Antarctica Cruise Review: Antarctica21 Cruise with Adventure Life Travel

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Antarctica has been on the top of my dream wish list for decades now. But honestly I didn’t think I would ever have the opportunity to visit because I just didn’t know when I would have the tens of thousands of extra cash laying around. Enter Adventure Life Travel. I was working with Adventure Life Travel to put together a trip for my 12th birthday (Leap Day baby!). We were thinking Indonesia, but nothing was quite working out. And then a room opened up on their yearly chartered sailing to Antarctica. I was blown out of the water when it was suggested we go there, even though it was a bit after my birthday.

I was so excited to finally get to Antarctica. While we had a few hiccups at the last minute – namely my 13 year old son needing emergency surgery 1 week before our ship was set to sail, we managed to make it all happen! And wow what a trip it was.

Below I share my review of the chartered sailing of the Antarctica21 Magellan Explorer by Adventure Life Travel. This is their second year to charter this ship and many people on board said they would have loved to have more information about this specific sailing as it’s different than the norm. So this is for you!

Planning a trip to Antarctica? Check out our other posts here:

Who is Antarctica21?

Antarctica21 is a Chilean company that specializes in small ship Antarctic expeditions. They provide boutique accommodations and an intimate experience exploring the 7th continent. Typical Antarctica 21 sailings operate as a fly-sail Antarctica cruise. This means that most of their sailings skip the dreaded Drake Passage, instead flying passengers 2 hours from Chile straight to King George Island, in the South Shetland Islands of Antarctica. The company itself is a well known and well respected company in the Antarctica travel sphere and highly regarded by some of the  best expedition leaders out there. 

While this review can help give you more information on the Antarctica 21 experience in general, some of the details will be different based on our chartered sailing verus Antarctica21’s typical trips.

Who is Adventure Life Travel?

Adventure Life Travel is a travel agency that offers customized tours to all over the world. Like I mentioned above I was working with them to visit Indonesia to see komodo dragons. They offer customized itineraries but also can get you on board an Antarctic cruise (or any cruise), set you up in Panama for a wonderful vacation and so much more. While I am also a travel agent, I highly recommend Adventure Life Travel as well. They have a good size staff who focus on different areas, some of who have even received Travel & Leisure awards!

Antarctica21 Cruise Itinerary Review

Adorable chinstrap penguins

For this article I am focusing on the itinerary that we did as part of our chartered sailing with Adventure Life Travel. For those looking into this cruise, you will not find this as a published listing on the Antarctica21 website as it is not the typically offering. Even though this post focuses the Adventure Life Travel itinerary, feel free to email me or ask a question at the end if you’d like to learn more about the other itinerary options.

Interested in going to Antarctica? Upcoming sailings are in Nov 2024, March 2025 and March 2026

Day 0: Arrival to Ushuaia

Penguin crazy in Ushuaia

One of the differences between the Adventure Life Travel chartered sailing and a typical Antarctica21 sailing is that you must find your way to Ushuaia on your own. We flew from Los Angeles to Atlanta to Buenos Aires to Ushuaia. It took about 31 hours total, but went relatively smooth except for a few hours of delays in Buenos Aires due to thunderstorms.

Tip: If you have tight connections try not to check a bag if possible or take your most needed items on board with you in case of lost luggage. Several people from our flights did not receive their luggage in time for their ship departure.

Day 1:  Arrival Day

Typically most ships do not begin the embarkation process until mid to late afternoon. This means you have the morning to leisurely get situated and to sightsee. Ushuaia is an adorable town with plenty to keep you busy for a day or two even. During our morning, we went to the Ushuaia sight at the end of the boardwalk, went to the Visitor Center for our Antarctica stamps (Bring an old passport!) and had a nice lunch before our transport arrived. You do not need transport, but it is nice to not have to lug your bags down their dock to the boat. If you choose to organize a transfer with Adventure Life Travel, the bus will drop you off right in front of the boat.

