family of emperor penguins sits on snow in the sun, with fuzzy gray chicks by parent with gray back, white chest & black head.
A zodiac full of passengers from the weddell sea emperor penguin voyage cruise motors up to an iceberg in antarctica
Weddell seal in mottled black & white spots lays on snow, raises flipper & yawns on a sunny day in Antarctica.
A group of penguins walk across the ice and snow in antarctica, as seen from the weddell sea voyage cruise
A helicopter lands on a pad surrounded by ice in antarctica, as part of an expedition with weddell sea emperor penguin voyage luxury cruise
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Polar Regions Antarctica Cruise

Weddell Sea—Emperor Penguin Voyage

The Weddell Sea—Emperor Penguin Voyage is one of the most spectacular Antarctic adventures around. This 11-day expedition cruises aboard the 108-passenger ship M/V Ortelius and offers the unique experience of close emperor penguin encounters at their more secluded rookeries via exciting helicopter rides. Finish the voyage passing through the South Shetland Islands. 

An emperor penguin rookery is situated south of Snow Hill Island, below Hope Bay on the Antarctic Peninsula and James Ross Island. The captain will do the utmost to position the vessel close enough to Snow Hill Island in order to enable ship-to-shore helicopter transfers to approximately 45-minute walks to the emperor penguin rookeries. 

Hope to see the western side of the Antarctic Sound, an area only rarely seen from the air with stunning landscapes of layered sandstones, lava flows, glaciers tumbling into the sea and icebergs and pack-ice as far as the eye can see. Observe individual emperor penguins and adélie penguins on the ice floes; cape, snow, and giant petrels flying overhead; and kelp gulls, skuas and Wilson’s storm petrels scavenging below. Walk over frost-shattered rocks covered in fascinating lichen and visit Seymour Island, where the Swedish Antarctic Expedition from 1901-04 overwintered under miraculous circumstances.

The Weddell Sea Emperor Penguin Voyage reserves 4 days to visit the emperor penguin rookeries by helicopter. Note that this expedition may vary depending on local ice and weather conditions, the availability of landing sites and opportunities to see wildlife. This is a true Antarctic expedition, so flexibility is paramount.

Read on for details about this trip, or learn more about AdventureSmith’s Antarctica cruises and trips to Antarctica.



Itinerary

Weddell Sea—In Search of the Emperor Penguin, Incl. Helicopters Itinerary

This 11-day expedition cruise offers the unique opportunity to attempt to see the emperor penguin colony in Antarctica, as well as opportunities to visit certain sites by helicopter.

Weddell Sea Emperor Penguin cruise route map.
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Day 1
Embark Ushuaia, Argentina

In the afternoon, embark in the small resort town of Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world, nicknamed “The End of the World.” Sail the mountain-fringed Beagle Channel for the remainder of the evening.

Accommodations

Ortelius

Meals

dinner

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Days 2 - 3
Drake Passage

Over the next 2 days on the Drake Passage, you enjoy some of the same experiences encountered by the great polar explorers who first charted these regions: cool salt breezes, rolling seas, maybe even a fin whale spouting up sea spray. After passing the Antarctic Convergence–Antarctica’s natural boundary, formed when north-flowing cold waters collide with warmer sub-Antarctic seas–you are in the circum-Antarctic upwelling zone. Not only does the marine life change, the avian life changes too. Wandering albatrosses, grey-headed albatrosses, black-browed albatrosses, lightmantled sooty albatrosses, cape pigeons, southern fulmars, Wilson’s storm petrels, blue petrels and Antarctic petrels are a few of the birds you might see.

Accommodations

Ortelius

Meals

breakfast, lunch, dinner

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Days 4 - 7
Weddell Sea

You may sail into the Weddell Sea via the Antarctic Sound. Here huge tabular icebergs herald your arrival to the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula. During this part of the cruise, the search is on for emperor penguins. Using both the vessel and helicopters, there’s a good chance you’ll find them. You might also enjoy scenic flights, and if conditions allow, helicopter landings in locations otherwise out of reach this time of year.

Helicopter flights are a true trip changer, and may include:

The west slopes of the Antarctic Sound
The western side of this area is only rarely seen from the air, though the landscape is truly worth the flight: Layered sandstones, lava flows, glaciers, icebergs and pack-ice extend as far as the eye can see. There are often individual emperor penguins and Adélie penguins on the ice floes, as well as kelp gulls, skuas and various breeds of petrel. Jagged mountain peaks stab through the snow, and enormous walls of ice lie shattered on the slopes below.

