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An Explorer's Guide to Antarctica: Navigating Itineraries

18 min read

Below, please find a transcript of our Explorer's Guide to Antarctica webinar.

To learn more about our Antarctic expeditions, click here.

SLIDE Navigating Antarctica: An Explorer's Guide

Good Afternoon everyone and welcome to today's webinar hosted by Quark Expeditions, The Leader in Polar Adventures. This webinar is part 2 of a 2-part series where we'll be talking about how to choose, plan and book a polar expedition to Antarctica. Today, you'll learn how this destination changes over the course of the season, and the different, incredible experiences it can offer.

SLIDE Karl Kannstadter, Product Director, Quark Expeditions, Expedition Experience

I'd like to start by introducing myself –

My name is Karl Kannstadter, I'm the Product Director here at Quark Expeditions and have worked in the travel industry for over 25 years. I've worked for airlines, travel agencies and tour operators and as you can imagine, am extremely passionate about creating unforgettable travel experiences for our customers.

So I'm excited to have the opportunity to spend the next 30 to 45 minutes with you today discussing polar travel, and specifically all the amazing experiences that await your clients in Antarctica!

SLIDE Navigating Antarctica

  • Why Antarctica?
  • When Should I Go?
  • What Can I See and Do?
  • Where Should I Go?
  • Which Itineraries Can I Choose From?

How are we going to get there? Well, today we plan to answer some frequently asked questions about exploring Antarctica, so you're better prepared to choose and book an expedition that's 100% right for you.

We'll go over:

  • When we recommend traveling to Antarctica
  • What travelers can see and do throughout the season
  • A quick geography lesson to help you understand the different regions of Antarctica
  • An overview of the 2017/18 and 2018/19 itineraries we offer, and how they vary

So, let's get started!

SLIDE Where is Antarctica?

Antarctica is Earth's southernmost continent. It contains the geographic South Pole and is situated in the Antarctic region of the Southern Hemisphere and is surrounded by the Southern Ocean. At 14,000,000 square kilometers, it is the fifth-largest continent--about twice the size of Australia. About 98% of Antarctica is covered by ice that averages 1.9 km in thickness, which extends to all but the northernmost reaches of the Antarctic Peninsula.

We operate tours that visit the Antarctica Peninsula, South Georgia, and the Falkland Islands—and if you haven't heard about these regions, we'll talk a bit more about them later.

SLIDE Why Antarctica? [new section]      

  • You’ve traveled everywhere and are seeking a new experience
  • You want to see iconic wildlife like penguins, seals, and whales
  • You want to check off "the seventh continent" from your bucket list

If you attended our last webinar on the Antarctica traveler, you'll have a good understanding of what typically motivates people to travel to the polar regions, and if you possess those same motivations. If you didn't catch the last webinar though, we'll recap a few quick insights that we've observed, that should help you figure out if an expedition to Antarctica might fit with your travel style.

You might be an Antarctica traveler if…

  • You're a world traveler and love the thrill of experiencing an entirely new and unfamiliar environment.
  • You've always enjoyed seeing wildlife in its natural habitat--and are particularly excited to meet penguins, seals, and whales.
  • And of course--if you've always wanted to check off the seventh continent from your "bucket list."

No matter what motivates you to travel to Antarctica--our expeditions offer a bit of everything to appeal to your different travel goals.

SLIDE When Should I Go? [new section]


First off, you're probably curious about the best times to visit Antarctica. The Antarctic travel season spans from early November, when the landscape is crisp and pristine white, to late March, when regions further south become accessible thanks to the receding pack ice.

Of course, part of the adventure is that we, as humans, cannot control the weather, sea conditions, wildlife appearances, or anything else in the wilds of the polar regions. But because we've been traveling there for decades, we have a pretty good idea of what to expect at different times throughout the season, in different Antarctic locations. 

Let's have a look at how Antarctica changes and evolves over the austral summer, and what you can experience over the course of the season-from early, to mid, to late season.

SLIDE Antarctica Anytime: What can I see?

