The co-founders of Quark Expeditions, Lars Wikander and Mike McDowell, took the first group of commercial travelers to the Arctic in 1991. Its first game-changing expedition--the tourist transit on the Northeastern route--set Quark Expeditions on a course that put them at the forefront of polar exploration. For the past three decades, they have taken travelers on polar expeditions to remote areas of the Arctic and Antarctica, where no one else has set foot. Polar exploration has evolved since the 1991 journey on the nuclear-powered icebreaker, Sovetskiy Soyuz. Its first journey solidified the role of Quark Expeditions as a leader in polar adventures and they are forever driven to pave the way for polar exploration.
Q: When is the best time to travel to the Arctic or Antarctica?
A: That depends on what you want to see or do. Keep in mind that you cannot cruise to the polar regions all year round. Travel is restricted to the polar spring and summer, when daylight lasts between 18 and 24 hours each day.
October to the beginning of December
The continent is covered in snow to the water’s edge. Penguins build highways as they waddle the same path again and again, from the sea to their nests far from shore. During this period penguins, shags and seabirds court and lay their eggs.
December through February
The snow retreats, exposing rocky headlands. Penguin chicks hatch and their parents spend endless hours feeding their hungry young.
Mid-February to March
The whales return to feed. Seals haul out on the beachheads and penguins begin to moult. Antarctica is preparing for long months of darkness. Highlights for travelers are whales, red snow and fledging Gentoo Penguins acting like miniature Charlie Chaplins.
June to mid-July
This is the best time to see ice and snow. The midnight sun has not yet melted the ice, so polar bears and walrus will be hunting on the ice edge. Birds are returning to breed.
Mid-July to mid-August
The best time to circumnavigate Spitsbergen, as ice is less likely to block channels. Tundra flowers are blooming. Wildlife is abundant.
Mid-August to September
The days are shortening; birds begin to migrate south; and skies can be moody.
Q: What is the weather like?
A: Weather conditions are variable, with temperatures hovering around the freezing mark. The continuous daylight warms sheltered areas so that you may find temperatures warm enough for t-shirts. However, you may encounter snow squalls, fog and white-outs, during an expedition.
Q: Will I be seasick?
A: Antarctica - the Notorious Drake Passage
Everyone reacts differently to the rough water that could be encountered in the Drake Passage. We ask that all our guests consult their personal physicians and carry with them recommended preventative medication. Please do not be disappointed should you experience a smooth crossing. Not all Drake Passage crossings are rough.
The Arctic - The Strait Goods
If your expedition sails through the Bering or Denmark Straits, then you should anticipate some rough seas. That said, of the two polar regions, smooth sailing is most frequently experienced in the Arctic.
Q: What's the difference between an ice-strengthened hull and an icebreaker hull?
A: The ship’s purpose drives the difference in design. Icebreakers are designed to ride up onto ice, crushing it with the ship’s weight. This opens a path for other vessels trying to navigate icy waters. A ship with an ice-strengthened hull can navigate in waters dotted with ice. It has neither the strength nor the weight to ride up and crush ice.
Q: I travel alone. Am I welcome?
A: Don’t worry about traveling alone. Solo travelers are pleasantly surprised to discover that a portion of guests on every voyage do not have traveling companions.
Solo travelers who really do enjoy a cabin to themselves pay the single supplement. Others can take advantage of our Request-Share program. We match solo travelers of the same gender with other solo travelers who indicate they are willing to share. Both guests save the single supplement. Should we be unable to find a cabin mate for a Request-Share traveler, the single supplement is waived. It is a risk free way to save for adventurers who travel alone.
Q: What additional major expenses will I incur?
* Transportation to the place where the expedition begins (the staging point) and from the place where the expedition ends is not included. We can arrange flights at your request.
* Wearing the right clothes is essential. You may need to purchase additional outdoor clothing. That said, you will not have to buy a parka, as we include the official Quark parka in the cost of your expedition and we loan you waterproof boots. Review our packing list.