Duse Bay
A soaring helicopter flight may deposit you on a rocky hillock close to an old refuge hut overlooking this bay. There’s still a lot of snow and ice this time of year, but much of the walk in this location is over frost-shattered rock covered with lichen of all shapes and colors.

Seymour Island
This is where the Swedish Antarctic Expedition of 1901–4 wintered under harrowing polar conditions. Sedimentary rock, fossils and expansive views define this location.

If conditions allow for deeper ventures into the Weddell Sea, Zodiac trips may include:

Devil Island
Home to a large colony of Adélie penguins, this island offers a magnificent vantage point for hikers willing to foot it to the top of the hill. Melting ice sometimes forms a waterfall dropping from the cliffs close to Cape Well-met.

Brown Bluff
Maybe the most scenic location in the entire northern tip of the Antarctic Continent: sheer canyon walls, fallen boulders, beautiful volcanic creations capped with ice. A large Adélie penguin rookery lives here, with gentoo penguins and nesting snow petrels also to be found.

Gourdin Island
Chinstrap, gentoo and Adélie penguins love this island, which is yet another landing option for your continuing Antarctic adventure.

Esperanza Base
This Argentine research station, which operates year-round and is one of only two civilian settlements in Antarctica, could serve as an alternative landing site.

Note: Helicopters provide an advantage in reaching the emperor penguin colony, but your ability to use them depends entirely on ice, sea and weather conditions. If conditions are favorable, you will visit the colony. If conditions are exceptionally favorable, you will attempt to visit more than once. Helicopter operations take a full day and flight duration depends on local conditions.

Each helicopter can accommodate 4-5 passengers per flight. The landing site is carefully chosen so that the penguins are not disturbed. Upon arrival to the site, you will walk to the colony. This may take up to 45 minutes and can be challenging in places. Please keep in mind that you are in the world’s most remote region, so there are no guarantees: conditions may change rapidly, which can impact helicopter operations. It is important to understand and respect this fact.

Safety is the greatest concern, so no compromises can be made. The aim is for all groups to spend an equal amount of time at the colony. The time at the colony (and the time to get there from landing site) will often vary, however, due to local conditions and flight times.

Accommodations

Ortelius

Meals

breakfast, lunch, dinner

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Day 8
Deception Island

In the morning, you sail to Deception Island for the last landing of the voyage, either at Pendulum Cove or Whalers Bay. Conditions on the Drake Passage determine the exact time of departure.

Accommodations

Ortelius

Meals

breakfast, lunch, dinner

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Days 9 - 10
Drake Passage

Your return voyage is far from lonely. While crossing the Drake, you’re again greeted by the vast array of seabirds remembered from the passage south. But they seem a little more familiar to you now, and you to them.

Accommodations

Ortelius

Meals

breakfast, lunch, dinner

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Day 11
Disembark Ushuaia, Argentina

Every adventure, no matter how grand, must eventually come to an end. It’s now time to disembark in Ushuaia, but with memories that will accompany you wherever your next adventure lies.

Accommodations

n/a

Meals

breakfast

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Details
Inclusions, Terms & Notes

Included

Voyage aboard the indicated vessel as indicated in the itinerary; all meals throughout the voyage aboard the ship including snacks, coffee and tea; all shore excursions and activities throughout the voyage by Zodiac; program of lectures by noted naturalists and leadership by experienced expedition staff; free use of rubber boots and snowshoes; luggage transfer from pick-up point to the vessel on the day of embarkation in Ushuaia; pre-scheduled group transfer from the vessel to the airport in Ushuaia (directly after disembarkation); all miscellaneous service taxes and port charges throughout the program; comprehensive pre-departure material; ship-to-shore helicopter transfers, with no specific helicopter time guaranteed.

Exclusions

Any airfare whether on scheduled or charter flights (scheduled helicopter rides included); pre- and post-land arrangements; transfers to the vessel in Ushuaia; passport and visa expenses; government arrival and departure taxes; meals ashore; baggage and cancellation insurance; personal insurance (mandatory); optional activities; excess baggage charges and all items of a personal nature such as laundry, bar, beverage charges and telecommunication charges; customary gratuity at the end of the voyages for stewards and other service personnel aboard; fuel surcharge (your Adventure Specialist will provide details).

