into things during rough moments. Always wear rubber-soled shoes to help your grip.
  • Is there anything I can take to prevent sea sickness?

    If you are prone to sea sickness, then you may be sensitive to movement on a ship. Consult your physician before you depart for advice and, if necessary, prescription medication.  Crystalized ginger is often a good home remedy to ease queasiness, which you may find offered in the ship’s dining room.
  • What will the weather be like?

    Expect the unexpected! The weather can change in an instant in the polar regions, so take your outer layers and insulating layers ashore with you even though the sun is shining before you set off, by the time you reach the shore it could be snowing with blazing winds!

Book your polar cruise today!

  • Book your polar cruise today!
  • Book your polar cruise today!
  • Book your polar cruise today!

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Our team of experienced Cruise Consultants have travelled to hundreds of countries around the globe and have decades of first-hand travel experience to share. Contact us now to have all of your tour-related questions answered!

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