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awestover89

Choosing a Cruise Line for Antarctica

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So my husband and I would really like to do Antarctica in 2022 for our 10th anniversary. We've cruised a lot but always on Royal Caribbean, and we usually prefer the ships with a lot to do on board activity-wise, more so than the educational or enrichment type lectures and informational sessions so we're pretty much completely out of our element when comparing the smaller ships that are used for Antarctica.

 

We really want the option to actually go on land and not just do a "drive by" cruise like on Celebrity/Princess/HAL. I've been googling around the various expedition cruise lines that offer the zodiac-to-land experience but am feeling a bit overwhelmed with all the options.

 

Which all cruise lines/ships do people recommend? For work reasons we would need to keep it at or under 2 weeks if at all possible.

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Have I look here. I compiled all the trip reports on Trip Advisor into a centralised FAQ directory. The actual reports are cross referenced by year, expedition company, and vessel. 

http://antarcticafaqs.boards.net/

There is also a list of every expedition company and vessel including future new builds. 

 

For me - having done 4 expeditions there so far - from 24-33 days each - my golden rule is to choose the longest voyage you can afford, with the smallest amount of passengers, and include South Georgia Island (particularly if you have images in you heard of pebbly shores with tens of thousands of penguins and seals). 

 

Dont get hung up on luxury levels of balcony's (you will hardly be in the cabin). And definitely don't get too fixated on specific landing spots. It's important to have a 'go with the flow' flexible attitude for polar travel. 

 

The expedition team will do lectures in between landings etc. you will have biologists, penguinologists, ornathologists, geologists, volcanologists,  (and every other 'ist') and historians at hand. 

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We compared "days in Antarctica" with price and found that Silversea gave us the best combo.  Do expect to pay approx $1000/day per person.  Silversea cruises were shorter in total duration but still had a solid 6 days in Antarctica.

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18 hours ago, awestover89 said:

we usually prefer the ships with a lot to do on board activity-wise, more so than the educational or enrichment type lectures and informational sessions so we're pretty much completely out of our element when comparing the smaller ships that are used for Antarctica.

Indeed, nearly the majority of organized activities on an expedition ship are lectures and educational programs. If these kinds of activities don't particularly interest you, it might help guide advice if you could explain a bit about what you're hoping to get out of the trip. Are you primarily interested in photography? Outdoor activities? Watching the scenery? Checking off the last continent?It would also be good to understand what the minimum level of comfort and luxury you're looking for is.

 

For example, if you're more interested in outdoor activities than wildlife information, the Oceanwide "basecamp" trips might be a good fit. If you want to set foot on land but aren't necessarily keen to spend a lot of time out there, some of the larger luxury ships could be a good choice.

 

If you're not already aware, only up to 100 passengers (and sometimes fewer) can be ashore at once, so larger ships mean less time on shore. Many people feel that even with rotated landings, they have enough time to enjoy themselves, but if you're keen to spend a lot of time on land, this is important to keep in mind.

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6 hours ago, kaisatsu said:

Indeed, nearly the majority of organized activities on an expedition ship are lectures and educational programs. If these kinds of activities don't particularly interest you, it might help guide advice if you could explain a bit about what you're hoping to get out of the trip. Are you primarily interested in photography? Outdoor activities? Watching the scenery? Checking off the last continent?It would also be good to understand what the minimum level of comfort and luxury you're looking for is.

 

For example, if you're more interested in outdoor activities than wildlife information, the Oceanwide "basecamp" trips might be a good fit. If you want to set foot on land but aren't necessarily keen to spend a lot of time out there, some of the larger luxury ships could be a good choice.

 

If you're not already aware, only up to 100 passengers (and sometimes fewer) can be ashore at once, so larger ships mean less time on shore. Many people feel that even with rotated landings, they have enough time to enjoy themselves, but if you're keen to spend a lot of time on land, this is important to keep in mind.

 

Yeah, I did some of the initial research on the rules for landings and the maximum ship size to allow for it at all. The main goal of this trip is "checking off the last continent" but coming back with great memories and photos. Being on a ship that's small enough to actually spend time on land is crucial. Priorities/interests would probably be:

 

1) Ship small enough to allow for landings. To actually physically set foot on Antarctica

2) Photography

3) Wildlife

4) Land activities that don't require extreme fitness/effort (I can hike/kayak etc quite a bit, but probably couldn't do something like climb a mountain)

5) Timing: It's very difficult for me to get more than 2 weeks off work. Possible, but difficult. A 10-14 day cruise would be best.

