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The Ultimate Guide to Antarctica and how to secure the lowest prices

Updated: Apr 6



Learn all you need to know and then some.


  • Why Antarctica

  • When to go

  • How to get there

  • The Drake Passage

  • How do expedition voyages differ

  • Typical itineraries

  • Typical shore excursions

  • All about zodiacs

  • The weather

  • Wild Life

  • What is supplied

  • What to pack/what to wear

  • Which are the best cruise lines

  • Unquie specs of expedition ships

  • 6-star suites - video tour

  • Which cruise lines to avoid

  • Full retail pricing

  • Lowest price expectations

  • Solo pricing

  • How to track the best discounts

  • Flights

  • VISAs

  • Mistakes people make

  • How to book

  • New Facebook group - Tips - Advice - Trip Planning

  • Links to cruise line websites



If you’ve ever dreamed of an Antarctic adventure, it is never too early to start planning.


All the team at FAB are experts in Antarctica Voyages, and, more importantly, no one in the industry knows the discounting cycles better than us. In this Ultimate Guide to Antarctica, we will share how to secure the lowest prices.


Always remember that FAB can absolutely secure the lowest possible prices on the best 6-star ships.



Solo travelers, rejoice! We can now routinely find you cruises to Antarctica with low or no single supplements. That means you won't need to worry about finding a travel companion or paying extra fees. You’ll also have plenty of opportunities to mingle with like-minded adventurers on board and onshore. On an expedition cruise, you are never alone, and everyone is thrown into zodiacs for all excursions. It is impossible not to meet people.


Why Antarctica

Antarctica is the ultimate adventure and a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will leave you breathless. Witness majestic icebergs, glaciers, and wildlife of the frozen continent, and enjoy the comfort and luxury of state-of-the-art expedition ships.



Unlike traditional cruising, all standard excursions are included in your fare and conducted using a fleet of zodiacs. A large expedition team of naturalists and scientists will be onboard to deepen your understanding and appreciation of this unique ecosystem. For the daring, you will be offered the opportunity to take a polar plunge into the frigid waters for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Some ships offer sea kayaks for an additional fee, which everyone raves about, while Seabourn goes one step further and has their own 6-person submarine.



When to go

The season is short from October through March, with the best weather between November and February. As such, voyages at either end of the season will be slightly cheaper. Wildlife come ashore early in the season to breed and nest as the snow and ice melt. In late January, the young emerge and are more visible and active. Sea ice will break up late in the season, permitting the ships to go further south and access additional landing sites.


How to get there

Almost all operators use Buenos Aires as the gateway for their Antarctica Itineraries, which usually include a high-end pre-cruise hotel. Silversea instead uses Santiago, and typically includes a pre and post cruise hotel. Ash us for specific details.



Buenos Aires is a great and intriguing city. If possible, plan for a few days here prior. We loved the vibrant village feel of Palermo, with fantastic boutique hotels and fine casual dining. The hop-on-hop-off bus is great for an initial orientation to the city. History buffs are advised to read up on Eva Peron. For those with extra time, Iguazu Falls is an incredible experience and can be reached easily if you have an additional 3/4 days.


Most of our 6-star itineraries include return charter flights to either Punta Arenas or Ushuaia, where the majority of cruises to Antarctica start and end.



Ushuaia or Punta Arenas are used as these are the closest port cities to Antarctica with international airport and other essential infrastructure. However, there are not enough hotels to accommodate the many cruise passengers passing through. Hence, why cruise lines typically include hotels in either Buenos Aires or Santiago.



The Antarctic Peninsula is the favored destination on virtually all expedition voyages for three reasons: Firstly, it is the quickest part to reach by ship, while it provides a wide variety of distinctly unique environments for wildlife. More importantly, it affords dozens of sheltered bays, coves, and islands that can be safely visited no matter the weather. This means that outside the Drake passage, the rest of your cruise will almost entirely be in calm waters.


Itineraries

You have a choice of three:

  1. The most common and cheapest itineraries are 10/12 day return voyages to the Antarctic Peninsula, which run back-to-back throughout the season.

  2. Shorter 6-day fly-in fly-out voyages. With these, you are flown into King George Island. These avoid the Drake Passage, and although shorter, skipping the crossing allows you to enjoy a similar amount of time in Antarctic waters. The fly-in option is rare, and the price points are similar to the 10/12 night voyages.

  3. Longer 18/25 voyages that include South Georgia and the Falkland Islands are not offered as frequently, but although more expensive, they are highly recommended if time and budget permit.


