Does Ship Size Matter on an Antarctic Expedition?
When travelling to Antarctica, there are several ship options to choose from: large, commercial cruises that sail by the continent; medium-sized vessels that allow you to go ashore in groups; or (and we’re partial to this option) small ships with fewer than 100 passengers.
All human activities in Antarctica are regulated by the Antarctic Treaty, which also specifies a set of General Guidelines for Visitors to the Antarctic. Among the many important rules, two apply directly to the size of ships: “Vessels with more than 500 passengers shall not make landings in Antarctica” and “A maximum of 100 passengers may be ashore from a vessel at any one time, unless site specific advice requires fewer passengers.” Let’s take a closer look at what these guidelines mean for each ship size.
Large cruise ships (500+ passengers)
Large cruise ships offer a variety of facilities, entertainment and dining options. However they can carry thousands of travellers, which means that guests do not have the opportunity to go ashore. Travellers on these ships will simply see Antarctica from the vessel. Keep in mind that with the large vessels cruising is limited to deeper waters, often at a considerable distance from the shore.
Medium-sized ships (between 101-500 passengers)
These ships can take their guests ashore to visit penguin rookeries and to explore the landscape. However, with more than 100 passengers aboard, not everyone can go on shore at once. Travellers must be organized in groups and these groups must take turns, which takes time and coordination. The larger the group the more time is spent waiting (and less spent exploring). Note also that tour operators offering a fly cruise option with ships in this size range need to use more than one flight to carry all travellers to Antarctica. For that a wider window of good weather is needed compared to flying only one aircraft, resulting in a higher chance of experiencing flight delays and disruptions.
Small-ship cruises (less than 100 passengers)
This is where ANTARCTICA XXI comes in. We are a boutique operator of small ships. On our air-cruises we carry no more than 71 guests per trip. Our ships don’t have casinos but you will probably remember everyone’s name at the end of your voyage. With a small group, getting off the ship and into Zodiacs or on land is quick and efficient. There are not long lineups and our shipboard teams knows how to maximize efficiencies. Imagine a pod of whales visiting nearby. Because our groups are small and because we have enough Zodiacs to carry everyone once, all guests can enjoy the whale encounter up close and personal, without waiting for their turn (by which time the whales may have moved on).
Weighing the options
When choosing an Antarctic expedition, consider carefully how the size of the ship will determine your experience. If you want entertainment shows and midnight buffets, and if are happy to see Antarctica from a distance, then a large cruise ship may be the right choice for you. If you want a more personal, active trip focused on your onshore experience, then you should consider a small-ship. And if you are specifically considering an Antarctic fly and cruise expedition we believe ANTARCTICA XXI offers you the best option of all.