A21 History: Ocean Nova Joins The Antarctica21 Fleet

In the early years of Antarctica21, the company operated its expeditions using former Russian research vessels. Ocean Nova changed everything.

Thursday, March 9, 2023

In 2023 Antarctica21 celebrates its 20th Anniversary. During our company’s 20th anniversary year, we want to celebrate our history with a review of the important milestones that have defined our journey. This is one of the notable moments in the company’s history. You can read more stories here.

Written by Francesco Contini, Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Antarctica21

In the early years of Antarctica21, the Company organized its expeditions using former Russian research vessels.

At various stages from 2003 to 2010, Grigoriy Mikheev, Aleksey Maryshev, and Professor Multanovskiy met up with our flights at King George Island. Those Russian vessels and their crews welcomed Antarctica21 guests warmly, and over the years helped us deliver many successful expeditions, with highly satisfied customers.

Grigoriy Mikheev vessel

Those ships accommodated guests in spaces that were originally meant for working scientists and their support personnel. Public areas were small and adapted for tourism operations, their intended use at the time of design being quite different. Accommodations were practical and functional but simple. Several cabins offered shared bathroom facilities.

The expeditions we organized with those former research vessels found their primary audience among rugged European adventurers. During their other travel experiences, those clients could be found sharing accommodation in mountain huts in the Alps, or contributing to work duties on sailing yachts in the Mediterranean, or sleeping in tents during 4×4 desert-crossing adventures. They valued access to the destination, technical expertise, and the camaraderie of small group travel.


As the Antarctic fly and cruise model consolidated, we saw an opportunity to grow by capturing a wider market. The US, the biggest source market for Antarctic travelers, was the big prize. Cognizant of the limitations of the Russian research ships, we knew that, in addition to a spirit of adventure, smarter accommodation and more sophisticated hospitality would be needed to match the expectations of American travelers. Enter Ocean Nova, which joined Antarctica21 during the 2010-11 season. 

If the BAE146 jet was a game changer for the aviation component of our programs, Ocean Nova was the game changer for the maritime side. On the one hand, the ship is small, nimble, and muscular, appealing to what was then Antarctica21’s core audience of adventurous Europeans. On the other hand, Ocean Nova was very comfortable, built as a passenger ship from the start, with clean Scandinavian design and rational use of public spaces. The beautiful glass-enclosed observation lounge was a key feature that added significantly to the shipboard experience. 


Image of slide Ocean Nova in Antarctica
Image of slide On board Ocean Nova in Antarctica
Image of slide Ocean Nova's panorama lounge
Image of slide

From a technical point of view, the vessel also brought several improvements. The ship is extremely fuel efficient, with extensive range that allows it to be in Antarctica for extended periods of time before it needs to come back to port to refuel. Ocean Nova features modern equipment in all the different areas of operation, from the engine room, to the bridge, to the galley etc. and as a result the vessel runs smoothly and reliably. Expertly managed by a dedicated and caring owner, the vessel helped take Antarctica21’s offer to a whole new audience who would not have considered the Company previously.

Ocean Nova was initially introduced with a 9-departure 2010-11 season. The offer was so successful that, after just two years, Antarctica21 doubled the capacity, scheduling a full 2012-13 season with 17 departures. Since then, Ocean Nova has been central to Antarctica21’s offer. 

Thanks to Ocean Nova, the US market began to embrace Antarctica21 and its air-cruise model. Most of the long-established American active travel companies, particularly those celebrated operators based on the West Coast, began to cooperate with Antarctica21, generating wonderful partnerships that continue to this day. 

Together with the BAE146, the introduction of Ocean Nova helped consolidate Antarctica21’s business. The additional capacity and scale allowed us to increase the size of our teams and to make important investments in the company’s infrastructure. Significantly, it was because of Ocean Nova, with its simple and consistent cabin inventory, that we felt confident enough to make the first forays in the group-based Asian market, another important development in the evolution of our company. But that’s a story for next time.


A21 History by Francesco Contini

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