* Gratuities or tips are always at your discretion. We recommend that you budget $10 to $15 per person per day, if you are pleased with the service on board. Gratuities are collected anonymously at the end of each voyage. They are distributed among staff and crew. Payment can be made in cash or charged to your shipboard account.
* It is a condition of booking any Arctic or Antarctic voyage that you and all members of your party have comprehensive travel insurance coverage, with a minimum of $50,000 of emergency medical coverage.
Q: May I stop over en route, or extend my stay in the disembarkation city?
A: Yes, we have a variety of packages designed to enrich your expedition experience before or after your polar cruise.
Q: Does Quark travel anywhere other than the Arctic or Antarctica?
A: No. We are polar specialists. Our focus and sole purpose is to deliver the best polar cruises available.
Q: When is disembarkation?
Ending the expedition and leaving the ship often requires the completion of some formalities like Customs Inspection. It is our standard practice to being disembarkation after breakfast on board the ship on the final day of the itinerary. This is followed by a group transfer from the ship to the nearest airport. We recommend that homeward flights are booked to depart after 12:00 (noon).
The exception occurs when a flight is required to transfer guests from the ship to a community with a major airport. In that case, guests disembark the second last day of the itinerary after breakfast. They are then transferred to the airport for their flight to the final staging point. When this is required, our prices include one night of hotel accommodation on the evening of the second last day of the itinerary.
Examples of itineraries that are exceptions:
* Arctic Passage
* Tanquary Fjord
* Ellesmere Island and Greenland
* North Pole
Q: Do your expeditions include opportunities to explore ashore?
A: Every vessel in our fleet becomes an expedition base camp. Unpack once. Visit an exciting range of places, because the ship moves from place to place. The ships are equipped with inflatable landing crafts known as Zodiacs. They are used for shore landings and ocean-level cruising.
Activities off the ship are called shore landings or Zodiac cruising. These are daily activities. In the Arctic, you may visit Inuit in their home communities. In the Antarctic, you may visit research stations manned by scientists who brave the extreme environment to add to our knowledge of wildlife, climate and ice. You will hike carpeted tundra valleys or glistening ice fields. Optional activities include kayaking, cross-country, camping, skiing and mountaineering.
The capacity of the vessel determines where you go ashore and how often in Antarctica.
In Antarctica, we operate under International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) guidelines that limit the number of travelers and Expedition Staff ashore during a landing. No more than 100 people can be ashore at any one time, and in some locations that number is 50. Quark operates small expedition vessels, and none of our Antarctic vessels carry more than 199 travelers.
Flights to the Polar Regions
Our Flights Services Department can arrange flights from your home to the stage point (the city in which your expedition begins). And back from the city where your expedition ends. The Flights Team researches the best available connections and prices based on your personal criteria.
Getting to remote communities like Ushuaia, Argentina or Anchorage, Alaska, often requires a connecting flight. Our Flights Team is familiar with the special needs of polar travelers, and are eager to share their knowledge and advice with you. Please note that you must book one of our expeditions to take advantage of their expertise.
Q: When may I board the ship?
Embarkation usually occurs on the second day of the expedition itinerary, about 4 PM (16:00), local time. The exception is expeditions that begin in Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen, Svalbard: Embarkation is on the first day of the itinerary.
When embarkation occurs on the second day of an expedition itinerary, you may arrive any time on Day 1. For expeditions that begin in Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen, Svalbard, please arrive no later than 2 PM (14:00) on the first day.
Q: Is there laundry on board?
Laundry service is available on every ship. Costs are reasonable. Excess baggage charges will often exceed laundry charges, so we recommend that you pack fewer items and use the laundry service to refresh your wardrobe.
Q: Is there a doctor or clinic on the ship?
Our Expedition Teams include a doctor, who is responsible for the health of our guests and our Expedition Team members. Some of our ships have clinics. Our clinics are equipped to handle minor emergencies. We carry emergency supplies of medication. It is important that you bring sufficient prescribed medicines with you.
Q: How risky is polar travel?