6) If at all possible, a ship that has meteorologist/weather specialists would be great. My husband is a meteorologist and actually reached the interview stage for a job at an Antarctic research station, but didn't have the amount of experience they wanted at the time.

 

Comfort, we usually do interior rooms so we don't necessarily need super luxury, but I wouldn't want to be on one of the Russian research vessels for example. At the very least having a private cabin/en suite bathroom would be a huge plus. 

 

Budget, this is a bit of the hard one. We don't want money to be a limiting factor of a good experience, but the cheaper we can get a great experience the better. We've tentatively planned for $7-$13K per person based on our initial research. We've never spent more than $3K on a cruise or $10K on a vacation, so this is already a bit of a sticker shock, but we want to do it right especially since this will most likely be a one time only experience.

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Posted (edited)

For 1. I would stick to a ship with 200 passengers or less.  Most (if not all) of those ships will provide 2. , 3., and 4. (and 5., and probably 6. as well, although you very seldom know in advance what type of scientists will be in the Expedition team, but I think most of them would have someone knowledgeable in weather).

 

A trip shorter than 2 weeks mean you will not have time for South Georgia, as those trips (except those focused exclusively on SG) are usually closer to 3 weeks. If you factor in time to get to Ushuaia and back, if your trip needs to be 2 weeks all included then indeed you cannot plan for a cruise of more than 10-11 days at sea (so around 6-7 days around the Peninsula). Your budget seems somewhat realistic if you can book with the early bird discounts (but more towards middle-end of your budget than bottom, probably).

 

Have a look maybe at Hurtigruten's Fram, Oceanwide's new Hondius, or Ponant, for ships around 180-200 passengers. Quark also could be a really good contender and they have two smaller ships, Ocean Adventurer (recently refurbished) and Ocean Nova (it's an older ship and I don't know the level of comfort on board).

Edited by SarniaLo

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Even most of the low-luxury ships have en-suite bathrooms. G Adventures’ MS Expedition is generally considered “medium” level, and she has all en-suite outside cabins and seated dinners. The luxury level is more about the rest of the ship, as there’s not a huge difference in the basic cabins unless you look at some of the new all-suite ships.

 

I think you’d probably be fine on just about any expedition ship and can probably choose more based on price and schedule than anything else. The 200-passenger ships are often less expensive and more likely to have last-minute availability (versus early booking discounts, which means booking 1.5 to 2 years in advance). GAdventures and Oceanwide Expeditions have some less expensive options under 150 passengers. If you’re okay with just one shore landing per day, one of the larger 300-400 passenger ships would still suffice.

 

I’d take a look at Quark, G Adventures, Hurtigruten, Oceanwide Expeditions, and maaaaaybe One Ocean. I hesitate on the last one, because One Ocean just had an issues with the ships it charters, and I’m concerned that they’ve not been great and handling the situation.

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That sounds like a solid starting point. I had read a few sites talking about the retrofitted research vessels where you basically become part of the crew and have more hostel like accommodations (shared rooms with bunks, shared bathrooms)

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awestover89 - The Polar Code comes into full force on 1st Jan. 2022.

Very few of the current Polar vessels will be operating then.

Only recent new builds & a few others, plus the other new builds in the pipeline will be available.

See other posts on the Polar Code.

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39 minutes ago, SeaDog-46 said:

awestover89 - The Polar Code comes into full force on 1st Jan. 2022.

Very few of the current Polar vessels will be operating then.

Only recent new builds & a few others, plus the other new builds in the pipeline will be available.

See other posts on the Polar Code.

 

Newly built ships will definitely meet the code though, won't they? I just started looking into Hurtigruten based on the previous comments and they are advertising that starting in 2021 they will be using the MS Fridtjof Nansen which is new construction expected to be completed in 2020.

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Newly built expedition ships built for work in latitudes +60 degrees will meet the code - usually PC6.

Hurtigruten already have Roald Amundsen operating - sister ship to Fridtjof Nansen.

Hondius recently did her maiden cruise as did Hanseatic Nature [German speaking onboard I think] a few months ago.

Greg Mortimer is fitting out & likely the next to operate.

About 20 more are in the pipeline with new orders still being placed.

Because of the additional rules many polar ships are running over a year late in being delivered.

 

 

 

 

 

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We went with Quark and were quite happy.

 

It's going to be hard keeping things under 2 weeks, though.  We spent about 8 days (4 on each end) traveling to and from Antarctica proper (it's 2 days just sailing across the Drake Passage).  

