1. Spot the whales
Knowing that a magnificent fluke or fin could appear at any moment adds drama and anticipation to any trip to Antarctica. It’s worth watching carefully, as whales, dolphins and porpoises can swim in sight from the start of the journey, even before entering Drake Passage. Further south – in the Neumayer Channel, for example, or near Paradise Harbour, Petermann Island and Pleneau Island – sightings of fin, humpback, minke and sei whales are a strong possibility as they spend most of the austral summer in Antarctica, feeding on krill. You can see them from the bridge or, with a bit of luck, from a Zodiac or a kayak.
2. Meet the penguins
Penguins are the birds that every visitor to Antarctica wants to see. While cruising or kayaking, you can spot them in the open sea, porpoising at high speed, but it is also possible to visit them on the shore. The three most commonly seen species here – Adelie, gentoo and chinstrap – breed at different times, so the month of your visit will affect which one you encounter. They nest in noisy colonies at a waddling distance from the water and, excitingly, are tolerant of human visitors (strict guidelines are in place to ensure they are not unduly disturbed). The Adélie colony on Paulet Island, the Chinstrap colony on Deception Island and the Papuan colony on Pleneau Island are particularly impressive.
3. Follow in the footsteps of great explorers
When cruising around the Antarctic Peninsula in a luxurious, modern vessel, it can be hard to imagine the hardships the great explorers of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries endured when they first surveyed the region. However, lively lectures on board bring their stories to life, explaining why several adventurers, including Adrien de Gerlache and Georg von Neumayer, have geographical features named after them. If your itinerary includes the Weddell Sea, you will follow in the wake of Ernest Shackleton Endurance expedition of 1914-16: it is in these waters, named after the Scottish captain James Weddell, that Endurance became trapped and sank. The crew lived on the pack ice for several months before sailing by lifeboat to Point Wild, awaiting a heroic rescue.