We  immediately set our luggage down and headed into the boat at the 3 pm boarding time. The crew were there to greet us and bring us to our rooms. You will need to drop your passport here at the front desk and pick it up on your exit.

We spent some time exploring our room and the ship before our first meeting to welcome us and introduce us to the boat. Next up we had our safety drill and meeting at the muster area. Following this, it was time for our first dinner and sunset on the Beagle Channel. 

Day 2-3: Drake Passage

Exploring all the decks on the Magellan Explorer

Transiting through the Drake Passage is a dreaded part of the journey for many. We were quite lucky on our way South to get the “Drake Lake” with relatively calm waters. We had maybe 2-3 meter swells, but overall we were pretty good. Our days were filled with IAATO safety briefings, cleaning our gear that would go on landings to make sure we didn’t have any seeds or plants to accidental transport, and many lectures about Antarctica and all that we would see and experience. We really enjoyed our days at sea learning about what was to come.

Our passage was quite smooth, so we ended up arriving early and got a surprise landing in the late afternoon on Day 3.

Day 4-7: Cruising the Antarctic Peninsula

Once you have reached the Antarctic Peninsula it is time for landings and/or excursions. You will always hear that the day’s plans are “dependant on weather” which is true, but for our sailing we were able to make it to all of our Plan A landings and/or zodiac excursions.  The Expedition Leader always makes sure to have a Plan A, B and C so that we can get off the boat as much as possible to experience the area around Antarctica.

Our sailing also included one continental landing, which I am sure most boats attempt as well.

The way we explore the calm Antarctic waters is by zodiac boats

I do not share any specifics here on where we landed, because you have no real say in where you go on these cruises. Each boat has a variety of sites they try to get passengers to in order to see penguins, whales, snowy mountains and icebergs, but most sailings will not include the same landings or locations for excursions as they try to lessen their environmental impact.

During your days in Antarctica, you will also have the opportunity for a Polar Plunge which is a once in a lifetime experience worth trying. On our boat, 73 out of the 93 passengers opted for this – the most of any of their cruises that season!

Up close to a leopard seal from our zodiac boats

Day 8-9: Crossing the Drake Passage Again

The sad day of leaving the White Continent will come before you know it and it will be time to pass back through the Drake Passage. On our way home, we got to experience a real Drake Shake which meant that for the 2 days of return sailing, our lectures were cancelled and the guests mostly stayed in their rooms or in the upstairs lounge. It was a great experience to have for us since we didn’t get motion sickness, but I know many were suffering. Take your pills before and make a visit to the ship’s doctor for some powerful medication if you are really struggling. 

Check out are ultra viral video of dinner on the Drake Passage


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A post shared by Karilyn | Adventure Travel (@nobackhome)


Day 10: Disembarkation

Our final day on board is really just packing up, eating breakfast and disembarking by 9am We had a tour scheduled through Adventure Life Travel so we actually had to leave at 8 a.m. so we could maximize our day before flying home that evening. It was a wonderful way to end our trip and we are so thankful to have had this experience with Antarctica 21 and Adventure Life Travel. 

Magellan Explorer Ship Review

Magellan Explorer seen from Deception Island

Antarctica21’s state-of-the-art polar vessel, the Magellan Explorer, is a model of innovative design and environmental stewardship. The Magellan Explorer was specifically designed for exploring the Antarctic region. This ship is sleek and rugged simultaneously. 

The purpose built design has a reinforced hull capable of navigating through icy waters and harsh weather conditions. It is equipped with state-of-the-art technology and safety features to ensure a comfortable and secure journey for passengers. 


The Magellan Explorer is typically used for Antarctica21’s fly-sail operations which means that in most reports you will see that there is a lower number of cabins available. However on the land to land trips, the “living room” for many of the suites are converted to actual rooms providing greater capacity. On our sold out sailing, there were 93 passengers.

The cabins on board the Magellan Explorer are elegantly appointed, offering modern amenities and breathtaking views of the Antarctic landscape through porthole windows or balconies. Most of the rooms on board have balconies, only the 3rd Deck rooms do not. 

