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Weddell Sea Explorer - Ortelius


Explore one of the least-visited areas on Earth, Antarctica’s amazing Weddell Sea. Enjoy the exotic wildlife and colossal tabular icebergs in the clearest water of any sea on Earth.

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Antarctica: Drink It In

Welcome Aboard the



Starting in South Georgia after leaving Ushuaia, we will be on the trail of famed polar explorer Ernest Shackleton and his ship Endurance, experiencing the Weddell Sea’s amazing wildlife and tabular icebergs before returning via Elephant Island.

The continental borders of the Weddell Sea are formed by huge floating sheets of ice. These ice shelves produce the massive tabular icebergs that are so abundant in the Weddell Sea. Scientists have declared the waters of the Weddell Sea to be the clearest water of any sea on Earth.

The tabular icebergs and other ice formations offer fantastic landscapes and unique photo opportunities. Especially on the east side of the Weddell, the chance of landings can be limited due to these ice formations. Zodiac cruises and possible ice landings are wonderful alternatives, if conditions allow.

The Weddell Sea is home to a large number of orcas, humpbacks, and minke whales as well as leopard, Weddell, and crabeater seals. Several penguin species can be seen there too.

On the ship, our structured educational program will complement other activities. You will have the opportunity to attend several lectures on a variety of topics, such as wildlife, landscape, history, and more.
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    •Visit some of the most remote areas of Antarctica that hardly anyone gets to see and use helicopters to fly to shore when seas are too rough for zodiac landings.
    •Take a Zodiac cruise among the amazing scenery of an active volcanic area in the South Sandwich Islands.
    •This operator has a reputation for offering consistently great, active trips on more basic ships. This voyage to the farthest reaches of Antarctica will be no exception.

Travel Curator’s Insights:


From $26,500 per person
Policies and protocols provided before you book.

Jan. 22 - Feb. 18, 2026
Feb. 18 - Mar. 17, 2026
Ask us for future dates!

January & February
Ask us about future dates.


Trip Sustainability Awards 



Utilizing green technology to drastically reduce vessel emissions



Recycling and banning single-use plastics on all vessels



Buying local, organic, and Fairtrade products whenever possible


Days 1-3: End of the World, Start of a Journey 

Your voyage begins where the world drops off. Ushuaia, Argentina, reputed to be the southernmost city on the planet, is located on the far southern tip of South America. Starting in the afternoon, you embark from this small resort town on Tierra del Fuego, nicknamed “The End of the World,” and sail the mountain-fringed Beagle Channel for the remainder of the evening.

Enroute to South Georgia, you now cross the Antarctic Convergence. The temperature cools considerably within the space of a few hours, and nutritious water rises to the surface of the sea due to colliding water columns. This phenomenon attracts a multitude of seabirds near the ship, including several species of albatross, shearwaters, petrels, prions, and skuas.

Days 4-6: South Georgia Journey
Entering the South Georgia Maritime Zone, one of the largest protected waters in the world, we sail past the Shag Rocks. These impressive rocks lay 240km (150 miles) west of South Georgia and are home to several thousand South Georgia shags. The area around the rocks is known for its abundance of larger marine mammals, which feed on this comparatively shallow area of the South Georgia Ridge.

After reaching South Georgia, you will have the chance to visit some of the following sites:

Fortuna Bay – A beautiful outwash plain from Fortuna Glacier is home to a large number of king penguins and seals. Here you may also have the chance to follow the final leg of Shackleton’s route to the abandoned whaling village of Stromness. This path cuts across the mountain pass beyond Shackleton’s Waterfall, and as the terrain is partly swampy, be prepared to cross a few small streams.

Salisbury Plain, St. Andrews Bay, Gold Harbour – These sites not only house the three largest king penguin colonies in South Georgia, they’re also three of the world’s largest breeding beaches for Antarctic fur seals. Literarily millions breed on South Georgia during December and January. By February the young fur seals are curious and playful and fill the surf with life and fun and large elephant seals come to the beaches to moult.

Grytviken – In this abandoned whaling station, king penguins walk the streets and elephant seals lie around like they own the place – because they basically do. Here you might be able to see the South Georgia Museum as well as Shackleton’s grave.

In the afternoon of day 6 and depending on the conditions, we will start sailing southwards in the direction of the South Sandwich Islands.

Days 7-8: Sea Days

Like Shackleton in December 1914 on the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, also known as the Endurance Expedition, we leave South Georgia and aim for the South Sandwich Islands and the Weddell Sea.

There may be sea ice on this route, and at the edge of the ice some south polar skuas and snow petrels could join the other seabirds trailing the vessel south.

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Day 9: South Sandwich Islands
While we are unable to land here, we may be able to make a Zodiac cruise among the amazing scenery of this active volcanic area. Passing between Thule and Cook Islands will be one of the trip’s many highlights and will make an everlasting impression.

