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I boarded a cruise to Antarctica: here's what it's like traveling to the White Continent on the Deluxe Sea Spirit

side by side image of a girl taking a selfie and an expedition cruise ship

The glistening, otherworldly landscape in front of me could be mistaken for nowhere else in the world. I had arrived at the White Continent—the ultimate destination on any traveler’s bucket list—and an entire day ahead of schedule at that.

Immediately, I was most bewildered by Antarctica’s dramatic contrasts. The continent’s harmony shone in its sparkling white icebergs illuminating the turquoise water below, and in the way such pristine silence was so quickly interrupted by the roaring crack of a glacier.

In a landscape considered so inhospitable and still, life and movement were abundant. Distant avalanches dropped fresh snowfall under the relentless hours of November’s sun, and we spotted our first locals—Gentoo penguins, Weddell seals, and Antarctic Terns, to name a few.

Penguin walking on the snow

For myself and so many others, aspirations to visit the continent had started as a final checkmark to knock off our bucket lists. To step foot on all seven continents would be the final prize in our aspirations to travel the world—the utmost ego boost.

Yet as I made my first footprints in the fresh, powdery snowfall, I felt more humbled than celebratory. Antarctica’s sheer scale, serenity, and inaccessibility was like nowhere I had seen before, and unlike anywhere I’ll ever see again.

Here’s how I got there—and how you can, too.

Antarctica’s irresistible lure

Lemaire Channel in Antarctica

Antarctica has always been a land of the unknown. The continent was first predicted by philosophers over two thousand years ago, but it wasn’t until the tumultuous journeys of early explorers that the existence of the southernmost continent was confirmed.

Years prior, while on an extended trip to South America, I had gazed longingly at the Southern Ocean from Chilean Patagonia. Like those early explorers, I had always dreamed of visiting Antarctica some day.

Venturing to the end of the Earth, however, still seemed a bit far-fetched for your average 27 year old from the Midwest. Yet when the opportunity arose to sail on a 9-night Antarctica voyage entitled Realm of Penguins and Icebergs, I couldn’t pass it up.

And, fortunately, unlike the earliest expeditions south, my voyage to Antarctica would be substantially more comfortable.

Sea Spirit Exterior

I was to sail on the M/V Sea Spirit, a deluxe 4,200 ton expedition vessel designed specifically for the polar regions. The ship operates as the sole vessel under Poseidon Expeditions, a leading expedition cruise line.

Just recently, in fact, Poseidon Expeditions was named Best Polar Expedition Cruise Operator by the 2023 World Travel Awards, so I knew I would be in good hands throughout my sailing to such a wild and unforgiving region of the world.

Getting to the “end of the world” was a journey within itself

Buenos Aires cityscape

Embarking on a journey as grand as an Antarctica cruise is no small feat, and my travels started three days prior when I boarded a flight to Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Poseidon Expeditions’ Antarctica voyages begin in Ushuaia, Argentina, otherwise known as the world’s southernmost city. To get there, most passengers first stop in Argentina’s capital for a night or two.

Buenos Aires, the “Paris of South America,” is unquestionably worth a stopover en route to an Antarctica expedition. The city’s atmosphere of romantic, European-style streets combined with the bustling flare of Latin America was remarkably enchanting.

The tango, empanadas, and 24/7 buzz of the city couldn’t keep me forever, though, and soon it was time to continue my journey south.

My Poseidon Expeditions’ experience began in Ushuaia

Ushuaia Sign

Following my three hour flight from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia, I was met at the airport by a Poseidon Expeditions representative who provided a transfer to our hotel.

A hotel stay at the Arakur Ushuaia Resort & Spa is included in Poseidon Expeditions’ Antarctica cruise fares. This five star hotel is located atop a hill overlooking Ushuaia, and the hotel’s luxury amenities and spacious rooms allowed passengers to relax and unwind from the long travel days prior.

