By Naomi Zerner
In February 2019, I travelled to Antarctica as a guest of Quark on their 12-day Antarctic Explorer expedition from Ushuaia. I’ve sent lots of clients to Antarctica and I knew it would be good, but this trip far exceeded my expectations in every way possible!
The Ocean Adventurer is an expedition ship operated by Quark, among others. She was built in 1975 and underwent an $8 million refurbishment in 2017. She is a very comfortable ship, certainly an expedition and not designed to be pretty, but the décor was fresh and not shabby or tired. The rooms were cosy and the beds were extremely comfortable, perfect for being rocked to sleep by the waves as we crossed the Drake Passage. (I was lucky – it was smooth sailing in both directions.) While there was no mud room for your wet boots & coats, there is space in the rooms to hang and store them. There are no elevators on board, just stairs.
There were two hot tubs on board. I didn’t use them, but they were popular with the passengers that did. A few of the guests were treated to a display of humpback whale lunge feeding while sipping drinks from their spots in the hot tub!
The hotel and catering staff on board were fantastic. Their ability to serve food and drinks as the boat rocked in the ocean impressed me to no end. Breakfast and lunch were buffet-style, and dinner was a la carte with 3-4 options for each course. Dinner also came with the magic glass (it’s never empty), and the catering staff knew your preferred beverage by day two. The food was delicious and had a great variety. I can’t rave about it enough!
The guests on board were a mix of nationalities. There were 122 guests onboard on this sailing of which there were 35 from the US, 30 Aussies, 29 French, 25 other European nationalities and 3 from Malaysia. There were 64 females and 59 males. The youngest guest was 18 years old and the oldest guest was 86. There were 21 expedition team members, from Canada, USA, Australia, Austria, UK, Russia, Colombia and China. (9 female, 12 male). The 76 crew were a mixed bag of nationalities. They hailed from the Philippines, Nicaragua, Jamaica, Honduras, Chile, Indonesia, China, Ukraine, Croatia, Mauritius and India.
The entire process of getting off and on the boat for shore excursions was seamless – you could definitely tell the staff were experienced and knowledgeable. It took 30-45 minutes to disembark all 130 passengers, and each day we took turns as to who would disembark first to ensure it was fair. Safety was paramount, and the Zodiac staff getting you into and out of the boats took extreme care. The expedition staff and experts on board were so knowledgeable, even if it wasn’t their area of expertise, they were able to answer any questions you had about the history, ice or wildlife.
On this trip, Quark offered 2-hour paddling excursions. I thought it was great and just enough for me. I got close to nature and picked up my own bit of ice for my whisky that night! The feedback from other guests was also positive. They supplied us with dry-suits, booties and waterproof, fur-lined gloves so you just needed to wear your thermal layers underneath.
The lectures presented by the experts were interesting and engaging. After chatting to a few other passengers, many didn’t realise how educational the trip would be, with the variety of lectures and presentations that were great to attend. I think it gave everyone an extra appreciation for the animals, history and environment we were experiencing.
This is the most magical trip I’ve ever taken, and I honestly cannot fault it, and as a consultant, I do look for downsides because you do try to avoid them for your clients if you can. I spoke with nearly all the other passengers and they were as in as much awe as I was. I would recommend Quark and the Ocean Adventurer to anyone wanting to travel to Antarctica.