The Drake Passage

This is one of the most notorious ocean crossings in the world. It is not to be underestimated; however, it is not as scary as it might initially seem. Most ships can complete the crossing in less than a day. All large operators build in an extra day or two on both forward and return schedules to permit the captain to target the most optimum weather window.



The Weather

State-of-the-art weather forecasting and onboard technology now mean that the worst seas can almost always be avoided. The onboard stabilizers are part of this technology, which can reduce the worst of any motion. For example, on our crossing, we experienced 3.5-meter seas; although there was significant movement, it was all relatively smooth and uneventful, with no impact on daily onboard activities.


The Windy App is a useful tool to download as it provides real-time and accurate forecasting of wind, rain, wave, swell height, temperature, and many other variables. Instead of being a scary prospect, it demonstrates the resources and how much latitude captains have to enable them to plot a course to avoid the worst weather. If conditions are too bad, they will not hesitate to stay in port to await better weather.



My partner is prone to the worst seasickness, but with the best medication, he wasn't sick once. See my blog post on the best Sea Sickness Cures.


Come what may - Rain, snow, or shine - you are getting in a zodiac.

By the very nature of this extreme part of the world, not unlike Alaska, but more so, you need to expect inclement weather. This can range from overcast days to passing rain showers, strong winds, sleet, and snow. Zodiac excursions will go ahead in all these conditions unless considered unsafe. This is all part of the adventure and an essential element of the region's DNA. Rest assured that you can still enjoy such adverse conditions with the right equipment. Indeed, several of our best days were spent in Zodiacs or ashore with low clouds, rain, snow flurries, and even sea spray whipped up from ocean chop. If you don't get wet and are rugged up enough to stay warm, these are days that, like us, you will cherish forever. As an Aussie, I had never seen snow fall before, and it was such a great treat to be out in it. So much so that we swam in the heated pool when we returned to the ship, where snow accumulated on the decks and icebergs sailed past.

That being said, if you get blue skies and crystal clear, dead calm seas, you will be taken to another level that is almost beyond comprehension and impossible to share adequately with words or photos. This video captures such a day.




How do Expedition Cruises differ?

Expedition cruises should not be considered leisurely holidays. They are jam-packed with shore excursions, wildlife lectures, and nightly briefings. Beach landings are rarely a relaxed stroll on a beach, and even scenic cruising by zodiacs can be strenuous if the conditions are not perfect.


On an expedition voyage, there are no pre-scheduled ports of call, as all off-ship excursions are subject to weather conditions. Even activities announced in the morning can be changed or canceled later that same day with little or no notice. The best mindset for an Expedition cruise is to go in with no rock-solid expectations and roll with the changes, as they invariably happen.


No two Antarctic cruises will be the same. No two days will be the same.



The nature of Antarctica means that there are no ports, and traditional tender operations are not only impossible but also prohibited. The Antarctic Treaty covers all tourism operators and no more than 100 people who can be ashore from any ship in one location at any time. This effectively means that ships with over 200 passengers are not viable; hence, this is the upper limit for those who provide on-ice expeditions.


Because expedition cruises are smaller, dining and entertainment options will be less than on traditional cruise ships. A feature of all expedition cruises is that dress codes for dinner are universally casual.


Larger ships with several thousand passengers are actually permitted to cruise Antarctic waters. However, they are not authorized to land, which accounts for the much lower price points you may see advertised. If your budget is tight and you can not afford the prices detailed below, we have some operators that do not get you onto the ice but stop at the Islands, where you can go ashore and view penguins and seal colonies. Ask us for details.


The best expedition ships are custom-built with toughened hulls rated to cut through sea ice. This new breed of ships also features unique docking facilities to make entering Zodiacs quicker and safer, as well as mud rooms and heated closets for drying wet weather gear. One question to ask when booking is, "How old is the ship?". Technological advances mean the new ships provide a degree of luxury that surpasses anything built 20 or 30 years ago. Older ships will have several ocean-view cabins without balconies, some even with port holes, while the new kids on the block are all-balcony ships. If you are concerned about seasickness, the newest ships will always have better aerodynamics through the water and state-of-the-art stabilizers.


Typical shore excursions

All shore excursions are conducted exclusively by a fleet of onboard Zodiacs piloted by one of the expedition team members who will be experts in a particular field, such as marine or bird life, geology, or history. These are all included in your fare. Many guides have larger-than-life personalities; their passion and zeal will add much to your once-in-life experience. Invariably, they are as excited and in awe of the wildlife daily encounters as you will be.