There is a good chance we’ll encounter humpback and minke whales in this area. On and around the islands, we also have the chance to spot brown skuas, chinstrap or Adélie penguins, and several species of albatross: grey-headed, black-browed, and wandering.

Days 10-12: Southward bound
We next sail toward the Antarctic continent in the direction of Queen Maud Land and Neuschwabenland (New Swabia) on the northeast side of the Weddell Sea.

Days 13-14: Neuschwabenland / New Swabia

Our first destination in Antarctica is New Swabia, between 20°E and 10°W in Queen Maud Land. This area was explored by Germany during the third German Antarctic Expedition of 1938 – 1939, led by Alfred Ritscher. The purpose was to find an area in Antarctica for a German whaling station and scout a possible location for a naval base. In an attempt to claim the region, Nazi flags were placed on the sea ice along the coast locations. Survey flights also airdropped aluminum arrows with swastikas.

Days 15-23: Deep inside the Weddell Sea - Filchner, Ronne and Larsen Ice Shelves
Sailing deep into the Weddell Sea, chances are we can spot crabeater, leopard, or Weddell seals. If we are lucky, we might even see emperor penguins. Humpback, orca, and minke whales are also present in this area, along with various birdlife.

Ice conditions in the Weddell Sea vary seasonally. We will encounter a vast nautical wilderness of sea, and while heading to high latitudes (far south) will enjoy the raw beauty and power that makes Antarctica so special. It will become apparent why it took so long to discover the Great White Continent and how tough it must have been for Shackleton’s expedition.

We’ll make a circular route toward the Brunt Ice Shelf and along the Luitpold Coast, discovered and named during the second German Antarctic expedition (1911 – 1912) of Wilhelm Filchner. If conditions allow, we will have opportunities for a Zodiac cruise and possibly an ice floe landing.

We now head west toward the Filchner–Ronne Ice Shelf before changing course north, following the coast along the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula and Larsen Ice Shelf. This brings us close to the spot where Shackleton’s vessel Endurance was trapped in pack ice during his Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition (1914-17), drifting toward the Antarctic Peninsula before ultimately sinking. In an exciting conclusion to this story, the wreck was discovered on March 5, 2022, the 100th anniversary of Shackleton’s burial, after 107 years below the Weddell Sea waves. While we can’t get close to the discovery site due to pack ice, we will be in the area where the ship was trapped and abandoned. There are colonies of 6,500 emperor penguins nearby, so we hope to see one or more in this area.

As we reach the northern section of the Antarctic Peninsula, we enter the area of Erebus and Terror Gulf. Far-wandering emperor penguins often perch on Snow Hill Island’s numerous ice floes, possibly offering you another opportunity to spot these emblematic creatures. If conditions allow, we may attempt a landing on James Ross Island.

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Day 24: Brown Bluff and Kinnes Cove
This morning we hope to land at one of the most scenic locations in the northern Antarctic Continent, with a large Adélie penguin rookery, gentoo penguins, and nesting snow petrels also to be found. Sheer canyon walls, fallen boulders, and beautiful volcanic creations capped with ice make Brown Bluff a truly unforgettable location.

Across the Antarctic Sound is Kinnes Cove, where you can see the nearby Madder Cliffs with their subtle red coloration as well as possible gentoo penguins.

Day 25: Legendary Elephant Island

This is the starting point from which Shackleton left to find help for his stranded crew. Using only a small lifeboat, the James Caird, he and five of his men sailed to South Georgia, then walked 36 hours to Stromness. It’s hard not to marvel at how they accomplished that herculean feat.

Twenty-two members of his Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, also known as the Endurance Expedition, were stranded on Elephant Island after their vessel Endurance sank in the Weddell Sea. It took four and a half months to complete the legendary rescue.

Conditions on Elephant Island are severe. The coastline is mostly made up of vertical rock and ice cliffs highly exposed to the elements. If possible, you will take the Zodiacs to Point Wild, where the marooned members of Shackleton’s expedition miraculously managed to survive.

Days 26-27: Familiar seas, familiar friends
Your return voyage is far from lonely. While crossing the Drake, you might see some of the same wildlife encountered at the start of your voyage: albatrosses, petrels, maybe even a minke whale spouting up sea spray.

Day 28: There and back again
Every adventure, no matter how grand, must eventually come to an end. It’s now time to disembark in Ushuaia, but with memories that will accompany you wherever your next adventure lies.

Please Note: All itineraries are for guidance only. Programs may vary depending on ice, weather, and wildlife conditions. Landings are subject to site availabilities, permissions, and environmental concerns per IAATO regulations. Official sailing plans and landing slots are scheduled with IAATO prior to the start of the season, but the expedition leader determines the final plan. Flexibility is paramount for expedition cruises.

Special note about landing permits: Landings at the Macquarie Islands, Campbell Islands, and McMurdo Station may have limitations and are subject to change. Additional sites like the Balleny Islands as well as extra time in the Ross Sea may be offered as an alternative. The average cruising speed of our vessel is 10.5 knots.

