An Albertan’s Antarctica Trip with Quark Expeditions

An Albertan’s Antarctica Trip with Quark Expeditions

April 13, 2018
Quark Antarctica expedition

In 2017, AMA Travel held its 7 Continents contest. Each week during the contest, seven Albertans were selected and each winner was awarded a trip to one of the world’s continents: the winner of the European vacation cruised Paris and Normandy down the Seine river, South America’s scaled Machu Picchu, Asia’s toured India’s Golden Trial, and Africa’s went on Safari in South Africa.

But the most expensive of the vacations was an expedition to Antarctica, led by Quark Expeditions. The nearly $45,000 trip covered flights to Argentina, followed by a journey down to the land of penguins, seals, and ice.

Upon his return, winner Brian Miller sent us his reflections on the journey.

The Expedition to the Expedition

“The travel involved flights from Edmonton to Toronto, Toronto to Buenos Aires (BA), then Buenos Aires to Ushuaia, Argentina. We left Edmonton on a Tuesday afternoon, arriving in Buenos Aires the next day around 4 p.m. AMA travel agents worked with a tour operator to have us picked up at the airport and driven to our hotel. This was a very nice hotel near the Plaza de Mayo in BA.”

Brian and his guest were put up in the five-star NH Collection Buenos Aires Centro Histórico. It’s a great spot from which to explore the city, as it’s close to the Metropolitan Cathedral, the famous Teatro Colón opera house, and the Puerto Madero waterfront, which is full of shops, tango parlors, and the Metropolitan Museum.

“The morning after, the tour guide picked us up for a personal three-hour tour of the highlights of Buenos Aires. Although I had read that it can be a problem for tourists in terms of theft, we did not find this to be the case. In fact, during our time in there, there were public protests about the government, and we followed the protestors to get a feel for the vibe in the streets.

“We stayed in BA for two days and then flew to Ushuaia on the Friday and stayed in a hotel near the dock, Beagle Canal. Ushuaia is a small coastal village and fun to walk down the main street (it has a Banff-like appeal). On the Saturday morning, we took a tour to their national park, then we boarded the cruise ship, Quark’s Ocean Diamond, to begin an expedition to Antarctica.”

mountain view from Ushuaia

The Ocean Diamond and Drake Passage

The Quark Expedition Ocean Diamond is as beautiful and tough as the name suggests: A super-yacht with reinforced hull to cut through the ice, the ship is complete with exterior-view cabins, flat screen TVs, professional bar tender, massage therapy program, and a panoramic observation lounge.

glacial arch in Antartica

“There were approximately 150 guests with nearly the same number of ship staff and expedition team members. Guests were from all over the world: Canada (maybe 10%), Australia, US, South Africa, Europe, China, and England. Expedition team members were from Canada, US, Australia, and Russia.

“There were around 24 expedition team members who facilitated all activities. The team members have diverse skill sets: experts on expedition travel, bird, seal, whale, glacier, iceberg, microbiology, etc.

“The trip was approximately 11 days in length and one of their tours that goes well south of the Antarctic circle. We spent approximately three-and-a-half days crossing the Drake Passage – initially crossing the Antarctic circle then continuing further south before we first hit land. The expedition leader conferred daily with the ship’s captain on the routes they would take. This was an expedition, and although a definite itinerary existed you could never be guaranteed to observe it due to weather conditions, ice, etc. In some instances, we went to a different location when our first location was inaccessible. Also, when crossing the Drake, the captain was mindful of weather conditions, and would adjust the ship’s course/speed to avoid bad weather.”

Drake Passage is an 800-kilometer stretch of sea between the tip of South America and the Antarctic continent. It is the shortest distance from Antarctica to another continent, and connects the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Its first recorded traversal was in 1578 and remains the safest way to reach Antarctica to this day.

penguins on Antarctica shore

“The Drake crossing had moderate seas… meaning you might be staggering down the hall going to your room. This ship is much smaller than your typical cruise ship. There were two doctors on board (one for the guests and one for the crew). Seminars were conducted by the doctor for guests regarding sea sickness. We used the patch, plus a medication the doctor provided, and did not encounter any problems. Based on attendance at breakfast I would guess that approximately 15% of guests struggled a bit with sea sickness.

“While travelling across the Drake, we attended 45-minute seminars on animals we would see: penguins, whales, seals, etc. Each day was filled with training, seminars, expeditions (the ship was always anchored and we went to shore and cruising on zodiacs), and safety procedures.”

Arrival in Antarctica

Zodiac cruising in Antarctica

“The guests were divided into four groups. Each morning, we would eat breakfast, then go offboard onto the zodiacs to either cruise the area (typically bays) or go on shore. When cruising on the zodiacs, we would see and come close to whales, penguins, and seals. Similarly, on shore we would get up close to penguins and seals at a respectful/non-intrusive distance.

“Two groups would cruise for one to one-and-a-half hours and the other two groups would go onshore. We would then switch, come back to the ship for lunch and then travel to a new location, do the same thing and then return the ship. Each day there was a recap meeting held in the theatre for the guests and the expedition team. During the briefing, we would review the day, and discuss our plans for the next day.”

Quark makes sure that you experience the Antarctic up close and personal. Their excursions include zodiac cruising, snowshoeing, hiking, and kayaking (though the kayaking requires a small fee). You’ll see the wildlife of the Falkland Islands, and a world still ruled by nature.

Penguin colony in Antarctica

“The meals on the ship were excellent. All passengers ate together in the dining room, and you generally sat with different guests throughout the trip. The expedition team members also sat with guests at each table so you got to know a little about them and vice versa. We had breakfast and lunch buffets, high tea in the afternoon, and a sit down plated meal each evening. Quark provided wine with dinner – and it was excellent. Different wines every evening.

“Also, every evening after dinner there would be an event in the lounge where a team member might discuss things about their travels or experiences. One of the team members was an expert photographer and computers were set up for guests to upload their photos. During each meeting a photo of the day for scenery, guest shots, and seals, etc., were posted. All photos uploaded will be available for all guests to download for a period of two years. The photographer (from Alaska) also prepared a slide show with videos to highlight our trip. Over 2000 photos were uploaded by the guests.

“On the last evening, we had a fun party in the lounge and everyone let their hair down (guests and expedition team members included). This was the last trip of the season as winter is coming for the Antarctic, and expedition members were going in different directions. Some would be meeting up in a month or so to begin the Arctic expedition season.

“Once we finished our tour in Ushuaia, we flew to BA and spent another day there before returning home.”

Lapataia Bay National Park Argentina

“My wife and I were very honored to have the rare opportunity to set foot on the Continent of Antarctica and will fondly remember this experience for the rest of our lives.”

Sounds like a story of a lifetime, no? If you’re interested in your own expedition to the forgotten continent, contact your local AMA Travel agent online, book an appointment online or over the phone at 1-844-771-1522. And always keep watch for the next amazing AMA Travel contest!
About the Author
Caleb Caswell
Caleb Caswell is the digital copywriter for AMA Travel. When travelling, he enjoys not making plans and expanding his wardrobe. His top travel recommendation is trying Japan’s raw-chicken tataki. C’mon, live a little.