Most everyone dreams of taking a cruise to Antarctica. What holds many of us back from making the dream a reality is its cost. While this expedition cruise is among the priciest, polar sail fares do vary. We've searched for pricing tips and crunched the numbers so you know how much to budget for this splurge-worthy adventure.
The simpler the expedition ship and the fewer the inclusions, such as chartered flights or expedition gear, the less an Antarctica cruise costs. Vessels with the least frills -- such as those offering tiny cabins (possibly inside) with twin or triple beds, shared bathrooms and basic but substantial meals -- cost the least. These ships focus on exploration rather than onboard amenities. If that works for you, you can save a substantial amount of money.
Vessels that resemble yacht-like cruise ships offer oversized cabins or suites, onboard spas, numerous lounges and lavish dining. No surprise, they're priced the highest. Ships offering some amenities and inclusions, perhaps flights between Buenos Aires and Ushuaia, onboard gyms and wine with nice dinners, fall somewhere in between.
Prices can fluctuate greatly -- sometimes week to week -- depending upon demand and availability for specific departures or routes. Be on the lookout for promotions, such as an early booking discount, which can run up to 35 percent. Also, consider sailing early (November) or late (March) in the Antarctica cruise season, as prices can sometimes run about 10 to 25 percent less. Try to avoid the holiday season as these cruises often cost more.
Antarctica Cruise Costs
When checking pricing, read the inclusions carefully. You can get sticker shock looking at the cost of Antarctica luxury cruises on lines like Silversea or Scenic -- which can run between $1,000 and $1,500 per person per day (based on double occupancy) -- for entry-level accommodations.
But luxury lines also include the cost of so many big-ticket items. Most include round trip chartered flights (typically between Buenos Aires and Ushuaia, Argentina, the most common embarkation and debarkation ports), a one-night pre-cruise hotel stay and transfers between the airport and the ship. Luxury lines also offer numerous complimentary onboard amenities, such as wine and spirits, expedition-grade parkas and backpacks, gratuities and all shore excursions. Some even offer unlimited Wi-Fi.
Antarctica cruise prices on more budget lines such as Hurtigruten and Quark Expeditions run between $300 and $650 per person per day (based on double or triple occupancy). Expect a private bath and some onboard amenities such as a gym, bar and polar library.
Sometimes, pricing depends upon the particular ship within a cruise line. For instance, Quark and Hurtigruten offer slightly pricier cruises on newer or remodeled ships with more onboard amenities, such as more expansive common spaces, a spa, saltwater pool and complimentary wine with dinner, or with more adventurous activities, such as crossing the Antarctic Circle. Midrange Antarctica cruise pricing runs about $650 to $950 a day. On the higher end, expect more fare inclusions and greater onboard amenities.
Additional Travel Costs
Typically, cruisers begin their adventure in Buenos Aires. Airfares depend upon your departure city; the cost can vary daily, so watch the pricing (or have an app do it for you) until you find a reasonable fare. You can also check with your expedition cruise line to see if they're offering any special pricing by booking your airfare through them. Some, like Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic, run special fares for early bookings that include round trip economy airfare from Miami to Buenos Aires or Santiago. (Their Antarctica cruise fares average about $1,000 per person per day.)
If round trip airfare (typically from Buenos Aires or Santiago) to Ushuaia isn't included in your Antarctic cruise fare, that's an additional cost. Some Antarctica cruises offer round trip chartered flights between Buenos Aires and Ushuaia for $950 per person. You might find it cheaper to book the flights yourself via a regularly scheduled airline; expect to spend between $350 and $600 per person. But these airlines are less dependable and can cancel flights; if booking a commercial airline to Ushuaia, play it safe and book your flight to Ushuaia one day before embarkation. Ushuaia hotel rooms should cost between $100 to $200, plus taxes and any other miscellaneous hotel fees and meals.
If your expedition line isn't hosting a one-night pre-cruise hotel stay in Buenos Aires, it will cost between $100 to $300 plus taxes and meals per night. Remember to add in ship transfer costs, too.
Finally, although most ships offer complimentary shore excursions, some offer special outings for a fee. So, if it's really important to go kayaking or snowshoeing, find a cruise that offers these activities complimentarily or expect to fork over some extra dollars. Plus, you might want to book pre- or post-cruise land programs, such as a visit to the Chilean wine regions or camping out near the South Pole; such land programs run the gamut from a couple of thousand dollars to several thousand dollars.
Extra Expenses: Gear and Travel Insurance
As Antarctic climatic conditions vary and change rapidly, you need layers of clothing, from insulating undergarments to waterproof knee-high boots for wet Zodiac landings. Most cruise lines provide some of the gear (to keep or borrow); others require that you bring your own. Prices can vary greatly depending upon the quality of the gear and where you purchase it.
If you bring all your own attire except for waterproof boots and a parka (nearly universally provided; the best cost nearly $1,000), count on spending the following: $55 to $100 for a fleece jacket to wear under your parka, $50 for one set of thermal base layers, $55 and up for thermal trousers, $35 for a warm beanie or winter hat, $35 to $80 for waterproof rain pants and $10 for glove liners to wear under your $20-to-$100 snow gloves. (See our companion piece for Antarctica cruise packing tips.)
Comprehensive travel insurance, including emergency medical coverage, is mandatory. (Some cruise lines factor emergency evacuation insurance into the cruise fare; check before you make any purchases.) Also check your credit cards and see if any offer travel insurance coverage or benefits. Prices for trip and medical insurance vary by your age and the state in which you reside. Insurance can run up to $2,000 or $3,000 per person for a deluxe plan if you're 65 years old. Read the fine print, particularly the cancellation exclusions, before purchasing.
Bottom Line: How Much Does an Antarctica Cruise Cost?
You need to budget at least $10,000 per person, based on a double-occupancy cabin, for a complete Antarctica trip including a 10-day cruise, airfare between Buenos Aires and the United States, airfare between Buenos Aires and Ushuaia, expedition gear, travel insurance and a one-night pre-cruise hotel stay. Costs can zoom up from this ballpark figure based on level of accommodations, cruise line, timing of the trip and pre-or-post cruise tours.