Life aboard the Sea Spirit

Life aboard the Sea Spirit was everything I could have hoped for and I will carry the experience with me for the rest of my life, for despite the brevity of the voyage (an eleven day trip really only involves nine full days at sea), it made a greater impression than many trips that I have taken of much longer duration. Those nine days were so filled with lectures and briefings and carefully organised shore or zodiac excursions that we were actually left with very little leisure time. Perhaps that was why the management had decided that chef’s excellent menu could safely be accompanied by complementary cocktails, wines and beers.

As my photographs show, nothing was too much trouble for the staff who were almost as numerous as the passengers. Our excursion guides were all knowledgeable in their particular field and most were polar veterans of long standing. I expect many such companies can say as much but ours were absolutely brimming with genuine enthusiasm which afforded us some of the special opportunities presented to this particular trip: the rare sighting of an emperor penguin, an uncommon invitation to visit Palmer Station* and taking advantage of the optimum weather conditions for a zodiac trip around the magnificent Spert rock formation. On second thoughts, maybe I could have done with a fraction less enthusiasm for jetting around the icebergs and rock caves of Trinity Island but it was certainly a once in a lifetime event.

The expedition staff were led by Cheli, an indefatigable New Zealander, whose reputation is such that I was actually complemented on managing to get a place on one of her trips before I even climbed aboard. I’m sure she has no need of any further praise from me but, as a veteran of several Costa Company cruises, I must add my two penny-worth about her excellent safety briefings. Immediately these began, we knew we had to give them our undivided attention. There was none of the usual “I’ve got to tell you this but I know you’re not really listening” that we get on airlines nowadays. Everything was clear and precise and deadly serious. After what happened on the Costa Concordia in 2012, I still get shivers thinking about what might have happened to my mother and I on one of our cruises with that company so it is reassuring to know that, in polar waters at least, a far greater level of professionalism prevails.

Despite being afloat, the catering and housekeeping personnel were referred to as “hotel staff”. Well, I might have travelled the world but haven’t been in many hotels where so much care was taken over every aspect of my daily comfort by such friendly people. “Good morning, Miss Nicole, enjoy your trip” I was greeted as I presented my ID card to be logged off of the ship for each landing and, of course, “Hallo Miss Nicole” when I handed it over on my return. But that was only a part of the re-embarkation procedure which continued with: a row of towel-covered arm chairs so that we could take off our wet boots, hot towels for our faces and hands, someone else waiting to mop up the mess we had made and hot drinks waiting in the lounge. That it felt so well-earned by our exertions out on the snows made it seem all the more luxurious.

There are several on-line accounts of day to day activities on this and other Quark expedition trips and they are already so stuffed with superlatives that I almost long for something to criticise. Hmm, let’s think. As charming as most of my travelling companions were, one or two may just possibly have chosen the wrong type of holiday. For the wrong motives. I received a stark reminder of the “two Americas” when I heard someone holding forth in the bar about climate change and how it was all just a scare mongering rumour with no basis in fact. I suppose that you can be successful enough to afford such a trip and still disregard mainstream science if you live in in a country with two opposing but parallel world views backed up by their own distinct journalistic, educational, and political systems. Thankfully, the Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders who made up the majority of the passengers did not share this dichotomy and, almost without exception, my dining companions were absolutely delightful.

So in conclusion: it’s a Yes. If you have ever thought you might like to go to Antarctica, this is definitely the way to do it. Even at full price this company probably offers more than most of its competitors and your trip must be something very special indeed to make it worth your while. The Sea Spirit takes no more than 112 passengers, why would you want to travel on a ship five times that big? Quark got us ashore nine times, with an additional four zodiac excursions; that’s thirteen times we got off the ship in Antarctica (with an additional landing for the strange individuals who chose to sample a night of camping ashore). Why settle for less? I may not be going back to Antarctica but there is an awful lot of temptation up there around the other pole. I hope to be getting on the yellow parka with the stylised Q logo again before too long.

* US base on Anvers Island

1 Comment

  • Zaid says:

    I loved this post. A nice heartwarming account of your journey to Antarctica. I’ve also just been there with Quark (on the Ocean Diamond) and really enjoyed their hospitality and appreciated their talent, skill and expertise/

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