Planning & Tips

Why are Fly & Cruise Antarctic voyages more expensive?

Over the last decade, Fly & Cruise voyages to Antarctica have become increasingly popular, and for good reason. Flying to Antarctica allows you to avoid sailing the tumultuous Drake Passage crossing, which can be famously difficult for people who suffer from seasickness. Fly & Cruise voyages are also perfect for travellers who don’t have much time on their hands. By avoiding sailing across the Drake Passage and back, you’ll shave 3-4 days off of your voyage.

Both these considerations have made the Fly & Cruise option a popular choice among modern day travellers. However, these voyages are not cheap and generally cost 20% more than a standard cruise to Antarctica. So, why the higher cost? For anyone trying to understand this and compare the different Antarctic voyage options, you’re in the right place. Read on and I’ll explain why Fly & Cruise voyages are more expensive.     

Fly & Cruise voyage logistics are more complex

A small aircraft on the tarmac with adventure travellers boarding
Departing Punta Arenas in Chile for King George Island in Antarctica

The logistics for a Fly & Cruise voyage are more complex than those of a traditional Antarctic cruise. Unlike standard cruises that simply sail from and back to Ushuaia, Fly & Cruise voyages depart via plane from Punta Arenas and land in King George Island where a fully-stocked ship is waiting. This level of coordination is more costly for the operators as the ship still needs to go back to port when the guests are not on board.

The flight itself is also one of the main costs above the cruise price. There are no scheduled flights to Antarctica and guests booked onto a Fly & Cruise voyage will need to take a chartered flight. These flights require specialist aircrafts and highly skilled pilots, both of which do not come cheap. There is also the added factor that flights are more susceptible to bad weather and the plane needs to be on hold to fly at a moment’s notice when the weather clears.

You have to travel in high season

As I just mentioned, weather plays a more critical role for Fly & Cruise voyages as planes are more vulnerable to bad weather than ships. This means that Fly & Cruise voyages only operate in the peak summer season from December to February, which also happens to be when prices are at their highest.

Antarctic cruise passengers exploring on land in the snow
Antarctic cruise passengers up close with a gentoo penguin

Prices are high during this period due to the warmer temperatures, more stable weather conditions and active wildlife. It’s heartbreaking when you spend a lot of money on your adventure, only to have blistering winds, greyed out skies and blizzards throughout your cruise. The chances of this decrease considerably in the peak summer season, which inevitably pushes the prices up. 

There is high demand

Whether it’s due to children, limited annual leave or another aspect of life, it is often hard to find the time required for a long cruise to Antarctica. Because of this, Fly & Cruise voyages are in high demand as they offer guests a way of experiencing Antarctica in a shorter time frame.

The same can also be said for people who suffer from seasickness and wish to avoid the infamous Drake Passage. The thought of spending four days at sea with potentially large swells is often not appealing for guests and Fly & Cruise voyages offer a way around this.

A ship sailing across the Drake Passage in rough seas
A ship sailing across the Drake Passage in rough seas

These voyages are in high demand but availability is limited due to the fact that only several companies offer this trip. On top of this, the aircraft can only hold 75 passengers, making the experience exclusive and expensive. Occasionally, operators will send out two planes at once to get more people onboard the ship in one trip. Whilst this does bring the trip cost down, it is not common, and generally there will only be 75 people on board. 

The ship size is small

Because only 75 people can fit on the plane, the Fly & Cruise vessels tend to be some of the smallest expedition ships in Antarctica and this is great for several reasons.

Firstly, the fewer passengers there are, the more time you will get ashore in Antarctica. IAATO (International Association for Antarctic Tour Operators) states that only 100 people can be ashore at any one landing site in Antarctica. On bigger ships, this means a rotation format, whilst on smaller ships, it means that everyone can go ashore at once and maximise their time.

Travellers in blue jackets exploring snowy terrain in Antarctica
Travellers exploring a snowy landing site complete with nesting penguins in Antarctica

Secondly, smaller ships have a much better guide to guest ratio. In fact, Fly & Cruise voyages have the best guide to guest ratio of any major Antarctic itinerary thanks to the 75 passenger capacity. Smaller vessels can also navigate smaller bays and inlets where bigger ships would be held up.

Without wanting to sound like a broken record, as these factors are absolutely ideal in terms of getting the most out of your Antarctic adventure, they push the price up.

So, is it worth the extra cost?

A plane descending towards King George Island in Antarctica
A plane descending towards King George Island in Antarctica

For many people there is no choice. If time is of the essence, or you suffer from severe motion sickness, a Fly & Cruise voyage is the only option available. Voyages of this type were designed for this purpose and are really aimed at people on a tight schedule.

For people who do have more time available and don’t suffer from motion sickness, then getting to Antarctica in this way is potentially not worth the additional expense. Many travellers view the Drake Passage as a rite of passage and it can often be one of the most memorable parts of the trip.

Whichever option you end up choosing, Antarctica is a life-changing experience. Whilst getting the logistics right for you is important, it will feel like a distant memory once you’re soaking it all up, with penguins, icebergs and giant snow-draped mountains in every direction.

Alex Mudd

Head of Swoop Antarctica

Alex returned from his first Antarctica trip ten years ago firmly bitten by 'polar fever' and obsessed with icebergs. Since then, in between further forays to the polar regions, he's been evangelising about the joys of expeditionary cruising and doing all he can to return to The White Continent.

An inveterate traveller never happier than when beyond mobile reception. Some of his more memorable adventures have included dog sledding in Spitsbergen, hanging out with Huli Wigmen in PNG, piranha fishing in The Amazon and chasing the Northern Lights in Greenland.