Swoop Tips on Choosing the Right Antarctic Ship

Choosing the right ship is one of the most important decisions you face when planning your Antarctic adventure, not least because of the amount of time you will spend onboard. With over a decade of experience to draw on, Swoop can guide you through the maze of options to exactly the right ship for you. To help you get started, here are a few key tips on what to consider:

  1. Decide on your key decision-making criteria and arrange them by the order of importance - size of ship, passenger capacity, stability, comfort level or activities on offer. 
  2. The widest choice of ships are in the medium-sized category, ranging from 80 to 116 passengers. This category offers a good balance between the ships being not too big, while having generous public areas and a decent choice of cabins. 
  3. If stability is high on your list, consider either the larger ships or those renowned for their stability, such as the Akademik Ioffe & Sergey Vavilov, as these typically perform better in rough seas than smaller ships.
  4. The benefits of choosing a smaller ship of less than 100 people are many. Ranging from fewer fellow passengers, ease of logistics when getting on and off the ship all the way to a more intimate overall experience and everybody being able to land at once. However, these benefits need to be counterbalanced by better onboard facilities and greater stability offered by larger vessels.
  5. Comfort and service levels have markedly improved over the last decade on all Antarctic ships, allowing you to have an adventure, but without the hardship! Nespresso machines, balcony suites, gourmet cuisine and even butler service are now available on selected ships.
  6. Camping out on the ice and kayaking are offered on most vessels as optional adventure activities. A limited number of ships also offer diving, snorkelling, paddle-boarding or snowshoeing and mountaineering. If any of these are on your 'must have' list, then this will influence the range of the right ships for you to consider.

Antarctic Ship Comparison

Antarctic Ship Comparison

John says

Fly and Cruise

Hebridean Sky

  • Capacity 110 passengers
  • Built in 1992, refurbished in 2005 with a coming up $6.5 million refurbishment in April 2016
  • 7 different cabin types, over 5 decks
  • Library, sundeck with jacuzzi, bar/lounge, exercise room, movie library and cinema
  • Ice-strengthened hull (Ice class 1C)

Watch our Video Tour of the Hebridean Sky.

Akademik Sergey Vavilov

  • Capacity 92 passengers
  • Built in Finland in 1988
  • Top Deck for 360 degree views
  • 6 different cabin types
  • Bar, Lounge, Library and Presentation Room
  • Fitness Room and Wellness Spa (sauna, spa, massage)
  • Ice-strengthened hull (Lloyds Register 1A, Canadian Type B) 

Watch our Video Tour of the Akademik Sergey Vavilov.

Ocean Nova

  • Capacity 68 passengers
  • Built in Denmark in 1992
  • Observation lounge plus bar, library and dining room
  • 3 different cabin types: single, twin, triple
  • Fitness centre
  • Ice-strengthened hull (1B, EO (Hull Ice 1A))

Watch our Video Tour of Ocean Nova.


Authentic Expedition

M/V Plancius

  • Capacity maximum 114 passengers
  • Built in 1976 for Dutch Navy, rebuilt as passenger vessel in 2009
  • Large open deck spaces, and full walk-around on Deck 3
  • Restaurant/Lecture room, Observation Lounge/Bar
  • 5 different cabin types
  • Ice-strengthened hull 1D (Lloyds class 100A1, Ice Class 1D at draught of 5m)

Akademik Ioffe

  • Capacity 96 passengers
  • Built in 1989 in Finland
  • Top Deck for 360 degree views
  • 6 different cabin types
  • Bar, Lounge, Library and Presentation Room
  • Fitness Room and Wellness Spa (sauna, spa, massage)
  • Ice-strengthened hull (Lloyds Register 1A, Canadian Type B) 

M/V Ortelius

  • Capacity maximum 120 passengers
  • Built in Poland in 1989
  • Observation decks fore and aft
  • 5 different cabin types
  • 2 Restaurants, and bar/lecture room
  • Ice-strengthened hull UL1 (equivalent to 1A)
  • Helipad for helicopter excursions

Watch our Video Tour of Ortelius.

The Ushuaia

  • Capacity 84 passengers
  • Five decks
  • 5 different cabin types
  • Dining Room, Lounge/Bar/Library, Lecture Room
  • Ice-strengthened hull

Polar Pioneer

  • Capacity 54 passengers
  • Built in Finland in 1985, refurbished in 2000
  • 5 different cabin types
  • Combined bar/lounge/library
  • Ice-strengthened hull

National Geographic Explorer

  • Capacity 148 passengers
  • 6 decks
  • 7 different cabin types
  • Dining Room, Observation Lounge/Lounge/Bar/Library, Lecture Room
  • Ice-strengthened hull

Watch our Video Tour of National Geographic Explorer.

