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Fly-Cruise Confidential: An interview with the President of Quark Expeditions

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There is probably no bigger and more passionate fan of all things Quark Expeditions than our CEO Hans Lagerweij. Fresh from his first experience aboard one of our Antarctic Express voyages, we sat down to chat with Hans about the fly-cruise program and hear him tell the tale of another Quark “first” achievement in Antarctica!

 

Name: Hans Lagerweij
Job title: CEO (Chief “Experience” Officer)
Trip Name: Antarctica Express fly-cruise
Pre-post night city: Punta Arenas
Ship name: Sea Adventurer
Date of Travel : February 2013

 

Thanks for taking the time to do this little interview Hans. First off, how would you describe the type of traveler best-suited for Quark’s fly-cruise voyages?

Definitely you’re an adventurous and active traveler. We have great optional activities on offer such as sea-kayaking and camping, that any active traveler would enjoy. It’s a unique way to get up close and personal with the 7th continent.

 

Hans gets up close and personal with some penguins

What makes the fly-cruise program distinct from other Quark voyages?

If you’re pressed for time and still want to experience all the best highlights of the Antarctic Peninsula, these trips are fantastic as they can get across the Drake Passage and be in Antarctica in only two hours. Mind you, the flying is more sensitive to weather conditions (make sure you buy travel interruption insurance!). Unlike our regular expedition trips where embarkation/disembarkation is at the pier, for Express trips we do this in Antarctica, and then transfer you by Zodiac to/from the ship just off King George Island.

For all those aviation buffs, you may be interested to know that we use a British Aerospace 146 jet plane, which has four engines, STOL capabilities – short take off and landing –and can land on gravel. All great attributes for this type of voyage! [Editor's Note: You can watch a video of the airplane landing on King George Island right here.]

 

Did anything interesting happen during your journey to the destination?

There’s never a dull moment in expedition travel! Trying to make our way down to King George Island from Punta Arenas, it was foggy on the day we were supposed to fly, so we were delayed for 8 hours, making it evening when we were finally cleared to fly. So, as it turns out, this was the very first passenger night flight that our airline partner DAP had ever done in Antarctica, and was thus a new achievement in the history of tourism in Antarctica!

It was a really great night. The last passengers arrived on the ship at 2 a.m., where they were welcomed and served food with a smile by the hotel staff who had already put in more than 20 hours that day.

 

What are some of the highlights of your trip?

On my flight from Santiago de Chile to Punta Arenas, we had amazing views over Torres del Paine: probably one of the most spectacular views from an airplane that I have ever seen. Make sure you get a window seat on the left side of the airplane when you fly down, and right side when flying up, and have your camera ready!

Another memorable moment was when Expedition Leader Laurie Dexter gave his lecture about the failed Scott expedition to the South Pole; he is such a skilled storyteller and he recounted this historical event with such emotion that guests had tears in their eyes.

 

Top 3 things you did or experienced on your Polar expedition :

(1) Camping on the continent!

(2) Sea kayaking among the ice

(3) The polar barbeque on the outer deck – always a fun highlight, both for passengers and staff

 

You’ve seen all the iconic Antarctic wildlife before on your many trips to the region. Any unique encounters on this trip?

At Hannah Point, we observed a large number of penguin chicks “irritating” the huge elephant seals. They climbed on top of them and walked on their heads until the seals reacted by raising their bulbous heads and letting a big loud seal roar which had all the penguins scattering…only to regroup and begin their show minutes later. Truly hilarious!

 

What would you say to anyone who is considering travelling to the Polar Regions?

I highly recommend that you take advantage of the good advice from our passionate and experienced Polar Travel Advisers. Study all your options for the different ships and itineraries we have, and decide what suits you best. As the leader in Polar expeditions, we offer the largest choices to enjoy these regions, so please consider all the possibilities.

And one last thing, if you find that one of our fly-cruise voyages is for you, please note that the baggage limitation for the fly-cruise is 15kg per passenger. So pack smartly and remember that Quark has an informal atmosphere on board, so you don’t have to pack any fancy clothes – just those that keep you warm!

 

Thank you for sharing your experiences with us Hans!

