In Search of the Emperor Penguin: Weddell Sea

Duration (in days): 11

From: Ushuaia

To: Ushuaia

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Sail to the Weddell Sea on the cusp of Antarctica and spend 11 days in search of the magnificent Emperor Penguin on this trip of a lifetime, by expedition ship and helicopter.

The ship gives you the opportunity to observe Emperor Penguins in locations otherwise only accessible by air and to visit Half Moon Island to see Chinstrap & Gentoo penguins before sailing to Deception Island.

The Emperor Penguin rookery is situated south of Snow Hill Island and based on previous voyages, we may not be able to reach the island itself through the ice (under 50% chance based the last three seasons). However, we'll get as close as we can and we aim to situate ourselves between the Antarctic Sound and James Ross Island, close to the ice-edge where we can observe the Emperor Penguins on their way into open water. We'll use our helicopters to search for individual Emperor Penguins and to allow you to witness stunning scenes from above.

  • Opportunities to observe Emperor Penguins
  • Reach areas otherwise only accessible by air
  • Visit Half Moon Island to see Chinstrap & Gentoo penguins
  • Sail to Deception Island

Day 1: Embarkation and departure from Ushuaia

Beginning in the world's southernmost city, this afternoon we'll embark in Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. From here we'll set sail through the scenic waterway of the Beagle Channel amidst for the rest of the evening.

Day 2-3: At sea

During these first two days we'll sail across the Drake Passage. We'll cross the Antarctic Convergence and arrive in the circum-Antarctic up-welling zone. In this area we may meet wandering albatrosses, Grey-headed albatrosses, Black-browed albatrosses, Light-mantled Sooty albatrosses, Cape petrels, Southern fulmars, Wilson’s Storm petrels, Blue Petrels and Antarctic Petrels.

Day 4-7: Weddell Sea

Over the next few days, a typical Weddell Sea itinerary is as follows - the final itinerary will be determined by the Expedition Leader on board:

Sail into the Weddell Sea and if the Antarctic Sound is accessible, we'll sail further and search for the huge tabular icebergs that announce our arrival to the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula.

Over the next few days we'll use helicopters to search for individual Emperor Penguins as we have always been able to see on previous voyages. We also offer scenic flights and if the conditions allow, we'll also land on tabular icebergs and locations otherwise inaccessible so early in the season.

A possible landing site is Brown Bluff, one of the most scenic spots in the northern tip of the Antarctic Continent. This area has steep canyon walls, tumbling boulders, an ice-cap looming above and beautiful volcanic creations. The whole scene is completed by thousands of Adelie penguins nesting on the slopes and a few Gentoos mixed in for fun.

Helicopter flights are a great addtion to the voyage, especially on the western side of the Antarctic Sound which is an area only rarely seen from the air. You'll find the scenery here is a blend of layered sandstone, lava flows, tumbling glaciers, icebergs and pack-ice as far as the eye can see. We'll watch individual Emperor penguins and Adelie penguins on the ice floes; Cape, Snow and Giant Petrels flying high in the sky while Kelp Gulls, Skuas and Wilson’s Storm Petrels scavenge below. The landscape is dominated by jagged mountains piercing through icecaps and sheer walls of ice dropping onto slopes below.

You'll have the opportuhnity to take a scenic flight over blue icebergs and fast ice close to View Point in Duse Bay. We land on a rocky hillock close to an old refuge hut overlooking the bay. There may be a lot of snow and ice but much of our intended walk will be over frost-shattered rock covered with the lichen of all shapes and colors.

If the ice situation allows us to go further into the Weddell Sea, we'll visit Devil Island and Vega Island where we'll see a large colony of Adelie Penguins and a magnificent view awaits hikers who can make it to the top of the hill. The melting ice can provide a spectacular waterfall from the cliffs close to point ‘Well-Met’. Further south, we may also visit Seymour Island, where many fossils can be found.

On our route north through the Antarctic Sound we might pay a visit to the Argentinean station Esperanza on the Antarctic continent, constantly on the look-out for Emperor Penguins on the ice-floes. In the afternoon we may visit Gourdin Island, with three penguin species; Chinstrap, Gentoo and Adelie.

Day 8: Half Moon Island

In the morning we plan to visit Half Moon Island to see Chinstrap and Gentoo penguins, various other bird-species, southern elephant seals and Weddell seals.

Early in the afternoon we will sail to Deception Island for the last landing of our voyage, at Pendulum Cove or Whalers Bay.

Day 9-10: At sea

In the Drake Passage we'll have a second chance to see many seabirds and to hear from our knowledgeable lecture team.

Day 11: Arrival in Ushuaia and disembark

In the morning we'll return to Ushuaia and disembark.


A typical itinerary to the Weddell Sea is illustrated but all itineraries are for guidance only.

Programs may vary depending on local ice and weather conditions, the availability of landing sites and opportunities to see wildlife and the final itinerary will be determined by the Expedition Leader on board.

Flexibility is paramount for expedition cruises; if ice-conditions are favourable and the route to Snow Hill Island is free of multi-year pack-ice, we will reschedule our voyage and offer ship-to-shore helicopter transfers to Snow Hill Island (as carried out successfully in 2013) at approx. 45 minutes walking distance from the emperor penguin Rookery. If we succeed, this will be a fascinating and a once-in-a lifetime experience. However, we made attempts to reach Snow Hill Island during our voyages in 2012, 2013 and 2014. We only succeeded in 2013; therefore the chances to reach Snow Hill Island are indeed less than 50%

What's included: 

  • Comprehensive pre-departure material
  • Voyage aboard the designated vessel as indicated in the itinerary
  • All meals aboard the ship including snacks, coffee and tea
  • All shore excursions and activities by Zodiac craft
  • Ship-to-shore helicopter transfers (no specific amount of helicopter time guaranteed)
  • Program of lectures by noted naturalists and leadership by experienced expedition staff
  • Use of rubber boots and snowshoes
  • 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.

Not included: 

  • Any flights
  • Pre and post land arrangements
  • Transfers to the vessel
  • Passport and visa expenses
  • Government arrival and departure taxes
  • Meals ashore
  • Insurance for baggage, cancellation and personal items (strongly recommended)
  • 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 (guidelines will be provided)
  • Possible fuel surcharges;
    (It is agreed that if world fuel prices will reach or exceed US Dollar 120 per Barrel Brent 90 days prior to departure Oceanwide Expeditions reserves the right to levy a fuel surcharge of US $25 per passenger per night for bookings outside Europe and EURO 18 per passenger per night for bookings within Europe, to be paid by the contracting party of Oceanwide Expeditions)

Ortelius was built in Gdynia, Poland in 1989, was originally named “Marina Svetaeva” and served as a special purpose vessel for the Russian Academy of Science.

Ortelius is an expedition vessel for 116 passengers with lots of open-deck spaces. The vessel is manned by 20 highly experienced international nautical crew, 19 international hotel crew, including stewardesses, 7 expedition staff in Antarctica (1 expedition leader and 6 guides/lecturers). For the Arctic we will have 8 expedition staff (1 expedition leader and 7 guides/lecturers) and 1 doctor.

Ortelius offers a comfortable hotel standard, with two restaurants and a bar/lecture room. Our voyages are primarily developed to offer passengers a quality exploratory wildlife program, trying to spend as much time ashore as possible. As the number of passengers is limited to approximately 116 on the Ortelius, flexibility assures maximum wildlife opportunities.

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