All shore excursions are included in your cruise fare and there are one or two offered per day; each run about a half-day. Excursions are classified as regular, demanding and challenging. All involve getting in and out of a Zodiac from a rear platform behind the dining room, as well as walking, or in the case of the more demanding ones, a hike. There is no kayaking or anything non-land based, except for the penguin viewing, which you don't get off the ship. None of the excursions are suitable for people with limited mobility as all involve getting in and out of the Zodiac, often in choppy seas. If those with modest mobility issues -- like folks with canes, for instance -- are comfortable with the Zodiac portion, they'll find the land segment significantly easier.
Shoreside activities range from forest walks to glacier viewings to a landing at Cape Horn National Park.
For excursions, passengers are divided by language and by tour group (so you'll always be with your tour group if that's how you booked). Each group is assigned a guide, all of whom are extremely knowledgeable about history, fauna and flora and exert a real passion for what they do. Most are locals, but all speak excellent English. Since 2013, every guide completes a one-month course at a college in Punta Arenas to learn about geology and the local environment before joining the ship.
The "regular" shore excursions involve a gentle stroll around a flat piece of land (Ainsworth Bay or Wulaia Bay, as examples) and into a forest. However, paths can be muddy and can be slippery and, in the forests there might be exposed roots. Paths sometimes include wooden boardwalks and bridges, which can also be slippery.
The more demanding excursions will involve a hike, which could be fairly steep and up a muddy track. Anyone with moderate fitness should be able to manage these. There is one particularly steep hike up a cliff to get a better vantage point over the Pia Glacier, which is quite fast as it has to be done in the same time as it takes the other groups to do the less challenging excursions, and does require a degree of fitness.
Only one shore excursion is classified as challenging; it involves a longer hike, with stops, up to the top of a hill overlooking Wulaia Bay. The hike takes about 40 minutes, all uphill and is tiring.
The standout excursion is, without doubt, the early morning visit to Cape Horn -- it's also the only excursion that is entirely weather dependent. In fact, you won't know if you are going ashore until 7 a.m. on the day, when the captain either gives the go ahead or calls it off.
The excursion involves a Zodiac ride across a choppy sea to the foot of the Cape Horn rock, then a climb up a very steep set of stairs. It is invariably windy, with gusts strong enough to blow you over. The highlights are seeing the actual southernmost point of South America (it's a rock just beyond the main rock you're standing on) and knowing the next stop is Antarctica. In theory, it's also where the Pacific meets the Atlantic, but Chile and Argentina dispute where this actually is. There is also a beautiful monument of an albatross in flight dedicated to the many sailors who have lost their lives in this treacherous sea -- estimates put the number of ships at more than 800. At the other end of the island is a lighthouse, a small chapel and a tiny gift shop attached to the home of a Chilean naval captain and his wife. It is one of 10 such remote outposts -- all strategically placed -- manned by members of the navy dotted all over this area; you can spot them from the ship.
You're pretty much guaranteed to see Magellanic penguins, which have a colony in Tuckers Islets. More than 4,000 of these little fellas inhabit these small islands to give birth and nurture their chicks; you can spot which have fledged and which not by their color and whether they have stripes. You do not get off the Zodiac during your visit to the islands, but you do get to view them up close as the boats come right up to the shore line and stop there for a few minutes. It's worth investing in a decent camera to capture them at play on the beach and in the waves.
There is plenty of other birdlife, with a cormorant colony nearby, and you are also likely to spot oystercatchers, Chilean skuas, kelp geese, dolphin gulls and eagles.
You might also spot seals, dolphins and minke whales, and if you're very lucky, orca. The captain will make an announcement if he spots any marine life, so listen out and have your camera ready. Alternatively, hang out in your cabin or in one of the lounges with a pair of binoculars.
Daytime and Evening Entertainment
While sailing, the ship screens a number of documentaries. These focus on the wildlife of the region and also Antarctica, and are shown either in the evening after dinner, or one morning, after the Cape Horn shore excursion.
There is a daily sheet of trivia left at your table at lunch with questions about the morning's activities, which you can fill in for a prize at the end of the cruise.
The last night is great fun -- after dinner the winners of the trivia are announced and get a prize; a raffle is held to win "the jack" -- the flag flown throughout the cruise; and an auction is held for the navigation chart used in the cruise; bids have been known to reach $5,000!
The ship offers a number of lectures onboard, about glaciology, geology and a history of the area, mainly focusing on the native peoples. These take place in the Darwin Lounge during sailing.
Each night, guides will also give a briefing about the next day's activities. Separate briefings for each language group are held in various lounges. Guides go into great detail about what you will see and do and how challenging/wet/rocky/muddy the excursion will be.
There is just one bar onboard, where most of the action takes place, and two observation lounges.
Yamana Lounge (Deck 3): The forward-facing Yamana Lounge is purely a meeting and observation lounge. There are no drinks available here.
Sky Lounge (Deck 4): This is where you'll find coffee, tea, juice and pastries on offer from 6 a.m. for early risers, and is also where you'll find self-service beverages throughout the day. There are plenty of chairs and windows to sit in and spot marine life. This is also where the lectures, instructions for shore excursions and subtitled movies are shown for non-English speakers.
Darwin Lounge (Deck 5): The Darwin Lounge, on the upper deck, is the ship's large, comfortable bar furnished with an array of cocktail tables and armchairs, along with large picture windows. It's here you'll enjoy an open bar of beverages throughout your cruise.
Darwin Lounge is really the heart and soul of the ship. As well as the ship's sole bar, it's also where all the onboard lectures and documentary screenings take place. It is also where the raffle and the auction are held on the final night of the cruise. People gravitate here for pre- and post-dinner drinks, and it's usually open until fairly late, depending on the day's excursions.
The bar always has a selection of chips, cookies and olives on offer, and there is also a self-serve fridge with soft drinks and a fine Austral lager or ale.
The ship has no pool or hot tubs, but there are plenty of open spaces where you can walk around outside. Deck 5 has the largest outside space, but there are no deck chairs; there are also smaller spaces on decks 3 and 4 for outside viewing.
Reception and guest services are on Deck 2. You'll also find a gift shop, which sells branded goods such as caps, fleeces and T-shirts; as well as gear such as waterproof outerwear. There is also a small selection of jewelry. There is a tiny library (four shelves) of books opposite reception.
There is no Wi-Fi onboard and indeed no cell coverage either, once you leave Punta Arenas or Ushuaia.
The ship has no spa or fitness facilities. (There was a gym on Deck 5 but due to lack of use it was turned into a storeroom.)
There is no minimum sail age on Stella Australis and children are welcome onboard. Apart from getting in and out of the Zodiacs, which can be tricky in choppy waters, the regular excursions should suit any age child. How much a child of six or below would get out of it (except of course for the penguins), is another matter, but certainly seven years and above could enjoy themselves.
There are no adjoining cabins, but the four superior cabins can take a third bed. Nor is there a kids' club, dedicated kids programming or facilities, though the Yamana Lounge is turned in to a kids' space when there are a number of youngsters onboard. The chef will also happily adapt menus when there are kids onboard.