For many travelers, Antarctica is the ultimate destination. Remote, unworldly and impossibly beautiful, cruisers continue to flock there in increasing numbers. For nearly all visitors, its wildlife -- especially the antics of the cute penguins -- are the big draw.
Watch anyone making a first Antarctic landing, and it is easy to understand why penguins have such popular appeal. Everything about them can be overwhelming -- their teeming colonies, the cacophony of ecstatic calls, and yes, their smell, which quickly finds its way into the ship's ventilation system and even your clothing! With penguins waddling past your feet, you may find few activities as absorbing or unique as simply standing in their midst while they stare back at you inquisitively.
Of course, penguins aren't the only creatures you will spot on the White Continent. By the end of December, whales are abundant, and smaller expedition ships make an excellent platform from which to stop and watch the animals. Humpback whales perform spectacular breaches, surging almost entirely out of the water, and killer whales slowly scan ice floes for prey. In the air, take delight in the soaring albatrosses that deftly skim even the most tempestuous waves and can spend several years at sea.
Almost all cruises to Antarctica are staffed with a bevy of naturalists. Instead of selecting from the usual offerings of production shows, belly-flop contests or bingo, passengers are offered talks that explain the difference between a rorqual and a toothed whale and which species of penguin is the only one to nest on ice.
For a look at some of the many species you might see up close on an Antarctic and South Georgia expedition, click through our slideshow.