The rooms have a mini fridge, closets, a desk and several chairs inside and outside for lounging. Our room was equipped with a king bed, while some had twin bed offerings. 

Tip: Highly recommend the rooms with a king bed as it is easy to slide out of bed in the twin rooms!


One of the many delicious meals on board. There was always a meat, fish and vegetarian option.

I’ve always heard horror stories about food on cruise ships, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Let me assure you this is not a cruise ship! This expedition ship offered exquisite dining experiences at all meals.  All of our meals were prepared by the ship’s talented chefs overlooking beautiful scenery. 

Breakfast and lunch are served buffet style. For both meals, there are plenty of options both cold and hot, as well as a custom egg station for breakfast. During lunch there was a large salad bar with something for everyone in addition to the hot items. For a special treat one lunch had a stir fry station which was a hit. 

Dinners are sit down, menu style. There was always a meat option, fish option and a vegetarian option. In addition to the main, there are starters, soup and several dessert options. Every single meal was delicious and very filling.


The gym for those needing a workout!

The Magellan Explorer is not a luxury cruise ship, rather this is a boutique expedition ship focusing on the purpose of visiting Antarctica. 

While on board the Magellan Explorer you can purchase WiFi packages to get you through the trip. There are two offerings – one that allows messages and limited use on other apps (Duolingo) with unlimited use. My son used this service for the duration of the trip and was quite happy with it. He was able to access Windy to check the weather, do his Duolingo and message with friends and family.

Another option is the all encompassing WiFi that is limited to 10GB. If you use it carefully it can easily last the duration of the trip. I got a little sloppy the last few days and used it all up 1 day before arriving back to land. This plan allows all social media uploads and downloads.

Drinks / Snacks

Snacks in your room that are filled several times a day along with your mini-fridge

Unlike on many luxury cruise ships, our boat did not included unlimited alcohol. Wine was served with dinner for free as were other sodas, but apart from these times, you would need to pay for your drinks at the bar. That said, each room was equipped with wine, a few beers and sodas which were refilled on an unlimited basis during the trip. Additionally, each room had a variety of snacks that were complementary and refilled as needed. We particularly enjoyed our small can so Pringles which would help with any nausea. 

Provided water bottles to fill at hydration stations around the ship

Apart from the meals provided each day, there were also cookies in the lounges and afternoon snacks in the panoramic lounge at happy hour. 

Services on Board the Ship

On the rooftop heading to the bridge.

Even though this is a smaller size ship, the Magellan Explorer doesn’t compromise on expedition capabilities. It features spacious observation decks, a panoramic lounge, a library, science lab and more. The panoramic lounge doubles as a well-equipped lecture room where expert guides provide insightful presentations on the Antarctic environment and wildlife.


The boat is small, so our lounge acts as the auditorium for lectures. Comfortable, casual and scenic!

One of the best parts of this cruise for us were the expert led lectures every single day. During the Drake Passage crossing our days were filled with informative lectures on the history of the region, wildlife, science and so much more. In addition at the end of each day, we would have a daily briefing to go over what we did that day, what we saw and what to expect the next day. In these sessions, expedition crew would also provide mini lessons on things that we experienced during our outings. 

Furthermore, throughout the ship there were information boards with educational resources about the wildlife, the history of the area or environment. We loved these and only wished we could have received these as a take home package!

Health & Wellness

This boat is not for the folks who want spa services or to be pampered in that way. While the boat does have a small gym, there are sadly no treadmills and it was closed during rough weather. However many people, including my son made use of it and enjoyed it.

Additionally, there is a small sauna that was also highly used by many of the passengers. We unfortunately never made it there, but it looked lovely.


The Library / Lounge area on the 4th Deck

There is a large room with library books on Antarctica in many languages as well as two desktop computers in this room with internet for any guests who did not want to purchase a package on their own.  This was a great relaxing room and the place to load up on the delicious espresso before breakfast!

The Bridge

The Magellan Explorer had an open bridge policy for most of the journey, which was great for passengers interested in seeing how the ship operates. My son spent all of his spare time here, learning from the captains, reading charts and searching for wildlife. 

