Polar Bears or Penguins? Northern Lights or white landscapes? North or South? First-time polar cruisers often have trouble deciding between the Arctic and Antarctica. These frozen landscapes may have some similarities, such as the fact they’re both extremely cold, but they are otherwise utterly dissimilar. Here’s a look at what separates the Arctic from Antarctica trip, in case you’re planning a trip to either pole.



Antarctica triumphs in this extreme competition. The record low temperature recorded here was -129 degrees Fahrenheit, and winter winds can gust at over 200 miles per hour. Since Antarctic cruises only operate in the warmer summer months (between 20- and 50 degrees Fahrenheit), passengers never have to worry about experiencing such harsh weather. Temperatures in the Arctic summer are comparable to those in Antarctica, and both regions benefit from abundant sunlight—up to 24 hours a day—during the warmer months.

Travel Seasons

The travel season is one of the most fundamental distinctions between a trip to the Arctic and an Antarctic cruise. Cruises to the Arctic run from May through September, while those to the Antarctic go from November through March. However, the summer seasons occur at different times of the year.



In the Arctic, the ice sheet that reaches the ocean breaks apart. They aren’t enormous, but they can be close together, so the sea captain may get stuck while sailing near the ice cover. Watch for polar bears hopping from iceberg to iceberg and seals and birds relaxing on the ice.

The largest icebergs exist in Antarctic locations. The area’s gigantic bergs will take your breath away with their brilliant hues and distinctive shapes.

People And Landscape

Antarctica has essentially no vegetation besides lichens, in contrast to the Arctic, which features tundra and flowering plants. In addition to the glaciers, icebergs, and stunning mountain scenery of the Arctic, Antarctica also offers the possibility to witness the enormous tabular icebergs of the Weddell Sea, after which it is named. Mount Vinson, at 16,066 feet, is Antarctica’s tallest peak; Greenland’s Mt. Gunnbjörn, at 12,119 feet, is the highest point in the Arctic.

The Arctic also differs in that it is home to indigenous peoples and long-lasting settlements; for example, the capital city of remote Svalbard, Longyearbyen, is inhabited by about 2,000 people. Despite the presence of a few temporary research sites, the Antarctic has traditionally been uninhabited.

Things To Do

Most Antarctic cruises take passengers to the continent itself, but only a select handful venture beyond the Antarctic Circle and none visit the South Pole. Contrarily, most expeditions to the Arctic make it to the Arctic Circle, and some even make it to the North Pole.

Adventure excursions that bring cruisers even closer to the exotic destinations they visit are a big draw for many vacationers. Cruises to Antarctica and one-of-a-kind excursions have gone hand in hand for quite some time. If camping, kayaking, mountaineering, skiing, paddle boarding, or even scuba diving are at the top of your list of must-dos, it’s simple to locate and board an Antarctic yacht that offers these pursuits.

With each passing year, an increasing number of Antarctic vessels provide opportunities for stunning and heart-pounding experiences.

However, Arctic and Iceland cruises have been slower to expand their offerings beyond hiking and Zodiac excursions. Some cruise itineraries in the Arctic place activity limits on passengers for the sake of the polar bears. But before you write off an Arctic cruise as too tame, consider this: certain Arctic itineraries now include opportunities for helicopter-assisted excursions, kayaking, and overnight camping—just like in Antarctica. What’s more, some polar vessels now offer fascinating Arctic activities like ice fishing and mountain biking that aren’t included in their Antarctic cruise itineraries.



The best way to go to the Arctic is not on a cruise liner. Instead, the icebreakers are designed to take cargo and research vessels through the Northeast Passage and the Arctic Ocean. The world’s most powerful icebreaker has 75,000 horsepower and can break through 3-meter thick ice sheets that have been there for years. Only during the brief summer months do daredevils receive the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go to the North Pole on a real, operating icebreaker.

On the other hand, Antarctica has small and easily maneuverable cruises that take you to islands, through rough waters and passages, and all of it with style and comfort for the sophisticated traveler.

So, Which Is It?

The bottom line is that you’re in for a fantastic and unique time at either pole. You will experience a sense of having been transported to another universe, one where you are in close contact with nature and surrounded by breathtaking natural beauty. Despite doing both, many travelers still find it difficult to pick between the two, so why bother? You really should do both because the experiences are so different.

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