Choosing the right Antarctica cruise
Everything you need to know
A quick search of Antarctica cruise options on the internet brings thousands of results back that can often seem a little overwhelming. This is enhanced by the fact that there are literally hundreds of Antarctica cruise operators all offering different cruises at varying prices. So how do you decide on your perfect Antarctic Cruise?
We have put together this page to answer just that. With over 70 Antarctica cruise itineraries, we know it can seem daunting, so we’ve pooled all our resources and produced a detailed page that will help you choose the ideal Antarctica cruise. There are many factors that need considering, such as budget, itinerary, cruise size, destinations, what activities you’re looking to do and lastly, what to look for in a great Antarctica cruise operator.
This page deals with all of the above mentioned factors in detail and by the end of the page you should have a great idea of what Antarctica cruise you’re after. We have also listed the most popular Antarctica cruise itineraries to give you a flavor of what your typical Antarctica cruise operator might offer. Please use our quicklinks below to navigate to the key sections of your choice or just read on!
Choosing your Antarctica Cruise – Key considerations
Types of Antarctica Cruises
The first thing you need to decide upon when travelling to Antarctica is the type of cruise you’re looking for. Assuming you want to see the wildlife-rich peninsula, you have three options: either a standard cruise from Ushuaia, a Fly-cruise from Punta Arenas or a luxury cruise. All three options have their positive points as we discuss below.
Standard Antarctica Cruise
By far the most popular option for Antarctica tourists is a standard Antarctic cruise This means sailing from the port of Ushuaia to the Peninsula and returning either straight back or via the Falkland Islands and South Georgia, depending on your itinerary. All operators offer on-board lectures and, depending on your vessel size, you’ll have the option to go ashore.
To reach the Antarctic Peninsula via boat, you need to first cross the notoriously rough Drake Passage. This is an experience in itself and the more hardy travelers relish the crossing. Not only do the rough seas make for an exciting journey, there is also the chance to see whales and seabirds on the crossing. The crossing usually takes 48 hours, depending on weather and many travelers consider the crossing as rite of passage to reach Antarctica.
If the Drake Passage doesn’t sound like your thing, then the other option is to do what is known as a fly-cruise. This is a great option for people who suffer from sea sickness or for people who have less time on their hands. A Fly-cruise allows you to fly (usually from Punta Arenas) to King George Island and then take a cruise around the peninsula before flying back to Argentina. Many operators also offer the option to fly one way and cruise the other. The seas around the peninsula are much calmer than the Drake Passage and people who struggle with constant motion should be fine on the peninsula. For more detailed information on Drake Passage sea sickness, please see our detailed page here.
If you suffer from sea sickness quite considerably then the only option open to you would be to fly into the interior of Antarctica and take an expedition camping tour. You’ll need to be quite hardy though as temperatures are extremely cold in the interior, however, you have the chance to see the elusive Emperor Penguins!
Luxury Antarctica Cruise
Like most cruises across the world, there is the option of a luxury cruise. Luxury Antarctica cruises cost more than your typical Antarctica cruise and not every operator has a luxury option.
A luxury Antarctica cruise provides better facilities with a higher on-board service. This means that all cabins will be larger than standard, have ocean views and private en-suite with a bath. Suite rooms and state rooms come with a personal butler and 24 hour room service.
You’ll be able to sit where you want in the ships dining room and all beverages, including fine wine and champagne, are included in the price. The guides provided on the ship will be world experts and you’ll also have access to professional photographers, authors and destination experts on-board. If you have the money, a Luxury Antarctica cruise is certainly worth considering as the experience is like none other.
Antarctica Cruise Budget
Your budget is super important as this will probably have the biggest impact on what Antarctica cruise itinerary you can choose. An Antarctica cruise is a big investment, so you want to be sure you’re choosing a tour that is right for you. There are three major price determinations for Antarctica cruises – itinerary, cabin accommodation and extra activities. Accommodation can vary quite dramatically, especially as some ships are purpose-built for Antarctica cruises whilst others are ex-research vessels. If you’re concerned, the best thing to do is to request photos from your chosen operator.
