Our Cruise to the End of the Earth
When we started to plan our trip to South America Dani casually dropped into the conversation that she wanted to go to Antarctica if we were going to be that close (who knew 1000 kilometers was close). Now those of you who know us will know that Dani is 100% in charge of the budget and I do the planning. Every so often she throws me a planning curveball that makes me cringe but to date I have yet to be unable to make something work with the budget she gives me. Originally I looked into the 10 day cruises from Ushuaia, Argentina and discovered they can reach $10,000 USD per person. I knew she had her heart set on it but we could travel for a year (or longer in some parts of the world) on what it would cost for the 2 of us. More research revealed that you could book last minute cruises if you made it down to Ushuaia and patiently waited for available spaces on cruises that had disembarked from Buenos Aires. I found it very difficult however to find any information more up to date than 2010. People who had done the pilgrimage in 2010 were getting cruises as cheap as $3000 USD, which seemed manageable. This however turned out to be very old information.
Closer to our trip to South America I did a little more research and came across information from the summer season 2015/16. This stated that due to the increase in popularity of internet bookings the savings you could get by showing up in Ushuaia were no longer worth it when you factored in the cost of staying in Ushuaia and prices of the cruises were no longer as drastically low (having now been to Ushuaia we can now confirm that there are not as many tour agencies offering trips and the cheapest we found were $5,000 USD for the 10 day and $7,000 USD for the 7 day + flight; both leaving within 2 weeks). It was also during this research that I discovered a 21-day cruise starting in Valparaiso going via Patagonia, Antarctica and the Falklands to Buenos Aires. The major difference between this cruise and the 10 day is that you only cruise around you don't step foot in Antarctica but the cost of this cruise was only $3,500 AUD including tax per person and we have learned that this price dropped even further after we booked.
We're aware that for many of you reading this not stepping foot on Antarctica would be enough to put you off, for others it might be the thought being a backpacker on a cruise ship. We can tell you that if you can't afford the 10-day trip this is worth every cent.
The first 2 stops on this cruise are pretty pointless and there isn't much going on unless you've done your research into what there is to see out side of town. The cruise excursions are prohibitively expensive (and often not worth the money) so see if you can negotiate a good price with a taxi driver at the port. For the same trip people on the ship paid over $130 USD for, friends of ours got for $40 USD per person. At the next port friends got a 4-hour tour for $14 USD per person when excursions were going for hundreds. We did however book an excursion into Patagonia in Chacabuco. Despite having a wonderful day with the people we were with, we were disappointed to find out what we got for $200 USD. Admittedly this was a private park that you cannot enter without a guide and the trip included alcohol, a traditional lunch and folk dancing, however we had booked this for it's Patagonian experience and what it was a 2km amble along a boardwalk, through the bush, missing a lot of what the local area has to offer.
Our next stop and excursion was to a penguin colony in Punta Arenas. This was a well worth it trip to an island 2 hours away from the port that has 10,000 pairs of Magellan penguins and their chicks.
From here you stop at Ushuaia, which is the southern most city in the world (Check out this spot on the Spotted Places app). This town is not far from the Tierra del Fuego National Park and some beautiful glaciers, however we decided to walk around the town and use our time to reconnect with our families as we had been cruising over Christmas Day and hadn't been able to contact them.
Now it was time experience the primary reason we chose the cruise. We were off to Antarctica! We were extremely lucky with our trip to there. The passage across the Atlantic Ocean to Antarctica is known as the Drake Passage and is supposed to be one of the roughest journeys in the world. I'm not going to say it was smooth sailing, as the ship was still rocking, but no worse than it had in earlier sailing days and experienced Antarctica cruisers informed us that this was an extremely gentle passage. As a result of this incredibly smooth crossing we actually arrived early giving us an extra day in the Antarctic Peninsula!
There are no words to describe the feeling you get, seeing Antarctica for the first time. It's sheer pristine beauty is breathtaking and as one woman we spoke to said, "sublime". Every single doubt we had about whether it had been worth coming despite not being able to land disappeared. The serenity is magical and to stand under the midnight sun on New Year's Eve while whales spout and dive at the end of the earth is indescribable. The waters team with wildlife and ship-sized icebergs float by while penguins dive off them and seals sun themselves.
After waving goodbye to our last view of Antarctica we were off to The Falklands. What can we say?! Stanley, which is the capital/only town, is a quaint little place with a surprisingly strong English community. The accents, the architecture, the food, everything screams England, despite being a community on the edge of South America. We fell in love with it so don't be surprised to hear we've put in applications to move. I think it's the resilience of the community here that really sold us on it.
Our next stop was Puerto Madryn, which unless you are visiting the National Parks isn’t really anything special. It’s a nice enough place to wander around and a lot of Argentinians use it as a beachside getaway from Buenos Aires. From here we were off to our next stop and our next country Montevideo, Uruguay. Unfortunately our ship was due in on a Sunday. This meant very little was open but it was still a worthwhile stop. There are free museums and it is an easily explored city on foot. We were lucky enough to be on the ship so it was not an expensive stop for us but be warned Uruguay is a bit of a budget stretching country. This being said it did not appear to be much more expensive than Argentina or Chile which we managed to do under budget. After a day in port it was time for our final stop in Buenos Aires, where we began our South American adventure just over 6 weeks earlier.
So how was the overall experience? We really felt that for what we paid and what we got to see, this was well worth the expense. Dani has decided she would like to work on Antarctica (actually surprisingly possible to do) after witnessing it's beauty and listening to the Antarctica experts that give lectures on the ship. We have also started to discuss moving to the Falklands after falling for its small town charm (we’ll keep you posted). Now we have been warned that we were incredibly fortunate to have seen what we did and have the weather that we did. We were told that some who book the expensive 10-day trips sometimes do not get to land due to weather and that on other cruises the weather has been so bad that they see very little. We were inexplicably lucky and we know that, let's all hope this is some kind of good backpacker karma for deciding to do something so drastically unbackpackerish and splash out!!
Budget Time $$
As the cruise is all-inclusive (minus alcohol and soda) there is no need for a budget breakdown but here is what it actually cost.
We paid $3503.50 AUD ($2567.60 USD) each for 21 days. This included all port fees and taxes. We also found out that the cost dropped even further closer to the time of the cruise (we booked 2 months in advance) and that if taken up with Holland America rooms were upgraded or shipboard credit was given (which can be used towards excursions, drinks, food at the paid for restaurants, shopping or towards the service charge). In addition, there is a daily service charge fee of $12.50 USD pp, that you pay at the end of the cruise, which is a total of $262.50 USD.
Cruise Money Saving Tips:
- Pre-paid beverage packages offered upon booking are definitely not worth it, as most people do not drink enough to add up to the amount charged.
- Tea and coffee is available all day in the buffet as are water, juice and iced tea.
- Soda cards are available and give you $50 USD worth of soda for $25. We found that a card each was enough to get us through the cruise.
- Free drinks are almost always available through activities on board such as the art auctions (read free champagne) and the cheap alcohol tasting sessions.
- Go to the cultural shows/events like tango shows and musical performances as these can cost a lot of money off ship and they often bring on great quality, local entertainers.
- You’re entitled to bring on board one bottle of wine per person during the cruise without a corkage fee. After this, it’s much cheaper to buy bottles onshore and pay the $18 corkage fee (if they notice you bringing it onboard) rather than buying a bottle of wine through the ship. Cruises are by no means cheap but there are definitely ways and means to get your monies worth and to ensure that you don't frivolously haemorrhage money (as so many on the boats do)!
Connect with Dani and Riv:
Spotted Places: @DykeTales