Although our trip was booked through Quark Expeditions, Antarctica XXI ran the tour. I believe they use Quark’s Ocean Nova ship, which is why this expedition is cross-listed on the Quark website. The unique aspect of this tour was the flight over the notorious Drake Passage. I get motion sickness ridiculously easily, so this flight option sealed the deal. Instead of suffering two days (one way) of miserable waters, we flew from Punta Arenas, Chile to Antarctica in two hours :)
Tours and cruises to Antarctica usually consist of smaller ships (200 or fewer passengers). Unsurprisingly, the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operations (IAATO) has strict regulations for any kind of tourist activity. Even though there are 10 to 15 ships operating in the waters at any given time, you rarely see another ship. We saw Le Boreal at King George Island only because we were docked there for an extra two days – this wasn’t a normal occurrence.
Our ship was medium-sized, with 59 passengers and 35 crew members. This allowed us to all disembark on foot expeditions at the same time. Only 100 people are allowed on any given landing point, which means that larger ships have to send people in groups, resulting in fewer stops per day. We usually had two landings and one or two zodiac cruises per day, which allowed us to see a lot.
While we traversed the major crossings through the night, there were also a few hours of downtime during the day as we moved to new landing spots. The expedition crew was composed of researchers, scientists, and people with an amazing amount of world-traveling experience. They presented engaging lectures on wildlife (penguins!), geology, climate change and more. In general, the crew provided great conversations about Antarctica and other random topics.
We booked almost a year in advance – spots fill up quickly, especially for trips around the holiday season. Words really cannot describe how incredible the trip was – should you decide to visit this majestic continent, I definitely recommend going with Antarctica XXI.