The other day, nearly 6,000 cruise ship passengers disembarked at the commercial pier of Ushuaia, a city of roughly 65,000 people on the Beagle Channel. That sounds like a lot, and it is a lot, but in December 2007 I was in the Falkland Islands when some 4,000 cruisers descended on the town of Stanley (population 2,186). Most of those passengers are from huge vessels like the Carnival cruise liner in the photo here, at Ushuaia, but the more adventurous arrive on smaller ships.
I arrived myself on a much smaller cruise ship, the Via Australis, which belongs to Cruceros Australis and shuttles between here and Punta Arenas, Chile, every austral summer. Usually these boats are filled to capacity, which is around 120 passengers, but the slowing global economy has apparently meant empty cabins and, because of that, there are some good last minute deals on this route - Ushuaia travel agencies are advertising prices as low as US$900 per person for four days, three nights, to Punta Arenas, and Cruceros’ own web site offers rates as low as US$788 (the usual price is about US$1330 per person). On a luxury cruise with gourmet food and an open bar, that visits locations as remote as Cape Horn, this is a phenomenal bargain, and worth looking into for anyone visiting Ushuaia or Punta Arenas in the next couple months.
The same holds true for Antarctica, though season’s end is approaching there. The standard price for a 10- or 11-day cruise to the frozen continent is US$5,000, but Ushuaia agencies are advertising prices below US$4,000.
Prices could fall even more next year, if the economic scenario does not improve. For the 2010-11 season, Cruceros Australis is commissioning the larger (210-passenger) Stella Australis, which will have additional amenities such as an exercise room and satellite phones in each cabin. Obviously, the project began well before the current crisis, but it could mean that over-capacity in the near future could keep prices low or drive them even lower - a bargain for those whose economic situation still allows them to spare the cash.
On another theme, the ATM conundrum about which I wrote recently in El Calafate is identical in Ushuaia. One Swedish visitor told me he managed to extract 500 pesos from a cash machine here, but all my efforts at various banks yesterday would not yield any more than 300 pesos - so that multiple ATM visits over several days are necessary to have enough cash to get around. Be forewarned.