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Confessions of a Polar Expedition Team Member


Have you ever wondered what life is like aboard a Quark Expeditions ship and during polar excursions, beyond what you see and read online and in the travel brochures?

Polar-passionate traveler and Quark team member Dave Riordan visited our Quark office in Toronto recently and sat down to answer the questions prospective travelers ask us most often. Our booking staff are polar experts in their own right, coming from a variety of polar travel backgrounds and each having participated in a Quark expedition. However, Dave brings to the table a breadth and depth of experience, having traveled with Quark for ten seasons in a variety of roles including Expedition Leader, program coordinator and now Logistics Manager. All told, he spends about eight months of the year on Quark Expeditions ships.

Quark Expeditions team member Dave Riordan

In his off-time, Dave is addicted to travel, as well, spending just a couple of months a year "at home" in Courtland, New York. This upcoming Antarctic season, you'll find Dave cruising with Quark passengers on the Sea Spirit and Sea Adventurer.

His experience is extensive and his perspective definitely unique! Here's what Dave has to share about life on board with Quark Expeditions:

Everyday Life on Board a Quark Expeditions Ship

On board each Quark Expeditions ship, Dave explained, there are three groups of people: Quark travelers, Quark expedition staff, and the ship crew – engineers, deck officers, the receptionist, bartenders, wait staff, housekeepers, etc. "The ship crew are from all over the world and typically, there are about 60 of them on board," he said. "There may be 12 to 15 Quark team members and I'll tell you, the better we all get to know one another, the better the ship runs. They're a fantastic group and we'll often go join them below deck in their common quarters, like the break room and cafeteria, and get to know them."

Ocean Diamond crew, Antarctica 2014

Quark Expeditions team members stay in the same types of quarters, in the same area of the ship, as travelers. "We take meals together, do shore excursions together, and spend time together on the decks and in the restaurant/bar areas," Dave said. "Passengers don't expect the comfort level when they get on board and there's something so special in getting together throughout the trip with these people who all want to have that same awesome polar experience. It's a worldly, amazing group of people; we're there day and night to answer questions and share in the experience with them."

Dave also noted that people are often surprised at the services available on board. "Technology has changed everything – people are surprised that there's any internet service at the poles, but we have satellite." He explained that the Internet connection is usually good enough for sending text-only messages, for checking email or sending short tweets to Twitter. "But then, some are surprised it's slow and intermittent," he chuckled. "For the most part, passengers are impressed we can communicate with the outside world at all when we're in the most remote regions on earth."

Sea Spirit in Antarctica with Quark Expeditions

The in-room TVs don't have any outside programming and are used to show in-house movies and display daily information, he explained, adding, "We get very little news from the outside world. It can be a really good thing but you can have serious culture shock." On returning to port, Dave said, "The first time you see a tree… it's crazy! I like to go straight to a mall just to freak myself out." People's expectations are always different, he said, so being prepared before you go is important.


A Typical Day On Board with Quark Expeditions

"Usually, the team gets up bright and early and has a pre-breakfast meeting," Dave explained. "We have breakfast with guests and then get into our gear and head out for the day. That's when we launch the zodiacs and check out the landing sites before we take the guests out." This is especially important in the Arctic, he said, where they need to make sure there are no polar bears or other carnivorous animals onshore. The team then marks out the perimeter of a path for passengers to use onshore.

Quark Expeditions passengers dine at the North Pole

"We're taking about 10-12 passengers out in the Zodiacs and will bring them ashore for the morning," he said. No food is allowed to be brought on shore in the Antarctic, he cautions, so shore lunches are out of the question. The North Pole is an exception, he noted. "We bring tables and chairs and a BBQ and you're floating on ice 4000 feet above the sea floor, in June or July. It's incredible and I can tell you, the passengers who get to participate in that will never, ever forget it."

"If the weather is bad and everyone stays on board, we do lectures with our marine biologists, ornithologists, or other experts. They'll give presentations and we may have parties, or a scavenger hunt, or even quiz nights. We're all entertainers at heart!" Dave said of himself and his teammates.

"After the morning excursion or activity, we go straight into lunch and then gear up. The ship will be repositioned to another spot." Afternoon excursions are often when optional adventure activities take place, Dave said, such as kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, hiking or cross-country skiing.

"Each night, we have recaps of what we've seen throughout the day. We put slides together from our cameras and put together these presentations on the fly." Most people are using PowerPoint, he said, and one person collects everything and puts it together in one presentation for the recap. "We go from person to person and share what we saw that day."

Dinner is a delicious but casual affair, he said. "People can sit with whomever they choose and mix and mingle. A lot of the passengers are well traveled, so you'll hear these great conversations about polar travel, but also about travel the world over."

