I Took a Luxury Cruise in Antarctica with my Teenage Son and This Is What it Was Like

This luxury Antarctica cruise is truly a choose-your-own-adventure kind of experience.
Scenic Eclipse in Antarctica (Photo: Scenic Luxury Cruises and Tours)
Photo: Scenic Luxury Cruises and Tours

When I told people I was returning to Antarctica after my first visit two years ago, they were excited. When I told people I’d be taking my 13-year-old son, they were surprised. 

Truth be told, so was I. 

I’d wanted to take him on my previous trip, but I thought missing two weeks of school was too big of a price to pay. But just a few months after I returned from my first trip to Antarctica, COVID-19 upended the whole world—including schools—and now missing two weeks doesn’t seem so crazy anymore. 

So, when I had a second chance to take my son to Antarctica, I didn’t pass it up.

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Multigenerational Cruising in Antarctica Onboard the Scenic Eclipse

Scenic Eclipse and penguins in Antarctica (Photo: Scenic Luxury Cruises and Tours)
Scenic Eclipse and penguins in Antarctica (Photo: Scenic Luxury Cruises and Tours)

My home for two weeks in Antarctica was the Scenic Eclipse, a luxury expedition yacht with all the bells and whistles (and the once-in-a-lifetime bucket list price tag that entails). My son Jack was the only passenger under 20, but there were plenty of groups on multigenerational family vacations (grandparents, parents, and “kids” in their 20s and 30s). Jack never felt weird being the only one his age—if anything he felt like a rock star, since everyone knew his name.

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The nice part about an Antarctica cruise is it’s a choose-your-own-adventure kind trip. You can be as active or passive as they want. And the passengers onboard the Scenic Eclipse ran the gamut in terms of activity level.

Helicopter and Submarine Excursions from the Scenic Eclipse

Helicopter onboard the Scenic Eclipse luxury Antarctica yacht (Photo: Scenic Luxury Cruises and Tours)
Helicopter onboard the Scenic Eclipse luxury Antarctica yacht (Photo: Scenic Luxury Cruises and Tours)

The Scenic Eclipse is currently the only ship in Antarctica that offers both helicopter and submarine excursions. 

As a family travel journalist who frequently travels with my kids, I’ve gone on many helicopter tours with Jack over the years, but nothing compared to flying over the glaciers and icebergs on the white continent on a helicopter excursion.

We could see penguin colonies, leopard seals, whales spouting water, and ice and snow for miles—and we were fortunate enough to sit in the front seat where the views are unsurpassed. The helicopter excursion is one of the most popular excursions onboard. In fact, some passengers on my cruise enjoyed it so much they booked it again.

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Next up for us was the submarine. That’s right: submarine! The Scenic Eclipse is the only ship in Antarctica with a submersible. It’s called the Scenic Neptune, and the experience was very intimate (there are only six passengers, plus the pilot). In my travels I’ve only been in one other submarine, and that was with 50 other people, so this was a very different experience.

One person in our group warned the pilot that he was prone to claustrophobia. However, the submersible’s massive glass windows really did make it feel like we were in the water ourselves—as opposed to being in a machine—and that made a big difference in helping with the natural feeling of claustrophobia in what might otherwise feel like a very enclosed space.

We witnessed plenty of sea life and it gave me a new appreciation and awareness of the interconnectedness of our oceans. 

SUP and Kayaking Excursions from the Scenic Eclipse

Kayaking in Antarctica is one of the many activities onboard the Scenic Eclipse (Photo: Scenic Luxury Cruises and Tours)
Kayaking in Antarctica is one of the many activities onboard the Scenic Eclipse (Photo: Scenic Luxury Cruises and Tours)

Jack and I love active adventure, so we are no strangers to kayaking and SUP, but doing these activities in Antarctica was a completely new experience for both of us. When we were kayaking, we were able to get within feet of icebergs and fur seals. A group of penguins showed off their purposing skills (the act of swimming quickly in and out of the water to get air, almost jumping through the waves).

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I’ll admit, I was hesitant to do the standup paddle boarding (Jack was all in). While I had done SUP dozens of times in warmer locales like Mexico, Caribbean, Florida, and The Maldives, I wasn’t sold on doing it in cold Antarctic water. But I guess you could say that was extra motivation to not fall in. 

Jordan, our guide, was not only knowledgeable about Antarctica but also very supportive of our group—those who’d never done SUP, those who were terrified of falling in, and those seasoned pros who had no problem keeping their balance. 

Truthfully, doing SUP in Antarctica with the whales spouting a short distance away and passing a sleeping seal on a floating ice sheet really drove home the fact that I was in such a remote and amazing destination. Being on the water—not in a kayak, but a SUP—gave me such great perspective of the landscape surrounding me. 

Jack loved it so much that he signed up to do SUP each day.

Hiking in Antarctica

Hiking in Antarctica (Photo: Scenic Luxury Cruises and Tours)
Hiking in Antarctica (Photo: Scenic Luxury Cruises and Tours)

The helicopter and submarine excursions were once-in-a-lifetime experiences, and kayaking and SUP were a great way to really interact with Antarctica’s wildlife, but it was the landings that made me realize that we were walking in the footsteps of great explorers like Shackleton. 

Hiking up craggy cliffs to get the best views, walking among chinstrap, Gentoo, and Adelie penguins—we realized how lucky we were to explore a continent so few people ever get to visit. I’ll admit, on some of the more strenuous hikes, I let Jack go solo to the top while I enjoyed the scenery from the midway point. 

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There were always expedition guides from the ship keeping an eye on Jack, so I knew he was safe. The passengers and guides were a little community all looking out for each other.

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It wasn’t lost on Jack that the Scenic Eclipse is a luxury ship. There were seven different dining venues (including sushi and a French bistro), a full-service spa (we both enjoyed massages), a gym, and three outdoor Jacuzzis. But it was the private butler that Jack loved the most. 

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French fries at 10:00 p.m.? You betcha. A Shirley Temple after returning from an excursion? No problem. Freshly baked cookies right when we felt the urge for something sweet? Of course. Our butler did it all—he made our dinner reservations, helped us with any questions we had, and made sure everything was seamless. 

Sailing Antarctica onboard the Scenic Eclipse was like traveling with a personal assistant—one who usually knew what we wanted even before we wanted it. 

Taking the Polar Plunge

If you’re going to journey all the way to Antarctica, it’s only right that you do the polar plunge. I didn’t do it my first time, but this time I was all in. Why? Because for the rest of our lives, Jack and I can say we did the polar plunge together in Antarctica. 

Teenagers are always embarrassed of their parents, but I think this is one story we’ll both be proud to tell our friends.  

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Judy Koutsky
Judy Koutsky is an award-winning writer and editor whose work has appeared in more than 30 publications, including Conde Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, FamilyVacationist, Redbook, Parents, WebMD, Prevention, and Scholastic.