Seabourn Quest Antarctica
Seabourn Quest anchored within sight of the González Videla Base, a Chilean Research Station on the Antarctic mainland’s Waterboat Point in Paradise Bay. © 2014 Avid Travel Media Inc.

In many ways, a voyage to Antarctica is the ultimate cruise. It is an expedition made by relatively few, but the rewards for making the journey are numerous.

Most cruises to Antarctica set sail from Ushuaia, Argentina – the southernmost city in the world. Even this starting point is a unique experience, as the town primarily exists only for tourists coming and going from Patagonia or Antarctica.

From there, a rite of passage en-route to the Antarctic Peninsula involves crossing the dreaded Drake Passage. This body of water is where the currents from the Atlantic and the Pacific meet, often with violent consequences. Expect to get tossed around quite a bit – but only on one leg of your journey. As the saying goes, you’re either going to get the “Drake Shake” or the “Drake Lake”; few people get hit by bad weather both ways.

Suddenly, you find yourself on the Antarctic Peninsula. Icebergs so big they could be mistaken for land break free and drift past you. Penguins waddle along snow-capped shorelines by the hundreds, occasionally dodging between rusting Victorian-era whaling equipment, standing like a monument to a forgotten time, seen by almost no one.

Nature is abundant here. So too is history. Early explorers like Robert Falcon Scott met their demise in the race to the South Pole. Some, like Roald Amundsen, would succeed. Others, like Carsten Borchgrevink and Ernest Shackleton, would endure personal hardships as they sought to balance the need for discovery with the lives of their men.

Antarctica is sensory overload. The colors are unbearably vibrant, and sunsets inadequately described in words. The lack of noise pollution is evident; quiet has never seemed so loud.

This is the most expensive cruise on this list – by far – but each time I’ve made the journey, I’ve met fellow passengers who are on their third, fourth and even fifth visit. Because that’s what the polar regions do to you: They disarm you completely, and pull you under their spell.

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