Three jacuzzis on an outdoor patio

I particularly enjoyed the Arakur’s outdoor jacuzzis, which overlooked Ushuaia’s jagged, snow capped mountain peaks, and the hotel’s restaurant, where my travel party enjoyed Argentine meats and cocktails to end the evening.

Embarkation day began in the afternoon of the following day, giving passengers time to explore Ushuaia prior to boarding Sea Spirit.

The city offers an array of shopping for those in need of winter gear, and a day trip to the nearby Tierra del Fuego National Park is a must. The park offers a variety of hiking trails for both beginner and experienced hikers, providing phenomenal views of Patagonia’s mountains and pristine coastline.

As afternoon approached, it was time to catch Poseidon Expeditions’ transfer bus from downtown Ushuaia to the port. It was finally time for my journey to Antarctica to begin.

The Sea Spirit is small but mighty—ideal for an Antarctica voyage

Sea Spirit ship in port

Approaching the port of Ushuaia, the Sea Spirit appeared relatively small in comparison to other vessels surrounding her. The ship, which has a capacity of just 114 passengers, was towered over by ships that could fit several hundred more guests.

Whereas a bigger ship is often preferred for a leisurely cruise to the Caribbean, this is not the case in expedition cruising.

Current regulation allows no more than 100 passengers on shore at any time on an Antarctica cruise. Due to this regulation, sailing on a smaller ship like the Sea Spirit gives passengers far more time ashore compared to those on ships with double the capacity.

The Sea Spirit’s capacity of 114 passengers means that all passengers can disembark the ship without lengthy wait times, as the optional kayaking add-on ensures some passengers stay off land at first while others walk ashore.

people kayaking by a large iceberg

Only 107 passengers and around 70 crew were aboard for my sailing, and Poseidon Expeditions’ commitment to keeping ships small is part of what makes the cruise line so exceptional.

As I took my first steps on the Sea Spirit, the ship immediately felt like home

Girl smiling holding a glass of champagne

Embarking the Sea Spirit for the first time, I was welcomed with warm greetings and an embarkation day tea party complete with cakes, sandwiches, and fruity drinks.

Additionally, I was referred to as “Madame Jenna” for the first time. This small, personalized touch would continually make me smile throughout the sailing, and I couldn’t believe how quickly the staff learned passengers’ names.

Despite the Sea Spirit’s age of 31 years, I was impressed by the condition of the vessel. The ship underwent a $2.5 million refurbishment in 2017 to modernize cabins and public spaces, and she appeared more up-to-date than ships I’ve sailed on previously that were half her age.

Indoor lounge on Sea Spirit cruise ship

The Sea Spirits’ public spaces are the main hubs of any activity onboard. Enrichment lectures, important announcements, and activities like the Crew Talent Show take place in the Oceanus Lounge on Deck 3.

This is also where you’ll find the reception area, the Sea Spirit’s expedition desk, and a vast bulletin board displaying information on the voyage’s itinerary, daily schedules, historical insights, and wildlife viewings.

Lobby on Sea Spirit cruise ship

Most socialization occurs a deck above at the Club Lounge. This lounge features the ship’s bar, 24-hour self-service coffee and tea stations, and plush seating perfect for observing Antarctica’s scenery out the window. A library is attached to the Club Lounge, which features hundreds of books on polar themes and board games to play with fellow passengers.

Club Lounge on Sea Spirit cruise ship

Other public spaces onboard include a gym, the ship’s bridge, and a restaurant where meals are served three times per day.

Located outdoors on the Sea Spirit is a wraparound promenade deck and the Outdoor Bistro, where guests can enjoy a meal if the weather permits.

Outdoor deck on Sea Spirit cruise ship

Near the Outdoor Bistro is also where you’ll find the ship’s jacuzzi, and it’s an excellent place from which to sightsee while sailing through Antarctica’s stunning channels.