After dinner, passengers are free to take part in the every-other nightly activities in the lounge, settle in to watch an educational movie, or head to their cabin. "Depending on each person's sleep patterns, some are real morning people and others are more night owls. I prefer to stay up in the lounge chatting in the evening than to be up first thing in the morning," Dave said.


Adventure Part of Daily Life in the Polar Regions

camping in Antarctica

"We have experienced, trained guides for every activity, whether it's mountaineering or hiking, or one of our watersports," he said.

Dave was a camping guide for six years before joining Quark and he usually runs the Antarctic camping program on his excursions.  

"We take about 30 people out after dinner and come back before breakfast, as they're not allowed to eat while they're out there," he explained.  It's light all night during the summer in Antarctica and they usually don't need headlamps. "It's incredible… we listen to the penguins and the whales blowing and the ice cracking. I'm usually tucked in a bivvy bag – a waterproof shell, with just my head sticking out," he laughed.

Photo courtesy of Paul Shaver from of our passenger slideshow, Antarctic Explorer voyage, Feb 2014

Photo courtesy of Paul Shaver from of our passenger slideshow, Antarctic Explorer voyage, Feb 2014.

Dave warns that campers have to watch for the Antarctic fur seal (seen above): "It looks like a dog wearing mitts and they bite! They may come into the campsite. We camp on top of the snow so animals don't jump into a snow pit with us. They're about the size of a German shepherd," he said. It happens, too – Dave told us a story about a camper digging deep into the snow in an effort to get further out of the wind, only to have a fur seal hop down into their pit and refuse to leave.

Other animal sightings are common for campers. "A penguin might come look at you while you're sleeping… I once woke up to a penguin jumping on my chest and then calmly just walking away!"

You never know what to expect on the seventh continent, he said. "We once had a penguin and a Weddell seal guard the toilet all night," he laughed.

"Sure, it was a bit creepy at first. We try to set the toilets up behind some kind of snow wall or natural sight barrier and here were these two little guys, just hanging out right there for the entire night. Just keeping an eye on things, I guess!"


Oh, and about those Antarctic toilets… "Everyone gets a very realistic briefing of what they'll experience before they go camping. Sometimes people decide it's more than what they want to get into, and that's totally fine!" Dave said. "We have bucket toilets and everything goes back onto the ship for disposal in the proper sewage system. We make sure people understand how everything is going to work out there so there are few surprises."

Once passengers go to shore, he said, unless they're hypothermic or there's a medical emergency, they're can't return to the ship. "We take safety very seriously at Quark and have emergency equipment with us in a tent, with wilderness first aid leaders in camp. We do take flares, blankets, signalling equipment, food rations, and water, just in case. We want everyone to be comfortable and happy and a big part of that is knowing what to expect while you're out there!" he said.


A Day in the Life of a Quark Expeditions Traveler is Different Each and Every Day

Photo credit: Angus Hamilton


Even with all of that preparation, Dave said, "people are often surprised and even in awe at the sheer scale of Antarctica and the Arctic. You can learn about the animals and the geography, but you can't understand it until you're there.  It's massive."

Travelling different areas of the world, he explained, you have all of these different cultural elements – the history, the languages, the people, the traditions, and so on. "But in the polar regions, you have no inhabitation. There are no trees – it's just epic nature and you don't have to tune out the human aspect of it. It's amazing how that floating vessel turns into a community for the time you're together," he said.

For Dave Riordan, heading out to the ships is like coming home. It's a sentiment shared among many experienced polar travelers. Whether it's your first expedition or your twenty-first, a typical day in the polar regions is highly unlikely to be typical in any way, shape or form. And we wouldn't have it any other way!






Quark Passengers Love Showcasing Their National Pride


Wherever we go – from the Drake Passage to King George Island in the Antarctic, all the way to East Greenland and even the North Pole – Quark passengers love bringing a bit of their home country with them. Even better, they share their experiences with us in photos, videos and even guest blog posts.

In light of the recent Olympics, one of the greatest displays of national pride on earth, we wanted to share these incredible photos of our passengers celebrating their home countries on expedition to the North Pole. See if your own country has been represented on an Arctic tour!

A Meeting of Nations at the North Pole

International flags flew high overhead on this expedition to the North Pole. Everyone is bundled up in their Quark parkas, but you might be surprised to learn how temperate it can be in the Arctic during the summer, which is when we travel. Passengers come from the world over and enjoy partaking in one another's culture as much as displaying their own national pride. In this blog post, Chris McFarlane shares his wow moment from his first trip to the North Pole: "The traditional Russian parade music that blasted as our ship cast her lines and left port was definitely memorable!"


