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Fly the Drake vs. more luxurious ship

Fly the Drake vs. more luxurious ship

Old Feb 24, 2023, 3:17 pm
  #1  
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Join Date: Oct 2017
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Fly the Drake vs. more luxurious ship

I'm trying to decide between two good Antarctic cruise options:
Option 1: Fly the Drake both ways, 12 day Cruise with Quark Expeditions
Pros: Fly the Drake. Explicitly aims to cross the Antarctic Circle
Cons $6000 pp more expensive
Option 2: Seabourn 13 Day Antarctic Explorer
Pros: Significantly less expensive. Seems more luxurious. Definitely a bigger room with bigger window/door and veranda.
Submarines! (for $1000 extra)
Does similarly include 7 days along Antarctica, but doesn't aim for circle.
Cons: 2 days each way at sea crossing the Drake. I've been on a research vessel previously and meds controlled motion sickness for me.

I'm just looking for any opinions from anyone who's done similar trips.

Last edited by physics; Feb 24, 2023 at 3:36 pm Reason: spelling
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Old Feb 27, 2023, 12:16 pm
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I haven't gone yet - but I am booked on Seabourn for their 20 day Antarctic journey that goes through the Drake. So this is totally my 'only informed through research' opinion. But -

My husband and I are going to do Antartica only once, so we want to make the most of it. To us, that means including South Georgia and the Faulklands. I also personally want the 'adventure' of doing the Drake passage, on a purely emotional level I don't think I would want to have skipped it.

There are also a few things we wanted any ship we booked with to have: mud room, balcony, all inclusive (because we drink on vacations & non AI tends to be more expensive), heating units in closets or mudrooms, boot/coat rental, kayaks, and so many more.

Come up with your must-have list. For us - the decision that we wanted to do the Faulkands, South Georgia AND Antartica on one journey pretty much immediately shortened our list to (if I remember right) only Seabourn and Crystal. Crystal then went under and...our choice was made!

Flying vs sailing the Drake is a HUGE decision, and very very personal, only you can decide if it's necessary for you to have the trip you want.
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Old Feb 27, 2023, 5:55 pm
  #3  
 
Join Date: Sep 2010
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Everything is a matter of personal preference, but for me (and others I've talked who have also gone to Antarctica), the point of the trip is to experience and maximize time on Antarctica. Unlike most cruise vacations, the ship itself and its amenities are secondary when it comes to going to Antarctica. Things I would consider to be important would be:
- How many passengers does the ship accommodate for each sailing? Per IAATO guidelines, only 100 people (passengers and guides) from each ship can go ashore at any time. Thus, more passengers means higher likelihood passengers taking turns to go ashore -> the more time spent at each landing -> the less places your ship can visit in Antarctica. I went on a small (and very basic) ship with only 67 passengers, so we were able to make at least 2 landings each day. That said, while you're waiting for your turn to go ashore, it would be nice to have all the amenities. But since this is a once-in-a-lifetime trip, I valued maximizing my time ashore rather than a hot tub I could enjoy anywhere.
https://iaato.org/who-we-are/vessel-directory/

- Flying vs. sailing the Drake? Sailing the Drake was not fun. I took Dramamine, slept in most of the time, and just came out for meals; others just stayed in their rooms the whole time and got "room service" because just couldn't get out of bed. We had to sail back to Ushuaia half a day earlier than planned to avoid the worst of a big storm, and the kitchen was closed that night for safety reasons. Instead of the usual plated, multi-course meals, we had sandwiches for dinner that night. And needless to say, no one was allowed outside during the Drake crossing. So a lot of amenities probably don't end up mattering as much if you can't enjoy them during the sailing.
That said, while not pleasant, a ship can and do sail through bad-ish weather. However, a plane will not. Your expedition is more likely to get canceled due to not being able to fly than not being able to sail. The fly-the-Drake season is generally shorter than the sailing season because they have make sure the runway aren't iced over.

- Don't stress too much about the Drake. Despite the fear of the Drake crossing, it's not something that will ruin your trip (unless the weather is so bad that the expedition has to be canceled). My friend was in sales for one the expedition companies and no customer every said they regretted going to Antartica because they had a rough Drake crossing or the ship amenities weren't up to par. This is one trip that is really about the destination, not the journey.
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Last edited by EmpressRouge; Mar 14, 2023 at 11:13 am
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Old Mar 14, 2023, 10:25 am
  #4  
 
Join Date: Jul 2015
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I've sailed the Drake back and forth maybe 9 times working as a guide on the Bark Europa, a 110 year old Dutch vessel. It was always an incredible experience, sometimes grueling but always worth it. You will see Royal and Wandering Albatross with the longest wingspans in the world and other pelagic seabirds that are much tougher to find around the Antarctic Peninsula. It's a wild part of the world that few get to experience, and it helps solidify your understanding of the remoteness of Antarctica. I consider it a rite of passage, an essential part of the Antarctic experience.
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Old Mar 14, 2023, 10:57 am
  #5  
 
