Polar playgrounds up close and personal

Antartica. Photography by Ragnar Axelsson.
Sistership Le Austral exploring Antarctica. Photography by Ragnar Axelsson.

Why travellers to the North and South poles seek out the specialists

In partnership with Ponant

One of the most rewarding ways to explore the Arctic and Antarctic regions is aboard ships whose crews are masters of extreme terrain.

The French cruise line, Ponant, specialises in bespoke polar itineraries targeted at both icelandic veterans and virgins. Twenty-five of Ponant’s 36 years of seafaring have been spent visiting the planet’s polar regions. Today they offer 139 polar expeditions.

While many cruise lines have opted for larger vessels, Ponant has built smaller ships with capacity for 12 to 264 guests across its 14-ship fleet.

Founded in 1988 by a group of sailors from the French merchant navy, Ponant sets a global standard for luxury small-ship explorations and sustainable travel. This year, the Ponant fleet was awarded Green Globe Certification, the first maritime cruise company to receive it.

Exploring Cierva Cove, Antartica. Photography by Olivier Blaud.

Zodiac cruise in front of glacier, Prince Christian Sound, Greenland. Photography by Ambassador Sue Flood. (left) | King Penguins in Saint Andrews Bay, Antartica Photography by Oliver Blaud (right)

The Small Cruise Ship fleet allows access to far flung areas of the North and South poles, where larger ships can’t go, introducing unique experiences such as hiking to Shackleton’s Hut on Ross Island in Antarctica, which fewer than 1000 people have visited.

Daily excursions via zodiacs and shore visits bring opportunities for kayaking, hiking and wildlife encounters. Hike across snow-covered landscapes, visit research stations, and learn much about wildlife and environmental protection.

The after-party is onboard! Relax in Ponant’s signature luxury. Enjoy a spa treatment using products by Sothys Paris or Clarins, a gastronomy experience by much-awarded chef Alain Ducasse, a bar that’s open 24/7 (generous with Champagne!), and unlimited wi-fi.

Le Soléal Superior Stateroom, Deck 3. Photography by Thibault Garnier.

Le Lyrial, Privilege Suite Deck 6,. Photography by Alexandre Herbrecht. (left) | Toasting with a mountain view, Greenland. Photography by Violette Vauchelle. (right)

Oh, the places you’ll go!

These are just some of the highlights of the 2025/26 season.

Emblematic Antarctica. See: pristine wilderness, towering mountains, drifting icebergs, majestic humpback whales, playful penguins and elusive seals.

The Great Austral Loop. See: ice floes, glaciers and snow-capped mountains. Encounter: albatrosses and penguins, seals and whales. Starting in Ushuaia and looping back there via the Falkland Islands and South Georgia, journey through pristine ecosystems.

Scott & Shackleton’s Ross Sea . See: historic buildings including Sir Ernest Shackleton’s hut at Cape Royds, fur seals, sea lions, and seabirds. On this loop from Dunedin on New Zealand’s South Island, observe the largest Adélie penguin rookeries in the world and spot Weddell seals on the ice floes. Visit Macquarie Island, with its impressive colony of king penguins, and the wildlife sanctuaries of the Snares islands.

Fjords & Glaciers of Spitsbergen. See: walruses, bearded seals, harbour seals, Arctic fulmars, blue whales, minke whales, orcas. Not to mention: polar bears, Arctic foxes, reindeer, and a wealth of birdlife. If the weather permits, hike tundra, beaches and glaciers. Spitsbergen is the largest island of the Svalbard archipelago, part of Norway, in the Arctic Ocean.

Expedition to the Edge of the Ice Sheet. See: volcanic islands, black sandy beaches, rugged cliffs, Atlantic puffins, northern gannets, minke whales and Icelandic horses. This voyage from Reykjavík to Kangerlussuaq embraces treasures of ancient Iceland and Greenland and the islands of the North Atlantic.

Arctic Polar Bear. Photography by Ambassador Ian Dawson.

Kayaking through the Arctic ice floe. Photography by Nicolas Dubreuil. (left) | Leopard Seal spotted on Zodiac outing, Ross Sea Antarctica. Photography by Ian Dawson (right)

Grand Voyages

The combined itineraries that comprise Ponant’s Grand Voyages offer a comprehensive, expert-led exploration of polar regions, allowing keen travellers to venture further afield and linger longer in extraordinary environments.

Travellers from Australia and New Zealand are encouraged to book back-to-back itineraries, like those below, from the 2025/26 Polar Grand Voyages portfolio and save 10% on the second and subsequent voyages booked*.

Ultimate Antartica.

See: black-browed and light-mantled albatrosses; Magellanic, gentoo and southern rockhopper penguins in the Falkland Islands; king and macaroni penguins plus elephant and fur seals in South Georgia; leopard seals and chinstrap penguins in the South Orkney Islands; humpback whales, gentoo, Adélie and chinstrap penguins plus leopard, crabeater and Weddell seals in the Antarctic Peninsula.

Scotland to Iceland. Explore: the traditions and customs of the Sami people, the majestic fjords of Norway, the geological wonders of Iceland, UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Scottish Isles, Fjords & Polar Bears. See: minke whales, Arctic foxes, reindeer, and polar bears in their natural habitat. Explore: Hebrides, Shetland Islands, Lofoten Islands and the Svalbard archipelago. Sail past: towering fjords, vertiginous cliffs, and massive glaciers.

Ultimate Arctic. Explore: the stunning landscapes of Scotland, Norway, and Spitsbergen as you cruise from Glasgow to Bergen. Sail past: rugged coastlines, picturesque lochs, and majestic fjords, including the iconic Geirangerfjord, and landscapes of sheer cliffs, crystal-clear waters, and lush vegetation. See: polar bears, Arctic foxes, and a wealth of birdlife.

Flight credits

For a limited time, Ponant is offering a flight credit up to $2,500 per person on a selection of Antarctic and Arctic 2025/26 expedition itineraries*. Most PONANT polar adventures include the pre- and post-voyage arrangements that take the worry out of travel*.
*Conditions apply, visit for full T&Cs. .

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