  • Breaching whales, abundant birdlife, lazy seals and playful penguin colonies
  • Icebergs of every imaginable shape and size
  • Vast, remote landscapes, snow-capped islands
  • Abandoned whaling stations and scientific research outposts

One of the first questions our customers typically ask us is "What can I see in Antarctica"? We'll go into more detail as we talk through each aspect of the season, but no matter when you go to Antarctica, these are the iconic highlights (see slide):

SLIDE Antarctica Anytime: What can I do?

  • Onboard
  • Off the ship

And next…you're likely curious about what there is to do. Antarctic expeditions are quite fast paced, with plenty of learning and socializing onboard, in addition to off-the-ship excursions to landing sites.

SLIDE Antarctica Anytime: What can I do onboard?

While on the ship, those who are interested in learning more about the history, geology, biology of the region are invited to attend expert lectures from expedition team members, scientists-in-residence, and special guests like penguinologist Dr. Tom Hart, who'll be traveling with us later this year. We also have an onboard yoga program, if you're keen on staying limber and relaxed while traveling.

SLIDE Antarctica Anytime: What can I do off the ship?

But of course, nothing beats the excitement of getting out into the wilds of Antarctica and exploring, which you'll get to do whenever possible!

During the day, depending on the itinerary and condition, travelers can participate in a variety of activities. Some of the activities are included and available to everyone, like Zodiac cruising, and hiking. Other activities are offered on a first come, first served basis at an additional fee, like our adventure options.

SLIDE Adventure Options


Stand-up paddle-boarding

Cross-country skiing


There are several adventure options on each of our Antarctic expeditions. But, not every option is available on every voyage, so it's important to make sure that you investigate whether the activities you're interested in are offered on the trips that you're considering.

The Kayaking Program is usually open to groups of 10 passengers and is best suited for kayakers with experience. This adventure option is set up as a program, which means that the ten kayakers will have the opportunity to go out and explore the region by kayak every time the weather allows for it.

Some ships also offer stand-up paddle-boarding, which is another great way to get up close and personal with marine life in Antarctica.

Cross country skiing takes you even further off the beaten path, where you can easily transport themselves back in time to the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration.

And if you're really adventurous, you might enjoy an overnight camping trip nestled in a bivvy bag, listening to the penguins' chatter and the ice crack outside. Very few people on this planet can boast of sleeping overnight on the seventh continent!

What you can do in Antarctica on or off the ship stays relatively consistent throughout the season, but there are some nuances to what you can see, from early, to mid,  to late season. We'll talk about that next.

SLIDE Early Season Antarctica (Nov.-Dec.): What can I see?

  • Reawakening
  • Massive icebergs
  • Seals molting
  • Penguin courtship
  • Great photography
  • Average high temperature 0°C/32°F

If you're thinking about traveling to Antarctica early in the season, here are some of the highlights you can expect to see:

  • Early season--November and December-- is the time to experience the reawakening of Antarctica after its long, harsh winter.
  • Icebergs are at their greatest mass and range from snow white to aquamarine.
  • The pack ice is just beginning to melt, and the landscape is spectacular – the water is unbelievably blue, the snow and ice onshore glisten white, and the sheer scale of it is overwhelming.
  • And if you're especially excited about seeing Antarctic wildlife, this is a superb time to see:
    • Seals molting: Southern elephant seals will be coming up on the beaches of South Georgia to molt. Weddell seals emerge onto sea ice to molt, rest, and give birth.
    • Penguin courtship: And you're likely to see some unusual penguin behavior early in the season as they partake in their courtship rituals, begin nesting and playfully steal pebbles from one another's nests.
  • As the days grow longer and the natural light begins to illuminate glaciers and sheet ice, early season is also a super time to visit Antarctica if you (or your travel buddy) is a landscape photographer.
  • The average high is still quite frigid, averaging around 32 degrees F, although it starts to warm up later in December.

SLIDE Mid-Season Antarctica (early Jan.-mid Feb.) What can I see?

