Choosing to do a cruise to Antarctica is a big deal. There are lots of different options available and it’s a huge chunk of money to spend so you want to get it right. To help you, here are my thoughts after cruising to Antarctica with Holland America Line.
This article may contain affiliate links. This means that if you make a purchase after clicking on a link, I may receive a small commission. Read the full disclaimer here.
Types of Antarctic Cruises
When I talk about taking an Antarctic cruise you probably picture in your mind an expedition cruise, where you are on a small ship with just a couple of hundred passengers and you spend your time zipping around in small inflatables to see the wildlife, walk on the ice, perhaps even sleep on Antarctica.
That is not the type of cruise I am talking about here.
In recent years some cruise lines have started visiting Antarctica with larger ships. Not the giant cruise ships that ply the Caribbean or the Mediterranean, but those mid-sized ones up to about 2000 passengers. This does mean there are some restrictions where the ships can go and what is offered to the passengers. It also means much cheaper fares and much more accessible cruises.
So before you even book your own cruise, it’s important to understand the differences.
Why I Chose Holland America Lines
More than once on our trip we were told we are too young for this cruise, and I have to say, the only younger people we saw on board were with older relatives or were the staff. And I’m no spring chicken, this cruise was to celebrate my 50th birthday. So why did we choose HAL for our cruise?
Firstly, because we have cruised with them before.
When I was booking our first cruise I needed to find an Alaskan cruise that went to/from Vancouver. I only wanted around a week, and it needed to fit in a three week window during our visit to our daughter in Vancouver. A cruise from HAL fit the bill, and it was a great price so I booked! It was only later that I discovered the passengers on HAL tend to be “of an age” (their words, not mine!).
My immediate thought was oh boy, what have I done?
Once on board we found that yes, the cohort does tend to be older – mostly the passengers are retired and from the US. We were two of only a handful of people under fifty on that first cruise.
This doesn’t mean that younger people cannot go on these cruises. We have seen a few kids on each one, usually young babies or teenagers, but you won’t find any waterslides or go-carts or rock-climbing walls here. So families with kids tend to choose a different cruise line. (There is a small kids club and games room though.)
And for someone travelling without kids, it’s nice not to have kids tearing around the boat, yelling and splashing in the pool and running amuck at the buffet.
It’s not all about the kid-free status though. We have thoroughly enjoyed the naturalists, scientists and other speakers who give all sorts of lectures while on board.
I love to learn about where we are going, some of the culture and about the wildlife. Sometimes the presenters are just fun, such as a photographer who showed a pile of his photos and told the stories behind them.
For evening entertainment, we’re not really into drinking a lot or nightclubs, but what we do like is good, classic (not classical) music, and each boat we have been on has had a great piano bar with engaging pianists playing all the hits from the last fifty years or so. The crowd gets involved, everyone sings along and it’s usually a good night.
I do have to admit I have ONLY cruised with HAL, so I don’t really have anything to compare it with, but so far I have been happy with the cruises I have done.
They do suck you in with loyalty programs too. After one cruise we were “1 Star Mariners” and as such get $100USD onboard credit each included. After this cruise I am a “2 Star Mariner”. Do a few more and we go up in the ranks, getting more and more benefits each time.
So when we look for a cruise, HAL has become the first place we look, and they have had the cruises we have wanted to do.
So basically, HAL was just a random pick at the beginning, we liked them, and we have (so far) stayed with them – but who knows what we will do in the future.
Cruising to Antarctica with Holland America Line
It was seeing an Antarctic cruise advertised through Holland America that got me thinking I could actually get there. It was the price that got me – these cruises were about a half – to a third – of the prices of those other expedition cruises.
It also included a lot more stops. This cruise was 22 days, leaving from Santiago, Chile and finishing at Buenos Aires, Argentina, with various stops along the way, including in Uruguay and the Falkland Islands. So not only did I get to see Antarctica, but other places I hadn’t been before too.
I’m a big wuss when it comes to the cold, so one of my fears about doing a cruise to Antarctica was how cold I would get. I’ve been to places before (eg: Tromsø, Norway) where I got so cold I could only spend about twenty minutes outside at a time.
I didn’t want to be off somewhere on a zodiac and be so cold I couldn’t move and not being able to get warm until we went back to the ship. I would not enjoy it at all.
By choosing a cruise where we did not leave the ship, it meant if I had to, I could aways duck back inside when I got too cold, which was a nice crutch for me to have.
We spent four days cruising down at Antarctica and saw a range of different areas along the peninsula. On each individual cruise that part of the itinerary is a little different because weather and conditions dictate exactly where the ship goes.
The scenery is as you imagine – simply stunning. Even though we had cloudy weather for the whole time, and a little snow on most days, I could barely drag my eyes away. Icebergs are endlessly interesting, and seeing the mountains of Antartica disappear into the clouds was awe-inspiring.
When we weren’t admiring the scenery, we were watching the wildlife. Penguins and whales were our constant companions, occasionally we would see some seals too. Various birds flew around the ship also keeping us entertained.
We had one day that was particularly calm, and our captain was able to nose the ship right up close to a couple of huge icebergs. We were probably about 20 metres away from them and being that close we could see how impressive they were.
I think this type of cruise is an excellent option for many people, including older people who would not be able to participate on an expedition cruise, those with mobility issues, and those who simply cannot afford the price of a smaller cruise.
I thought I would be totally fine not getting off the ship – and on this cruise I was – but now I want to do another cruise to Antarctica, this time an expedition cruise that goes to South Georgia Island too. I want to get closer to the wildlife and step foot on the continent – and I feel assured now that I could do that without freezing to death!
So cruising to Antarctica with Holland America Line was a great starter cruise. It gave me a good taste of what it was like, and for many people that will be enough. For me though, as always, it just means I want to see and do more!
Curious about doing an Antarctic Cruise on Holland America Line?
Click here to see details of the same cruise I did in 2024
TRAVEL PLANNING ESSENTIALS
Find flights – I always use Skyscanner as my starting point when searching for flights. One search will give many options including airlines I may not have thought of. This means I can find the best possible flights to suit my needs
Book accommodation – my go to is always Booking.com for the best places to stay. It’s not just hotels anymore, but hostels, apartments, B&Bs and more. I love that the bookings are usually cancellable, and that I can book now and pay later.
Hire a rental car – RentalCars.com is my go to here. It allows me to do just one search and it finds cars from many of the different supplies, so no checking multiple websites to compare.
Get travel insurance – you would have heard by now that saying “if you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel”. If we’ve learnt anything from the last couple of years it should be how essential travel insurance is. I use CoverMore for my insurance.
Pick up an eSIM – I tried an eSIM on my last trip and it was fantastic. I set it up before I went so it was ready as soon as I landed, and I still had access to my home number for emergencies. Get your own eSIM at Airalo.
Book activities, tours & attractions – I use a few different websites for this. Viator and Get Your Guide tend to be the first places I look. In Asia, Klook often has more options, and in Australia it’s Experience Oz.
Manage your money – the best way to manage your different currencies is with an account from Wise. You can hold money in many different currencies, and use them with the ATM card or from your phone.
Read these to get ready for your shore days during your cruise
Falkland Islands Shore Day – Penguins, Beer and Red Phone Boxes
11 Things to Know Before You Go to Argentina
Money in Argentina – It’s Complicated
Like this post? Please share with your friends and pin for later