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On 7/19/2019 at 3:21 PM, kaisatsu said:

Even most of the low-luxury ships have en-suite bathrooms. G Adventures’ MS Expedition is generally considered “medium” level, and she has all en-suite outside cabins and seated dinners. The luxury level is more about the rest of the ship, as there’s not a huge difference in the basic cabins unless you look at some of the new all-suite ships.

 

I think you’d probably be fine on just about any expedition ship and can probably choose more based on price and schedule than anything else. The 200-passenger ships are often less expensive and more likely to have last-minute availability (versus early booking discounts, which means booking 1.5 to 2 years in advance). GAdventures and Oceanwide Expeditions have some less expensive options under 150 passengers. If you’re okay with just one shore landing per day, one of the larger 300-400 passenger ships would still suffice.

 

I’d take a look at Quark, G Adventures, Hurtigruten, Oceanwide Expeditions, and maaaaaybe One Ocean. I hesitate on the last one, because One Ocean just had an issues with the ships it charters, and I’m concerned that they’ve not been great and handling the situation.

I went with One Ocean last year and LOVED them... that being said, don't book with them.  I've not heard reassuring things from their employees.  I'm looking at Quark for the Arctic.

 

I did a one ocean triple, with bathroom down the hall, and there were only like 4 rooms that had that feature.  I booked for

1) Price

2) Days in Antarctica (So I booked a fly cruise because I maximized days)

3) small ship- I wanted to be on land as much as possible.

 

It will be very different than RCL, there's no changing that.  I love both types of cruising (although I may love the expeditions more!).

 

But for the timeline, I want you to be warned- stuff I didn't know before my trip:

 

1) My luggage almost didn't make it to the ship.  In fact, if my ship had gone off on time, I would have had 15 minutes from picking up my luggage to getting on the next flight to Antarctica.  I almost had no clothes. That was a monumental stress.  It's STILL the topic at all family gatherings because I had to call in everyone to get my luggage there. And I flew in 36 hours before the flight to Antarctica.

 

2) There are delays all over the place.  We were delayed a day going.  3 groups on our trip had been on a voyage the year before that was delayed for 5 days and then cancelled.  If you are squeezing it in... well imagine being either delayed 5 days or not being able to get home for 5 days longer than you anticipated.  I did my trips over Xmas and New Years to save vacation time.

 

3) With One Ocean losing ships, there's more of a squeeze on the budget Antarctica trips, so book early if you find one you like. 

 

4) Make sure you book a trip that coincides with the wildlife you want to see.  I wanted baby penguins, but if I were to go back, I would go in March to see the whales.  If you go too early, there won't be baby penguins!

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6 hours ago, celoplyr said:

4) Make sure you book a trip that coincides with the wildlife you want to see.  I wanted baby penguins, but if I were to go back, I would go in March to see the whales.  If you go too early, there won't be baby penguins!

This is sound advice, but while baby penguins are more or less on schedule, other wildlife (including whales) are more of a gamble. End of season (Feb-March) is supposed to be the better season for whales, but during my first trip in February I just saw one from very far away. Then we went back in December and saw heaps of whales, including a pod that swam in contact with the ship for over an hour. So never expect anything, including wildlife (that would be my main advice actually : go with no expectations and enjoy every minute).

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7 hours ago, celoplyr said:

My luggage almost didn't make it to the ship.  In fact, if my ship had gone off on time, I would have had 15 minutes from picking up my luggage to getting on the next flight to Antarctica.  I almost had no clothes. That was a monumental stress.  It's STILL the topic at all family gatherings because I had to call in everyone to get my luggage there. And I flew in 36 hours before the flight to Antarctica.

 

2) There are delays all over the place.  We were delayed a day going.  3 groups on our trip had been on a voyage the year before that was delayed for 5 days and then cancelled

This is important advice for scheduling!

 

Many people suggest that that if you do a fly-cruise option, you should sail down and fly back, since delayed ship departures are uncommon but Antarctic flights are delayed more often than not due to the tricky weather conditions.

 

And although departure delays for ship expeditions are uncommon, the flights to get there are quite error-prone, especially if you’re joining the expedition in Ushuaia. It’s well worth arriving *at least* a day before your expedition begins (even if it includes a hotel overnight before), and preferably more.

 

On my first trip, an out-of-season storm caused massive interruptions to long-haul flights on my first leg, so I lost a day before I even reached Argentina! Thankfully I had a big enough error margin or I would have been extremely stressed and potentially devastated. Upon arriving in Ushuaia, several people had overnight luggage delays and were frantically trying to track down bags right up to the ship’s departure. One passenger didn’t get his and had to do the entire expedition in borrowed clothing! Luckily, Ushuaia itself is an interesting area and worth a few days’ exploration. My most recent trip included a charter flight for all passengers from Buenos Aires, which meant less stress for us since all of the passengers were in the same boat (or plane, rather).