  • Penguin chicks hatching
  • Epic whale watching
  • Ice as artwork
  • Calving glaciers
  • Average high temperature 32 F to 34F

If you're thinking about visiting Antarctica from early January to mid-February, this is considered mid-season.

  • The days stretch on seemingly forever, with up to 20 hours of daily sunlight from late December into January.
  • Penguin chicks are hatching: You'll have a chance to see penguins hatching late in December, making mid-season a very good time to see adult penguins hunting for fish and krill just offshore, or playing with their young.
  • Whale-watching is also tremendous this time of year, especially in places like Wilhelmina Bay, often referred to as Whale-a-mina Bay.
  • And there's still so much for photographers to enjoy. Sunlight and salt water begin to melt and erode icebergs, turning each one into an ever-changing work of art.
  • Glaciers actively calve as temperatures rise and in areas like Neko Harbour, where the glaciers calve several times a day, and you'll have a great chance of witnessing (and hearing) this incredible natural phenomenon.
  • January is the second warmest month of the year in Antarctica, averaging a high of 34 degrees F, although the temperature decreases dramatically into February, averaging a high of 30-32 degrees F.

SLIDE Late Season Antarctica (mid-Feb.-March) What can I see?

  • Pack ice recedes
  • Penguin teenagers
  • Plentiful whales
  • Weathered icebergs and glaciers
  • Average high temperature 28F

From mid-February to the end of the Antarctic travel season, as the pack ice recedes, we can explore further south. The days begin to shorten again, and the sunsets are incredible.

  • Penguin teenagers: On South Georgia and the Antarctic Peninsula, the beaches are littered with wildlife, as penguin chicks are quickly becoming "teenagers," On South Georgia, some penguin rookeries are hundreds of thousands strong, and they're incredibly active as the young learn the skills they'll need to survive the harsh winter.
  • Plentiful whales: The sightings of humpback, minke and killer whales are more plentiful. As well, travelers could encounter blue, fin, southern right and sperm whales.
  • Glaciers, icebergs, beaches and landing sites are all weathered, each a fascinating study in the toll the sun and heat take even in a climate where the temperature remains at or below freezing most of the time.
  • The temperature continues to drop from February, with March's average high temperature around 28 degrees F.

So, as you can see, there are some fairly significant differences between the sights, sounds, and experiences Antarctica offers at various points in the season.

Understanding when to visit the Antarctic is a great start, but there still are a few more questions you may have as you're planning your Antarctica trip. Namely.. Where should I go in Antarctica?

SLIDE Where Should I Go In Antarctica? [new section]

Antarctica Peninsula

Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas)

South Georgia & South Sandwich Islands

Our expeditions span the Falkland Islands, South Georgia, the South Sandwich Islands, South Orkney Islands, South Shetland Islands, and of course, the Antarctic Peninsula.

SLIDE Antarctic Peninsula

Most travelers keen on setting foot on the seventh continent will start here, at the Antarctic Peninsula. The Peninsula itself is a string of bedrock islands spanning 800 miles and covered in a grounded ice sheet about a mile thick. The landscape here truly is stunning, with snow and ice-covered mountain peaks up to 9,200 feet in height.

And it truly offers the iconic Antarctica highlights that we've mentioned already--breaching whales, abundant birdlife, lazy seals and playful penguin colonies. Icebergs, snow-capped islands and more!  If you want to cross the Antarctic Circle off your bucket list, this is where you should start. But there are a few lesser-known Antarctic destinations you should be aware of as well…

SLIDE Outlying Islands

South Shetland Islands

Falkland Islands

South Georgia

The South Shetland Islands—an archipelago of about 20 islands--will usually be the first stop en route to the Peninsula.  If you're a photography buff, you'll love the South Shetlands, as you can encounter many species of wildlife (seals, whales, and birds), but also a few active volcanoes! King George is the largest of the South Shetland Islands and is primarily occupied by scientists working at some temporary and permanent research stations.