Antarctica Cruise – Lower Budget
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$5,500. At that price you’ll be looking at a fairly short itinerary of around 11 days and you’ll also need to be in a cabin of 4 people. If you are traveling solo then the price will be more expensive. Some Antarctica cruise operators offer twin rooms for two solo travelers to share, however, this is not always the case and you will need to check before booking.
If you want to avoid crossing the infamous Drake Passage then you’ll need to budget for a fly-cruise which is more expensive. Generally a fly-cruise trip will last 8 days and will cost roughly US$8,000. Again, this is a budget price and you’ll be sharing a cabin once on-board your ship. People often write that it’s possible to camp out Ushuaia and wait for a last-minute booking price. Although this is possible, in our experience, it’s not as frequent and easy as people believe. You’ll need time on your hands – which costs money – and you’ll need to be lucky as most Antarctica cruises book out months in advance.
Please keep in mind that lower cabins tend to be less affected by motion and if you do suffer from sea sickness, a lower cabin will be the best option. Lower cabins will also be less expensive on average. Remember, not only do cabins cost different amounts, but also ships. Antarctica cruise operators will often run more than one ship and these vessels will usually be kitted out differently inside which will impact price. If you notice an operator offering two different prices for the same itinerary, this will usually be the reason.
Antarctica Cruise – Higher Budget
If you can afford to splash out a little more than your itinerary and cabin options open up considerably. A standard cruise to the peninsula for 12 days in a nice double cabin will cost anywhere between US$8,000 – $15,000. Whilst it is considerably more, if you can afford it then go for it as it makes the whole experience much more pleasurable. If your budget is above US$10,000 then you can potentially lengthen your trip to take in the spectacular Falkland Islands and South Georgia. Cruises to the peninsula via the Falklands and South Georgia usually start at around US$10,000 for 20 days. Once again, this is in shared accommodation. If you would like a longer itinerary with your own well-appointed cabin, you should budget more towards $20,000. Please see out Antarctica cruise price graph below to help get a better understanding of the average prices.
Antarctica Cruise Price Graph
Whilst the above graph is a good indicator of general itinerary prices, it is by no means a 100% accurate and every Antarctica cruise operator will charge slightly differently and offer slight variations in itinerary. This is often the case where certain activities are offered such as Kayaking, camping, scuba diving, swimming etc.
Antarctica Cruise Size – Choosing the right vessel to suit you
Your cruise ship will impact your travel experience considerably. Antarctica cruise ship sizes range from vessels that carry less than hundred passengers to vessels that carry over 500!
If your goal is to go ashore as often as possible then you should consider a small vessel as ships carrying less than 200 passengers have access to most landing spots along the peninsula. Ships with more passengers are often heavily restricted om where they can land and vessels carrying over 500 passengers cannot land at all.
Whilst the smaller ships have the advantage of landing spots, larger ships are generally better appointed and have a much more luxurious feel. Larger ships also have the added benefit of swaying less in the rolling seas – an important note for people who suffer from sea sickness.
If you want a cruise to Antarctica that allows you to go ashore and get up close and personal with some of the wildlife, then a smaller vessels may be your best option. Cruise boats that carry less than 200 passengers have the right to land at most places, whereas larger ships are more restricted. Cruise ships carrying over 500 people cannot land at all.
Another option is a small yacht. This is not a common option and tourists generally stick to bigger ships. However, there are several registered yacht tours and these tours have great versatility in terms of landing options. Yachts are more affected by sea motion though and tend to cost far more than a cruise – generally in the region of US$1,000 per day per person.
For our full list of Antarctica cruise ships please click here.
Antarctic Cruise Destinations and Activities
Choosing what you specifically want to see and do on your Antarctica cruise can go a long way in helping you decide what tour itinerary to choose. Below we have listed the most popular destinations and activities and which itineraries include them.
All Antarctica cruise itineraries will visit the Antarctic Peninsula. However, as the route itinerary images above demonstrate, different itineraries will see different points on the peninsula.
The Lemaire Channel
Without doubt one of the most stunning sections of the Antarctica Peninsula. Huge ice cliffs surround you on a narrow channel and provide an ‘out of this world’ landscape. All standard itineraries should visit the Lemaire Channel as it is located at the tip of the peninsula.
