Antarctic Adventures with Quark Expeditions
Nothing could have prepared us for the magnificent, vast and pristine wilderness of Antarctica. Our ten-night voyage to and around the Antarctic Peninsula brought us to nine landing sites, some rarely visited. For example, Paulette Island, home to the largest colony of Adelie penguins, was a new destination for most of our expedition team leaders. We were also treated to a challenging landing at Bailey Head on Deception Island to see the largest colony of Chinstrap penguins, another site many of the team had also never been*. The strait near Paulette Island is usually heavily iced over and Bailey Head is open to the sea, requiring unusually calm wave conditions to tackle. This proved to us that no two trips to Antarctica are the same—it requires an adventurous and knowledgeable team of people working closely together to provide safe experiences in this inhospitable place. One landing was even aborted after the first zodiac went out with passengers because a blizzard came in!
WHY ANTARCTICA? WHY NOT!
People often ask, “Why Antarctica?” For Justin, our first RTW adventure would not be complete without a visit to all seven continents. Minh was lukewarm to the idea, but both of us were ultimately blown away by everything. We saw endless snow and ice, pods of Orca and Humpback whales, Weddell and Elephant seals, no fewer than 250,000 penguins, nearly 24 hours of daylight… It was like being on another planet. No words or pictures can truly capture what we experienced. You have to see it to believe it, and when you’re ready to take the polar plunge**, here’s our advice:
Antarctica is a very expensive destination (at least $6,000 per person in a triple room and by ship is the only way you can visit). Justin knew he wanted to go with Quark Expeditions, which is regarded as the best budget company, so he signed up on their email list to be notified of sales.
Historically, Quark has “buy-one-get-one-free” deals in early fall and Black Friday. As soon as Justin got the email with promotions for December sailings, the time we would be in South America, he called Quark to book (we happened to be at Lake Bled, Slovenia).
Quark provides you with a parka to keep and boots to borrow, so that’s two fewer things to worry about buying and packing. They’ll give you a list of other recommended items to bring.
Beware of the Drake Passage. Minh has never been motion sick before, and this was too much for him. Two days down and two days back relegated half the passengers to their rooms, either hugging the toilet or knocked out from seasickness medication. Don’t worry too much, though, because there’s always an American doctor on board to hand out Phenergan. And in related news, Justin enjoyed sleeping 18 hours a day.
We sailed on the M/V Sea Adventurer, which is a rather old vessel, but every other aspect of it was excellent, from the service of the crew to the variety and quality of the food (how they keep it all fresh for the entire voyage is beyond us). Most importantly when choosing a ship, however, is the number of passengers. Regulations allow only 100 people on land at a time, so a larger ship could limit your experience to accommodate everybody. On the flip side, a too small ship could subject you more to the motion of the ocean.
About 38,000 tourists visit Antarctica annually—that’s slightly more than North Korea! Those you’ll meet on your trip will be some of the most interesting and well-traveled people in the world. We felt like amateurs after coming across so many 20-somethings who succeeded in their goal of visiting every continent before turning 30. If you have any doubts about going… GO! The experience is unlike any other, and seasickness and the Drake Passage is a part of the adventure (plus, many flights over the Drake get canceled for a variety of reasons).
*One expedition leader has been coming to Antarctica for the past ten seasons and has only landed at Bailey Head twice.
**We are officially members of the “Polar Plunge Club” after successfully jumping into 0.9 degree Celsius water (we jumped out as fast as we jumped in).
Note: These pictures are watermarked because they are among the ones we shared with everyone on our ship.