Let's be honest, cheap Antarctica cruises do not exist. It is possible to do Antarctica on a budget but the options are best described as 'less expensive' and involve some compromises. The other risky move is keeping your fingers crossed for a last-minute Antarctic cruise.
Will Antarctic cruises get cheaper in the future? To put it in historical context, Antarctic tourism began in 1966 when Swedish-American adventurer and entrepreneur Lars Eric Lindblad chartered an Argentinean Navy supply ship and took a few dozen intrepid travellers to the Antarctic Peninsula. The industry progressed slowly with a minor spike in the early '90s when ex-Soviet ice-class vessels such as Akademik Vavilov and Shokalskiy entered the market. These sturdy, utilitarian ships are now being overtaken by a whole new genre of luxury 'expedition yachts', purpose-built for polar exploration.
While demand was high with fewer ships, prices were up, regardless of luxury. Nowadays, with more people traveling and more ships available, that balance has shifted somewhat. So, in real terms, it could be said that Antarctic cruising is now cheaper than it ever was, with vast improvements in cruise line choice, itinerary options, onboard amenities and comforts like spa facilities, fine dining and sumptuous accommodations.
If you are looking to save money and get the best value, there still are some ways to do that. Here are some tips to save money on your next Antarctic cruise.
It's always sound advice to keep an eye out for early-bird offers that will also help with your planning, like finding someone to look after your dog. Such enticements as 'two-for-one', airfare subsidies and shipboard credits can go a long way to offsetting the cost of an expensive Antarctic cruise.
Once upon a time you could hang around the port of Ushuaia, Argentina, and 'hitchhike' to the Peninsula in an unsold cabin, especially early or late season (November or March). While it is technically still possible to nab a bargain this way, your choices are seriously limited and this kind of finger-crossing doesn't suit most people. If this method appeals to you, register with one of the local agencies such as Freestyle Adventure Travel, which specialise in last-minute Antarctic cruises. Good luck.
Another good idea is to consider departures outside of the popular peak period in December and January. You'll be more likely to find favourable offers at these times of less demand onboard ships of higher rating. Bear in mind there is a slightly higher risk of less favourable weather at these times and some of your onshore experiences will be different. For example, in the early season, the penguins will still be building their nests or sitting on eggs, while the chicks will be all grown up and mostly gone later in the season.
Apart from the above advice, the only other real way to cut your Antarctic cruise cost is to compromise. Although there is not always an appreciative price difference between 3-star and 5-star ships (yes, really!) there are still savings to be made here. The less salubrious ships will offer twin-, triple- and even quad-share cabins with shared facilities, but even these are snapped up quickly by budget-conscious expeditioners like you. You can also choose shorter itineraries of less than two weeks, but bear in mind you are then spending a greater proportion of your valuable cruise time crossing the capricious Drake Passage instead of communing with the penguins.
The absolute cheapest way to visit Antarctica -- and by far the biggest compromise -- is to sail with one of the big ships, such as Holland America, which conducts 'scenic cruising' around the islands of the Palmer Archipelago. You will see icebergs and penguins (with binoculars), maybe whales and plenty of the local seabirds (such as gulls, skuas, petrels, shags and possibly albatross), but you won't go ashore.
Updated October 10, 2019