As you might expect, travelling to such a remote and untamed destination is not cheap, so it's important to make sure that you understand exactly what's covered in your cruise fare, and the reasons behind the considerable difference in price between the different cruise lines.
Antarctica cruises invariably command a higher price than cruises to more conventional destinations such as the Mediterranean or the Caribbean, due to the unique challenges of operating in polar waters. Expedition ships typically only carry a few hundred guests, meaning that overheads are shared between a smaller number of people, and staffing costs are higher due to the nature of an expedition, with little 'down time' for the crew, plus a team of expert naturalist guides who command higher wages than a standard crew.
You also have to factor in the higher cost of fuel in polar regions where environmental restrictions are more stringent, higher insurance and medical costs, and the need to provision for long periods spent at sea, far from the nearest human settlement.
In fact, when you start to add up everything that's included in your Antarctica cruise fare, you start to realise that expedition cruising actually offers rather good value for money.
At this point it would probably be helpful to start talking numbers, as we know that words like 'affordable' and 'expensive' mean very different things to different people. In terms of the expedition cruise lines we work with in Antarctica, the lowest fares you are likely to find are with Hurtigruten Expeditions, with a 12-night itinerary starting (at the time of writing) from around £5,700 per person. Hurtigruten's expedition ships are at the larger end of the scale for Antarctica, at around 500 guests, and offer comfortable accommodation, with your meals, drinks with meals, selected excursions and regional flights between Buenos Aires and Ushuaia included.
Larger ships offer more stability and tend to have a faster cruising speed, reducing slightly your time at sea, but it's worth bearing in mind that the maximum number of people that can be ashore in Antarctica at the same time is limited to 100 at any one landing site, so you will usually just explore one landing site a day, instead of moving to a second site in the afternoon.
At the other end of the scale, an entry-level suite on one of the ultra luxury lines such as Silversea Expeditions or Scenic is going to set you back at least £10,000 per person for a 10-night cruise, although for this sort of money you can expect all of your drinks to be included, spacious suite accommodation, world-class dining, extras such as butler service, your flights from the UK and all transfers taken care of, and, crucially, fewer guests on board, with a higher staff-to-guest ratio and a level of service more akin to a boutique luxury hotel. Travelling on a smaller vessel of under 200 guests also means that the ship can deploy its Zodiacs quickly, and will be able to make more landings than larger ships.
The above example fares are based on a standard Antarctic Peninsula itinerary; for longer, more intrepid itineraries, such as those visiting South Georgia, you can expect to pay significantly more. Higher accommodation grades will of course incur a higher fare, which is something worth thinking about if, for example, you want a suite with a private balcony from which to enjoy the sight of icebergs drifting by. It's also a good idea to check whether optional activities such as kayaking are included in your fare, or whether there is an additional charge.
Given all of the above, it's important to work out what's important to you. For many, the sole consideration is simply finding a way to visit Antarctica that's achievable within a limited budget, whereas others will want to travel in the utmost luxury and comfort, and will be happy to spend whatever is required to tick off that bucket list adventure in style. There are also plenty of travellers with money to spend who would have no idea what to do with a butler in Antarctica, and would rather prioritise the quality of the expedition team and the scientific equipment and expertise available on board.
Given all the options, the best thing to do is give the expedition experts at Mundy Adventures a call to discuss your requirements in more detail. Most of our team have travelled to the polar regions, including Antarctica, and between us we have sailed with all the key expedition cruise lines, so we will be able to advise you on which ship is the right fit for your budget.