The Falkland Islands, (known as Islas Malvinas to the Argentinians) are a birder's paradise with 63 breeding species and 23 annual migrants. They're home to five breeding penguin species: Gentoo, King, Rockhopper, Macaroni and Magellanic; and whales, dolphins, sea lions, and elephant seals all inhabit the region.

South Georgia, also known as "The Galapagos of the Poles" thanks to the incredible array of birds and wildlife there, is also a history buff's dream destination. It's home to the Grytviken Whaling Church, a historically important site and the final resting place of legendary explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton. While at the site, passengers can participate in a short ceremony and toast in his honor.

So, whether you're a photographer, birder or a history buff, you may want to consider exploring some of these outlying islands.

SLIDE Which Itineraries Can I Choose From? [new section]



Island Exploration

Now that you have a good understanding of when you should go to Antarctica, and where you could go, let's talk about itineraries.

Since we specialize in polar travel, we can offer the largest (and most innovative) selection of Antarctic itineraries, to make sure there's a voyage for you, whatever your travel style and budget. To keep it relatively simple, though, our trips fit into a few big buckets: our Classic itineraries, our Fly/Cruise itineraries, and our South Georgia/Falkland itineraries.

Our Classic itineraries are just what they sound like: the Classic Antarctic Peninsula experience, from crossing the infamous Drake Passage—a rite of passage for many travelers--to crossing the Antarctic Circle.

But there's another way to explore Antarctica for those who are shorter on time: our popular Fly/Cruise program. By skipping the Drake Passage, you can reduce the almost two-day marine crossing to just three hours, getting on the ground and cruising for adventure in no time.

And finally—we have our Island Exploration itineraries, during which we explore South Georgia, South Shetland and the Falkland Islands in addition to the Peninsula. These tend to be significantly longer.

Beyond that framework though, it's important to think about your travel style.

SLIDE Which Itinerary is Right for My Travel Style?





Most of our polar traveler tend to relate to one of these four personas: Adventurers, Checklisters, Escapists, and Learners. If you attended our first webinar on the Antarctic traveler, this will sound familiar to you. But if not, we'll give you a brief overview, and you can start to figure out which one (or two!) resonate with you.

The first and most common polar persona is the Checklister. You may identify with this traveler type if...

  • You're retired.
  • You've seen a lot of the world, and are motivated to visit the seventh continent because it's the last one on your bucket list.
  • You tend to enjoy sightseeing and cultural activities.

Our next traveler type is Learner. You might be a Learner if...

  • You enjoy quality travel experiences with experts and like-minded people.
  • You appreciate the opportunities to connect with and learn from others in the more intimate setting of a small cruise ship.

On the other hand, Escapists are the travelers who are looking to get away from it all and reconnect with themselves, coming back to their everyday life rejuvenated. You might be an Escapist if you’re work in a fairly absorbing job, and prefer to pamper yourself with luxurious accommodations and excellent food when you’re away.

Finally, we have the Adventurers. These travelers tend to be a bit younger, are probably still working, however they’re inclined to roughing it a bit more than our Escapists. You might be an adventurer if you tend to seek out active outdoor experiences that get your adrenaline pumping.

That's the quick recap! Now, let's move onto talking through the different itineraries—but if one or a few of these descriptions resonated with you, keep your eyes and ears open to see which trip we'd recommend.

SLIDE Antarctic Explorer: Discovering the 7th Continent 

• 10-12 days

• Explore the highlights of the Antarctic Peninsula

• Amazing wildlife – penguins, seals, whales and more

• Great for first-timers

•2017/18 & 2018/19 itineraries available

If you're wondering what our most itinerary is…well, this is it. With many departures throughout the season, Antarctic Explorer takes an unforgettable 10, 11 or 12-day journey through the South Shetland Islands and Antarctic Peninsula. There's also an all-inclusive version of this itinerary with domestic flights, gratuities and drinks included, aboard our elegant, all-suites ship, the Island Sky. This itinerary and the next one are great if you're a learner, checklister, or an adventurer looking for the classic Antarctica experience.

SLIDE Crossing the Circle: Southern Expedition

• 14 days

• Cross the Antarctic Circle at 66º33' S

• Visit historic research stations in Marguerite Bay

• Witness abundant wildlife – penguins, seals, whales and more

• 2017/18 & 2018/19 itineraries available

Not only does this expedition include the most in-depth exploration of the Antarctic Peninsula, but it also offers you the opportunity to venture farther south across the Antarctic Circle. As you can imagine, this is a great milestone for those who want to check "Crossing the Circle" off their bucket list.

SLIDE Antarctica East and West: Peninsula in Depth 

  • 20 days
  • Get to know Antarctica intimately
  • Venture into the Weddell Sea on the remote east coast of the Antarctic Peninsula
  • Cross the Antarctic Circle at 66°33' S
  • Explore penguin colony with 100,000 breeding pairs on volcanic Paulet Island
  • 2017/18 itinerary available

Now, if you're looking for a truly immersive experience and two weeks in the polar regions doesn't sound like enough, this epic 20-day voyage explores a remote side of the Antarctic Peninsula even the luckiest of explorers don't often see. You might be drawn to this unique experience if you're a checklister or learner, because it offers the opportunity to get to know Antarctica intimately, seeing huge penguin colonies up close, visiting important historical sites, and encountering lots and lots of ice.

SLIDE Antarctic Express: Fly the Drake 

• 7 or 8 days

• Fly over the Drake Passage

• Incredible wildlife sightings – penguins, seals, whales and more

• Marvel at all the Antarctic Peninsula highlights

• 2017/18 & 2018/19 itineraries available

Now, maybe you're still working, you're short on vacation time and would prefer to skip crossing the Drake Passage by ship, which cuts about two-days off the voyage each way. If you're looking to get to the seventh continent as quickly as possible and see the highlights of Antarctica in one adrenaline-packed week, one of our fly-cruise expeditions might be the best option.

SLIDE Antarctic Express: Crossing the Circle 

• 11 days

• Fly over the Drake Passage

• Marvel at all the Antarctic Peninsula highlights

• Cross the Antarctic Circle at 66º33' S

• 2017/18 itineraries available

This particular Fly/Cruise is great if you're committed to crossing the Antarctic Circle, which is truly an impressive milestone!  This voyage follows a similar route to the traditional voyage "Crossing the Circle," except that it allows travelers to skip the Drake Passage.

SLIDE Island Exploration [intro slide]

Now, if your curiosity was piqued when we were talking about the Falkland Islands and South Georgia, we'll go over a few itineraries that would give you the chance to explore those islands. All of these voyages are great for learners and checklisters, and especially those who have a special interest in birding, history, or biodiversity.

SLIDE Epic Antarctica: Crossing the Circle via Falklands and South Georgia 

• 23 days

• Experience the beguiling flora and fauna of the Falkland Islands

• Witness the rare wildlife of South Georgia, "the Galapagos of the Poles"

• Visit the gravesite of famed explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton

• Explore the Peninsula before crossing the Antarctic Circle

• 2017/18 & 2018/19 itineraries available

On this once-in-a-lifetime expedition — you'll have the chance to experience the spectacular flora and fauna of the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas) before getting immersed in the unique history and exquisite, rare wildlife of South Georgia, and crossing the Antarctic Circle.

SLIDE Falklands, South Georgia, and Antarctica: Explorers and Kings 

• 20 days

• Wander the quaint British town of Stanley in the Falkland Islands

• Follow in the wake of Sir Ernest Shackleton's voyage to South Georgia

• Commune with incredible wildlife, including seals, whales, penguins, and birds

• 2017/18 & 2018/19 itineraries available

This expedition follows a similar trajectory but spends a little less time on the Antarctic Peninsula than the "Epic" version. If you've been to Antarctica once already and loved it, but haven't yet been to South Georgia and the Falkland Islands, this voyage might be a good option to get to know this little-known corner of the world.

SLIDE How do I get there?


Punta Arenas

Well, that concludes the itinerary portion of the webinar.  But before you make your final decision, there are usually a few general Antarctica questions that may come up as you're thinking through your trip. To start: We often hear questions from customers regarding the gateways to these destinations.