National Geographic Orion

  • Capacity 102 passengers
  • 5 decks
  • 5 different cabin types
  • Dining Room, Lounge/Bar/Library, Lecture Room, Spa
  • Ice-strengthened hull

Luxury and Fine Dining

Hebridean Sky

  • Capacity 110 passengers
  • Built in 1992, refurbished in 2005 with a coming up $6.5 million refurbishment in April 2016
  • 7 different cabin types, over 5 decks
  • Library, sundeck with jacuzzi, bar/lounge, exercise room, movie library and cinema
  • Ice-strengthened hull (Ice class 1C)

Watch our Video Tour of Hebridean Sky.

Island Sky

  • Capacity 108 passengers
  • Built in Italy in 1991 specifically for expeditionary cruising
  • All of the suites are generously proportioned with sitting area and some have balconies
  • Ice-strengthened hull (1D ice class rating)
  • 6 types of cabin, over 5 decks

Watch our Video Tour of Island Sky.

Silver Explorer

  • Capacity 132 passengers
  • 24 hour room service and butler
  • Multiple deck areas
  • 10 different cabin types
  • Bar, Panorama Lounge, Fitness Centre, Theatre, Library
  • Fitness Centre, Spa, Outdoor Whirlpool
  • Ice-strengthened hull (Lloyds Register 1A)

Le Boreal, Le Lyrial, Le Soleal, L'Austral

  • Capacity 200 passengers
  • Built in France in 2014
  • 9 different cabin types
  • Gastronomic restaurant
  • Lounge with live music and cocktail bar, library, internet desk and panoramic terrace
  • 1C ice class + advanced stabilizing system

Watch our Video Tour of Le Boreal, Le Lyrial, Le Soleal and L'Austral.

Comfort and Adventure

Ocean Adventurer

  • Capacity 132 passengers
  • Built in 1975, refurbished in 2016
  • 8 different cabin types, over 5 decks
  • Polar library, bar/lounge
  • Ice-strengthened hull (Ice class 1A) 

Watch our Video Tour of Ocean Adventurer.

Ocean Endeavour

  • Capacity 199 passengers
  • Currently (Oct '14) undergoing refurbishments
  • Fresh to the Antarctic fleet for the 15/16 season
  • Wide range of adventure activities offered
  • Focus on "well-being"
  • Unique experiences like stand-up paddle-boarding and morning yoga classes
  • Wide range of cabin categories (13)
  • Ice class 1B

Ocean Diamond

  • Capacity 189 passengers
  • Built in the Bahamas in 1986
  • Observation lounge, bar, polar library, lecture theatre, lounge and restaurant
  • 5 different cabin types: single, twin, triple, suite and balcony suite.
  • Many extra activities available.
  • Ice-strengthened hull (Ice class 1D)

Watch our Video Tour of Ocean Diamond.

M/S Expedition

  • Capacity for 134 passengers
  • Danish-built
  • Recently refurbished in 2009
  • Gym, sauna and mud-bath
  • All cabins outward facing, with windows and private facilities

Watch our Video Tour of M/S Expedition.


Sea Spirit

  • Capacity 114 passengers
  • Built in 1991, registered in the Bahamas
  • All-suites vessel
  • 7 different suite types, over 5 decks
  • Gym, bistro, library, club lounge, oceanus lounge and dining room
  • Ice-strengthened hull (Ice class 1D) 

Watch our Video Tour of Sea Spirit.

Swoop Says

How We Can Help You

We understand the importance of this long anticipated trip and how crucial it is to get it just right. We'll guide you throughout your Antarctic journey - from making the right choices when booking, to packing the correct clothing and equipment - offering sound, impartial advice and support at every stage.

  1. Find your perfect expedition

    We work with all the Antarctic expedition operators, offering 16 different vessels and over 80 Antarctic voyages and land-based expeditions. Find Out More.

  2. Help you decide when to take your trip of a lifetime

    We can help you decide which month will suit you best and advise when to start planning ahead for the best choice of cabins and voyages. Find Out More.

  3. Arrange your pre and post-Antarctic travel

    Our Patagonia experts would love to help you discover Patagonia before or after your Antarctic expedition. We'd also be pleased to help you book your flights. Find Out More.

Ready to plan your Antarctic adventure?

  • Swoop Antarctica Expert Luke
  • Swoop Antarctica Expert Aimee
  • Swoop Antarctica Expert Alex
  • Swoop Antarctica Expert John
  • Swoop Antarctica Expert Loli

With over 10 years' experience in Antarctica, we can guide you through the maze of options to choose the perfect voyage.

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