There are several ways to get to Antarctica. I’m sure you have (or will) google that if you’re planning to make the trip. In short, you can fly or take a boat and taking a boat is, by far, the most reliable. Crossing the Drake can be precarious whether by air or sea but at least by sea, the probability is higher that the trip will actually happen. Also, it’s a more common way to go and there are more options.
It’s all expensive so get over that. I was on the Ocean Endeavor with 195 other guest. Consider that a big Carnival cruise may have 2,000 guests and then shrink that down to a 10th of the size. If you’re interested in the ship’s stats, you can find them on the Quark website here.
Quark is the self-proclaimed leader in polar expeditions. Here’s my opinion of my experience with Quark…
- The customer service is phenomenal. I booked directly with a polar advisor by phone (Miriam) because the cabin I wanted to book online was possibly sold out. I called and Miriam was able to get me into that cabin category. Miriam then continued to follow up with me from booking until I set sail, sending me invoices and information.
- In my experience, the whole operation was professional and hassle-free. I checked into the group hotel with no trouble. The instructions of what to do with luggage were clear. They took our luggage on the night we checked into the group hotel and then I never saw it again until I got to my room on the ship. The group charter flight was handled by Quark, no trouble getting to Ushuaia. We were shuttled to the ship after some free time in Ushuaia, no trouble. Check-in on the ship was no trouble (note: they keep your passport throughout the voyage). Food was ready as soon as we boarded and food was available almost all the time (typical cruise life). Each land stop was organized. I could go on but you get it.
- Food! The meal options were varied, food was tasty and they took VERY special care of those of us with dietary restrictions.
- The expedition team was knowledgeable and the ship staff made each guest feel special. The entire team was great but a few were especially memorable, namely, Jimmy (the whale guy) and Noah (the Bird Man). They were both so passionate and knowledgeable that it made me more interested than I thought I would ever be in marine life and birds. I also appreciated always being greeted by name and with a smile from Keith, Marlon and O’Neil in the dining room and Kiel, my room steward.
- Expert navigation by the Captain. I know no one has control over the Drake Passage conditions but I’m actually glad there was some rockiness. I appreciate how the Captain handled the ship through the Passage, even diverting the course for smoother waters to accommodate dinner and those passengers who were experiencing quite a bit of discomfort.
- Amenities on the Ocean Endeavor ship included a pool, gym, spa, juice bar, library, gift shop and more. Every day there were optional educational seminars and lectures, most of which I attended because they were pretty interesting. There were also two photography sessions for those of us learning to master our DSLRs.
- We got to keep those phenomenal yellow parkas. It was colder when I got home than it was in Antarctica so you better believe I wore my parka right out to run errands. In North Carolina. “Polar Expedition” across the back and everything.
- We could send postcards from the ship for $2 ($1 for the postage and about $1 for the postcard). Don’t waste your time sending dumb-expensive postcards from Ushuaia like I did. It’s been 5 weeks and I’ve received my ship postcard. Where’s the postcard I sent from Ushuaia. Do you know? If so, let me know.
- It’s expensive. Though, to be fair, all voyages to Antarctica are expensive (thousands of dollars) unless you’re part of a crew or special expedition. As I said in my first post about this trip, the folks I polled paid between $4000 and $8000 for this trip. However, we were all on the cheaper end of the spectrum. Rooms on this same ship also went for $15,000+.
- I knew I would be paired with a random female roommate which is fine. But I thought I would at least be paired with her the first night we checked into the hotel so we could meet and get used to rooming together. Because that would have been logical. But nope. I was paired in the hotel with a nice young lady who spoke just enough English to communicate but then on the ship, I was paired with a different person. I actually ended up quite pleased though because my roommate on the ship was a perfect fit. It just would have been nice to only be paired with her from the start.
- The breakfast at the hotel on the morning of our charter flight was turrible: danishes and some sad fruit with coffee. It was subpar, underwhelming and completely uncharacteristic of the food we could expect on the ship. Especially since they had us in some fancy schmancy 5-star hotel on a multi-thousand dollar vacation. Do better.
- My cabin on the ship was unexpectedly smaller than all others in its same category on the same hallway. And this was despite being notified that I’d been upgraded. Quark doesn’t control the layout of the ship, fine. But I’d like to have been prepared that my room would be so small, especially in comparison to the others.
That’s it for my pros and cons. So while I’m talking about Quark, here’s a bit more of the on-ship experience:
Barbecue on the Deck!
I know that’s a penguin but what in the world animal is this other one?
Overall, I loved my experience with Quark Expeditions. Quark did so much right I’d only switch to another company if the price was right or to compare other options.
Have you used Quark Expeditions for a cruise to Antarctica of their other destinations? If so, what am I missing? Or have you used a different company? Like or comment your experience!