by Paul Schuster, Polar Travel Adviser
As a Polar Travel Adviser in Quark's Toronto office, my research and passion for travel has become quite handy in answering questions and making sure your visit to the world's intriguing Polar Regions are everything you've dreamed of.
One question we're asked often is about polar travel for children. Recently, I had the opportunity to learn firsthand what it's like traveling to an incredibly remote region with a child.
Traveling with kids to the Polar Regions
My son Owen inherited my love of travel. He and I traveled together last year on a Quark arctic voyage and had the time of our lives. Here, he shares some of his favorite parts of his arctic voyage, in the hope of inspiring other kids to travel unafraid and follow their dreams to visit these intriguing destinations.
Owen traveled with me aboard the Sea Spirit to Spitsbergen in June 2014, when he was nine years old. We were able to visit many different areas, including Reykjavik, Iceland's capital, and The Blue Lagoon, the famous hollowed out lava field full of mud and natural hot springs.
Owen immediately noticed the differences between Toronto and this exciting new region of the world. Looking back on his trip, he says, “There were lots of different forms of transportation in Iceland. We were able to travel to the Golden Circle and up to a glacier by Super Jeep. My favorite part of this leg of the journey was snowmobiling, where they provided helmets and everything we needed.”
Traveling with family on an arctic expedition
Families traveling with young explorers might wonder what's in store for their children aboard a ship. Fortunately, there are plenty of activities to keep young, inquisitive minds busy aboard the Sea Spirit, including the opportunity to meet new people and see things they would otherwise only read about in books. The Sea Spirit is where Owen met his friend from South Africa, who was just one year younger.
Owen says, “It was a lot of fun because there was someone else my age and we both liked to play soccer, so we played by the stage area. The experts were talking about animals and when we went on land, they would explain how stuff happens. One day, we saw a bunch of different animals in one place - a whale, some polar bears, a fox, and some walruses. We also saw three reindeer. They were bigger than I thought they would be. Mostly we took pictures of weird-shaped glaciers and interesting things you don't get to see all the time.”
I have traveled a lot, but it was a different experience having my son with me.
Although we had traveled to Costa Rica when he was younger, this was Owen's first big trip out of the Americas. It was nice to see his perspective and how he reacted to the environment, the animals, and the ice.
Adventure cruising in the Arctic
The bird life in the Arctic is really quite impressive. Owen and I agreed that one of our favorite parts was Alkefjellet, a giant bird cliff with swarms of birds — tens or even hundreds of thousands.
That experience sparked a real interest in birds I hadn't felt before. The sea before us was encased in ice, so we hopped in the Zodiac and took a slow cruise around it for a good, uninterrupted half an hour. Owen enjoyed the birds as well as the ride. “That was my first trip in a Zodiac and I thought it was pretty fun — sometimes I would slip on the pontoon and land on my butt.”
Tips for exploring the Arctic with children
Some are skeptical of traveling to Polar Regions with children. However, Quark has a deep commitment to safety, regardless of the age of passengers.
Owen says, “My friends were really interested in where I was going, so that was one thing. The first time my dad told me we were going, I was confused. I thought we were going to the Antarctic. I have a map in my bedroom.”
People are pretty used to the fact that I like to travel quite a bit, so it seemed natural to bring my son along. It was a great opportunity for Owen and everyone was excited he was going to an exotic spot at such a young age.
Everything from the itinerary to meals can be kid-friendly. Dinners are casual and seating arrangements differ, so you can dine at a table for four or eight or more, with open seating. The galley is fantastic at accommodating meal requirements. In fact, our chef talked to the children in the morning to get their impressions of what they wanted for dinner.
When I asked Owen about on-board meals, his response was, “My favorite part was the chocolate party toward the end of the voyage. We had chocolate cake and chocolate bars and ice cream and everything.” Of course!
Our plans for future adventures
We're not sure what our next adventure will be at this point. I would take Owen to Antarctica and I'd be fine taking him through the Drake Passage. Exploring at sea is really the best time to see seabirds in Antarctica and there is a great lecture program as well, so there are plenty of things to do, no matter which corner of the world we decide to travel in the future.
For his part, Owen says, “If I could do it again, I would love to. I would like to go to the bird cliffs again.”
Questions about traveling with kids on a polar vacation? Contact Paul, who looks forward to speaking to you about his experience traveling with children to the Arctic.