A lot of people are asking me, “Where did you stay in Antarctica?” “Are there hotels there?” “How big is the cruise ship” and so on. This article is a quick read on what it is like to spend 19 days on a sea-faring vessel in the most remote part of the planet.
We embarked on our voyage in USHUAIA, Argentina. Our Quark ship is called the OCEAN ADVENTURER. It measures 101 meters long and can carry 87 crew and 128 passengers. Its maximum speed in open water is 12 knots or about 22 km/hr – not very fast but certainly fast enough to get us to our destination. There are no towns or hotels in Antarctica. The continent is not “owned” by any nation – although there are many countries doing research there with their flags waving.
The cabins themselves were comfortable but a bit utilitarian – room for Wellington boots, waterproof gear, parkas, life vests, etc. The bathrooms were small but modern with good showers. Grab bars were everywhere – the importance of which was made apparent on our very first day at sea.
Our cabin was my retreat for several days at sea when the only way not to be nauseous was to lie down! For Colin, he found alternating between getting out on deck, seeing some seabirds and walking gingerly through the hallways with both hands on the rails at all times, was a better way to ward off the sea sickness. Breakfast on day two was sparsely attended and the concierge was handing out anti-nauseants like candy. We did acclimatize fairly quickly, thankfully.
The dining room was typical of most upscale restaurants with the notable difference being that the tables and chairs were literally bolted to the floor. Some of our meals were taken among 20-foot (6 meter) swells of the ocean making for a very interesting experience! One evening our dinner was delayed for an hour while frantic staff cleaned up an entire vat of soup that had been thrown to the floor! Several of the diners that evening were shaken up with bruises and scrapes. One poor fellow had to get stitches on his forehead after flying through the air in his cabin! The ship’s doctor was busy.
Three meals a day were served. Everyday. The staff in the dining room was incredible! Breakfasts and lunches were buffet style. Dinners were sit-down affairs with menus, wine and fun conversation! There was no assigned seating so it was nice to be able to sit with different guests and find out all about them. There was a large contingent of British nature lovers on this cruise as well as people from all areas of the globe. The 106 passengers on our trip where divided into 5 groups named after the different explorers of Antarctica. Ours was the Shackleton group after the famous Ernest Shackleton. A group of 21 of us had arrived together – organized by Nomadasauras, a husband/wife team from Australia who travel the world, write blogs posts and do amazing photography. We were the most adventurous of the groups for sure – with a lot of us participating in kayaking and the polar plunge.
In the evenings and on long sea days, we enjoyed all sorts of lectures given by the expedition staff. Of the 13 crew that were responsible for guiding, zodiac piloting, lectures and knowing all things Antarctica, 6 of them were fellow Canadians – including our illustrious leader, Christian Geissler from Vancouver Island, Canada! Not only is Christian an amazing expedition leader he is a fabulous artist. (Be sure to check out his website!)
Charmingly, a lot of the usual shenanigans that stateroom attendants on cruises like to perpetrate were alive and well on the Quark Ocean Explorer adding some whimsy and fun to our cruise!
But an Antarctic cruise is not like a Mediterranean or Caribbean cruise. An Antarctic cruise requires a preparedness and attention to detail. You can’t simply stroll down to the gang plank when the notion hits you. Our daily routines were very regimented. When not at sea, we were preparing to embark in the zodiacs to get our various groups onto shore. This entailed donning warm clothing, then waterproof pants, a two-layered coat with hood, gloves, hat, scarf, waterproof boots and a small life vest. Then, add in camera gear, binoculars and walking sticks. We certainly weren’t going anywhere fast!
Then there was “biosecurity”. Prior to getting into the zodiac, all of our clothing had to be checked for seeds in velcro or other nefarious objects that might irrevocably alter the terrain where 100,000 penguins were defecating! Our boots had to be dipped in disinfectant upon disembarkation and re-embarkation every time. The routine could be quite tedious – particularly for South Georgia Island. However, after a while we all became adept at dressing and decontaminating in record time.
It was amazing to see the breathtaking scenery and abundant wildlife of Antarctica, The Falkland Islands and South Georgia Island, but it was also nice to get back on board and strip off all the heavy gear, warm up and relax. After our morning trek we were back on board for lunch and then getting ready for the afternoon excursion. The days were very full and sometimes exhausting.
People ask me, “would you do it again”? The answer is “no”. In my view, this is a trip of a lifetime – incredible, other-worldly, inspiring, (insert superlative here), but it was also exhausting, onerous, long and very expensive! All necessary things when you understand how remote this part of the earth is and how difficult it is to get there.
I am humbled by nature and the beauty of our planet. It was marvellous to see it at its most unspoiled. There were travellers on board who had been to Antarctica two and three times before. Perhaps if it were closer or less expensive, seeing it a bit later in the season, (we went in November), would be fun. But, no. Similar to our Galapagos adventure, once was glorious. And once was enough.
Our Quark Expeditions travel agent was Monize Diniz.
More articles on our trip to Antarctica: