Ok friends, here is the promised post on how to get a last minute trip to Antarctica. Because getting to Antarctica is expensive.
Really expensive. This year (2012) January and early February rates ranged from $6,000 to $9,000 per person for the cheapest room on the boat (often a triple or quad). Late February and March rates ranged from $4,500 to $7,000 per person for these same rooms. To get into (the lowest class) double could be 15 to 20% more. So yeah. Expensive. Well, expensive unless you are a bazillionaire or an expert and go with Al Gore and Richard Branson. Yeah, we were in Antarctica at the same time as those two. No biggie. It’s actually pretty funny to read Richard Branson’s blog, it’s like we were living the same life! Recognize this iceberg anyone? If you don’t, look carefully through this post and you’ll find half of it.
Ok. That was a wee bit of a digression. Sorry about that. I just feel sort of half famous.
Now, there are two very important things to have when you are trying to book a last minute trip to Antarctica. The first is flexibility on dates. The second is lots of money saved up (because even the discounted fares aren’t cheap).
All in (trip, flights to and hostel in Ushuaia, incidentals, etc.) the two of us squeezed in at a hair under $10,000. And I’m going to tell you how you can do that, too!
Option 1: Go to Ushuaia to book
One option for booking such a trip is going to Ushuaia and booking from there. This will get you the cheapest rates (we saw a few trips advertised for $3,700), but you may have to wait and wait (and wait) in Ushuaia. One of our newfound friends camped in Ushuaia for three weeks after booking the trip and another stayed in a hostel in Ushuaia for two weeks after booking. You need a lot of time for this option.
Option 2: Book through a big reseller
A second option is to check out the big international resellers. For example, Travel Wild is currently offering 30% to 35% off several upcoming sailings to Antarctica. The problem? These sales usually exclude the lowest classes of cabins. So, these fares are great if you are willing to splash out on a more dishy cabin, but aren’t great if you are seriously pinching your pennies. On the other hand, these are often available a month or two in advance, so if you have more money than time, they could be a good option.
Option 3: Book through an Ushuaia travel agent
A third option, and, in my opinion, the best option, is to book your trip from anywhere there is email access using an Ushuaia based travel agent. Wandering Trader provides a list of most (all?) of these agents here. The list is about two years old, and about 6 of the emails bounced back for me. The list is great and if you want a lot of options, I highly recommend you sign up for his email list to get it! But, I wouldn’t be surprised if you just end up booking through Daniela.
UPDATE (January 2, 2013): I have just received an email from a fellow traveller (A) who had a negative experience with Daniela over email, and in the end he decided not to book through her. Daniela asked A for a large wire transfer to the bank account of an unlisted company in Miami Beach, FL. Daniela also told A that the boat company was going to charge A’s credit card directly for the remainder of the cost of the trip. It all sounded too weird, and when A contacted the boat company there were just too many discrepancies for him to feel comfortable doing this over email.
The hubs and I wonder whether Daniela’s started skimming a bit for herself in addition to the actual cost of the trip and her commission from the boat company—which is fine, she is a business person after all. She’s just maybe not the best deal out there anymore. At worst, she’s started scamming, though I doubt it. She’s got a great business going and I don’t think she would jeopardize it. I’d certainly recommend shopping around!
I love Daniela (Ushuaia Tursimo). She’s actually the best travel agent I’ve ever dealt with. I’m pretty sure that she works all the time. Whether I emailed her at 8am or 11pm she would reply within about 10 minutes. She was friendly, funny, responsive, easy to deal with, awesome at English, and totally organized. I went to go meet her in person when we got to Ushuaia and it was clear by the line of backpackers waiting to work with her that her small, one-woman agency is the place to go for last minute bookings. When I first enquired by email, she got back to me (fast) with a handful of dates, itineraries, and prices (these ranges from $3,900 to $6,000 for the dates we were interested in).
We ended up booking a Classic Antarctica (11-day, 10-night) trip in the lowest class room (but at least it was a double) on the M/V Ushuaia for $3,900. The Jan 28 trip was their most expensive sailing of the year (regular $5,980). When we returned, we saw mid and late February sailings for $3,700.
If that price sounds alright to you, you’ll also probably be interested in the quotes we received from Lorena of Rumbo Sur for $3,990 on several sailings of the Antarctic Dream (also doubles). If, for whatever reasons, Daniela isn’t working for you, Lorena would be a great person to deal with. A little slower on response time, but lots of options!
Booking our trip with Daniela was a breeze. Once she’s reserved your room, she sends you all the forms (personal information, medical, insurance, and credit card). These forms are all from the boat company and not from her travel agency – she’s simply an intermediary (who, I presume, is paid by the boat company). This means that your credit card gets processed by the boat company directly, which made me feel extra secure.
Then you get yourself tickets to Ushuaia (round trip from BA at that time of year for us was $450pp), rent Antarctic gear (post forthcoming), get on the boat, and have the best trip of your life.
Easy as pie.
Last minute camping option?
We originally wanted to camp on Antarctica for a night (some boats let you do this). However, the handful of boats with a camping option were much more expensive (even for triples!), and the camping option was already sold out. So, if you really really really really really really want to camp, a last minute booking is probably not the way to go.
Let me know in the comments if you have any other questions on things I might not have answered about getting to Antarctica. Because really, it was the best. trip. ever. EVER. And I hope that you can do it one day!
Finally, a huge, huge shout out to Wandering Trader for his awesome How To Book A Last Minute Trip to Antarctica post (and mostly his list) without which I would have spent much (much) more time floundering around trying to find Daniela. Or two weeks on my butt in Ushuaia.