I would spend the next nine nights in the roomy and lavish Superior Suite

Superior Suite on Sea Spirit cruise ship

Following our friendly welcome onboard, I ventured to my cabin for the first time. On this sailing, I stayed in a Superior Suite on Deck 4 of the Sea Spirit.

Entering my stateroom for the first time, I was impressed by the cabin’s size. The Superior Suite features a king-sized bed, couch, vanity, television, walk-in closet, and modern ensuite bathroom.

Our cabin came equipped with a detailed Antarctica expedition booklet that provided information on the region’s wildlife and history, as well as two reusable water bottles.

Superior Suite on Sea Spirit cruise ship

What I loved most in our cabin was the suite’s window, which overlooked the Sea Spirit’s promenade deck. This one-way window allowed us to relish Antarctica’s vast landscapes during the sailing while providing privacy from those walking on the deck.

For a cruise destination as noteworthy as Antarctica, I couldn’t have asked for a more cozy cabin to call home.

Sailing away from Ushuaia, the infamous Drake Passage lay ahead

Cruise ship going through South America's Beagle Channel

The Drake Passage—a body of water between Argentina and the Antarctica peninsula—is notorious for its unpredictable conditions.

Crossing the passage is a right of passage en route to Antarctica, and the Poseidon Expeditions’ team promptly calmed my nerves when we were told we would cross the Drake under favorable conditions.

While movement onboard certainly increased once we left the protected waters of South America’s Beagle Channel, applying a seasickness patch ensured I felt comfortable throughout the journey.

During our trip south, I found myself enamored with the soaring albatrosses following the ship—these large seabirds with wingspans around ten feet long followed us from Argentina to Antarctica.

Our wildlife sightings had already begun, and we hadn’t even made it to Antarctica yet.

A sole iceberg marked the true beginning of my Antarctica experience


As I looked out my suite’s window on the third day of our cruise, I was ecstatic to see my first glimpse of Antarctica: a massive, solitary iceberg floating calmly along the Southern Ocean.

The evening prior, on the first day crossing the Drake Passage, we received the wonderful, unexpected news that the Sea Spirit was set to arrive in Antarctica a day ahead of schedule. Our smooth sail across the Drake Passage was met with a tailwind, and our early arrival would give us an entire day’s extra worth of activities.

At this moment, I fell in love with expedition cruising and its ability to spontaneously add new destinations and experiences.

As that sole iceberg turned into dozens more and, finally, our first glimpse of unmistakable snowy land, the Sea Spirit’s 107 passengers flocked to the outdoor decks to take it in—years of dreaming of this moment had finally come true.

The next five days included ten activities to immerse passengers in the grandeur of Antarctica

Girl standing on hillside in Antarctica

Visiting Antarctica on a Poseidon Expeditions cruise means passengers get the opportunity to step foot on the continent of Antarctica. After our journey across the Drake Passage, we spent the next five days enjoying two activities per day around the continent and surrounding islands.

Our Antarctic experience started in the South Shetland islands, the northernmost island chain in Antarctica. Thousands of penguins—both Chinstrap and Gentoo—welcomed us ashore, and observing the penguins’ quirky and innate behaviors was captivating.

Rookery of Gentoo penguins

An expedition cruise means a sense of flexibility is required of passengers—there is no set itinerary while visiting Antarctica. Ice and weather conditions can alter a planned excursion at short notice, so it’s important to be prepared for anything.

This was evident on our first day in Antarctica, as a scheduled visit to Fort Point, Greenwich Island was promptly altered due to unforeseen winds. Instead, we visited a nearby bay that offered an extravagant view of a calving glacier. In our guides’ opinion, this was even more astounding than our scheduled destination.

man standing in front of a glacier

For seven of our ten activities, we were able to make shore landings in Antarctica. Ranging from short walks to view penguins to rewarding hikes up snowy peaks, each visit ashore was enchanting.