The embarkation point for most of our Antarctica voyages is Ushuaia, a small but bustling port town at the tip of South America. It's accessible from the international airports in Buenos Aires and Santiago. If you're up for some pre or post-expedition travel, this Argentinian town is an ideal gateway for you to explore the southern extent of Patagonia while preparing for your adventure ahead.

Some of our Fly/Cruise programs start with an included charter flight from Buenos Aires or Santiago to Punta Arenas: the most populated city in Patagonia. Then, from Punta Arenas, another charter flies passengers directly to King George Island, to meet their expedition ship.

The main message is--When you're booking your voyage, don't forget that you double-check:

  • What's included in your voyage cost and what isn't
  • Where you need to be to catch your ship or charter

SLIDE Who will be leading this expedition?

People also tend to be curious:  just who will be leading us on this epic adventure? This could be especially relevant for those of you who have travelled with us before, as we often hear that passengers would love to travel again with the same expedition leader!

You’re in good hands with an Expedition Leader like historian Hadleigh Measham, a biological sciences graduate and certified NAUI Divemaster with over 50 polar expeditions under his belt.

Or you might have Historian John Rodsted, whose vast experience is difficult to summarize, but includes close to 180 expeditions, 30 years as a commercial photographer and photojournalist, 3,500 skydiving jumps, film and TV stuntman credits.

You might travel with David “Woody” Wood. This Australian is a historian whose love of the ocean and the wild places at the extremes of the planet has resulted in a lifetime at sea either in the North or South for the last nine years.

Or perhaps you’ll have Alison, another Aussie, who has an academic background in international relations, speaks Mandarin and is an avid skier, scuba diver, cyclist and runner.

Or maybe you’ll have Solan Jensen, who’s been a kayak guide and expedition leader for over a decade, but has also worked as a wilderness ranger, boat builder, and marine mammal emergency responder.

Can you imagine spending a week or two exploring the Arctic with guides of this calibre constantly monitoring conditions and planning the most rewarding excursions? You know you’re safe, but you’re also in the most experienced and knowledgeable hands, having the trip of a lifetime.

Well, that nearly concludes our webinar today…

SLIDE Ways to Save: Cool Summer Sale for 2017/18

Up to 40% off select 2017/18 Antarctica voyages PLUS free transfer packages on all voyages taking place on the Ocean Endeavor AND free camping on the Antarctic Explorer departing November 5th.

Until August 31, 2017

If you're looking to book an Antarctica expedition this winter, we've just launched our COOL SUMMER SALE. Many of the voyages that were mentioned today are up to 40% off, plus qualify for additional perks such as free transfer packages and camping.

SLIDE  Ways to Save: Early Booking Bonus for 2018/19

Up to 30% off select premium cabins and 25% off select standard cabins PLUS $250 and $100 adventure option or shipboard credit, respectively.

Until September 30, 2017

If you're a bit of an early bird and are looking forward to booking an Antarctica expedition in the 2018/19 season, as an early booking bonus, we're offering up to 30% off select premium cabins, plus $250 credit that can be used towards adventure options, or as onboard ship credit.

SLIDE Account Managers and Polar Travel Advisers 888.892.0073

 Whether you have specific questions on itineraries or would like to learn more about a destination, we have a team of Account Managers and Polar Travel Advisors who are always here to support you. We've all been to the polar regions (and we are extremely passionate about them) and can provide tips and advice to help you find your perfect polar expedition for your client.

SLIDE Website

Or, if you’d like to find the answers to your questions, there are tons of other resources available to you. Our website is an excellent resource to understand the itineraries we offer across all the destinations we talked about today. We also have a trip finder accessible from our homepage that makes it even easier to find what you're looking for. We also have tons of passenger stories under the Blog tab of website, if you navigate to the Antarctica section.

SLIDE Quark Expeditions: The Leader in Polar Adventure

This concludes our webinar today. Thank you so much for joining us today! And now we have some time for questions…

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