The main season for expedition cruise voyages to Antarctica ranges from October to April - sometimes a little earlier, sometimes a little later.
It is generally agreed that the best months to take an Antarctic cruise are November to February. Prices tend to be higher in these months.
Early season: October - early November
The pack ice begins to break up in October and November leaving a pristine landscape with plenty of fresh snow. This is the mating season for penguins and other birds. You are likely to see courtship displays, nest building and egg tending. In South Georgia, Elephant and Fur seals are mating and King Penguins laying their eggs. Parents can be seen carrying eggs on their feet: one parent shuffles around the colony while its mate swims out to sea to feed.
If you combine the Falkland Islands with your Antarctic cruise, you have the opportunity to see Gentoo, Magellanic, Rockhopper, and King penguins return to breed in the month of September or you might prefer to visit mid to end October, when eggs are laid and the chicks of Gentoo and Magellanic penguins are hatching. You will also see large and small chicks of King Penguins, whose long breeding cycle spans 18 months.
Other wildlife also abounds in the Falklands during these months. Male Black-browed albatross return in late September; their mates arriving in early October. Eggs are laid in late October.
Southern elephant bull seals arrive early September, cows one week later and pupping commences in late September.
Black-browed albatross eggs hatch in late December after 70 days incubation and then the parents 'broodguard' until mid-January. Southern Giant petrels and most other species follow a similar pattern.
Southern elephant bull seals arrive early September, cows one week later and pupping commences in late September. Females mate at end of lactation and depart after approximately 27 days ashore. Pups remain ashore fasting for 45 days after the females depart. Males leave late November. In January and February you may see the adults haul out to moult.
Main season: December - February
December and January, the height of the Austral summer, bring fantastic photo opportunities with 18 to 20 hours of sunshine per day. These are the months for whale sightings e.g. baleen and toothed whales along the Antarctic Peninsula.
Southern Sea Lion bulls establish their territory in late December and the females arrive late December/early January for pupping. They mate immediately after pupping, then take short foraging trips returning every few days to suckle their pup. In late January the pups form pods and the bull territories break up. Pups may remain dependent for up to 12 months.
Around 30 days after hatching, penguin chicks form into 'crèches' to give their exhausted parents a break, dashing with frantic excitement at any prospect of food.
In February and March, whale sightings are at their peak and playful Fur seals can be found along the Peninsula and on the offshore islands including on South Georgia. Penguin colonies are very active, the chicks begin to moult and develop their adult plumage. They have been abandoned now by their parents, who take the opportunity to go out to sea to feed and fatten themselves up before their own moulting stage. Most Adelie, Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins' colonies have been vacated by early March.
During the breeding season South Georgia becomes home to tens of millions of breeding penguins, seals and seabirds. Magnificent mountain scenery, glaciers galore, a rugged coastline punctuated with castellate and tabula icebergs, a rich historical tapestry and an astounding array of wildlife are all available to you as you travel down South Georgia's leeward coast.
Landing sites feature huge Elephant seals, aggressive Fur Seals, Gentoo penguins, albatross, petrels, skuas and gulls. You will see King penguins, from fluffy little chicks to obese adults, in their hundreds of thousands!
Icebergs become more plentiful as you head farther south to the Scotia Sea, Antarctic Peninsula and South Shetland Islands.
As the Antarctic Summer draws to an end in March, migratory whale species like the Humpback are very active, feeding in preparation for the journey ahead and socialising. Resident whale species such as Minke and Orca are abundant. There is a good chance of coming across Southern Right whales. Leopard seals are also busy in March, ready to pounce on naïve penguin chicks as they take their first, and possibly their last, steps into the sea.