Save or splurge in Antarctica

Save or splurge?


HOW TO SAVE MONEY ON AN ANTARCTIC CRUISE

Public buses, cramped dorms and shoestring streetfood are the usual way to do a destination on the cheap – but it’s unlikely any of these will be on offer in Antarctica any time soon. While this is something to celebrate, it also means that travelers on a budget will have a hard time getting to the frozen continent, with even the cheapest of trips costing many thousands of pounds. However, there are ways to reduce costs without compromising on your Antarctic experience; the whales, leopard seals and penguins don’t care whether you’ve paid an extra £5k or not, and experiencing the midnight sun over a landscape where few have ever set foot is always priceless.
We’ve shared some ideas below on how you can save on your trip to Antarctica – or really splurge.

Getting to Antarctica


Save
Cruising to and from Antarctica is the most affordable way to travel. Many people find the Drake Passage crossing is not as stomach-churning as anticipated, but pack stem ginger and speak to your doctor about other seasickness remedies just in case. There will also be a doctor on board who can administer more hardcore medication should you encounter particularly stormy seas. It’s worth noting that the lower cabins (without portholes or windows) are cheaper – and as these sway less, they are also considered the best option for avoiding seasickness.
Splurge
Flying across the Drake Passage from Punta Arenas in southern Chile not only means you get to avoid the queasiness of the southern seas, but you cut out two days of travel – or four, if you fly both ways. This is ideal for those who don’t have a generous vacation allowance, or who would rather spend those extra days in Antarctica. This is definitely a splurge option though, so get saving.

Itineraries


Save
The Antarctic Peninsula is the continent’s most northerly point; it stretches to within 1,000km of South America. Consequently this is the easiest – and cheapest – bit of Antarctica to reach, and the most economical cruises will simply sail straight there and back with a typical duration of 10-11 days.

Adding in the Falkland Islands and South Georgia to your Antarctica expedition will mean you need to allow a bit more time and therefore money, but these remote, penguin-filled specks of land are often one of the highlights of the cruise. As well as four species of penguin, you can encounter giant albatross and visit Stanley on the Falklands and Grytviken (population: 20) on South Georgia to learn about life in the Southern Ocean.
Splurge
Splurging on an Antarctic itinerary means getting even further away from the rest of humanity. If you’re yearning for a truly pioneering expedition, you could do worse than spending a month semi-circumnavigating Antarctica between South America and New Zealand. From the deck of your ice strengthened ship, you can keep an eye out for numerous penguin and whale species and icebergs as you cruise west along the southernmost reaches of the Pacific Ocean. Zodiacs and on board helicopters take you out to some of the planet’s remotest islands, visited by explorers such as Scott and Shackleton.
For a super-splurge head east, to the New Zealand and Australia Sub-Antarctic Islands, then onwards to the little-visited Ross Sea. Voyages take four or five weeks – due in part to the immense distances travelled – departing from the southern tip of New Zealand. This region is far from lifeless and barren; you’ll encounter surreal megaherbs, “penguins cities”, several whale species and elephant seals.

On board amenities


Save
You don’t travel halfway round the world and spend two days crossing the Drake Passage just to enjoy Michelin starred meals, a hot tub and a flatscreen TV – the real 5* experiences in Antarctica are the location and the wildlife, and those will be the same whether you’re splashing out on a suite or sleeping in a dorm. Sharing a room with two or three others, forgoing the en suite bathroom and opting for a room without a porthole or window are easy ways to save hundreds of pounds or more. All your excursions, meals and on board lectures will be the same, as will your access to other facilities such as a library, sauna and observation deck. Pricier departures may include big-name wildlife filmmakers, photographers or naturalists – but every cruise will have on board experts who are incredibly knowledgeable – they just won’t be household names. Research vessels tend to be more basic than other ships, but they offer plenty of history and character, as well as superb food, comfortable cabins, a lecture theatre and observation deck.

One way we wouldn’t recommend saving money is booking on a large ship with hundreds of passengers. According to IAATO regulations, only 100 passengers may disembark at any one time, so on larger ships (200+) you will not be able to disembark every day. Ships carrying over 500 passengers are not allowed to dock at all, so having travelled all that way, you’ll have to settle for watching the frozen continent pass by through a porthole.
Splurge
The South Pole’s the limit when it comes to splurging on your Antarctica cruise. Penthouse suites, large windows, gyms, massage rooms, private balconies, five course dinners… Travel companies are aware that this really is the trip of a lifetime for most people on board, and have come up with many options to make it that extra bit special. But don’t get too distracted by the gift shops and plunge pools; be sure to check which excursions are available and how often you’ll be able to disembark, or you might just be using that complementary WiFi to watch YouTube videos of everything going on outside if you’re not allowed to disembark and experience it in person.

