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Antarctic Cruise Dates (Nov/Dec) & excursions

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My father and I are planning a trip to Antarctica this winter. We are currently trying to decide when exactly to go. We are looking at trips ranging from 8-12 days because I can only take so many days off of work. We want to make sure we are going at a good time in order to get the most of the experience. We have a range of options from a 11/26-12/3 trip an end of Dec-beginning of January trip.
When is the best time to see baby penguins? We heard December, but would the beginning of December (11/26-12/3) be too early? Seeing the baby penguins would be a real highlight for us.

Some of the cruise options we are looking at include Aurora, Quark, and Oceanwide. Any recommendations?

We would like to do some of the additional excursions (kayaking, camping, zodiac, cross-country skiing etc.), but we don't want to pay a ridiculous amount. Does anyone know why it costs so much to do these excursions ($400-$950) on these cruises? Are there any trips that don't charge as much? Also, do all cruises do the polar plunge? I've heard about it, but I haven't seen it advertised much.

Thanks for the help!

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