BBQ at North Pole Photo by Quark passenger

Here's another view of Canadian, UK, Japanese and a plethora of other flags flying high off 50 Years of Victory, the world's most powerful and largest icebreaker.

North Pole: A Symbol of International Unity

Here, you can see passengers taking part in a Pole Parade, beneath the banners of their respective countries. The North Pole is a symbol of international unity, as was showcased last summer when 50 Years of Victory took part in the Olympic Torch Relay and brought the Olympic Flame to the North Pole.


View from icebreaker BBQ at 90 degrees north. Photo by Quark passenger.

Once the ship reached 90 degrees North, passengers took part in the torch relay both onboard and on the Arctic Ice. Torch bearers from the eight countries making up the Arctic council took part, ensuring Russia, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Canada, the US, Iceland and Denmark were all represented.

Flagbearers in the Far North

Here, another passenger proudly displays the flag of China, as he represents his nation at the top of the world, where a step in any direction takes you south.


China Flag at North Pole China flag displayed by Quark passenger.

Not to be outdone, Canada and the US represent!


Canadian flag at North Pole Canadian flag displayed at North Pole


USA flag at North Pole USA flag displayed by Quark passengers

It's a rite of passage, once you've crushed through the thick sea ice and had a chance to view the spectacular Arctic Ocean by helicopter, to have your picture taken at the North Pole.


India flag at North Pole India flag displayed by Quark passengers

As the Olympics came to a close, we were reminded that citizens of every nation love to take a piece of home with them when they travel. Arctic voyage passengers are no different; as some of the very few on earth who have the opportunity to travel to Franz Joseph Land and stand at the actual North Pole, they are stewards for their countries and proud to show it off!

Do you have polar adventure pictures that show off your national pride? Share them with us on Twitter!



North Pole Adventure with Chris



Chris McFarlane

Job title:

Assistant Manager, Operations

Trip Name: North Pole

Pre-post night city: Helsinki

Ship name: 50 Let Pobedy (50 Years of Victory)

Date of Travel:

July 1, 2013 to July 12, 2013

What word best describes your travel style & why? (Adventurer ,Check-lister, Learner , Escapist)

Adventurer. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a list of places that I’m interested in travelling to, and I certainly enjoy checking them off, but what drives me to travel is a sense of adventure and exploring foreign places and cultures. I’ve always been a very curious person.

Give a brief overview of your role at Quark and what you like most about it:

I work in the Operation department in Quark’s head office. My role revolves around ensuring the smooth and safe operations of our expeditions, including making sure we have the best ships, staff and equipment in the industry. I like that operations is really the front-line department of the company, and because of this we get the chance to work closely with all other departments (finance, marketing and sales) to get a very holistic view of our business. On top of this, we get the opportunity to experience a few voyages every year which is amazing!

Did anything interesting happen during your journey to the destination? (interesting seat mate, tips for smooth entry, Anything interesting in B.A./Ushuaia?)

I decided to spend a day in Reykjavik, Iceland on my way to meet the group in Helsinki. It was gorgeous, and I highly recommend breaking up a trans-Atlantic flight with a stopover in Iceland if you get the chance! I rented a car at the airport and clocked close to 500kms in 24hrs driving around this unique island. The highlight was definitely a late evening visit to the famous Blue Lagoon spa by the airport – so relaxing!


Photo courtesy of Blue Lagoon Spa

What were the weather conditions like during your trip?

This was my first North Pole trip so I wasn’t sure what to expect weather wise, but I’m told it was overall above average. We started with a record-breaking hot day in Murmansk that was a bit of a sweaty one, and aside from one day of thick fog on the sail to the Pole we had clear skies and sun. Our day at the Pole was slightly overcast and about -1 degrees Celsius, but the wind stayed down which allowed us to have fun all day on the ice! On our sail back to Murmansk we were blown out of one landing opportunity in Franz Josef Land, but we were able to get on the Zodiacs and in the Helicopter for two others so overall it was a success.

Best memory on the ship or your overall impression of the ship and/or staff:

My best memory on the ship was sailing North and encountering the sea ice for the first time. Watching our ship steam ahead and break through meter thick ice at full speed was truly amazing and really gave me a sense of how powerful these nuclear icebreakers really are. After the first hour or so of breaking through the ice we also encountered our first polar bear – what a day!


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

1) Watching the ship break through some seriously thick ice for the final 5 nautical miles to the 90 degrees North.

2) Seeing my first polar bear

3) Getting in the ship’s helicopter and seeing the vast expanse of sea ice from high above


Describe a wow moment or particularly special memory from your trip:

Maybe not a wow moment, but the traditional Russian parade music that blared as our ship casted her lines and left port was definitely very memorable!

