When York and I started planning our Round The World Trip, Antarctica wasn’t in our itinerary. This is due to the high cost of going to Antarctica, the cheapest full price triple cabin starts at USD$4500 per person. It can go up to USD$12500+ depending on the type of expedition you go to. With Australian going downhill against US dollar, it just seems like a bad time to go. However when will we ever have so much flexibility that we can get on last minute Antarctica cruises?
According to all the on-line resources, last minute Antarctica cruises happen all the time! Especially if you happen to be at Ushuaia during the summer months. Potentially it could save you thousands of dollars if you are flexible! Below is a summary of all the information I know about booking last minute Antarctica cruises.
Do Your Prior Research
1) Know the Antarctica Seasons
- Antarctica cruises only operates during Antarctica summer, which means you will need to schedule your trip around November to March each year.
- Any other times are too dangerous due to high level of ice in the sea and extreme cold temperatures in winter (around -90°C). At least in summer months you get 20+ hours of sunlight and temperature is around -6°C to +10°C.
2) Know the prices
- The price of the cruise varies from USD$4500 to USD$12500+ depending on how many days you spend in Antarctica, the type of cabin and the month of departure.
- The most expensive months are mid December to January, as these are the months where Antarctic penguin chicks hatch and seal pups are visible on South Georgia & Falklands Islands. The price of the cruises are cheapest around the end of the season (March onwards) as penguins are starting to fled.
3) Know the Duration of Antarctica Cruises
- There are several types of Antarctica Cruises, the amount of days you travel will depend on the amount of places you intend to explore.
- Most common one is from Ushuaia to Antarctica Peninsula, which typically lasts 10-11 days where you spend 4-5 days on water and 4-6 days on the continent.
- Ones that explore Antarctica a bit in-depth may last up to 13 days.
- The most expensive version of the trip are ones that travels to Falkland Islands and South Georgia Islands as well as Antarctica. These trips typically lasts around 22 days and costs on average USD$12000 – USD$15000 per person.
The weather at Drake Passage is quite unpredictable, so one may spend a bit more time on open sea than others.
4) Know about your Antarctica cruise ship
- According to International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO), only 100 passengers at any given time may be landed in any place in Antarctica. That means if you are on a small ship with less than 100 passengers, you are able to go ashore every time the ship lands. However, if you are on a large ship, you will need to wait for the previous group to come back before you can go. Hence, the smaller the group the better. However larger ship probably includes more entertainment.
- Usually all the meals on the cruise will be included, however I did read up some articles to warn people about some cheap cruises does not include food.
- Optional activities includes kayaking (USD$750 per person), camping (USD$250 per person), snowshoe, skiing. These activities are fairly expensive if you are into extra adventures.
Where To Find Last Minute Antarctica Cruises?
1) Book locally at Ushuaia
- Most Antarctica cruises leave from the most southern city in Argentina: Ushuaia. It is the cheapest port to depart compare to other countries such as Invercargill/ Bluff in New Zealand or Hobart in Australia (USD$20,000+ compare to USD$4500+ leaving from Ushuaia).
- It is true that there are many agencies in Ushuaia that does last minute booking for cruises. One can walk into the office and book a cruise that departs that afternoon or the next day. Cruise companies would rather sell you the room at fraction of the price instead of leaving it empty. However Ushuaia itself is an expensive town to stay. You will not want to hang around there for weeks waiting for a cruise. Therefore it is wiser to email the local companies in advance and see what is available.
2) Email local agencies at Ushuaia 2-3 weeks before departure
There are many local agencies in Ushuaia that can be contacted via email. Most of them told me it is best to email them 2-3 weeks before arriving at Patagonia and we can make our way down to Ushuaia for departure. These two companies are quite quick with emails.
Alternatively you can ask them to put you on their “last-minute specials” list in advance. However, I think with local agencies it is better if you contact them directly and follow-up accordingly as they tend to get the last minute specials quite last-minute. Hence, there’s a greater chance they might sell it to customers they are already contacting, and not sending it as a mass email.
3) Sign up for last minute deals with major Antarctica cruise companies.
Google “Antarctica cruises” you will find many adventure travel companies that does them. I find that for the same cruise (look at the ship name & departure dates) price actually doesn’t vary a lot. The price on the actual cruise company is actually same as everywhere else, despite the fact some people claim it is cheaper to purchase direct.
Below are some of the companies I have signed up with for their last minute specials. Some of these companies specializes in other expeditions too (eg. Galápagos Island), therefore it is good to get it all in the same email.
