Discover Travel are one of the few true specialists in New Zealand in arranging trips to Antarctica. Three of our team have visited the 7th Continent, and Ian has been lucky enough to go multiple times; he rates South Georgia Island in particular as his favourite destination.
Antarctica truly is the ‘last great place on earth’. The stunning scenery, incredibly abundant and inquisitive wildlife and the pristine nature of the vast ice-covered plateaus are simply indescribable. You will spend your days whale and seabird watching from the bridge or deck of your ice strengthened ship, ‘zodiac’ cruising amongst spectacular natural ice sculptures and walking ashore to within a few metres of penguins and seals.
Today, there are numerous opportunities to explore the ‘Frozen South’ and there are around 40 ice-strengthened ships operating mostly from South America and occasionally from New Zealand. Many of these are new purpose-built comfortable expedition ships carrying typically between 108 and 245 passengers and operated by true expedition cruise operators like Aurora, Oceanwide, Lindblad & Quark Expeditions. The exception is Hurtigruten Expeditions, who can carry up to 528 passengers.
Others are essentially small luxury cruise ships (176-388 passengers) – again, many are very new and designed for polar expeditions, operated by cruise lines like Scenic, Ponant, Silversea & Viking. The vessel you pick will have a bearing on the cost of your Antarctic cruise. A luxury ship will provide a first-class experience and many now will feature gourmet food, spacious cabins with their own balconies, and even their own saunas.
Prepare to be busy on an Antarctic cruise! Once you’ve arrived in Antarctica the majority of every day is taken up with zodiac excursions – either ‘landings’, where you go ashore to visit a penguin rookery or a place of historic interest, or a zodiac cruise when you’re on the lookout for wildlife and photographic opportunities.
On any Antarctic voyage the following are typically included:
- Accommodation on full board basis
- All guided landings and excursions while on board ship
- A programme of lectures by leading experts
- Loan of a pair of rubber boots
Depending on which ship you choose, some or all of the following may also be included:
- Complimentary parka jacket (to keep)
- Pro/Post voyage hotel accommodation
- Additional activities such as snowshoeing, camping and photography workshops
- Beverages with meals
There are often also optional adventure activities – including kayaking (both Ian and Janine have done this) and camping on the ice – as well as the infamous ‘Polar Plunge’ (ask Janine about this!) and a series of lectures delivered by the experts among the expedition team.
In the 2021-22 season there were approximately 23,000 tourist global visitors in total, and these numbers will have increased over this 2022/2023 summer as travel restrictions have ended.
Antarctica is only accessible by cruise from November and March, and the high Season from mid December to February is the most popular and expensive time to travel with longer days, more stable weather and active wildlife but it does depend on what’s important to you and travelling in November/early December is usually 10-25% cheaper. November is excellent for South Georgia, heavy ice conditions and spectacular skies, while February and March are traditionally best for whale sightings.
Antarctic voyages are also popular with solo travellers, with typically at least 20% of passengers on board being single. The good news is that travelling solo doesn’t have to increase Antarctica cruise costs, depending on what you choose. Here are the options:
- Share a cabin with a fellow traveller (always of the same sex); you choose which type of cabin you want and the ship operator then pairs you up.
- Book your own cabin; single cabins are possible but book early though as they are in high demand. This option is more expensive than sharing but less expensive than paying a supplement for a twin cabin.
- Pay a single supplement – If you definitely want your own cabin and a single isn’t available you will need to pay a single supplement to have your own twin cabin. The single supplement is expensive – typically 70% of the cost of the second berth.
There’s quite a lot of choice, so let us guide you through the process of choosing the right expedition, aboard the right ship, and in the right cabin or stateroom for you.
Many of our clients travel from South America across the short sea crossing of the Drake Passage to the South Shetland Islands and the waterways of the Antarctic Peninsula. This is jokingly dubbed the ‘banana belt’ of Antarctica because of its relatively mild weather! These cruises are typically 10-12 days in duration, with some 13-15 day expeditions in January & February travelling further south in an attempt to cross the Antarctic Circle itself.
For those worried about sea sickness, there are also several shorter ‘Fly-Cruises’ which commence in Punta Arenas, Chile. These fly guests over the Drake Passage to join their expedition ship on King George Island in the South Shetlands and then cruise the Antarctic Peninsula for as little as 5 nights. Expect to pay approximately an extra 20% if you choose to fly both to and from Antarctica as you’ll be aboard expensive charter flights which require specialist aircraft and highly experienced pilots.
There has been an increase in the number of voyages now offering a combination of flying one way and sailing the other, which utilise cheaper scheduled LATAM flights from The Falkland Islands.
The longer 18-23 day cruises extend the experience to also include the Polar history and tremendous concentration of wildlife in the Sub-Antarctic – the Falkland Islands and South Georgia. This is a must for all fans of Sir Ernest Shackleton (aka “The Boss”). On all these trips you will have the opportunity to see Weddell & Elephant Seals, skuas, wandering albatrosses, giant petrels and rookeries of Gentoo, Chinstrap and Adelie penguins. Whales seem to be everywhere. These are the real ‘bucket list’ voyages, amongst the most spectacular cruises anywhere on earth!
Finally, there are the longest (29 days +) voyages in January & February from NZ and Australia to the Ross Sea – one of the remotest places on earth and the ‘heart’ of Antarctica.