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Quark Expeditions review
Polar voyages on small ships with a host of onboard experts and top-notch guides.
Quark can take you where few humans have traveled. The price tag isn’t cheap, but the experience — and the penguin sightings — might be worth it. Find out what’s included and what to pack for these exciting expeditions.
Amy Stoltenberg is a staff writer covering all things travel, shopping and lifestyle. After earning a BA at Savannah College of Art and Design, she worked as technical designer in corporate fashion before opting for a career with unlimited travel time. When her laptop's closed, you can find her wandering around Los Angeles looking for hole-in-the-wall eateries and plotting her way to all 50 states (she's currently at 28).
If you’ve been longing to see Antarctica or the Arctic region with your own two eyes, but aren’t a hard-core explorer and don’t own extreme outdoors equipment, Quark may be a good option. The trips let you set foot on remote areas of the world, with the guidance and supervision of true experts. But if you’re fiercely independent and used to rugged travel and freestyle backpacking, you might find Quark’s trips a little tame.
Still, most people who’ve cruised with Quark give rave reviews. On board, you’ll be in the company of adventurous passengers from young adults to 80-year-olds, though most will be between 45 and 60 years old. Quark requires cruisers to be in “good health” — basically, you need to be free from any life-threatening diseases and able to navigate “steep gangways” independently.
We’re not crazy about the fact that some of the most riveting shore excursions cost extra, considering the pricey fare, but the memory-making may warrant a splurge. Overall, we recommend browsing through Quark’s day-to-day itineraries and weighing the price against the once-in-a-lifetime experience. If you’re on a tight budget, consider booking a last-minute Quark cruise, which could save you thousands.
Where do Quark’s cruises depart from?
If you live in the US, the closest Quark departure port is in Canada. But these cruises are more about the destination than a quick, convenient getaway. Here’s where its trips kick off:
Amsterdam, Athens, Bali Denpasar, Barbados, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Dover, Dubai, Dubrovnik, Fort Lauderdale, Guam, Ho Chi Minh City, Hong Kong, Keelung, Lima, Lisbon, London, Los Angeles, Mahe Island, Miami, Mumbai, New Orleans, New York City, Palma De Mallorca, Papeete, Puerta Caldera, Quebec, Rome, San Diego, San Juan, Singapore, Stockholm, Sydney, Tokyo, Venice, Yokohama
Quark cruise destinations
Quark Expeditions sails to the bottom of the world to Antarctica, and to the top to the Arctic. Here’s where you can go:
The Falkland Islands and South Georgia Islands
The High Arctic
The North Pole
Most of its itineraries are themed, whether you’re following in the footsteps of literal trailblazers or searching for polar bears. The education and onboard extracurricular will be targeted accordingly.
What should I pack for a Quark Expeditions cruise?
You’ll get a detailed pamphlet about what to pack for your exact itinerary, but in general here’s what to pack for its arctic voyages:
Waterproof snow pants
At least two pairs of thick gloves
Hat and scarf, preferably wool
Thick, warm wool socks to be worn over thin silk or polypropylene socks
Clothes for layering, including wool or fleece sweaters
Lightweight base layers
Waterproof or water resistant backpack
Nonslip, close-toed shoes for walking around the deck
Quark gives you a complimentary waterproof, insulated, heavy duty parka at the beginning of the voyage. It’ll also loan you a pair of sturdy, waterproof boots for the voyage. And there’s a shop onboard for you to pick up any clothing or practical items you may have forgotten.
What’s included in a Quark cruise
Here’s what your Quark Expeditions fare covers:
Buffet breakfast and lunch
Three-course dinner service
Wine, beer and spirits
Specialty coffee and soda
Some excursions and guided tours are free at the ports, while others — such as mountaineering, kayaking and overnight camping — are considered upgrades and cost extra. You can find information about what’s included in the Activities tab on each destination page.
Gratuities for the crew are not included. Quark recommends budgeting about $13 to $15 a day for gratuities, but the amount is truly at your discretion and can be adjusted and paid via your shipboard account.
Wi-Fi also costs extra. You can buy prepaid cards granting access to Wi-Fi hotspots around the ship.
Things we like: Quark’s Fly the Drake itineraries
Want to keep your cruise short, but still want to see Antarctica? Quark has itineraries that fast track you to the Arctic Peninsula and King George Island, with charter flights between Punta Arenas and the World’s End included in your fare. That saves you from traversing the Drake Passage, which takes about two to three days, and can be tumultuous, depending on the weather.
Why you should (or shouldn’t) cruise with Quark Expeditions
There’s no doubt that Quark’s cruises are an investment, so we don’t blame you for weighing the decisions carefully. Here’s some pros and cons to help you out:
Breathtaking view of polar wilderness and wildlife
It focuses on environmentally responsible tourism
Food is all-you-can-eat — and known for being delicious
Zodiac expeditions are included
Afternoon tea is complimentary
Onboard experts educate and enhance the voyage
Small ships provide intimate, familial atmosphere
Fare is pricier upfront
Accommodations can feel cramped, with most cabins fitting two twin beds
Not suitable for folks with a disability
Activities and day-to-day schedule depends on the weather
Guided excursions may feel too cautious for travelers used to extreme conditions
Frequently asked questions
Children must be at least 8 years old to cruise with Quark. Youth younger than 16 must travel with a waiver signed by a parent.
Yes. If you travel alone, Quark is a great choice because you’ll be in the company of other solo travelers. To avoid paying a single supplement, you can use its request-share program, which’ll match you with another single person of the same gender. If Quark can’t find you a roommate, then the single supplement will be waived and you’ll get the room to yourself.
While you’ll be in the company of international travelers, all programs on Quark’s cruises are in English. The crew and guides will also speak English.
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