Expedition Advisors Ashley Donohue and Christine MacAllister recently explored Antarctica for the first-time on-board Quark’s newest addition to their fleet, Ultramarine. This region is a specialty of Expedition Trips, and we asked them a few questions about their impression and experience as newcomers to this polar wonderland.
- What were your expectations of Antarctica? And, how did your actual experience compare?
Christine: I originally envisioned Antarctica as a vast and mostly flat landmass covered in ice that is pristine and untouched. I never could have imagined just how mountainous it really is there. It’s difficult to conceptualize just how large in scale the landscape of Antarctica truly is, and it was only when we were on the ship looking out at the Zodiacs in the water that I was able to really understand. The Zodiacs looked as though they were small black dots dancing along the horizon compared to the looming mountains in the background. It was astonishing to witness firsthand.
Ashley: I’ve been surrounded by mountains my entire life and being an avid snowboarder I spend a lot of time outside in the winter. I imagined the landscapes in Antarctica to be like seeing the Sierra Nevada or Rocky Mountains from sea level. What I discovered is that the scale of the mountains and ice in Antarctica is incalculable until you witness it in person. It was far more immense than I anticipated; the stillness and purity of the vast sceneries cannot be accurately described with words. Experiencing Antarctica firsthand blew my expectations away.
- Describe waking up to the sights & sounds of an icy landscape on your 1st morning arrival in Antarctica.
Christine: Waking up in Antarctica is a feeling that is almost indescribable. The energy of excitement could be felt amongst all of us onboard taking in this once-in-a-lifetime moment. My senses came to life when I stepped outside to the sounds of the crackling ice and humpback whales breaching and fin slapping; the land covered in snow and ice as far as the eye can see; the scent of the crisp and cool air; the chill of the wind complemented by the warm sun reflecting off the snow and ice. In all my travels, I’ve never experienced a feeling quite like it. It was both humbling and awe-inspiring.
Ashley: I have a distinct memory of waking up to the Expedition Leader’s voice over the intercom saying, “good morning, everyone - welcome to Antarctica”. I have chills typing this and thinking back on that pivotal moment. I was like a kid on Christmas morning! I flew out of bed to look outside. Seeing the deep blue water, the towering peaks, and hearing penguins on icebergs floating nearby provoked a very powerful feeling of appreciation and amazement.
- What was it like spending a special occasion on a ship, in your case NYE?
Christine: I can’t imagine a better way to ring in the New Year than enroute to Antarctica. A champagne celebration and chocolate buffet were held for all guests and crew onboard to celebrate together. It just so happened that our first day in Antarctica fell on New Year’s Day, which was an extraordinary way to begin a new year. This experience connected us even more with the other guests who were also basking in the celebration of the holiday and eagerly anticipating our arrival to the White Continent.
Ashley: It was an awesome bonus to celebrate New Year’s Eve during the trip. The party brought everyone together and I felt this was when guests really started to get to know each other. The decorations, dessert buffet, and champagne toast were wonderful. You could tell the team put a lot of effort into making this a special event for everyone onboard. We saw our first sights of land that night in the distance, and the next morning woke up officially in Antarctica. An unforgettable start to 2023!
- What is the best advice you would give to somebody considering travel to Antarctica?
Christine: Be open to everything and attached to nothing. Visiting Antarctica is unlike visiting any other place on the planet and it’s imperative to be adaptable as plans can change quickly. The expedition team does everything they can to deliver the best possible experience to all guests, and sometimes this means rerouting, spending a bit more time in one place than another if the wildlife is particularly active, or getting an earlier start to the day to take advantage of good weather. At the end of the day, you will have an incredible experience regardless!
Ashley: Do everything you can while you are there! After a few days of excursions, you may be getting tired, and you may want to sit out a shore landing or Zodiac cruise to catch up on some rest. My advice is no matter how tired you are and no matter how many Zodiac cruises you have already done, do not sit anything out. You will see something different every time you step off the ship and you never know when your favorite wildlife sighting or view will happen. Antarctica does a great job of reminding you how small you are in the big picture of the world, and there is no better way to feel this than by getting off the ship.