The Antarctic Circle
Few people venture past the Antarctica Circle. However, it well worth considering as it takes you further down the Antarctic Peninsula and allows you to explore less-visited sites like the historic research stations at Marguerite Bay. You’ll not cross the Antarctic Circle on a classic itinerary as it is much further south than most cruises go. However, almost all Antarctica cruise companies will operate an Antarctic Circle tour. They’re often called exactly that in fact. You’ll find the price is more expensive than a standard cruise, but less than a cruise that takes in South Georgia and the Falklands.
Known as Iceberg Alley, Hope Bay is home to some stunning ice formations and incredibly large icebergs. The icebergs glow a light blue in the water and you’ll have the opportunity to go ashore and visit the historical expedition huts from the Swedish Antarctic Expedition that wintered in the bay in 1903. All Antarctica cruise operators stop here.
Paradise Harbor (or Paradise Bay)
A great place to visit for wildlife lovers! The ice floes provide great lounging spots for seals and whales are often seen in the deep bay. Lovely ice formations make this one of our favourite spots and ideally, you should see it in a zodiac. All Antarctica cruise itineraries stop here.
One of the most visited spots on the peninsula, Deception Island is home to a colony of Chin Strap penguins. The island is also home to one of the most famous whaler bays in the region – Deception Bay. Historically used by whalers, the bay is now a hot-spot for swimmers as the bay is a caldera of a volcano and provides ‘hot springs’. From our own personal experience, we can tell you the water is anything but ‘hot’ – in fact, it’s freezing! But still worth doing! Standard itineraries will stop here and all operators will give you the option of swimming.
South Georgia and the Falkland Islands
If you have the time and the budget, these islands should not be missed! Packed with wildlife, they’re often termed the ‘Arctic Galapagos’ as most species don’t mind people sitting close by. Perfect for photographers. Literally millions of seals and penguins gather on these islands and the vast array of sea birds will keep you busy for days! Standard itineraries do not visit these islands. All operators offer an extended cruise option that does visit the islands, however, it is usually the most expensive option.
For more information on popular destinations in Antarctica, please see read our detailed page.
Antarctica Cruise Activities
Activities 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, camping or climbing, you’ll need to arrange this with your operator and pay extra.
Prices for each activity vary considerably and you’ll need to ask your operator. Kayaking is the most popular activity and generally costs around US$750 – $1,000 on top of your base cruise cost. Camping, skiing and climbing all cost in the region of US$500 per person. Paddle-boarding is usually the cheapest activity costing around US$150, however, not every operator offers this option. Scuba diving is one of the most expensive option and will cost you upwards of a US$1,000.
When booking your cruise to Antarctica, make sure you consult with your operator as to what activities are included on your Antarctica cruise. Most operators are very transparent about this, but it’s always good to check. If you are very keen on activities then some companies operate ‘Adventure Tours’ which is a combination of skiing, camping, climbing and kayaking all rolled into one.
For more information, please see our detailed activities page here.
What to look for in a great Antarctica cruise operator
The first thing to make sure of is that your Antarctica cruise operator is a member of The International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO).
IAATO is an umbrella industry group that have set strict standards for all Antarctica cruise operators in an attempt to protect the pristine and unspoiled environment of Antarctica. Your tour operator should be a member of IAATO and adhere to their guidelines at all times.
Knowing their ship
All good Antarctica cruise operators should know their ship. This means being able to tell you exactly what cabin would suit you, what vessel would suit you and what on-board activities would suit you. For example: If you often feel slightly sea sick, but still want an ocean view, your operator should know which cabin is least affected by motion but still has an ocean view.
Food quality and options
All operators offer something slightly different when it comes to food. Make sure your Antarctica cruise company can cater to any specific food requirements you have. Ask how often hot meals are served. Some operators offer buffet style meals whilst others offer menu course. Dinner can range from one course to three – check with your operator.
Lectures and Guides
One of the most important aspect about your Antarctica cruise will be your lectures and your guides. Therefore, making sure you’re in the right hands is crucial.
