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Map of Antarctica

Antarctica Ship Types

The ship you choose for your expedition to Antarctica is the most important factor in determining the quality of your trip. There are a variety of ship types, ranging from large-scale expedition ships to private yacht charters. Make sure to consider the amenities available on each ship, as some include just the basics, while others offer everything from health spas to shipboard lectures.

Expedition Ships:
Designed for cruising remote waterways, these vessels usually have a shallow draft and an ice-hardened hull to push through broken ice. Expedition ships are equipped with Zodiacs for exploration and shore landings. These vessels concentrate on natural history and culture with educational presentations. Comfortable accommodations and quality amenities are combined with a more academic expedition staff. Expect a 10-12 person expedition staff, each with their own area of expertise. The Explorer II and the MV Ushuaia are vessels of this type.

This type of vessel is specifically designed for breaking through sea ice. Originally built for research, scientific institutions from the Soviet Union have leased out these icebreakers to adventure tour operators. These ships can travel to remote areas inaccessible to other vessels. Icebreakers generally have on-board educational programs as well, focusing on natural history and wildlife. These are truly expeditionary as most also have helicopters onboard. An icebreaker is the best choice for the well-seasoned traveler who wants to visit the most remote areas of Antarctica. This means a more expensive but longer itinerary than other types of cruises. The Kapitan Khlebnikov and the Sarpik Ittuk are vessels of this type.

Russian Ships:
These vessels are similar to the icebreakers in that they were originally intended for polar research by Russian institutions. They also have ice-strengthened hulls. However the accommodations onboard are simple not luxurious and feel more like a private expedition than a cruise. These ships tend to attract a younger clientele due to the Russian ships' typically active programs. The Lyubov Orlova and the M/V Akademik Shokalskiy are vessels of this type.

Small Ships:
Although similar to an expedition ship in style, a small ship is not designed for very remote or long-term open ocean cruising. Most carry tenders, sea kayaks, and other recreational craft instead of Zodiacs for making shore landings. Small ships typically cruise more sheltered waters and avoid large rough crossings. There are naturalists and guides available but usually with a less academic approach than on an expedition vessel. The Professor Multanovskiy and the M/S Explorer are vessels of this type.

Sailing Vessels
Antarctic-bound sailing vessels typically employ use of both sail and motor power to ensure sufficient distances are traveled. The tour operator can advise you of an estimated percentage of time the vessel will spend sailing. This type of cruise is best for an adventurous traveler with few time constraints who wants to enjoy a sailing journey and enjoys being close to the water. The Le Ponant and the Sauvage are vessels of this type. Motor Yachts: This is a small ship that can hold no more than 20 or so passengers. Comfortable and often luxurious, motor yachts are best for families and small group charters. Most are equipped with sea kayaks and /or a Zodiac. The crew usually consists of least one naturalist, a chef, deck hand and captain. The MS Monet and the Le Levant are vessels of this type.

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