Travelers in a zodiac admire an iceberg in Antarctica
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The Traveling Photographer: Choosing a trip to Antarctica, part 3

In our last two posts, Off to Antarctica and Choosing a trip to Antarctica, part 2, we’ve discussed the many moving parts involved in deciding on a trip to the White Continent. The biggest decision after deciding to go to Antarctica is whether to also include South Georgia.

Scenes like this, a standoff between a young fur seal and a trio of king penguins, is one reason why one might consider going to South Georgia, while in Antarctica.

Comparing Antarctic photo expeditions

We’ve traveled with all of these outfits before (though not necessarily on a polar expedition). To varying degrees, they all cater to photographers. All 3 trips we’ve done were fantastic, well run and I wouldn’t hesitate to travel with any of them again. So the fact that we didn’t select them again for a subsequent trip should NOT be construed as other than the length of the trip, the destination or the timing suited us better.

Luminous Landscape

Luminous Landscape is again offering a boat trip in 2020, including flying over the Drake Passage. This trip will be for 18 lucky photographers who will be hosted by Kevin Raber and Art Wolfe. It is on a beautiful new boat, the Magellan Explorer, holding 69 passengers. This weeklong trip (February 15-22, 2020) features 4 days on the Antarctic peninsula. Prices range from $15.8 thousand on up to $27 thousand, depending on cabin selection. In a triple (our favorite cost-cutting strategy), the cost comes down to $14.6 thousand. Gratuities and bar expenses are extra.

From our trip with Luminous Landscape: a leopard seal looks up with interest from its ice floe haul out.

Lindblad/National Geographic

Lindblad/National Geographic offers a 19-day trip going to South Georgia and the Falklands (but not Antarctica). You read that right, almost 3 weeks long, with the main attraction being a full 7 days in South Georgia and 2.5 days or so in the Falklands. This is offered in the shoulder season months of October and March. Prices range from $17-35 thousand per person and include airfare, bar and tips.

Lindblad/National Geographic offers 14-day trips to Antarctica (6 days at the destination) during the months of November-February. They are all-inclusive and range in price from $14-35 thousand.

To go to Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falkland Islands with Lindblad/National Geographic will take nearly a month: the 24-day trip is available in February and November. The itinerary plans 6 days in Antarctica, 5 days in South Georgia and 2 days in the Falklands. The all-inclusive tariff is steep, ranging from $24-56 thousand per person. It sounds like an amazing trip, but is a BIG commitment, both of time and money.

Another argument for going to South Georgia in November: sparring young male elephant seals in a crush of penguins.

Trip reports

Thanks to Lindblad’s online trip reports, I was able recently to reconstruct where we went and how long we were there on our 2003 trip with them. Our journey included 3 days at South Georgia and 4 days in Antarctica, with bonuses of zodiac cruising at Elephant Island and a landing at a large, rarely visited chinstrap penguin colony on Coronation Island in the South Orkneys, en route between South Georgia to Antarctica, during what usually are just “at sea” days.

As another point of comparison, the 3-week trip we just finished on Poseidon Expedition’s Sea Spirit included 2 days in the Falklands, 4 days at South Georgia and 4 days in Antarctica.

Cheeseman’s

Cheeseman’s is another veteran outfitter. We have snorkeled with Ted Cheeseman in the Dominican Republic with humpback whales, but have no personal experience with their polar trips. They offer an unusually small group, chartering a 12-passenger ship for an 18-day, fly in and out trip on the Antarctic peninsula. This features 12 days in Antarctica, which might offer the possibility of traveling further afield than other trips. This doesn’t come cheap at $20-24 thousand per person.

They also have a 23-day trip offering 14 days in Antarctica, essentially the same trip as above, substituting days at sea for flying. The tariff is similar at $20-23 thousand USD per person.

Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris

We also have traveled before with Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris (to Kenya, not to a polar region). Later this year, they are offering an “epic” South Georgia voyage for 78 participants October 8-November 2, 2019. That’s 3.5 weeks, including a planned 3 days in the Falklands and a full 10 days in South Georgia. It is priced at $16-19 thousand, depending on cabin selection.

Interestingly, their website indicates a rather dark outlook for serious photography in Antarctica. They are billing this trip as their last photo voyage to South Georgia, citing industry trends favoring larger vessels and predicting a dearth of small expedition ships in a few years. Interestingly, they also point to the burgeoning population of Antarctic fur seals as another potential factor which may force limitations on landings in the future. We certainly noticed their increased numbers between our recent trip and 2003.

They may be right. Earlier this season, a photographer backed into an elephant seal on South Georgia and received two bites in the buttocks, prompting the ship’s return to the Falklands. Our expedition team was quite vigilant in watching our backs for advancing young fur seals, who were more amusing and inquisitive than scary, although one of our expedition leaders characterized them as “born angry.”

Poseidon Expeditions

If you are a photographer who is not in need of much hand-holding or instruction, the trip we just completed was well-run and worthy of consideration. Poseidon Expeditions’ Sea Spirit is a comfortable, all-suite boat, holding 114 passengers. Later this year, they have a 23-day trip offered October 20-November 11, 2019. The itinerary plans for 2 days in the Falklands, 5 days in South Georgia and 5 days in Antarctica. Prices range from $16.6-27.6 thousand per person in double rooms. They have 6 triple rooms on offer for $13.3 thousand per person.

In January 2020 (January 7-27, 2020), they offer a 21-day trip on Sea Spirit with a similar itinerary, but with one less day planned in Antarctica. It is more expensive, ranging from $22-36.6 thousand per person, with triples going for $16.6 thousand/person.

Other than buddying up with friends or taking roommate potluck in a same sex triple room, there are few options to save money. One worth considering is an early booking discount, which can be substantial. For example, a November 2020 21-day trip with the same planned itinerary as January 2020 goes for $17.6-27.5 thousand per person, with triples priced at $13.3 thousand.

Polar Cruises

These are but a few of the options but should give an idea of what to look for in an itinerary. If all of this is overwhelming, talking to a travel agency specializing in small expedition ship trip travel to Antarctica may help cut through the confusion and sort out the maze of options. We worked with Polar Cruises to book our trip on Sea Spirit.

Which trip would I choose if I could go again? The one I could get the time off for, the one I could afford, but any or all, I would go again, in a heartbeat! So many choices, it’s enough to drive you CRAZY!

Adelie chick imploring parent for food, Antarctica

 

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