Tourism to the Peninsula started in 1966, when Lars-Eric Lindblad conducted the first expedition cruising- coupled with education as a major theme.
Before that, human activity was limited to early explorers, those seeking fortune in the exploitation of seals and whales and to scientific research and exploration. By 1969, the "Lindblad Explorer" was built and he started the modern expedition cruise industry.
Today, some 25 thousand tourists visit the place every summer...and increasing.
Antarctica cruise has a different flavor than a Mediterranean or Caribbean cruise for instance - which are more entertainment oriented, with late nights, dancing, cocktails and fun.
Nevertheless, you could still get some of it by choosing large vessels, but they usually involve sightseeing only, without landings. Expedition cruising is more educational, with lectures and video presentations conducted by experts and veterans of the eternal ice. It does involves landing as well.
Only 100 passengers at any one time may be landed in any one place, therefore, if your ship is larger, there will be less opportunity for landing.
All landings are "wet", there are no harbors there.
You will approach the coast by rubber boats (Zodiacs, most likely) and will jump to the water to disembark.
Knee-high rubber boots are necessary, as well as impermeable clothes, sunglasses and sun protector. Get some cream to protect your skin and lips as weather is very dry.
You'll be briefed about how to approach fauna, procedures on landings and transfers to/from the vessel.
No food or drink to be taken ashore.
Landing will vary from 5 minutes to 3 hours.
Some Zodiac trips don't involve landing, just glide among icebergs or skirt a beach.
Summer (November to March) is the best time to travel to Antarctica. The mean annual temperature at the South Pole is minus 56 degrees F. During the Austral Summer, temperatures at McMurdo base, on the Ross Sea, may get as high as 40 degrees F, while at the South Pole, at the Amundsen- Scott station, temperatures may reach 0 degrees F.
To/from Chile you can fly with Aerovias DAP that service Punta Arenas-Ushuaia on a Twin Otters 20-passenger three times a week in high season. It costs around US$100.00
It's a two-leg trip for a total of 3,220 km (one way)...
From Buenos Aires to Rio Gallegos. There are several bus companies that run this service from Retiro Bus Station.
Rio Gallegos to Ushuaia. This overland trip - serviced by Tecni Austral - crosses the Magellan Strait before reaching your final destination. So you will have to do Customs.
It certainly is a long journey but you will experience Patagonia in a unique way. Time permitting don't hesitate to do it. You'll love it.
There is not direct service between El Calafate and Ushuaia. Nevertheless, you have two options...
Via Rio Gallegos
Via Chile: You will do Puerto Natales-Punta Arenas-Ushuaia. We did it and enjoyed all the way...