Antarctic Vessels & Reviews

MV Ushuaia: Antarctic Cruise Ship Review

I was lucky enough to sail the M/V Ushuaia’s last voyage of the season in March 2014.

My previous post described the extraordinary experience of exploring the Antarctic Peninsula. Here I’d like to focus on my experience of the vessel and the expedition team that helped me do that.

Antarctic Voyage
Luke in Charlotte Bay, leopard seals behind, Mar-14

We boarded the M/V Ushuaia in the town from which she gets her name, Ushuaia, the southernmost city in Argentina. I think most people board an Antarctic cruise ship with a mix of excitement and intrepidation. The big question on everyone’s minds (save for those who ‘Fly and Cruise’) is what to expect from the Drake (another post about the Drake Passage to follow soon!), but the less frequently voiced question is ‘who are my fellow passengers that I’ll spend the next 10 days with?’ and for those travelling solo…”who will be my cabin mate?”

Well our voyage out was sufficiently rough that the dozens of sick-bags that were presented throughout the boat as we passed the Cape were reduced to just a handful over the next 24 hours; and attendance at breakfast on day two was a tiny fraction of those who’d been there on the first night.

However by the time we caught our first glimpse of the dramatic and awe-inspiring South Shetland Islands it was clear that spirits were not dampened in any way.

As for cabin mates, well I had the pleasure of sharing a cabin with a German IT consultant (a stark reminder not to stereotype, and great company on board and on various zodiac excursions) and a Swedish entrepreneur (who’d already been to the North Pole and for whom next on the bucket list was none other than… the moon).  One’s fellow passengers are such an important part of this experience, and not just for solo travellers.

So what of the M/V Ushuaia and her Expedition Team? Let me describe those in their order of importance…

The Ushuaia’s Expedition Team

This is such an important part of the experience that I’ve actually written a separate blog post about the Ushuaia’s Expedition Team, but in short…

Local Argentinian biologists, sailors, explorers; experienced, knowledgeable, decisive leadership when it was needed, and above all great company and great fun.

Biology expert, Ushuaia Mar-14
Biology expert, Ushuaia Mar-14

Public areas aboard the Ushuaia

There are five main public areas on board:

– The bridge: almost all Antarctic Cruises offer an all-important ‘open bridge policy‘. Obviously the bridge offers the best visibility from anywhere on board and it’s fascinating to see the Captain and crew at work. The geek in me also enjoyed checking out the radar. This is also the room you’re most likely to find the expedition team for any little private chats about the wildlife and history that interest you most.

The Bridge, MV Ushuaia
The Bridge, MV Ushuaia

– The lounge/bar: this is almost certainly the room that you’ll spend most time in. It’s large enough for all 84 passengers to sit down comfortably; the layout encourages people to mix together, and tea and coffee flow freely through the day – so you’re going to have plenty of opportunity to meet your fellow passengers each with their own fascinating story to tell. By night this is also the bar where everyone loved to share their stories from the day and admire each others photos. With windows on three sides it’s a good place to watch the icy world outside in warmth and comfort.

Lounge, MV Ushuaia
Lounge, MV Ushuaia

– The library: adjacent to the lounge/bar is the library, another area where you could always find one or two members of the expedition team to look over the maps, and talk through any questions. People often choose to look through their photos in here and there was often a film or documentary showing.

– The dining room:  the dining room is pretty cosy, but that didn’t seem to stop us from letting a few good meals last a good while longer than they might have needed to. If you got in early to the dining room you could get one of the seats next to a porthole for views out to whales, penguins icebergs, albatrosses, and during the crossing big waves! The waiting staff’s balance and agility when we were on the rough seas was extraordinary…balancing several plates in each hand as we rocked 30 degree each way.

– The lecture room: below deck, no windows, but perfectly adequate for the twice daily lectures and briefings

The one thing the Ushuaia lacked, and I would have loved to have ready access to was a big screen with GPS mapping of where we were and which direction we were heading in. Some of the other vessels I’ve been on have this and it really appealed to the geographer and control freak in me.

The Ushuaia’s Outdoor decks

There something wonderful about being up on deck, sailing along the Antarctic Peninsula; with the polar wind blowing in your face, and whales swimming on either side of the ship. I loved this experience and definitely packed all the gear to allow me to do this in sub-zero temperatures.
What surprised me was how few people spent time on deck enjoying these experience. Whilst everyone went out on pretty much every zodiac excursion, it was the same 5 or 6 faces I always saw on deck at the quieter times later (and earlier) in the day.

Ushuaia, observation decks
Ushuaia, observation decks

One of the things I loved about the Ushuaia was the different decks from which you can survey the seas, glaciers and mountains around you; and you can walk all around the boat for a full 360 degree experience. Even where every single passenger was up on deck (our first sighting of a whale!) it felt far from cramped and everyone was able to get a great view. In quieter times I often had a deck to myself, observing glaciers, penguins and icebergs with no-one else around.


Having checked out a few different Antarctic expedition vessels I’d say that the Ushuaia’s cabins are probably a little smaller, and a little less modern and comfortable than many of the other vessels. However the Ushuaia offers some of the more affordable Peninsula and Polar Circle voyages so for those people who are going to be spending almost all of their waking hours out and about it’s probably the right  trade-off to make.

More info about the Ushuaia’s cabins and deck plan.

Please note: the Ushuaia’s cabin are currently being re-architected and refurbished. News on this to follow in a later blog post.


A fantastic experience on a vessel that gave me almost everything I needed,  but most importantly interesting fellow passengers, and an Expedition Team who were hugely knowledgable and great company.

You can also read Luke’s review of the Polar Pioneer.