An internet search for an Antarctica cruise can be overwhelming with hundreds of cruise operators offering a variety of options at a variety of prices.
So how can you choose which cruise is ideal for you, after all this is probably a once-in-a-lifetime- trip?
Every season there are over 70 Antarctica cruise itineraries but the key differences to consider are budget, length of the cruise, destinations, cruise ship size and activities offered with particular note to the number of zodiac landings that are on offer.
The first thing to decide is what type of voyage you are looking for. There are three options; the standard cruise from Ushuaia, a fly-cruise option and an ocean cruise that has Antarctica as part of a South America itinerary.
The most popular cruise is that from Ushuaia either direct to the Peninsula or via the Falkland Islands and/or South Georgia. All cruises offer on-board lectures and zodiac landings, though the number will vary from ship to ship. The tough part of this classic cruise is that the ship crosses the notorious Drake Passage, a rough but exciting crossing for the hardy traveller! and often an early introduction to the birdlife, as the wandering albatross follows the ship and whales will share the crossing with you.
If you prefer to avoid the Drake Passage then your option is to fly to King George Island and meet the cruise there, travel around and return by flight to Argentina
Then finally there are ocean going cruise operators whose larger boats are both more stable on the rough seas and will offer a better facilities than the expedition ships that typically leave Ushuaia.
Firstly, don’t be shocked by the high prices, Antarctica cruises cost far more to run than normal cruises and often provide more activities (like shore landings).
Most Antarctica cruises start at around US$7,500. This offers an itinerary of around 11 days in a shared cabin of 4 people. Double cabins will be available but at a higher price. A fly-cruise trip will last 8 days and will be roughly US$9,000, again, this is a budget price with a shared cabin once on-board your ship. For a standard cruise to the peninsula for 12 days in a nice double cabin budget for anywhere between US$10,000 – $15,000. Cruises to the Peninsula via the islands will usually start at around US$10,000 for 20 days, shared cabin whilst you should budget towards $20,000 for the longer itinerary in a well-appointed cabin.
With regards to activities these are another important factor when budgeting for your cruise to Antarctica. Zodiac rides and shore landings are usually included in the cruise price, however, if you want to go kayaking, scuba diving, skiing, trekking camping or climbing, this needs to be either arranged with the cruise line at an extra price or look for an adventure cruise (see example itinerary below) where the price is all inclusive.
Other top tips include when looking to book an operator be sure that your Antarctica cruise operator is a member of The International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO). Look for a good ration of guide to passengers, 1 guide for every 10 passengers, the more guides the better as they become the font of your learning. Look for qualified, knowledgeable biologists, naturalist and historians; as least 2 on-board lectures/talks a day and the top cruises will also offer photography experts as well.
Feel inspired and excited about a trip to the southern polar region? Simply contact us for your personalised itinerary.
‘At-a-Glance’ Illustrative Itinerary
DAY 1: Today you arrive in South America’s southern most city – Ushuaia. In an ideal world try and soend a couple of days here before you depart on your cruise to check out the local glacial region for some fantastic trekking and glacier walking or just stock up on warm, arctic clothes, from the boutique shops and cafes that are dotted throughout the city.
DAY 2: This morning is at your own leisure to prepare for boarding your Antarctica ship in the afternoon. After embarkation, and settling into your cabin, you will enjoy dinner and Captain's Cocktails as your ship makes it's way down the famous Beagle Channel, named after Darwin’s own ship.
DAY 3 - 4: The Drake Passage is often one of the most exciting times of your cruise. Famously rough, the Drake Passage takes 2 days to cross and is regarded as a rite-of-passage for Antarctic travellers, though many traverse the passage with the help of sea-sickness patches and drugs. The Drake Passage can be calm and during this time you get the chance to meet the crew and other passengers. Travelling the passage with whales and sea-birds will add to the excitement of what the continent will offer.
Today you enter the Antarctic Peninsula passing the Melchior islands and the Schollaert Channel between Anvers and Brabant Island. Your cruise ship will sail through the Neumayer Channel after which your ship will make berth for the first night. The still and protected waters around Wiencke Island will be the first of stopping points over the next few days as you experience all the Antarctica has to offer!
The glacial, desert (defined this way because there is no rain) environment around you is ideal for hiking and climbing forays jup local hills that offer stunning views back over the bays, photography shoots, zodiac trips, kayaking and snowshoeing expeditions.
With weather permitting your cruise will sail through the spectacular Lemaire Channel, a favourite spot to view Humpback and Minke whales, to Booth Island, Petermann and Pléneau Island where there is good sized colony of Adélie Penguins and Blue-eyed Shags.
You you will also get an opportunity to anchor near Goudier Island where the British research station and Port Lockroy Post Office is, from where you can send a postcard or letter and have your passport stamped! You may also be offered the chance to land on Jougla Point for the chance to get up close to some Gentoo All the time that you sail through these icy waters keep a watch for Leopard and Crabeater seals and whales.
DAY 10 & 11: The return crossing continues to give with wildlife experiences with whales and seabirds. Weather permitting the Captain may take the ship to Cape Horn, the southern most tip of South America and where the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans meet.
All along the way your guides will continue to give fascinating insights, stories and lectures on the this part of the world.
DAY 12: Unfortunately all good things come to an end as will your voyage to Antarctica. You will arrive back in port early enough to transfer to the airport for connecting flights or other onward transportation arrangements.