Excursions off the Ship

A humpback whale coming to investigate each zodiac boat

One of the most important parts of any Antarctica cruise is getting off the ship. If you haven’t already decided on what cruise to take, make sure to read our post on what to consider when booking a cruise. Since this boat has less than 100 passengers, all guests are able to do all excursions at the same time. 

During our cruise, the only offerings on board were kayaking, snowshoeing and citizen science. Kayaking was sold out ages ago, with most guests booking that a year or more prior to sailing! Snowshoeing is something you sign up on board. Each sailing can offer 1-3 options for snowshoeing so if this is super important to you, sign up quickly. For the record, we are glad we missed out on this as the only snowshoe opportunity was also the only landing with chinstrap penguins. They hike took them away from the penguins for the entire landing.

In addition to these offerings, the Magellan Explorer is one of 15 boats in Antarctica that participates in Citizen Science Research. This was again an option that you needed to sign up for in advance, on board the ship. Only 16 passengers were taken out to do this.  This excursion is super cool if you are at all interested in science, data collection or just understanding more about how the ecosystems here work. We highly recommend it!

Staff & Crew

Our Expedition Leader, Pablo

The Expedition staff was amazing. Our crew included an Expedition Leader, two mountain guides, a bird guy, a marine biologist, a historian, a photographer and more that I am surely forgetting! The staff were professionals in their field before coming on board the ship which was wonderful to see. Often we find ship crew to be young, right out of college types, but here the crew were sophisticated professionals who knew their stuff!

Our Expedition leader always had a Plan A, B, C, and who knows how many more, and they never seemed frantic or stressed.  The crew were fantastic at helping guests during rough water, and also helping anyone with mobility issues. There were a few people on our boat who had trouble with the rocky landings, so instead a guide would take them on a spontaneous zodiac ride. On one of those rides they witnessed a leopard seal hunting and capturing a penguin!

In my own experience, more than once the mountaineer staff would help me go up and down slippery areas to make sure I got the best view or could access all of the areas on our landings. I found that over and over the crew went above and beyond what was expected of them. 


While there are a ton of cruise options to Antarctica these days, all offering a variety of excursions and packages, we were 100% happy and satisfied with the Adventure Life Travel chartered trip. The boat was excellent. The food, staff and excursions were above our expectations on all levels. The services with Adventure Life Travel before and after the trip were also top notch. If you are looking for a life changing experience in Antarctica surrounded by knowledgeable staff and crew who will make sure you get the most out of your trip, then this is your cruise!

Frequently Asked Questions

Zodiac boat with whales on either side

How is money handled on the ship?
There are no real cash transactions on the boat until you settle your bill at the end. Anything that you purchase in the small gift shop or at the bar will be put on your room. At the end of the cruise you can settle your bill and pay gratuities with your credit card or I assume with cash as well, although I am not 100% as I didn’t see any cash! 

How cold was it? Did you have to buy any special gear?
For our trip at the end of the season it was actually not very cold. It was almost never below 32 degrees (0 celsius). The biggest issue was probably the wind chill. On board the ship, you could easily wear a single long sleeve and even sometimes a short sleeve. Here is my packing list about what I brought and should have brought!

Note: Parka’s are not provided on this ship, so you will need to bring your own ski gear or rent a parka before arriving.

What if you get hurt on the tour?
There is a doctor on board who is available for anyone.  Many guests did end up using her services for sea sickness as well as for injuries during the Drake Shake passage. 

What about the ice? Can the ship make it through?
This ship is specifically designed for this region and is very safe both in and out of ice. We were at the end of the season and there was quite a bit of ice beginning to form and cluster around the further south we ventured. This boat handled it like a champ. 

The pure, stark beauty in Antarctica comes with a sense of remoteness so extreme, it’s as if you’ve traveled to another planet. This beauty is difficult to put into words, but once you see it, it will never leave you. This is truly a trip that anyone who loves nature, the environment and wildlife should embark upon. 

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