When it comes to guides, a good ratio to look for is 1 guide for every 10 passengers. This varies slightly from operator to operator. As you’ll want tons of information on the Antarctic wildlife and scenery, the more guides the better essentially. Your guides should be an experienced professionals in their fields and most Antarctica cruise operators will provide highly knowledgeable biologists, naturalist and historians (depending on itinerary).
On-board lectures should occur at least twice a day and really good operators will usually provide on-shore talks as well. Top cruises will often provide photography experts also.
Choosing a conscientious Antarctica cruise operator is vitally important. The environment should be everyone’s number one concern and this should be reflected in your choice of operator. Many operators work with charities and there are several ships now that have a carbon neutral scheme.
Antarctica Cruise – Itinerary Options and samples
When choosing an Antarctica cruise itinerary, always make sure to look at the route map. This is particularly important for the peninsula section as there are a number of varying routes around the region and some itineraries will simply visit the tip of the peninsula whilst other itineraries will explore further south. Ones that explore further south are usually knows as ‘Antarctic Circle’ tours or something similar. See examples below. For our full itineraries page please click here.
Below we have provided some classic itinerary examples to give you a quick idea of the possible itineraries you might want to choose. Please click on each if you would like to read a more detailed itinerary.
This is your classic Antarctica cruise that crosses the Drake Passage and cruises around the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula for a number of days. The itinerary is usually 11 or 12 days long and prices start in the region of US$5,500. Expect to go ashore several times and see a variety of wildlife. Perfect tour for people who want to get a taste of the White Continent, or for people on a tighter budget.
Like the classic itinerary, this cruise crosses the Drake Passage and takes in the Antarctic Peninsula. However, this cruise will penetrate further down the peninsula, crossing the Antarctic Circle and taking in less-visited west coast of Antarctica. Depending on exact itinerary and operator, the cruise usually takes 14 days. Expect to pay no less than US$8,500.
This the perfect option for people with less time or for people who suffer from sea sickness. Instead of crossing the Drake Passage, you’ll fly into the tiny airport on King George Island and join a cruise from there. Like the standard cruise, you’ll take in the sites around the tip of the Peninsula. You then fly back (usually to Punta Arenas in Chile). The trip usually takes 8 days and costs in the region of US$8,500. This option is also available for the Antarctic Circle cruise.
The fly south, cruise north option allows you to fly one way and take the ship back on the return journey. This is a great option if you’re short of time but still want to experience the unforgettable Drake Passage! Although weather can be rough, the passage is a great place to see whales and other marine life. After your tour of the peninsula you then take an easy flight back to the main land. The trip will usually take 10 days and cost around US$10,000.
In our opinion this is the best way to see Antarctica. Not only do you take in the incredible Antarctic Peninsula, but you also visit the wildlife rich Falklands and South Georgia islands. Most operators will also offer this tour with Antarctic Circle itinerary. See penguins and seals in their millions! Itineraries are longer for this cruise and usually take around 20 days. Because of this, cost is higher – starting at around US$10,500.
The Weddell Sea Cruise is a fantastic option for wildlife lovers who wish to get a glimpse of the elusive emperor penguins! The cruise takes travelers to the lesser seen western coast of the Antarctic Peninsula in search of the continents famous birds. Once in as close as the ice allows, you will take a number of helicopter flights over the ice in search of the emperors! You then visit the eastern part of the peninsula before heading back to Ushuaia.
Recommended Antarctica Cruise Operator
We have traveled to Antarctica numerous times and can definitely recommend one Antarctica cruise specialist above the others. In our experience, they are the most professional, knowledgeable and friendly without a shadow of a doubt. Please click here to get in touch with them.
Other Useful Information
Please see our other informative pages for more great information on traveling to Antarctica!
Antarctica Packing List – from headgear and gloves to boots, bags and accessories. we have written the definitive list!
How to get to Antarctica – If you’re unsure on how exactly to get to Antarctica, please rad our detailed page.
Things to see and do in Antarctica – From skiing and scuba diving, to camping and climbing, this is the complete guide!
Resources Page – Check this page out for other great Antarctica resources, including websites, guide books and maps!
We hope you’ve enjoyed this page. If you have any further questions about choosing the right Antarctica cruise, please just leave a comment below and we’ll get back to you within 24 hours.
Thank you and happy travels!
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