When to go


Save
The Antarctic cruise season runs from November to March, which is when the sea ice clears enough to allow the safe passage of ships, and storms are less common. November is the cheapest month to travel, as it is colder and the presence of sea ice means that many areas are still inaccessible. However, this also results in enormous icebergs, just starting to melt into stunning forms – always a favourite amongst photographers. You’ll also find huge colonies elephant seals in their breeding grounds in South Georgia; watching the 3,000kg males battle over a mate is worthy of a wildlife documentary.

March may also be cheaper towards the end of the month. Temperatures dip below freezing again but the sea ice has melted away, and you’ll experience polar sunrises and sunsets – something which doesn’t occur closer to the summer solstice in December. March is also a great month for observing whales.
Splurge
December, January and February are the peak months for Antarctic cruises – you’ll need to book well ahead, especially if you’ve got your eye on a particular ship, cabin or route. Prices tend to be at the higher end of the scale, and peak in December. But these months present the best of all worlds – with warmer temperatures, penguin chicks and seal pups and 24-hour sunlight. February is also the best month for crossing the Antarctic Circle, as the sea ice has melted, clearing the passage.

The big save


The savviest travelers of all with know that there are savings to be made not just by booking shorter trips and smaller cabins – but by being in the right place at the right time. This place is Ushuaia – and the time is any time in the Antarctic cruise season. Cruise ships depart daily for Antarctica, and if they have berths to fill, you may well be able to secure one. This can save you several thousand pounds off the cost of a trip, although you’ll need to plan for around a week in Ushuaia, knocking on various agency doors and comparing deals in order to book your expedition and get a good deal. This is clearly a better option for travelers who are already in South America, for an extended period – and not advisable for someone on their two-week annual vacation.
But there are still ways you can bag bargains without going – literally – to the end of the world. Tour operators periodically have flash sales of Antarctic cruises, offering massive discounts, again saving thousands of pounds. The best way to ensure you find out about these is to sign up to companies mailing lists, where you will be the first to hear about the sales. This too requires a certain amount of flexibility – the dates, itinerary or vessel may be fixed – but the huge savings will be worth it, especially if you get a better cabin or extra activities thrown in for less than the price of a more basic trip.
Photo credits: [Top box: Murray Foubister] [Getting to Antarctica: 23am.com] [Itineraries: Polar Cruises] [On board amenities - splurge: Roderick Eime] [When to go: NOAA photo Library] [The big save: cvpts]
Written by Vicki Brown
Antarctica expedition cruise

Antarctica expedition cruise

Classic 11 Day Expedition Cruise to Antarctica

From £4680 11 Days ex flights
Antarctica, Falklands & South Georgia small ship cruises

Antarctica, Falklands & South Georgia small ship cruises

Water, wilderness & wildlife in breath-taking perfection

From £6750 20 Days ex flights
Antarctica vacation, spirit of Shackleton

Antarctica vacation, spirit of Shackleton

Visit the historical sites of past Antarctic explorers

From US $12999 21 Days ex flights
Antarctic expedition cruise, fly the Drake passage

Antarctic expedition cruise, fly the Drake passage

Cross the Polar Circle in Antarctica the fast way-fly cruise

From £10999 10 Days ex flights
Antarctic Peninsula & Weddell Sea cruise

Antarctic Peninsula & Weddell Sea cruise

An inspiring, beautiful & diverse polar wilderness journey

From 6050 12 Days ex flights
Antarctica, Falklands and South Georgia cruises

Antarctica, Falklands and South Georgia cruises

The ultimate Antarctic and South Georgia adventure

From £10530 19 Days ex flights
Antarctic Peninsula cruises, activity-based

Antarctic Peninsula cruises, activity-based

Activity-based small ship expedition of Antarctica

From £7885 15 Days ex flights
Antarctica semi-circumnavigation cruise

Antarctica semi-circumnavigation cruise

Scott & Shackelton Huts, Mount Erebus Helicopter Support

From 13850 4 Weeks ex flights
Antarctic cruise and hiking in Chile

Antarctic cruise and hiking in Chile

Walk in Atacama and Patagonia before cruising Antarctica

From £13725 4 Weeks ex flights
Antarctica cruises

Antarctica cruises

Wildlife expeditions to Antarctica's legendary landscape!

From US $4995 11 Days ex flights
Antarctica, Falklands & South Georgia cruise

Antarctica, Falklands & South Georgia cruise

Embark on a cruise across the Antarctic Circle and cross the Drake passage

From US $13995 23 Days ex flights
Antarctic Peninsula crossing the Polar Circle cruise

Antarctic Peninsula crossing the Polar Circle cruise

An inspirational journey across the Antarctic Polar Circle

From £5399 12 Days ex flights
Convert currencies