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I've done it

Flying to KG Island is a new thing. I agree with most, that Antarctica should be considered a voyage and an experience, not a Luxury vacation. I did it so I could brag I've been to all 7 continents and actually slept on the ice for a night and got a passport stamp from one of the research stations. We were warned to get the nausea shot when first leaving port and those who listened, didn't have dinner but didn't get horribly sick. Those who didn't listen were fine the next afternoon.
We crossed the circle and had a fantail barbecue on the other side to celebrate as there are times when the ice prevents going that far. I feel Antarctica should never be a Luxury Cruise destination.
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Old Mar 14, 2023, 11:09 am
  #6  
 
Join Date: Feb 2012
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Loved the Drake

A small group of us just completed the Quark Ultramarine sail to Antarctica from Ushuaia in January, with landings at Tierra del Fuego and the Antarctic peninsula. ~130 passengers. Everything was amazing: New ship, helicopter trips, zodiac expeditions, wildlife and beautiful icy landscapes everywhere, large standard suites, food, staff, etc. On the initial crossing we got the, the Drake Lake. Easy. Returning we got the Drake Shake, with 100mph wind gusts and 30 foot waves. We were confined to cabins for most of one day because we lost the port stabilizer and that made the roll significantly worse. Still, no problem. Staff brought lunch to our rooms! Just part of the adventure. Highly recommend it!

Originally Posted by physics
I'm trying to decide between two good Antarctic cruise options:
Option 1: Fly the Drake both ways, 12 day Cruise with Quark Expeditions
Pros: Fly the Drake. Explicitly aims to cross the Antarctic Circle
Cons $6000 pp more expensive
Option 2: Seabourn 13 Day Antarctic Explorer
Pros: Significantly less expensive. Seems more luxurious. Definitely a bigger room with bigger window/door and veranda.
Submarines! (for $1000 extra)
Does similarly include 7 days along Antarctica, but doesn't aim for circle.
Cons: 2 days each way at sea crossing the Drake. I've been on a research vessel previously and meds controlled motion sickness for me.

I'm just looking for any opinions from anyone who's done similar trips.
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Old Mar 14, 2023, 11:40 am
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I did the Antarctica trip a long time ago, in 2004 on the Marco Polo. It was actually my first cruise anywhere and I was clueless about seasickness, thought Dramamine would take care of it. I was miserable on the first crossing, a little less so coming back. A couple of cruises later I discovered the prescription scopolamine patch and literally "smooth sailing" since then in some rough waters of the world. I think the Drake would be fine with the patch.
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Old Mar 14, 2023, 12:43 pm
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I did Quark "Fly the Drake" at the beginning of the season (must have been Dec 2019) where their final cruise ship got held in port for 2 weeks (Covid fears). Only option for me to get to my 7th continent was flying. Even if (when) the patches work, the med makes me feel miserable. I know some people love the whole experience of Antartica, but for me I feel 'trapped' and dont like the cold weather in the first place, so wanted the shortest trip possible. I believe the flying option added $4000? Whole cruise part around $10,000k which is more than I typically spend but in retrospect falls in the 'worth it' category. So maybe you can keep shopping, find a good broker/advisor. I did share a cabin and that helped with the savings if you are solo. It was fine. Most people going to Antartica have a lot of travel experience, but even if you were not seasick and room mate was....??? not fun. I found a few on-line videos showing the ship and that helped a lot. The new ship sounds amazing. Also, if you have time/option, one of the high value redemptions for United excursionist perk is to get yourself to the galapagos if you plan it right. LOL - I was overconfident from my fine Antartcia trip so went on a last minute Galapagos cruise (smaller boats) and was sick/miserable the whole time - even with patches. No more boats for me!
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Old Mar 14, 2023, 1:36 pm
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Join Date: Jul 2005
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I did the Drake crossing a few years ago on the Akademik Sergey Vavilov. It was a former Russian "polar research" vessel. It was actually a former spy ship. It had an active balancing system that worked well. Took Dramamine for the initial crossing and was fine. Didn't take Dramamine during the sails between the islands. On the return crossing to Ushuaia didn't take the Dramamine and got sick a few hours into the journey at dinner. Ship's doctor gave me a shot of Phenergan which eliminated the nausea. Seas were about 40 feet during both crossings. You had to make sure to hold onto hand rails and be careful when walking around. Staying in bed was a bit of a challenge. I would definitely do the crossing again. Good luck and enjoy the journey.
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Old Mar 14, 2023, 5:20 pm
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Take the boat

Just finished a wonderful crossing of the Drake on the Azamara Pursuit (Jan 7 - 24) and although we had heard some stories of the Drake the trip was great. Mind you, the Pursuit is almost 700 passengers. Some crew members mentioned they were not that happy with the trip given that there can be problems with the sea swells. At one point the swells were 30 feet but I gather that was small compared to some.

