Planning & Tips

What’s it like to sail on the Hondius ship?

The expedition cruise ship Hondius has proved a popular addition to the polar fleet since it was launched in 2019. Carrying up to 170 passengers, its Basecamp Adventure offers kayaking, camping, snowshoeing and even mountaineering. This is added to the regular landings and zodiac cruises, giving guests a host of different ways to discover Antarctica up close. For those looking for a less adrenaline-filled experience, Hondius also offers plenty of classic Antarctic Peninsula cruises

Several of my colleagues at Swoop had already sailed on Hondius and come back with glowing reports, so on my most recent trip south I was keen to get on board and find out for myself just what had got them so excited. 

My cabin on Hondius

Hondius has a variety of different cabin styles, ranging from suites with balconies to shared triples and quadruple cabins. For my voyage, I was booked into one of the quads on deck three, the lowest deck on the ship. 

Hondius Quadruple cabin with Porthole
A typical quad cabin on Deck Three of Hondius

I particularly wanted to experience just exactly what a quad would be like because they’re a cabin category we get asked about quite often at Swoop. On most Antarctic cruises, solo travellers have the option of sharing a cabin, but people are understandably often hesitant about sharing with three other people they’ve never met before. Would there be enough room? Would it be like the dorm in a backpacker’s hostel? This is what I wanted to find out. 

The first thing to say on stepping into the cabin was that I was surprised at how spacious it appeared. The quads are 170 square feet (16m2) in size, and everything seemed to be cleverly engineered to squeeze the most out of every square inch. 

Zodiacs loaded on Hondius ship
Sailing through the Beagle Channel

There were two sets of bunks on either side of the cabin, with a small couch in between them underneath a pair of portholes. The portholes are common on lower decks where you’re that little bit closer to the water line. They still let in plenty of light however, and there was something charming about them that only added to the sense of being on a real expedition ship. 

The bunks aren’t allocated in advance, so I’d suggest being early to board if your heart is set on grabbing a lower bunk. For our gear, we each had a wardrobe big enough for our clothes and outdoor parkas, plus a mini safe big enough for my passports and wallets. The mini sofa under the portholes also had a drawer for everyone for everyday items, and there was plenty of space under the beds for suitcases. We also each had a separate space in the cabin’s (generous) bathroom for our wash bags and toiletries. When we were all stowed away, you wouldn’t have imagined there were four of us inside!

First impressions of Hondius

Once I was settled in, I quickly realised the great secret of staying in a quad on an expedition cruise ship. Three cabinmates means three like-minded people to share the experience with. Polar cruising is always a pretty communal experience, whether you’re sharing a zodiac, buddying up with a new friend in a kayak or asking someone on deck with a professional-looking pair of binoculars just what sort of petrel that is flying just off the bow. 

Hondius sailing through the Lemaire channel
Navigating the Lemaire Channel

But sharing the quad meant that from the very start of the trip I had people to explore the ship with. As we pulled away from the port in Ushuaia and eased into the Beagle Channel, it was great to head out onto the deck together and talk about the adventure that lay ahead. 

Finding out the best vantage points on all the decks is also another great bonding experience. We quickly realised that Deck Eight was the one with the best panoramic views and would be somewhere where we’d want to be out looking for whales. Set against that, when the bow deck was open on Deck Six, we were all eager to flock to the front of the ship. This gave brilliant views when we navigated through the Lemaire Channel, or between the narrow cliffs of Neptune’s Bellows at Deception Island. 

Hondius cruise ship in Antarctica
The Hondius on the Antarctic Peninsula

Inside, we quickly found ourselves gravitating towards the Observation Lounge on Deck Five. It felt like the real heart of the ship. The walls were lined with windows, making it a tempting and comfortable place to watch the Southern Ocean roll, and in the evenings people would congregate for drinks at its bar. The lounge was big enough to accommodate everyone on board, but was smartly designed so it never once felt full. It also had quick access to the stern deck with a sheltered seating area, or where you might want to enjoy a hot drink while watching the albatrosses glide in the ship’s wake. 

Life on board Hondius

Even when you’re crossing the Drake Passage, there is plenty to do on an Antarctic cruise ship. The expedition team presented a programme of educational talks on everything polar. These were complemented by briefings to get us ready for all the Basecamp adventure activities that were part of this voyage. 

Tourists taking photos of gentoo penguins in Antarctica
Zodiac cruising with Hondius’s expedition team

This busy and very active programme meant that when we arrived in Antarctica the expedition team really had their work cut out. They rose to the challenge superbly. It must have been exhausting, but the guides all still made time to mix with us all socially, pulling up a seat at dinner or swapping stories with us in the bar after a long day. Polar guides have the best stories of course, though they flattered us that we were just as much adventurers as they were. 

This mixing of guests and passengers isn’t something you find on every cruise ship, but the very design of Hondius seemed to encourage it. Not only did we all mix together in the lounge, but the open bridge policy meant we were allowed to see the heart of the action with the ship’s captain and his officers. Even Hondius’ shape seemed to evoke that first generation of polar cruise ships: it just looks like a vessel that knows its way around adventure, especially when you’re skimming away on a zodiac heading to cruise through an iceberg-strewn bay. Or even more exciting, heading back for a hot breakfast after a night spent camping in the snow hole you dug yourself the night before. 

Photography from a zodiac in Antarctica
Photographic safari by zodiac

Staying in the quad seemed to reinforce this: we were happy to have all the comforts we needed in the cabin, but still got a slight thrill of doing something daring when we had a lively Drake Passage at the end of the trip, and a crew member arrived to bolt down the porthole cover. 

Who is Hondius suited to?

Hondius had a slightly wider demographic for its passengers on board than many Antarctic expedition cruise ships. All age ranges were represented, with  more travellers in their 20s and 30s than you might expect to find. The competitive pricing for the triple and quadruple cabins is definitely an influence here – they’re the most cost efficient way of cruising to Antarctica on the market, with the added camaraderie of sharing a room with fellow adventurers. 

Tourists and iceberg in Antarctica
Hondius passengers exploring the ice

That said, everyone travelling came more than equipped with a strong sense of adventure. Those looking for a particularly luxurious experience with more amenities might want to consider a different ship. We were comfortable no doubt, but sailing on  the modern Hondius felt a lot more like being on a traditional expedition ship, where the guests and crew quickly bonded together with a common purpose.


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Ian Young

Polar specialist

Ian is an Antarctic specialist at Swoop. He has crossed the Drake Passage in a storm, landed south of the Antarctic Circle, taken the polar plunge and even witnessed orcas hunting humpback whales.