There is risk involved in travelling in any region where extreme conditions are possible. Weather, ice and natural phenomena, such as volcanic eruptions, can cause problems on shore and on the ship. We do everything we can to mitigate risk. Our ships are purpose-built for the polar regions. They are manned with experienced personnel. They are equipped with GPS, radar and other equipment essential for polar travel. Our Expedition Team members are polar specialists. Our Standard Operating Procedures make safety paramount. Have eliminated risk - no - it is that element of risk that sets travel to the Arctic or Antarctica apart from ordinary vacation destinations.
Q: Must I pack a jacket and tie?
A: Leave the jacket and tie behind if you prefer. Our expeditions are informal. However, the Captain and his officers will dress in uniforms for the welcome and farewell cocktail parties on some of our ships. So, you may want to pack a dress shirt and a pair of casual slacks for the occasion.
Q: What is there to do on the ship?
A: Our voyages have educational components that prepare you for shore landings and visits to research stations. These formal presentations are delivered on the ship. Informal shipboard activities range from birding and whale watching to movies with popcorn in the evening. There are board games to play in the lounge. You can chat with friends over a drink in the bar. The open air decks make excellent platforms for photography or for a romantic stroll. There is always something to do.
Q: When is a deal, not a deal?
A: Do you believe that waiting until the last minute to book travel will save you a lot of money? You may save money on the package, but the savings may be eaten up by the cost of the flight. The best air fares go first, especially to remote places like the Arctic and Antarctica. People who wait to book their expedition until the last moment often pay the most for airfare and for extra hotel nights, because available flights require layovers.
Book early and save.
Q: What is the food like?
A: We pride ourselves on the meals we serve aboard our ships. Our chefs are internationally trained. And our service style is too! The menu changes every day. Breakfast is buffet style. Lunch often features a buffet. Dinner is plated service, with a choice of 3 main dishes. A vegetarian choice is always offered. Desserts are fabulous! Afternoon tea, with pastries or cookies, is provided about 16:00 (4 PM) every day. Fresh pastries arrive warm from the oven for early birds about 06:00 (6 AM).
Q: What are the people like who travel on your ships?
A: They are just like you - curious, adventure seekers, who love to travel off the beaten path. Their ages range from 20 to 80, with the majority between 45 and 65 years. Our guests come from around the world. Many departures have several nationalities onboard. All programs, however, are delivered in English.
Q: What does "good health" mean?
A: Because you are traveling to a remote area without access to sophisticated medical facilities, you should not join the expedition if you are suffering from a life threatening condition. Our expedition cruises require sufficient independent mobility to negotiate steep gangways. The terrain is rough in both polar regions. If you have difficulty walking or need an assistance device to move about, our trips may not be for you. Please call to discuss your situation with us.
Please note that we try to provide a range of activity levels to meet the needs of our guests when they go ashore.
Q: How much luggage can I bring?
A: Baggage allowances are shrinking. Check with your airline to confirm what you are allowed to carry. Please note that baggage allowances on international flights are often greater than domestic flights. We recommend that you pack for the segment of the flight with the smallest baggage allowance. The ship has laundry facilities, so you do not need to pack clothes for every day of the voyage.
Q: What documents must I complete to participate in the expedition?
A: Guests must complete a number of forms when they travel with us. The forms should be completed as soon as possible after receiving them and returned to us:
* Personal Information Form - one for each person traveling.
* Medical Information Form - one for each person traveling.
* Cruise Contract - signed.
* Flight information form - we need to know when you will be arriving by air and when you will be departing.
* Parka Form - one for each person traveling.
* Visa Express Kit - only required when traveling through Russia.
Q: Do you have a tip to ensure my encounter with penguins is the best?
A: Pick a spot no closer than 5 meters (15 feet) from the penguins. Sit or kneel - you are making yourself smaller, therefore less threatening. Wait quietly, with your camera ready for taking incredible photographs. Penguins are curious. They may come to you.
Our guide and driver were very good with their knowledge and were very helpful with our questions. It was a very pleasant visit that would have been impossible to do on our own. Hotels and restaurants were fantastic. The special places we got to go to, like the kitchens, were great. Enjoyed the entire trip!