December 29, 2018

The Arctic vs. Antarctic: Which Cruise Should You Take?

Picture of Nick Cabugos
Nick Cabugos

Creative Director, Montecito Village Travel

Unlock the Authentic Beauty of The Arctic and Antarctica

It's often that travelers confuse these two polar regions but each "end of the world" offers unique characteristics and many different spectacles to behold. On a cruise to the North and South Poles, guests can expect to see destination-specific wildlife, frigid waters, untouched terrains, and rarely seen cultures. If your heart can't decide on which journey to take first, this guide will show you the differences between both and help you decide on the right cruise.

Get Polarized

So What's The Difference?

The Arctic is a region that extends over six countries: Canada, Alaska in the USA, Greenland in Denmark, Russia, Norway and Iceland. Numerous populations of native peoples live at the North Pole including the Inuits of North America, the Sami of Northern Europe and the Yakuts at the edge of Siberia. This northern polar region is home to one of the largest land predators on the planet, the polar bear. Arctic foxes, caribou/reindeer, snowy owls and musk ox also call the Arctic their home.

Temperatures at the North Pole can vary quite significantly, with the thermometers dropping particularly low in February. In Norway and North America, it is not unusual for it to be over 50°F during the warmest months.

It was on Antarctica that the lowest natural temperature on Earth was recorded: -128.56°F

Antarctica, by contrast, is an entire continent to itself located in the southern hemisphere and 98 percent covered by an ice cap. There are mountains reaching a maximum of just over 16,000 feet in height to be found there. Though it is home to dozens of scientific basesAntarctica does not belong to any country.

In Antarctica, there are no land based mammals. However, the marine fauna boasts sea lions, whales, seals and elephant seals, amongst other creatures. In addition, there are also around forty species of birds that inhabit the southern polar region. There, the mercury can easily drop below -67°F, especially in mountainous areas.

View the list of more differences here.

Polar Bears Standing on Ice

When to go

There are a few things to consider when deciding on what time of year to travel since the different seasons bring different experiences in the Arctic and Antarctic.

The Arctic: Between October and March, the icy waters of the Arctic Ocean are nearly impossible to navigate. Springtime falls between March and April and if you're wanting to photograph polar bears and their cubs, this is the best time of the year to do so.

One of the world's largest denning areas is Wapusk National Park in Canada's Hudson Plains ecozone.

During the summer, the sea ice recedes enough for cruise ships to pass. The best time to see polar bears hunting in the Arctic is before the midnight sun melts the ice, between June and mid-July.

May to June is is known as floe edge season or "line of life", which is when you'll have the best opportunity to see arctic marine mammals. This includes beluga, bowhead whales and narwhals.

 From July and August there is nearly 24-hours of sunshine. This is when flowers begin to bloom and wildlife is abundant. 

Antarctica: Summertime in Antarctica falls between October and early December and is when the continent is covered in snow. During summer you can see penguin courtship displays. This is the time of year when you can also see penguins and other seabirds building their nests and laying eggs.

December to February offer up to 20 hours of sunlight a day and the warmest average temperatures. The best time to see penguin chicks is this time of year.

Whales and fur seals are best seen between February and March. This includes blue, fin, humpback, killer and minke whales.

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Arctic Cruising

On an Arctic cruise with Silversea, expect to see whales, puffins, and some of the largest bird colonies in the northern hemisphere. Bear Island is a nature reserve  in the Svalbard archipelago north of Norway and is the perfect place to see polar bears roaming freely.

Svalbard also offers opportunities for guests to spot guillemots, black-legged kittiwakes, and many other remarkable seabirds. The seldom visited volcanic island of Jan Mayen is a haven for humback and minke whales and you'll be able to see them spout and breach right before your eyes.  

The possibility of witnessing the northern lights is offered aboard Silversea Silver Cloud's sailing from Kangerlussuaq to Quebec, departing in September. The 14-day journey is timed to optimize guests’ chances of glimpsing this spellbinding celestial phenomenon, along with other wonders of nature.

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Ponant Cruise Ship at Sea and Icebergs

Antarctic Cruising

On an Antarctic cruise with Ponant, expect to see spectacular mountain scenery, the world’s biggest icebergs and an extraordinary array of wildlife: fur seals, penguins, albatrosses, sea elephants, orcas and whales in large numbers live side by side in this grandiose landscape.

Who has not dreamed of savoring that white stillness, an extraordinary spell-binding atmosphere of total serenity unequaled anywhere else on Earth. On the horizon, blocks of ice collapse into the sea forming vast icebergs of all shapes and sizes, eroded by the wind and the waves.

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