Interesting sitting in the restaurant watching the sea out the back window moving from the top of the window to the bottom of the window. Of course that was the ship pitching up and down to an amazing extent. Absolutely pleased with the choice to actually cross the Drake At one point the Captain mentioned we had 100 knot winds but he chose his heading carefully so as to have the best ride possible.

I suspect that some passengers got seasick as the restaurants were not crowded. We took nothing and enjoyed the ride. Have fun - take the boat! The Seabourne should be great.
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Last edited by Azamaraal; Mar 14, 2023 at 5:21 pm Reason: touch typing problems
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Old Mar 14, 2023, 8:01 pm
  #11  
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I would lean towards ships that have ice ratings. The Lindblad/National Geographic, Ponant, Quark, Hurtigruten, Hapag Lloyd, all specialize in expedition travel. Many of the fore mentioned cruise lines have ships with ice rated hulls, etc. Stay far away from any ship that comes from a line that does not specialize in expedition travel. Seabourne, SilverSea, and Celebrity have 100 person or less ships but they do not have the experience in Antarctica that assures that you will a good trip. The pricing with the expedition lines is roughly $8-12K for 10 nights. The cruise lines are more in the $12-20K range and not necessarily giving you a better experience. Many of the luxe cruise lines' ship have more than 200 pax. Which becomes very limiting to your shore experience.

I would pick a Quark expedition that sails the Drake. Save yourself the money as those flights can be easily canceled. Here's a good video on one man's flying journey:
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Old Mar 15, 2023, 11:40 am
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Join Date: Feb 2004
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I did a Quark Expeditions trip a few years back via the Drake. Perfectly calm on the way down, a bit bumpy on the way back but nothing awful. I sailed early-season (mid-November) - the mid season (~January) is likely to be the calmest. I'm quite prone to being motion sick and got a prescription for a scopolamine patch. The patch worked wonders - didn't feel sick at all during the entire trip. One weird side effect it gave me - I had noticeable double vision in some circumstances, like while trying to read. It didn't hinder things at all and I highly recommend it.
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Old Mar 16, 2023, 12:28 pm
  #13  
 
Join Date: May 2009
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On our travels hiking Patagonia recently, we met a German couple who had reservations to "fly the Drake". Spoiler alert, they never made it. Too foggy. They tried for a week. So, they made the best of their time in South America, rented a car and drove all the way from USH to El Chalten. We met them while we were staying at an estancia.

Their 2 cents. They cruise line said they could re-book, and they chose this 2023 upcoming season to SAIL the drake this time.

We did a November 2021 17 night on Silversea Cloud. It was fabulous. The Drake was not too bad. The seas were from 3-5 meters. A lot of people hunkered down in their cabins, but we kept eating Bonine, and were a little queasy, but not too bad at all. I even got a RX from my doctor of a prescription seasick med just in case. The ship was the 2nd out after lockdown in Feb/march 2020, and was 140 pax. I would do it again if given the chance!!
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Old Mar 16, 2023, 4:23 pm
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We did a trip several years ago with Antarctica XXI that flew the Drake both ways. Our ship was the Ocean Nova, which was a wonderful size (around 70 passengers IIRC). It does add a bit of stress wondering if the flights will be able to go, but it worked out for us. In our case, there was an impending airline strike that nearly impeded our ability to get to Punta Arenas in the first place. We had to change our flights last minute to head out early to get ahead of the strike, and this turned out to be good because impending bad weather meant we actually flew out to KG Island a day early. Meaning the prior set of folks had to depart a bit early. For us the deciding factor was that we didn't have time to do a longer trip, and saving 4 days of crossings was worth the added uncertainty about flying. I believe there are some options that involve flying one way and going by sea the other, which might be a good compromise if you are on the fence (though it'd be best to fly on the return to maximize the chances of getting there!). As a side note, our trip offered an excellent kayaking program as well as optional snowshoeing hikes -- these were super fun and well worth it. It's an amazing landscape -- you'll have a great time.
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Old Mar 16, 2023, 4:56 pm
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Originally Posted by Maykita
We did a trip several years ago with Antarctica XXI that flew the Drake both ways. Our ship was the Ocean Nova, which was a wonderful size (around 70 passengers IIRC).
I sailed on Ocean Nova with Antarctica XXI as well! We were on its first sailing of the season in mid-November and sailed both ways because the Fly the Drake options weren't available until December. I remember it being about 70 passengers as well. The rooms were pretty basic (no double beds), but totally worth the tradeoff to do 2 landings a day and spending more time onshore.
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