I was highly requested to share our Antarctica trip planning on my youtube channel. So here I will be sharing all the details of our trip. If you haven’t watched my video, yet. I encourage you to watch in your spare time on a big tv screen to enjoy the amazing wildlife and nature of south pole.
(Our Antarctica trip includes Iguassu(or Iguazu) Falls/ Buenos Aires/Falkland island /South Georgia island )
Below you can find the details given by my husband Janak Patel who is very good at travel planning and also geography expert. Be sure to read this post till the end to save almost $6.000/per couple.
I heard about South Georgia Island situated in Antarctica peninsula when I was 8 years old while reading about the Falkland war between Britain and Argentina in 1982. Geography was my favorite subject in school and I ranked number 2 in my state in my board exams. In 1990 my geography teacher showed me a small documentary about South Georgia and I was fascinated with the immense wildlife and no humans. In 2015 a close friend, boss and business partner had planned a trip and booked the trip to Antarctica peninsula which included South Georgia Island. I looked into the trip and felt that it was too expensive. After thinking over it for couple of days I decided to go for it. I am 42 years married with 2 boys age 9 & 11. I did not want to go to my dream destination after retirement. The most important thing was to take care of my kids and that was solved with my parents taking care of them.
The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) decides how many people would be allowed to visit each year to minimize the impact on wildlife. Usually the ships are small and have the capability to cut thru certain thickness of ice. The itinerary keep on changing every season as every ship operator has to request a landing spot 2 year in advance and the association would allow only certain ships a day per landing. There are no ports in Antarctica and South Georgia Island. Everyone is able to land on the shore using special polar circular boats. Depending on the itinerary and routes the rates of each trip vary. National geography, Le Lyrial ships are expensive, Ushuaia, Plancius, Ortellius are cheaper sometimes. Hurtigruten (MS fram ship) is a Norwegian company, which has a specialty in artic and Antarctica expedition. We do not hear much online about hurtigruten as it sells mostly direct, but it is the best in terms of value and food. For vegetarian, Hurtigruten is the best ship. They have 8 expedition staff who act as guide thru out the cruise. All of they have special expertise from kayaking, hiking, diving etc. and are all educated having various degrees in biology, geology, wildlife etc. And they all together speak 7 different languages. Majority of guest are Germans, but know Chinese and Indian have started booking. Our group of 8 Indian origin US travellers did also teach the head chef how to prepare Indian and vegetarian dishes. The chef was excited to learn and was happy to prepare custom Indian dishes as requested. Hurtigruten MS fram jumped to number 5 spot in 2016 USA today ranking in the Boutique ships. http://www.10best.com/awards/travel/best-boutique-cruise-line-2016/
It has a capacity of 300 passengers with full facilities. All ships more or less have the same routes.
Here are some very valuable tips to plan and make the trip less stressful mentally as well as financially.
1. Book in advance, at least 15-18 months.
2. Do not use hurtigruten US or European website. Always use the hurtigruten Norway website. It will save you thousands of dollars. Lets prove it by taking the below example.
Ultimate Antarctica trip 20 days starting November 2017 includes Falkland Island, South Georgia Island, South Orkney Islands and Antarctica peninsula
The above rates are per person rate based on double occupancy. (Keep reading to save more!)
So basically I recommend to book from https://www.hurtigruten.no instead of hurtigruten.us
You do not have to pay the entire amount at once. You can pay in installments.
We contacted hurtigruten Norway number directly and requested to book the particular trip in Norwegian krone and not US dollars explaining that I was not happy with the US customer service. They did send me the link for payment along with all the information.
I paid an initial deposit of 12000 nok = $1500 on my credit card. Make sure to use a credit card that does not charge for foreign transaction. I paid my entire amount in a span of 15 months and finished final payments 3 months before the cruise. I used to take advantage when the Nok would be weaker against US dollars. Thus by using hurtigruten Norway instead of US and by using the fluctuation in the currency market, I was able to save $3000/person ($6000/couple) within 15 months.
My trip in November 2016 cost me $14000/couple compared to $20000/couple on Hurtigruten US website. Excursions will cost you extra, which is a must. Make sure to have a credit card, which does not charge for foreign transaction.
3. As you will be going thru Argentina, please take advantage of spending at least 2-3 nights in Buenos aires-paris of south America and another 3-4 nights at Iguassu falls which is world heritage site on brazil and Argentina border.
4. Learn few words in Spanish, which will help you a lot in Argentina, as most do not speak English. US dollars work everywhere.
5. Make sure to buy travel insurance. I got it thru Atlas Travel (Tokio Marine HHC) for $123.00/couple for my entire trip. It included million dollar injury and medical evacuation which cost a lot if you get sick and have to be airlifted.
6. Buy complete package that includes one night stay in Buenos Aires and charter flight to Ushuaia from were the cruise begins. Please do not try to fly by yourself to Ushuaia to catch the cruise.
7. Most cruise do not allow kids under 12 years and it would be tough for older kids also. Would be great for teenagers
The total 26 days trip
Return flights from Jacksonville/ Atlanta to Buenos Aires.
Return flights from Buenos Aires to Iguassu Falls Total $3000
Hotels in Buenos Aires and Iguassu falls $1000
Excursions/Trips/Food /Clothing /Insurance $1500
Miscellaneous/Visa /Insurance $1000
Cruise cost $14000
The cost was spread out within an 18-month period.
And as a family we decided to cut back on one trip to India, which usually would cost $8000/10000 a family.
The cost can be reduced to half if you do not do Iguassu Falls, Falkland island and south Georgia island. As a personal opinion any trip to Antarctica peninsula would be incomplete without visiting the St. Andrews Bay in south Georgia were you would be blessed with a once in a life time opportunity to see half a million penguins at one spot.
It can be more expensive if not planned ahead of time, but remember it is once in a lifetime experience. Do not hesitate to spend a little more if you come across something exciting in south America.
Enjoy sound of silence for few days without cell phones, internet and minimum human activity. Best of luck and enjoy.