For most visits, we spent between forty minutes to two hours on land, and my provided Poseidon Expeditions’ parka ensured I stayed warm. Funny enough, we had such wonderful weather I found myself sweating more often than shivering!

In addition to simply walking around while ashore, passengers could sign up for two optional activities: kayaking and camping. These activities fill up quickly, so interested passengers should register for these add-ons while booking their cruise.

When we couldn’t go ashore, zodiac cruises were offered instead

Spert Island Antarctica landscape

All guests must embark a zodiac—an inflatable boat transporting guests from ship to shore—whenever traveling from the Sea Spirit to make a landing. These boats were also utilized for scenic sightseeing cruises when we couldn’t get ashore.

Three of our scheduled landings were canceled due to sea ice conditions, but as an alternative, Poseidon Expeditions offered sightseeing tours of the scheduled landing area. These tours—usually between one and two hours—were led by the Sea Spirit’s expedition team of geologists, historians, and marine biologists, among others.

While cruising around Spert Island, we were towered by icebergs the size of skyscrapers, and a passage through the Lemaire Channel offered another chance to be dwarfed by Antarctica’s immensity.

Spert Island in Antarctica landscape

I grew fond of these zodiac cruises during my time in Antarctica. Because the landings were quite active—often involving walking up and down hills in the snow—the zodiac cruises offered a more relaxing way to take in the views.

Sustainable travel is at the forefront of Poseidon Expeditions’ voyages

Sustainability was a major component of any shore landing when cruising on the Sea Spirit.

Prior to going ashore, all passengers were required to step into a disinfectant tub to ensure no harmful bacteria or particles were brought on land. In addition, all outer layers must be checked at the ship’s biosecurity screening on embarkation day.

people hiking in Antarctica

While on land, it was forbidden to place anything on the ground that had not been placed in the disinfectant tub. Sitting, kneeling, and laying on the continent was forbidden during landings, and keeping at least a fifteen foot distance from wildlife was required.

Protecting the fragile landscape and wildlife of Antarctica is the most important responsibility for polar travelers, and Poseidon Expeditions took no shortcuts with their policies.

The culinary team on the Sea Spirit kept passengers satisfied with three warm, varied meals per day

Restaurant on Sea Spirit

Having only sailed on cruise ships with thousands of passengers, I wasn’t sure what to expect when it came to dining on an intimate expedition ship, but I was pleased with the quality and diversity of meals onboard.

All meals on the Sea Spirit were served in the ship’s main restaurant. Breakfast and lunch were served buffet style, while dinner was a multi-course table service meal.

Breakfast offered classic favorites such as pancakes, parfaits, and bacon each morning; however, lunch and dinner options changed daily. Menu choices catered to a wide range of passengers from around the world, whether a classic steak, spicy Thai soup, or comforting pasta dish.

plate of beef wellington

My favorite aspect of the dining experience were the live cooking stations at breakfast and lunch. Each day a new dish or culinary theme was introduced, allowing passengers to order a customized dish made-to-order, whether stir fry, omelets, or fajitas.

Dinner offered ample selections for both reserved and adventurous eaters, with a classics menu offered each evening in addition to new menu items. Menus were labeled with common dietary requirements. As a pescatarian, I had no issues finding both vegetarian and seafood options on the ship.

stir fry pasta dish

In addition to three meals per day, tea time was served from 4-5 PM daily in the Club Lounge. Snacks like warm scones, cakes, and sandwiches were offered, and one day even featured an ice cream party!

However, the most fantastic meal I enjoyed on the Sea Spirit, by far, was our sailing’s outdoor barbecue. Rather than eating inside, the ship’s crew set up a beautiful meal on the outer deck.

Dining outdoors on Sea Spirit cruise ship

While the entire voyage was wonderful, dining outdoors in such an extraordinary setting is something I’ll truly never forget for the rest of my life.

Other onboard programming varied, from enrichment lectures to the polar plunge

Although the core focus of an Antarctica expedition is in shore landings and zodiac cruises, I found the Sea Spirit’s onboard programming just as intriguing.