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5 hours ago, kaisatsu said:

My most recent trip included a charter flight for all passengers from Buenos Aires, which meant less stress for us since all of the passengers were in the same boat (or plane, rather).

 

That's what I saw Hurtrigruten advertising; we would just fly from Florida to Buenos Aires and then there was a charter flight to Ushuaia. I hadn't considered much about Antarctica weather affecting planes, though.

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3 hours ago, awestover89 said:

I hadn't considered much about Antarctica weather affecting planes, though.

Only the expedition flights to/from Antarctica.

 

For the rest, domestic flights in Argentina are just generally prone to delays. And they seem to have frequent problems getting all the luggage onto the plane! 🤷‍♀️ 

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Mine was actually a problem in Dallas!  I was on a PHX to DFW to Santiago to Puntas Arenas flight.  However, DFW was closed for tornado activity for about half an hour.  They held the PHX flight for ~4 hours, but sent the flight onwards off on time.  I did everything I could to make what I could (including rerouting 4 different times), but they wouldn't pull my luggage off the first flight (even though I wasn't on it).  They also told me that for international travel I had to arrive FIRST and then they would send my luggage on.  Basically I would have lost 2 days for the luggage if my parents hadn't called and said something about "PhD, research, Antartica" and some nice woman went around the system for me.  Only 2/3rds of that was true.

 

All that being said... PLEASE take a carry on with 2 spare changes of clothes, it's not worth it to only check luggage.  I was all "oh I don't want to cart anything other than a backpack with my camera gear" and if I could redo that decision I would 100000% percent.  

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I have done Hurtigruten to Antarctica and Quark to the Falklands and S. Georgia.  They both did a very good job although Hurtigruten held more than 100 passengers so we had to switch times on land.  I did know that in advance.  Quark had less than 100 people so we could and did spend as much time as we wished on S. Georgia and the Falklands.  I got good deals on botb trips so it pays to shop around.  We are not allowed to mention travel agencies on CC but there are some that specialize in just cruises to the arctic and antarctic regions.  Do some WEB searches to find them.

 

DON

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I went to Antarctica three years ago with Lindblad/National Geographic and am booked to go back in January. It was an amazing expedition- small ship (140 passengers),  twice daily landings and talks given by world renowned scientists and National Geographic photographers. We had a big mix of nationalities and ages. I can't recommend this line enough- if I won the lottery, I would take every trip that Nat Geo offers.

 It is such an expensive trip that it is wise to do as much research as possible. And if you are prone to seasickness, be sure and talk to your Dr. as the crossing can get pretty rough. 

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On 7/28/2019 at 8:20 PM, beezer248 said:

I went to Antarctica three years ago with Lindblad/National Geographic and am booked to go back in January. It was an amazing expedition- small ship (140 passengers),  twice daily landings and talks given by world renowned scientists and National Geographic photographers. We had a big mix of nationalities and ages. I can't recommend this line enough- if I won the lottery, I would take every trip that Nat Geo offers.

 It is such an expensive trip that it is wise to do as much research as possible. And if you are prone to seasickness, be sure and talk to your Dr. as the crossing can get pretty rough. 

 

When I was there last year, they said that there would be new regulations, and all ships would have no more than 1 daily landing.  I think they'll do a lot of zodiac cruising (which I liked a lot) but don't be surprised if you don't land 2x a day anymore.

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On 7/19/2019 at 10:05 PM, awestover89 said:

 

Newly built ships will definitely meet the code though, won't they? I just started looking into Hurtigruten based on the previous comments and they are advertising that starting in 2021 they will be using the MS Fridtjof Nansen which is new construction expected to be completed in 2020.

We just booked this ship for December 2020 and got a fantastic price.  We sailed Hurtigruten on a Norway Coastal Cruise February 2016 for the Northern Lights.  Looking forward to Antarctica.

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3 hours ago, Heartfelttraveler said:

We just booked this ship for December 2020 and got a fantastic price.  We sailed Hurtigruten on a Norway Coastal Cruise February 2016 for the Northern Lights.  Looking forward to Antarctica.

We just booked for December 2020, too.  What dates are you going?

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The Hurtigruten cruise is December 8, 2020 (EZE-USH).  We are actually planning on arriving in Buenos Aires on December 6 for two nights pre cruise.

What dates are you sailing?

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