Zodiac driver (and CEO) Hans Lagerweij

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Antarctica with Chris

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Name: Chris McFarlane
Job title: Expedition Coordinator on the ship, Assistant Manager of Expedition Operations in the office
Trip Name: Explorers and Kings, Classic Antarctica and Antarctic Explorer
Pre-post night city: Ushuaia
Ship name: Sea Adventurer
Date of Travel: 11/8/2012 – 1/4/2013

1. Describe your travel style?
While I would also consider myself an adventurer, it is the search for knowledge and understanding of our planet, and the different cultures and environments that make it up, that motivates me to travel. Adventure is great by-product though, and you’ll certainly find that in a trip down south as well!

 

2. Give a brief overview of your role at Quark and what you like most about it:
As the expedition coordinator on board the Sea Adventurer I worked closely with the Expedition Leader in ensuring we kept passengers busy and entertained during their time on the ship. During sea days this involved organizing and scheduling lectures from other expedition staff members, and also preparing the daily itinerary and after-dinner movies and/or entertainments. There is never a dull moment on the ship, even during the long sea days! As with any expedition staff member, we also share duties driving zodiacs and conducting on-shore activities during landing days.

 

3. Did anything interesting happen during your journey to the destination? (interesting seat mate, tips for smooth entry, Anything interesting in B.A./Ushuaia?)
My journey to BsAs and Ushuaia was uneventful, which is always a good thing when travelling! I did have my older sister’s wedding the day/night before flying out to Buenos Aires so I’ve certainly felt better than I did while waiting for my plane at the airport, but I was able to get lots of sleep on the plane.

 

4. What were the weather conditions like during your trip?

The weather in the Antarctic can be completely unpredictable and there are many microclimates on the peninsula so you never know what you’re going to get. Fortunately the area is so breathtakingly beautiful and unique that is shows well in any conditions, and if it is safe to go to land we operate in any weather! We were very fortunate this year to have a spell of incredible weather, and for all of my 5 voyages we had mostly sunny skies and calm seas. Our expedition leader Laurie has been coming down to the region for over 20 years and he insists it was the best trend of weather he’s been a part of, so certainly no complaints here!

 

5. Best memory on the ship or your overall impression of the ship and/or staff:
My best memory of the season was during my second to last trip (December 16th-26th). We were on the second day of our Drake crossing to the Peninsula and the weather was perfect – not a cloud in sight and not a breath of wind. Many people were enjoying the sun on the deck, and in the early afternoon some whales were spotted in our course. We approached them and turned the engines off, and for about 90 minutes we had these 4 curious humpbacks checking out our ships and playing around in the water beside us. It was incredible, and made for some great photos!

Chris_Whales1

 

6. Top 3 things you did or experienced on your Polar expedition:

  • Many great humpback whale sightings and experiences
  • South Georgia – while I have done close to 20 Antarctic voyages this year was my first trip to South Georgia and it was incredible. Never before have I seen such an abundance of wildlife, and the beaches are teeming with seals and penguins with these majestic mountains looming in the background. Incredible!
  • Getting to see Sir Ernest Shackleton’s grave at Grytviken on South Georgia and having a toast to ‘The Boss’ was very memorable. I have been extremely fond of Shackleton and his incredible adventures since I was a teenager and first read about him, and it was amazing getting to see his grave. Also, being in Stanley, Falkland Island on Remembrance Day of the 30th Anniversary of the Falkland Islands conflict was very moving as well.

 

7. Describe a wow moment or particularly special memory from your trip:
A wow moment for me was when, on our first trip of the season (November 8th – 26th), we were nearing the end of our time on the Antarctic Peninsula and were sailing across the Gerlache Strait on our way to the South Shetland Islands and we came across a pod of about 20 killer whales who had just killed a minke whale. We didn’t see the impressive orcas actually kill the minke, but we did see them eating the remnants of it and swimming around with pieces of it in their mouths. They were certainly very excited about their kill, and they went out of their way to come over to the ship and play around and celebrate in front of us, including swimming back and forth under the keel of the ship. They stayed for about an hour, and then got on their way. It was breathtaking to be so close to such amazing and intelligent animals.

chris_whales2

 

8. Sum up your trip in 3 words:
Couldn’t havebeen better. (I made it into three okay!)

 

9. What would you say to anyone who is considering travelling to the Polar Regions:
Stop considering and start booking, it will be one of the most unique and memorable experiences of your life.

Elephant Seals

 

10. Are there any other experiences, restaurants, food, people, places or sites you would like to highlight?
It is always fun seeing penguin chicks begin to hatch in Dec/Jan – they’re these big balls of down and incredibly entertaining to observe.
The food on the Sea Adventurer was incredible this year thanks to Chef Shippel – aside from the landscape and wildlife we saw the food was a highlight as well!

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