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Celebrating the Holiday Season in Antarctica: Our Festive Expedition Story

6 min read

Houston, Texas native Meena Joshi is a professional in the oil and gas industry. She and three friends spent the December holidays in Antarctica in 2016 aboard Ocean Endeavour, on the holiday departure of our Antarctic Explorer: Discovering the 7th Continent expedition.

Quark Passengers pose with a Christmas tree in Antarctica

Quark Passengers decorate a holiday tree in Antarctica

Antarctica was solidly on my bucket list, but I had no definitive plans to travel to the 7th Continent. It's that ultimately mysterious destination you always hope you'll visit, but so few actually make it there.

That changed for three of my best friends and me last year when we celebrated the holiday season in Antarctica aboard Ocean Endeavour. Michelle Burns, Archana Deshmukh, Anjali Nigam and I often travel together—in fact, we've undertaken epic trips each time one of us turned forty. In 2015, we went to India for three weeks. We've been to Kenya together and had just returned from several glorious weeks in an Italian villa when Archana got an email about a flash sale at Quark Expeditions. “I know we just got back from Italy, but what do you think?” she asked. I thought she was joking.

“Meena, come on... this is something we've been wanting to do forever.” She was right, it was. I still can't believe it, but we went for it!

The Holiday Season in Antarctica: Mother Nature's Best Gifts

A pod of orca whales in the Antarctic.

A pod of orcas delight Ocean Endeavour passengers on a holiday expedition in Antarctica. Photo: Meena Joshi

Can you imagine the spectacle of a pod of 40 orcas whizzing by? We saw at least that many in the Gerlache Strait. From Antarctic camping at Kerr Point to cross-country skiing our way to exceptional views over the peninsula and the Southern Ocean, to running out of our yoga class to see a massive group of whales cruising by, Mother Nature wowed us at every turn.

There's so much to do onboard and we found there was great balance in how expedition staff had organized our outings, lectures, meals and other activities. The lectures were fantastic but everything was optional, giving us a chance to rest or enjoy wildlife viewing from the ship's decks when we needed that downtime.

The Expedition Team and ship's staff and crew left us in awe. The sheer energy and dedication of the onboard team are incredible. Because it's a small ship, guests really get to know one another—to the extent that staff noticed when one of us missed breakfast and asked if they could prepare something for her!

Christmas fun in Antarctica! Winners of the Ocean Endeavour door decorating contest.

Holiday fun in Antarctica! Winners of the Ocean Endeavour door decorating contest. Photo: Meena Joshi

And, of course, the festive activities and events they planned were epic, especially since we were so incredibly remote. The hotel staff did a fantastic job decorating the lounge and dining room, and the culinary team prepared a delicious feast for us. The Expedition Team even held a Door Decorating contest, which gave the halls such a festive air (I'm thrilled to say that my cabin won!).

Two of our group went stand-up paddleboarding and were quite shocked when Santa cruised up in a Zodiac with hot chocolate for their entire group.

Antarctica: the Ultimate Holiday Adventure Travel Destination

I'm so grateful that my travel tribe could all fit this holiday expedition into our respective schedules. While my friends were out stand-up paddleboarding, I decided to give cross-country skiing a try (and was lucky enough to win the onboard lottery for the empty space!).

Cross country skiers tackle the fresh powder on the 7th continent on their much-anticipated Antarctic expedition. Photo: Quark passenger

One of my goals on the expedition was to stay active as I was training for a marathon. I needn't have worried, as there was plenty to keep my blood moving, from optional challenging hikes on shore and adventures like the skiing, to onboard yoga and fitness equipment. Each of us appreciated that we could set our own pace and choose which parts of the program suited us.

The yoga program on our ship exceeded my expectations to the point that it reignited my passion for yoga. Elly was fantastic and I was surprised by the very different feeling of doing yoga on a ship; it really helped bring calm into my life, even on top of the relaxation of a vacation.

The funny thing about our group is that three of us don't even celebrate the traditional holiday season at home! It was such a joy to celebrate with Michelle and make her first holiday away from her family a memorable adventure exploring Antarctica. We even shopped at the ship's Polar Boutique to create our own little gift exchange with a $20 limit. We owe a lot of thanks to the good-humored shop manager who used her discretion to ensure we didn't buy one another the same gift.

Expedition staff get festive on board Ocean Endeavour for a Christmas cruise

Expedition staff get festive onboard the Ocean Endeavour for a holiday cruise. Photo: Meena Joshi

I think it was the spirit of camaraderie on this adventure that really summed up for us the spirit of expedition travel. Everyone we met, from Expedition Staff to ship crew to fellow passengers, was just completely joyous and thrilled to be celebrating the holiday season on the 7th continent. Even though we were all away from home and family, it was the most magical event.

I think our little family, floating somewhere in the Southern Ocean at holiday time, must have been about the happiest place on earth that day.

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