During sea days to and from Antarctica, lectures were offered by the ship’s expedition guides on everything from seals to photography workshops and exploration history. These activities are optional for passengers, but they would be remiss to not attend at least a few.

Enrichment lecture on Sea Spirit cruise ship

The expertise of the Sea Spirit’s expedition guides was particularly evident during these lectures. For example, Falcon, one of the historians aboard my ship, is the grandson of explorer Captain Scott, one of the first explorers to ever reach the South Pole.

Not only was Falcon’s presentation on Scott’s expedition thorough and immersive, but the fact that I was being taught by the explorer’s grandson was simply incredible.

For a more active onboard activity, Poseidon Expeditions offers the polar plunge. This much anticipated activity involves jumping into the icy waters of the Southern Ocean. While slightly nerve-wracking, passengers are tethered to the ship and receive a complimentary vodka shot afterwards, so there’s really no excuse not to give it a try!

Before leaving Antarctica, one more surprise was in store

Deception Island antarctica

After five life-changing days exploring the vast landscapes of the Antarctic peninsula, I thought I had said my last farewell to the continent. Yet as we returned aboard after our last afternoon activity, we received an unexpected announcement.

En route north, the Sea Spirit would make a scenic cruise to the caldera of Deception Island, a volcanic island in the South Shetland Islands. The volcanic crater—now underwater—has a narrow opening allowing ships to pass through.

Deception Island Antarctica

Not only was our sunset sightseeing cruise of Deception Island gorgeous, but complimentary Bailey’s and hot chocolate was served during the sailing to keep guests warm. This added touch was just another example of the way Poseidon Expeditions went above and beyond for its passengers.

Returning to Argentina meant another crossing of the Drake Passage

Drake Passage Antarctica

As if we didn’t have a smooth enough crossing en route to Antarctica, our return to South America was akin to cruising through the Mediterranean—almost no movement was felt onboard.

It took two sea days to return to Ushuaia, during which my fellow passengers and I made our final memories together. When sailing on a cruise ship with so few guests, everyone becomes like family by the end of the expedition.

four people watching the sunset in Antarctica

Whether hosting our own trivia sessions, challenging each other to a game of Twister, or laughing through impromptu dance parties on the upper deck, I already found myself feeling sad about saying goodbye to so many new friends.

Our first glimpses of South America were at Cape Horn, the southernmost part of the continent in Chile. Our quicker than expected speed allotted time for a sightseeing cruise, yet another surprise activity on the voyage.

A final captain’s farewell party and packing my belongings took up my time for the rest of our final day onboard, and all too soon my journey to Antarctica had come to an end.

Cruising to Antarctica is a journey all travelers should make once

penguin standing on an iceberg

Time is irrelevant in Antarctica. The continent lies in all lines of longitude—and consequently all time zones. There were times I would become so mesmerized watching the passing scenery that hours would pass in an instant, and others when the quick, dramatic calving of ice felt frozen in time.

When I first imagined my Antarctica cruise on the Sea Spirit, I never expected the continent to have such an impact on me. If anything, I thought it would be a cool experience to cross off my (long) list of travel goals.

Yet it seems impossible to not be impacted by the vastness of the White Continent. In a society where we’re taught to constantly strive for new achievements, there was something so moving about immersing myself in a place so unchanged for thousands and thousands of years.

girl standing with a sign in Antarctica

Prior to my journey, I thought the most important moment I would have on my expedition cruise would be stepping foot in Antarctica and, quite literally, making my mark on the continent.

In reality, Antarctica made its mark on me.

Feeling inspired to visit Antarctica with Poseidon Expeditions yourself next season? Get an additional discount of $500 USD for cruises in the 2024/25 Antarctic season by using the code #JENNA500 when booking.

For more details on expedition cruise offerings, contact Poseidon Expeditions directly.

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