1. Attend the onboard presentations: As mentioned above, when will you next have the opportunity to listen to (and learn from), glaciologists, wildlife biologists, marine mammal experts, ornithologists, polar historians, botanists and other polar experts. These presentations are delivered in a relaxed, informed manner by seasoned expedition members who, in addition to being experts in their field, likely know how to load a Zodiac and guide you on shore landings.
2. Spend lots of time out on deck of your ship. On my expedition to Spitsbergen, I enjoyed standing alone on the deck of Ocean Adventurer after midnight—or at the crack of dawn before most of the guests had woken up. Just being able to soak in my Arctic surroundings, listening to the water, the sounds of the ship forging through ice ladened fjords, watching for possible wildlife sightings off the deck of the ship, and quietly watching as snow-capped mountain peaks and mammoth glaciers unfolded in the distance—such moments are almost impossible to fathom in advance.
3. Spend time with the expedition team members: Connecting with staff and expedition guides doesn’t happen solely during excursions and scheduled activities. Chances are that you’ll share stories at the table during breakfast, lunch or dinner with expedition team members, Zodiac drivers, kayak guides and other crew you spent time with off the ship. They’ll eagerly answer questions, ask about your best moments of the day and share with you stories from their careers in the Polar Regions.
4. Take a hike: Make sure you set foot on the Arctic terrain. I can’t say enough about that moment when you actually plant your feet on a patch of ground (or snow) where so few humans have walked before. Expedition team members lead a variety of on-shore hikes geared to hikers of all levels and interests. You can do a slow ramble to take lots of photos, an intermediate range hike or a faster hike. Such hikes have the power to connect you to nature and root you in the Arctic environment itself.
5. Take advantage of Zodiac excursions. Zodiacs, those sturdy inflatable crafts that ferry guests from ship to shore and back again, were the lifeblood of my off-ship experiences in Spitsbergen. You can go zipping through fjords, Arctic bays, be transported across the Arctic waters to get a closer view at wildlife or a breath-taking land or ice formation, or simply be transported ashore to explore. It’s quite likely that you’ll have a Zodiac excursion (automatically included in your trip package) in the morning and possibly again in the afternoon.
6. Consider an off-ship adventure option: Sitting on a kayak, paddling quietly past a walrus snoozing on a chunk of floating ice under the afternoon sun, was one of my favorite Arctic moments. You don’t have to be a seasoned kayaker, either. Quark Expeditions offers more off-ship activities than any other polar operator, ranging (depending on the ship you’re on) from heli-hiking to alpine kayaking. For me, joining the paddling excursion was a truly immersive experience. I was suddenly at water level, dipping my paddle into the venerable Arctic Ocean, feeling the polar wind on my face.
7. Get to know your fellow passengers: Polar travellers are a breed unto themselves. Quark Expeditions’ guests represent all nationalities and identities. Sharing stories at the end of each day is an important element of any polar voyage with Quark Expeditions. You may find yourself viewing an experience through the lens of someone whose background differs from yours, someone who has travelled widely. Chances are you’ll make lifelong friends on your polar voyage!
8. Pay attention to the seabirds. Prior to my trip to Spitsbergen, I’d never considered myself a birdwatcher. Spitsbergen changed all that. Ornithologists estimate that about 30 or so bird species breed in the region, including Little auks, Arctic terns, Brunich’s Guillemot, gulls such as Kittywakes, Northern fulmar, Common eider, Barnacle and Pink-footed geese, and Skuas among others. Wait until you visit Alkefjellet, known as “Bird Mountain. How can the sight of 60,000 Brünnich’s guillemots not fuel a fascination with birds!
9. Dress appropriately. Your Polar Travel Advisor will brief you in great detail (before your trip) about what clothes and gear you’ll need, what to pack, and how to best prepare yourself for your polar voyage. The tip that helped me immensely: dress in layers, and don’t worry about the cold. Upon boarding your polar vessel, you’ll be given a Quark Parka (with removable liner) that is yours to keep. It will keep you warm and dry throughout your entire polar expedition.
10. Travel with an open mind: Whatever you do, embrace whatever opportunities arise. The Polar Regions—whether the Arctic or Antarctic—will cast a spell on you. Remember, when in doubt, simply say ‘yes.’ Yes to an excursion. Yes to a new opportunity. Yes to any opportunity that will immerse you in the beauty of the Polar Regions!