All about Zodiacs

Zodiacs carry between 6 and 10 people in command of an Expedition Leader/Guide. Everyone sits on the inflated side of the zodiac, and you must be physically fit and able to step in and out and jump into shallow water when landing on rocky beaches. For this reason, we suggest you don't leave an Antarctic voyage too late, as physical agility is required. Without it, you won't be able to go ashore, which is the highlight of all trips to Antarctica. Many make the mistake of saving an Antarctica voyage towards the end of their days of travel, not realizing how physically fit they need to be. Note also that there are no toilet facilities on zodiacs or ashore, however as most excursions are less than 2 hours this is rarely, if ever a problem.



Excursion by Zodiac

Most excursions will see you visit rookeries with hundreds, if not thousands, of penguins, seals, and birds. Some will be on rocky beaches and outcrops, others on the ice, snow-covered peaks, or in the shadow of million-year-old glaciers. Again, your expedition teams that pilot the zodiacs will share their incredible expertise and answer any questions. On some excursions, you may visit deserted whaling stations or expedition outstations. On other days, you will see you sail by working Antarctic missions through sea ice and round icebergs.



Most operators will also endeavor to land you directly on sea ice. For those onboard a polar-certified ice breaker, you may get especially lucky and be permitted to walk around your ship after it has plowed through solid ice.



Scenic cruising in zodiacs. This is where there are no landings, and instead, you cruise inland bays, through sea ice, around icebergs, or in search of whales and other marine life, for example, a colony of penguins that is too endangered to permit a landing. On one of our excursions, featured in the video below, a whale came directly up, under, and around our zodiac for an extended period.



Wildlife and other sights

Wildlife encounters are the highlight of all Antarctic expeditions. From ocean-going sea birds such as Albatrosses, which circle the globe for up to 3 years without touching land, to thousands of penguins, numerous seals, and pods of whales, no day ever goes by without gob-smacking close encounters. This is why people pay big money to go there, and they all return with a sense of awe and an appreciation of the value they have received.



What to pack

Most high-end operators include a quality wet-weather parker with a removable inner lining in your fare. These are of the highest quality and retail for $1000 or more. They are designed to keep you dry and warm in all conditions, from heavy rain to snow and spray from ocean waves. We had some excursions where snow, frigid rain, and ocean spray were thrown over us, and we never once felt cold. You will also be provided with heavy-duty snow and ice boots. You may also get a beanie and light weight day pack. Ask us for specific details as these can change.


Seabourn provide boots. At present Silversea have a fee of $60 to rent them per person. Again, this may change.



What you need to supply: Layers are essential. We purchased woolen socks, long johns, waterproof pants, an undershirt, thermal tops, a scarf, a beanie, and sunglasses via Amazon and Aldi. Waterproof gloves and sunscreen are also essential. Slip-on sandals are essential to get to and from your cabin and the mud room. We also took ice/walking poles, which we didn't use much. Most operators provide binoculars in your cabin.


Which are the best cruise lines

We specialize in the best prices on high-end 6-star operators with custom-built expedition ships designed especially for Antarctic operations. These ships include special zodiac landing docks, mud rooms, and drying cabinets for wet weather gear. This is critical, as nothing is worse than putting on cold, wet clothes the next day.


Our preferred 6-star lines all feature All-Suite - All-Balcony accommodation and the highest service and dining options. Think lobster, full open bar, mini bar, unlimited caviar, free-flow French champagne, and with Silversea, even your own butler.


In our opinion, the best 6-star Antarctic operators are:

  • Silversea

  • Seabourn

  • Ponant


These all operate state-of-the-art ships with custom-built spaces to enhance your expedition experience. From observation lounges to briefing theatres, discover lounges with open fires, mud rooms for dressing before excursions, and heated cabinets for wet-weather gear.



Video of a typical 6-star suite on an expedition ship - Seabourn Pursuit


Other options - make sure you compare apples with apples.

There are, of course, other operators that offer cruises to Antarctica, many on smaller vessels. However, none of these smaller lines offer the significant discounts we chase here at FAB. Our prices on 6-star are routinely at the same level or, in many cases, well below their prices. Also, the crew ratios can be as high as 8:1 instead of 1:1 on our preferred lines. That makes a huge difference between the service they can offer onboard and is more in keeping with an economy-type service and a premium first-class experience.