- Chimu Adventures
- Quark Expeditions: One of the most well-known company that specializes in Arctic & Antarctica cruises.
- G Adventures: Have their own expedition ships, York’s sister went to Antarctica with them.
- Aurora Expeditions
- Expeditions Online: Has the cheapest full price double cabin
- Antarctica Travels
- Expedition Trips
After signing up all the possible newsletters for last minute Antarctica specials. Sit back and wait for the mails to come or you can pro-actively check the websites every week to see if there are any new deals.
Realistic Price of Last Minute Antarctica Cruises
When I started searching for last minute Antarctica Cruises, some online resources suggested it is possible to grab a cruise for USD$3500 (Year 2010), when I mentioned this figure to Antarctica Cruise companies they all said it is not possible. The cheapest they have seen is around USD$3600 for shared triple and USD$4000- USD$5000 for better ships after discounts. This coincides with the price I found in more recent blogs.
The cheapest cabins on the cruises are triple/quad cabin which starts at USD$4500, however they are usually sold out and don’t go on sale. Realistically it is not possible to get the cheap cabins on special. Yet it is possible to get expensive cabins (USD$10,000+) at a huge discount! At a discount of 50-70% off, you will still need to pay USD$4000- USD$5000 per person, however the quality will be a lot better.
I must admit it took me awhile to accept the fact we will have to pay at least AUD$6000 per person if we are going to Antarctica, I just tell myself at least we are not paying full price for it!
Our First-hand Experience with booking Last Minute Antarctica Cruises
- Firstly I recommend people to go to websites such as Polar Cruises to get an idea what type of cruise ships are available and the departure dates. There are plenty of dates available, however I still think it is best to know what your options are in your desired time-frame.
- For our trip we can only travel between mid Feb to mid March for Antarctica. There’s a total of 9 cruises that fits that time-frame, hence those 9 cruises are ones I keep my eyes on for specials.
- I then sign up for ALL the Antarctica cruise companies I can find with potential last-minute specials. Then check each on a weekly basis as well as Google “Last Minute Antarctica Cruises” once in a while.
- All of the cruises are in USD, that means people like us who are earning Australian dollars are in disadvantage and many requires PayPal transfer for deposit which results in bad conversion rates & extra service fee.
- Luckily when I was on Google typing out “Last Minute Antarctica Cruises”, I added Australia at the end and found an Australian based company Eclipse Travel. They happen to have Ocean Nova on special and the price is in Australian dollars! The original price of Ocean Nova was USD$5995 per person for triple cabin. It was discounted down to USD$3995 per person. On their website it was advertised as AUD$5790 which is similar to real conversion rate. Our agent Tiffany contacted us immediately soon after I sent an enquiry. She informed us to be in triple cabin, we all either have to be same-sex or know each other. Otherwise York and I can only stay in twin cabin which was around AUD$7240.
- Tiffany was very understanding and knew we were on a tight budget. She gave us a further 5% discount, which means a lot to us as this is a large sum amount of money. This is around USD$4790 per person in a twin cabin, which is the cheapest price I have searched for! Also we were able to book this months in advance, that means we can plan our trip and not stress about unable to get a last minute Antarctica deal that’s within budget!
- We are very pleased with our Antarctica Cruise “Ocean Nova”. It is a small group of no more than 68 people. All meals are included with daily buffet breakfast and lunch, dinner with choice of three main courses. Due to the price we not expecting luxury. The rooms have private bathroom, a window and a desk which means I can continue blogging!
Some of the websites I find it to be very useful for Antarctica trip planning are Cool Antarctica and Antarctica Cruise Guide, both have many valuable resources. All the pictures used here are from courtesy of York’s sister Judy, she went to Antarctica in December 2013. I will update my experience once I completed my journey!
中文版 Chinese Version: 南極船票: Last- Minute “最後一分鐘” 南極旅遊指南
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UPDATE: Today 21st September 2015, I got newsletters from several companies (including Chimu Adventures, Expeditions Online, Expedition Trips and Quark Expeditions) advising 50% discounts on several Antarctica cruises and twin rooms as as low as USD$3389- USD$5698 on Ocean Diamond & Ocean Endeavour ships! Although with bigger ships the passenger capacity doubles, however there are also more facilities such as wellness rooms, spas, etc. If I were to be more patient, I would choose these over the Ocean Nova. I think I am confident to say that if you were planning to depart around Feb & March. Wait till end of September/ October before you book the cruises!