Helicopter transfers: During these voyages, we transfer our passengers to shore using Zodiacs. We also operate our two helicopters in sites where Zodiacs cannot be used. Potential areas for helicopter transfer are Cape Evans (the location of Scott’s hut), Cape Royds (the location of Shackleton’s hut), the Ross Ice Shelf, Peter I Island, and the Dry Valleys.

Our plan is to make five helicopter-based landings, though a specific amount of helicopter time cannot be guaranteed in advance. Helicopters provide us a great advantage in reaching certain landing sites that are otherwise almost inaccessible, but this is a true expedition in the world’s most remote area: weather, ice, and other forces of nature dictate the final itinerary. Conditions may change rapidly, impacting helicopter operations. Please understand and accept this. Safety is our greatest concern, and no compromises can be made.

The vessel is equipped with two helicopters. If one helicopter is unable to fly for whatever reason, helicopter operations will cease or be cancelled. One helicopter always needs to be supported by a second functioning helicopter. No guarantees can be given, and in no event will claims be accepted.

Crossing the International Date Line: Depending on which direction one travels across the International Date Line, a day is either lost or gained. (Crossing westward, a day is gained; crossing eastward, a day is lost.) Please take note of this when calculating your actual time travelled. The days listed in the itinerary duration reflect the actual time travelled.


Ortelius was originally the Marina Svetaeva. Built in Gdynia, Poland in 1989, it served as a special-purpose vessel for the Russian Academy of Science. Later it was re-flagged and renamed after the Dutch/Flemish cartographer Abraham Ortelius (1527 – 1598), who in 1570 published the first modern world atlas: Theatrum Orbis Terrarum or Theater of the World. At that time his atlas was the most expensive book ever printed. Ortelius is classed by Lloyd’s Register in London and flies the Dutch flag.

Perfect for any expedition, the vessel has the highest ice-class notation (UL1, equivalent to 1A) and is therefore suitable to navigate in solid one-year sea ice as well as loose multi-year pack ice. Ortelius can accommodate up to 108 passengers and has an abundance of open-deck spaces. It is manned by 22 highly experienced nautical crew members, 19 hotel staff, eight expedition specialists (one expedition leader, one assistant, and six lecturer-guides), and one doctor.

Capacity: 108 Guests
Cabins: 50
Specialists: Seasoned Expedition Leader, Highly Experienced Naturalists, Expert Crew


2021 World’s Best Expedition Cruise Line 2021, World Cruise Awards
2019 World’s Leading Polar Expedition Operator, World Travel Awards
2013 AECO Puffin Award (Conservation organization in the Arctic)

"The Ortelius is a simple Russian ship with basic accommodations like a college dorm. She attracts a highly energetic group of travelers and often offers extra activities like Antarctic camping, mountaineering and polar diving on various itineraries. Her award-winning expedition team is enthusiastic and highly professional. If you have an adventurous spirit and don't mind narrow berths and limited cabin space, the Ortelius will offer you a fantastic experience of the polar regions."

Wild Nectar

Life On Board

Deck Plan

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2 portholes, 2 upper berths and 2 lower berths, private shower & toilet, desk & chair.

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Cabin has 2 windows, 2 lower berths, a private shower & toilet, and a desk & chair.

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This cabin has 2 portholes, 2 lower berths, a private shower & toilet, plus a desk & chair.

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2 portholes, 1 upper / lower berth + 1 single lower berth, private shower & toilet, desk, chair.

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3 windows, 2 lower berths, shower, desk & chair, small sofa, refrigerator, coffee & tea maker.

From in USD:


NG Ex Cat 1.JPG


Cabin has 2 windows, 2 lower berths, a private shower & toilet, and a desk & chair.

From in USD:


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This cabin has 2 portholes, 2 lower berths, a private shower & toilet, plus a desk & chair.

From in USD:


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2 windows (minimum), 1 double bed, 1 single (sofa) bed, private shower, toilet, desk & chair.

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If you're an active traveler who prefers, or at least, doesn't mind very casual accommodations like a college dorm, this enthusiastic crew and spacious ship with helicopters will make your journey into the farthest reaches of Antarctica a trip of a lifetime.

Joy Martinello, Founder



What’s Included & Cancellation Policy:

Voyage aboard the indicated vessel as indicated in the itinerary; All meals throughout the voyage aboard the ship including snacks, coffee and tea; All shore excursions and activities throughout the voyage by Zodiac; Program of lectures by noted naturalists and leadership by experienced expedition staff; Free use of rubber boots and snowshoes; Luggage transfer from pick-up point to the vessel on the day of embarkation, in Ushuaia; Group transfer from the vessel in Bluff to the airport in Invercargill; Ship-to-shore helicopter transfers (with no specific amount of helicopter time guaranteed); All miscellaneous service taxes and port charges throughout the program; Comprehensive pre-departure material.

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