Above are two smaller ships docked fore and aft of Seabourn in Ushuaia. All had a similar capacity, yet you can clearly see how these other ships are about a quarter the size. When we crossed the Drake, we had relatively small 3.5-metre swells—it goes without saying which size ship will rock and roll more.


The cabins on these smaller vessels will be 3 to 4 times smaller than the suites on our preferred 6-star lines, along with limited public areas and, in some cases, almost cafeteria-style dining.


Why would you pay the same price, or potentially even more, for a far inferior product with lower service standards and far fewer inclusions?



Which to avoid

By inferior product, we mean that many alternative operators only offer standard-size cabins, not suites, and many only have port holes. At the same time, our similar price points will get you a true 6-star experience with a full balcony suite 3-4 times the size. When comparing price points, compare apples with apples, that is, balcony suites with balcony suites. Look at the square meterage of the cabins and, indeed, the whole ship. When we were in Ushuaia, the ship next to us carried the same number of passengers but was 1/4 the size. Size is essential for a smooth crossing of the Drake. There are several operators advertising fares that include flights. These might seem like good value, but not if you end up on a modified ferry (which it may look and feel like) with only one dining room, public lounge, and a port-hole window. If you are not sure, ask us to run the numbers.


It all comes down to getting more bang for your buck. As this will almost invariably be the only time you travel to Antarctica if you can afford to, make sure you do it right. You won't get another shot.


Price guide

Antarctica voyages are the most expensive in the industry for several reasons. You can't send any old ship to Antarctica; custom-built expedition ships are required, and these must be equipped with the latest technology to safely operate in the world's most hostile and remote regions. Their small size and low passenger capacity, coupled with high crew ratios, add to the overheads, not to mention the additional cost of maintaining a large fleet of zodiacs and an expedition team that can number more than 40 people.


That being said, all who sail on one of these voyages gain a deep understanding of how expensive these ships are to operate and that even though they may have spent a lot of money, without exception, on their return home, our clients tell us every cent they spent, was well and truly worth it.


Indicative full retail fares


Standard - 10/11 nights - up to $66K

Shorter - 6 nights - Fly in/Fly up to $29K

Longer - 12/20 nights - South Georgia/Falklands - up to $53K


Click through for full retail pricing



In a nutshell - which lines offer the best discounts for you


Non airline employees

  • Our exclusive Seabourn will generally be the cheapest for non-airline staff

  • Often at levels almost as low as interline rates for airline employees

  • Ponant retail fares will generally sit between Seabourn and Silversea

  • Silversea retail fares, even with significant discounts, will be the highest

  • Ask us about other operators that occasionally have last minute fares at $8/9K

Airline employees

  • As we are not permitted to disclose closed Interline rates please always contact us for the best prevailing rates,

  • Seabourn interline fares will generally be the cheapest for airline staff

  • Silversea interline fares will be similar to Seabourn

  • Silversea Fly-in-Fly Out cruises will always be the most expensive

  • Ponant does not offer interline discounts

Solo Travelers

  • Seabourn will often offer low single supplements of 10/15%

  • Ponant often has zero single supplements, but expect fares to be $11/12K min.

  • Silversea has low single supplements, but fares will tend to be higher.

  • If traveling solo, always contact us for the current lowest rates.


FAB Price guide - typical lowest prices offered

It is important to understand the difference between online and offline vendors.


Seabourn is an online vendor, so you can click the link below to view LIVE availability, LIVE prices, and the cost of upgrades if available. Interline rates will be displayed and flagged. Silversea and Ponant are both offline vendors. The links below will display all scheduled voyages. The pricing may not be the best available. Note: Interline pricing for Silversea will not be displayed. Contact us for a quote.


If you are airline staff - always reach out to see what rolling Interline Specials we might have - currently (6 April 2024) we have some exceptionally low Silversea discounts, which are currently the lowest available by several thousand dollars. This can change almost daily, so it is always best to ask our advice and guidance. The same applies for non-airline staff - we will always be able to find you the lowest available prices, whether you work for an airline or not.


Seabourn - lowest expectations - $9,000 to $10,000 USD p/p + tax

  • Popular nearly sold out voyages: $11,000 to $12,000 USD

  • Note interline fares will be cheaper

  • Ignore price summaries. Click through to see the lowest discounted rates.

Ponant - prices rarely dip below $11,000 to $12,000 USD p/p

Silversea - lowest expectations $11,000 to $12,000 USD p/p (Including tax)


How to secure the best prices.