Payment & Cancellation

In order to confirm this trip, a deposit of 20% of the total trip cost is required per person at time of booking. The balance of the trip price is due 90 days before the departure date. Special holiday payment and cancellation terms may apply. Guests who must cancel their trip for any reason must do so in writing. Standard cancellations are subject to the following per-person penalties, based on number of days prior to departure:
Up to 90 days – 100% of deposit
89 to 60 days – 50% of total trip cost
59 to 0 days – 100% of total trip cost

Terms & Conditions

This trip is subject to AdventureSmith Explorations Terms and Conditions. Please read this information carefully and call us if you have any questions. A Traveler Information Form, which includes a release of liability, must be completed and signed by all travelers. Your Adventure Specialist will send you a unique link to complete this form along with a packing list and extensive pre-departure and travel insurance information upon booking confirmation.

Arrival & Departure

The Weddell Sea—In Search of the Emperor Penguin, Incl. Helicopters cruise begins and ends in Ushuaia, Argentina (USH). Embarkation time is between 4:00 and 5:00pm on day of departure. We highly recommend arriving one day prior to your trip start date in case of any flight delay, cancellation or lost luggage issues. The ship sails around 6:00pm on day of departure. Disembarkation is after breakfast on final day between 8:30 and 9:00am. Plan flights to depart Ushuaia anytime after noon on the final day. If you would like assistance with international flights, please visit our Booking Flights resource page.

Activities

Hiking:

Hiking time for most landings will be a couple of hours round-trip with lots of time to stop to study, photograph and enjoy the flora and fauna.

Helicopters:

The Weddell Sea—In Search of the Emperor Penguin, Incl. Helicopters cruise includes helicopter rides via a minimum of two onboard helicopters that each carry 4-5 passengers per flight. If the conditions are favorable, there exist added special helicopter rides to see emperor penguin rookeries. The use of helicopters has a great advantage and can support the goal to reach the scheduled landing sites, that otherwise are inaccessible; other times you observe from the sky. But, these voyages are operated in the world’s most remote areas, ruled by the forces of nature. Providing the conditions, such as but not limited to ice and weather conditions, are suitable, the captain of the vessel will position the vessel at a safe and (for the helicopters and helicopter pilots) feasible distance from the intended landing site. Every passenger who participates in those mentioned voyages, understands and accepts that no guarantees can be given, including a specific amount of helicopter time. For further information contact AdventureSmith Explorations.

Room Configuration

Single travelers wishing to book a double-occupancy cabin may do so at 1.7x the per-person Twin or Superior listed rates. Single travelers wishing to book on a “sharing basis” may do so at no additional cost in Twin, Triple or Quadruple categories upon availability.

Families & Children

Upon request, children under 16 years old traveling with parents may receive 40% discount in Superior, Triple (sharing with 2 parents/adults) and Quadruple Cabins (sharing with 3 parents/adults). Some voyages may be excluded.

Travel Insurance

Emergency medical evacuation insurance is mandatory for this trip, with a minimum recommended coverage of $100,000 per person. Trip cancellation insurance is optional but highly recommended. Our partners at Travelex Insurance offer a variety of plans and policies to fit every trip and budget. Coverage for a pre-existing medical condition is also available if you purchase the Travel Select plan within 15 days of the initial trip payment; refer to plan details. Learn more about travel insurance or get a free quote.

Itinerary Notes

Read this itinerary as a guide only; the exact route and program varies according to ice, weather conditions, wildlife encountered and the captain’s discretion. Flexibility is the key to the success of any Antarctica expedition. Visits to research stations depend on final permission.

Rates & Dates

Cruise Rates & Dates

Nov 10 - Nov 20, 2024
Ortelius • 11 days
From $12100USD
Per Person
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Nov 20 - Nov 30, 2024
Ortelius • 11 days
From $12100USD
Per Person
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Nov 11 - Nov 21, 2025
Ortelius • 11 days
From $12900USD
Per Person
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Nov 21 - Dec 01, 2025
Ortelius • 11 days
From $12900USD
Per Person
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Accommodation

Learn About the Small Ship on Your Itinerary

Expedition Ship
Ortelius

The 108-guest M/V Ortelius is an ice-strengthened small ship designed for polar expedition cruises in the Arctic and Antarctica. She offers passengers a quality exploratory wildlife program to spend as much time ashore as possible.

Testimonial

Hear It from Travelers Who Have Explored with Us

"This is an Extraordinary Trip"

This is an extraordinary trip and travelers have to be prepared for the unexpected and the guarantee of success in reaching the emperor penguins.

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Meals
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Weddell Sea—Emperor Penguin Voyage