Sunday, January 3, 2010

Quark Expeditions : Your Antartica Tour Guides

So like i said my first blog is to talk about my experience going to Antartica. I have just arrived back with many things on my mine. This first post is more of an overview of the trip and more importantly the company. The main reason I wanted to do this because while I found the trip to be a trip of a lifetime, the amount of info and the contradictory details ahead of time was staggering. For your info this related to ... now as a forewarning this is MY personal experience with them and obviously things change and information on how they do will change.

The first thing I have to say is Antartica is absolutely gorgeous and i am very happy with my going there and picking Quark. In fact the main reason I picked them was because of there "adventure" packages. Something I highly recommend. They are basically the only company that advertises for you to be able to do Skiing, Mountaineering, Camping AND kayaking. And for me if you are spending the money to go down there might as well maximise your time.

So my first downside with Quark is you learn about these packages but are given very few details on the who, what, where, why, and how. All you know is you will be doing these expeditions if you pay extra. The extras range from about $500 - $800 ($200 for camping) But whats really not explained is how this all works, how often you will be doing the adventures, etc. So let me try to explain from my experience.

The standard adventure package lasts about 10 days at sea. 5 of those days you are actually IN Antartica. So what happens on a standard day. Well while there you will basically have about 2 landings a day. You will pull up somewhere in the morning, they will launch the zodiacs (small ships to take you ashore) and off you go. You may see an old whaling colony, penguins, seals, go on a hike etc. After that you will come back to the ship, the ship will take off and you will go someplace else. In the mean time you are eating lunch maybe watching a few lectures. Then get to your next destination and voila off again on the zodiacs to shore (unless you get lucky and find some soft ice the captain rams into and you just go ashore).

So where do the "adventure" packages come in. Here is where it gets tricky. Basically every stop has a "standard" item people can do. Now if you signed up for skiing, mountaineering, or kayaking you MIGHT get a chance to do that at the stop. The trick is the weather and the location. Often for skiing and mountaineering they would drop us off a bit ahead of time and we would go to a slightly different location. The kayakers generally stayed close to where most of the people were, but skiers and mountaineers could be in different spots.

Now ... here is where Quark gets VERY confusing. Depending if you go through Quark a reseller they may tell you that you can ONLY sign up for one (thats what i was told). HOWEVER ... that is not totally true. You can sign up for all 3 but remember many of these go on at the same time. IN our experience the mountaineering and skiing staff were the same 2 people so those NEVER overlapped. But the kayakers were a different staff and they constantly over lapped with us. However the kaykers had 8 chances to kayak. Skiers 5 times, Mountaineers 3 times. So this is the problem the resellers have. You can sign up for all 3 but that doesn't mean you can go on EVERY adventure. You will have to balance your time accordingly. This being said the OTHER factor is weather. You may not get as many chances as we did to do everything. This is one reason why they only want you to sign up for one item. Plus they dont want you to monopolize activities. Whats my advice? if you are interested in 3 .. do all 3. The fact is are you EVER going to go back to Antartica? Probably not. The only problem you may run into ... is IF the weather is bad and for some reason they could only do one excursion they could all coincide with each other.

Booking With Quark
Booking with quark is relatively painless. You put a deposit down but if you want to go on the adventure excursions do it a YEAR in advance. (regular zodiac excursions are always available) They fill up quickly so dont complain if you get to the ship and cant go on them. You also have the ability to move out reservations to the next year which is nice for most people.

Why is it SOO Expensive!
Sooo how much is it? well the base cost is $5000 and thats for a SHARED triple!! My god you may be thinking thats a lot of money. And thats what i thought to. But then you start running the numbers. The ship (at least Ocean Nova Adventure cruises) will have about 70 passengers on board. The crew of the ship + expedition staff is around 68. Thats almost a one to one ratio. Not only that but the staff is top notch. On the way down to Antartica, and on the way back they give you multiple presentations on the environment, history, etc. The type of staff they have KNOW what they are talking about. Granted the staff changes but in our trip a few of the types :

- our Mountaineering lead is in the guiness book of world records for throwing the highest black tie party on the planet. Basically had a black tie dinner on a mountain top in peru.
- the historian had a phD and served at an antartica research post for 2 years.
- the expedition lead had been on the first team to kayak around south georgia.
- even the lady who runs the gift shop leads whale searching expeditions.

Many of these people in the off season captain boats, lead expeditions etc. These aren't weekend warriors. In the end you get what you paid for and at least in my experience were worth the money.

... so that ends my quark intro. if you have any questions go ahead and ask away. I plan to write more on specifics of this trip later.

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