Cruise prices fluctuate like airfares. They move up and down depending on availability and demand. If there are many unsold cabins, the yield management systems will reduce pricing to increase sales. Conversely, prices are more likely to rise if a cruise starts to sell out due to higher demand.


We are experts in understanding and monitoring these discounting cycles.


Our experience and extensive historical data mean that we can predict with a high degree of certainty which cruises are likely to drop in price or, by the same token, which may rise. We are happy to share this intelligence with you to help secure the lowest possible price.


Just ask, and we'll look inside the reservation system for you. We can then provide expert advice about whether it might be best to wait for a better deal or jump in to avoid missing out.


TIP: Even if you are not ready to book, save or bookmark the hyperlinks above.


These dynamic links will take you inside each cruise line's reservation system. You can use them repeatedly to track prices and availability as they change daily.


What’s Included in Your Cruise

You get more than just a voyage when you book your expedition cruise. You get an all-inclusive package covering everything you need for a memorable and hassle-free vacation. Here are some of the inclusions that you can enjoy on your cruise:

  • All meals, including gourmet dining at The Restaurant, The Colonnade, The Patio, and The Grill by Thomas Keller

  • Entertainment, including live music, shows, movies, and enrichment programs

  • Full open bar, including fine wines, spirits, and cocktails

  • Mini Bar, stocked with your preferences and replenished daily

  • Excursions, including Zodiac, kayak, and submarine tours, guided by expert expedition staff

  • Generally, a pre-cruise luxury hotel in Buenos Aires or Santiago ($1000+)

  • Internal J Class charter flights

  • Gratuities, taxes, and fees

The only extras are the high-cost excursions, such as the submarine, and any personal expenses, such as spa treatments.


Flights. Getting there and back.

There are few operators that fly into and out of Buenos Aires, so discounting is limited. If you have frequent flyer points, look at these first; they will be released 12 months prior. If traveling from Australia, most flights will be direct from the eastern states to Santiago. Another option is via New Zealand. Budget airfares between Australia and NZ may reduce overall costs but increase the journey time and involve an overnight stay and the need to check in again.


When researching our own flights, we use Sky Scanner and Google Flights to source the best details. If your budget is tight, consider Y-class daytime flights.


Many flights go via Santiago, Chile. The connecting flights to BA are only about 2.5 hours, and if booking business class, these shorter sectors on narrow-bodied aircraft can reduce the cost significantly if booked in Y class.


Visas - WARNING

If you stay airside while in transit in Santiago, you do not need a visa for Chile. But if you book two separate tickets—even on the same airline—you must pass through customs, collect your bags, and recheck. This means you will need a visa. The same applies to airline staff using staff travel. Your bags will not be checked through, and you will need a Visa.


If you wish to stay in Chile, or if your pre-cruise hotel is in Santiago, you must obtain a visa for Chile. These can take many weeks to secure. Do not delay. Without a visa, you will be denied boarding. Australian Citizens - Visa Information


Mistakes people make

  • Planning to see the rest of the world first and saving Antarctica until you are older

  • You need to be fit and healthy to make the most of all excursions

  • Too many people leave it too late

  • Not packing the right equipment - eg, gloves that are not waterproof

  • Packing too much

  • Deciding not to go due to a fear of crossing the Drake

  • Not taking the best sea sickness medication.

  • Not booking sea kayaks and submarine tours before boarding or waiting until later in the voyage.

  • Packing formal clothes, all expedition cruises are relaxed, with no formal nights.

  • Not booking flights as early as possible.

  • Booking mid-after flights home, when the weather can often see charter flights delayed

  • Going in with a nonflexible mindset, expedition voyages have numerous and unexpected changes. If you go with the flow, you will enjoy it much more.

  • Trying to save a few thousand dollars only to see you sail on a vastly inferior ship will significantly impact your experience.

  • Relying on the advice of agents who have never sailed on 6-star cruise lines or to Antarctica. If they haven't been, don't trust any advice they might give.

  • Insurance. If you can't afford insurance, Antarctica is one place you should not go.

  • You will likely only get to Antarctica once. Don't stuff it up. Do it right.

  • Not being prepared for how absolutely stunning Antarctica is. You will undoubtedly have numerous experiences that will be the most memorable of your life. This is not just another cruise.



How to Book or Enquire

If you’re ready to book a cruise and know which one, use this form


Got more questions

If you need help finding a cruise use this form

You are welcome to contact me directly by email: james@kvi.travel


 


More Information:


Facebook Groups


Cruise line links




From the Bridge, Fleet Captain James



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