Sum up your trip in 3 words:

Unlike any other.

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

If you’re considering travelling to the Polar Regions you are probably an adventurous, curious and likely experienced traveler. If this is the case, it will be one of the best trips of your life!


Are there any other experiences, restaurants, food, people, places or sites you would like to highlight?

I will mention Reykjavik, Iceland again because I was truly surprised by the unique beauty and very friendly people I encountered there. A must visit!





Scenic Waters


If only we could walk on water! This stunning photo was captured in July 2011 on one of our amazing Spitsbergen Expeditions.


Photo credit: Passenger Al Gellin

Got an ice photo of your own to share? Post it to twitter and tag with #IcePhoto! Follow Quark Expeditions on twitter @quarkexpedition where we share photos and videos and chat about all things polar!

Follow us: @QuarkExpedition on Twitter | QuarkExpeditions on Facebook


Quark Expeditions’ at the top of the World with 50 Years of Victory


Ship will carry Sochi Olympic Flame to the North Pole.

[Waterbury, VT] – July 2, 2013 – Quark Expeditions, the leader in polar adventures, has just successfully reached the geographic North Pole for the 46th time as part of its first voyage of the 2013 Arctic season. It took only four days from Murmansk, Russia, to the North Pole. The 50 Years of Victory can take up to eight days to travel north, making this Quark’s fastest voyage to date.
Since 1991, Quark has operated voyages to the North Pole via icebreaker in June and/or July each year. Quark operates two departures of its signature North Pole voyage, taking a lucky 250 people in total each season to the top of the world aboard the powerful nuclear icebreaker, 50 Years of Victory.


Quark Expeditions passengers with Russian Ice Breaker 50 Years Of Victory at the North Pole in July 2012. Quark Expeditions passengers with Russian Ice Breaker 50 Years Of Victory at the North Pole in July 2012.


This fall, in honor of the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, the 50 Years of Victory will be participating in the Olympic flame relay, carrying the flame to the North Pole. After the official lighting ceremony in Greece, the flame will travel through all Russia’s nine time zones and even to the International Space Station on board the Soyuz TMA‐11M manned spaceship, completing its route in Sochi in early February 2014.


Welcome to the North Pole!


A polar bear appears to wave lazily at passing Quark Expeditions passengers: "Welcome to the North Pole!"


Photo from the passenger slideshow, "Voyage to the North Pole" 24 June to 6 July 2011.

Be one of only 250 people to stand at the top of the world in 2013! Join us on Russian icebreaker 50 Years of Victory as we head to 90 degrees north.

Got an ice photo of your own to share? Post it to twitter and tag with #IcePhoto! Follow Quark Expeditions on twitter @quarkexpedition where we share photos and videos and chat about all things polar!


Top 5 reasons to travel with Quark Expeditions



1. Polar travel is all we do:
we are the leaders in polar adventure and we have been doing it for over 20 years!


2. Our People:
You’d be hard-pressed to find a group of people more passionate about the Polar Regions than the staff at Quark. From our office support staff and Executive team, to our incredible Expedition Team members and leaders, we are delighted to share everything we know and love about these unique and beautiful regions. We operate our expeditions (no middle man!), hand-pick experienced Expedition Teams, and we provide expertise that only a polar specialist can.


alex Expedition Leader Alex on the job in Antarctica3.

3. Safety comes first:

When you're traveling with Quark, you can rest assured that you are traveling with one of the most responsible and safety-conscious companies in the Polar expeditions industry.


4. Choice of Destination: Our itineraries are designed by the leader in polar adventures.


  • In Antarctica: We have the largest and most diverse fleet of passenger ships in the Antarctic operated by one entity. We deliver more departures and a greater variety of itineraries than any other company.
  • In the Arctic: We go higher and farther than anyone else. Our nuclear-powered icebreaker crushes its way to the North Pole. Our Polar Adventure Ships let us explore Spitsbergen, Svalbard, add kayaking options, and to experience channels and bays through which our icebreakers cannot sail.




North Pole 2012 Quark Expeditions passengers form a circle at the North Pole


5. More activities to choose from:
From camping, kayaking through ice, snowshoeing across pristine snow, helicopter rides at the top of the world and more, we've got lots of adventure options that are sure to make your bucket-list the envy of everyone you know!



Camping in Antarctica Camping in Antarctica

North Pole bound


Russian Icebreaker The 50 Years of Victory heads north in this incredible photo from our July 2012 North Pole cruise.


Be one of only 250 people to stand at the top of the world in 2013 - join us on our unforgettable North Pole voyage this year!



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