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Arctic Travel: Exploring on your own or with Arctic Tour Group? Two Different Ways to Discover the North

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Traveling to the Arctic is a once in a lifetime adventure for some, while others have made it a semi-annual or even annual tradition, exploring different areas or returning to favorite regions with each visit. Whether it's your first trip to the Arctic Circle or your tenth, is it better to travel alone or accompanied by an Arctic tour group? There are a number of factors to consider, but it really all comes down to the experience you seek. Here are some considerations as you decide:

Safety & Comfort

Travel and tourism to Arctic regions – from the Svalbard archipelago to Greenland's eastern coast, right to the North Pole – has increased substantially over the last several decades. Even so, the polar regions remain the most expansive, naturally remote areas on earth. Exploring them solo is adventurous, though it's generally a good idea to travel with a group at least initially, until you fully understand the geography, climate and wildlife.

 

Cabin Luxury cabins aboard the Sea Explorer.

Our two Arctic ships, Sea Spirit and Sea Explorer, are a comfortable, mobile home base for travelers. After a rewarding day of Zodiac cruising, Arctic wildlife photography or kayaking, is there anything better than sharing stories and laughs over drinks after a delicious meal served in a formal dining room? Returning to ship each day eases the burden of carrying luggage from place to place and gives guests a home away home feel quite different from that of moving from hotel to hotel over a period of weeks. Of course, many find comfort in the company of others. Single travelers tend to meet people throughout their trip, at each stop along the way. Participating in an Arctic tour allows groups of people – families, old friends, or special interest groups like the Chinese Arctic Youth Group – to participate in activities of their choice during the day, then come together in the library or the all-inclusive bar in the evening. You might be surprised to learn that the Arctic climate in summer, while certainly not tropical, can be quite balmy. Tour guests enjoy an on-board hot tub on the Sea Explorer's wraparound sun deck, while many cabins have private verandahs. Of course, our ships meet or exceed rigorous safety standards and two experienced physicians are on board to ensure the safety and comfort of every passenger.

Knowledgeable Guides

Traveling alone tends to offer more freedom, as you can change your plans at the drop of a hat, if you choose. However, some find that they miss out on part of the experience. Those with less than expert knowledge of Arctic flora and fauna may crave the expertise of an experienced Arctic tour guide.

 

Norm Lasca Norm Lasca, Professor Emeritus of Geology.

Our expedition team members are seasoned Arctic travel veterans like Norm Lasca, Professor Emeritus of Geology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Norm has worked extensively in the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions for over 50 years and is an expert in Earth-surface processes, especially pertaining to glaciers. Alaska native Shelli Ogilvy has been a wilderness guide for over a decade and has worked with several research groups studying humpback and gray whales. Shelli finds her peace and joy through sharing her vast knowledge of Arctic ecosystems and wildlife with passengers.

 

Shelli Ogilvy Shelli Ogilvy, Wilderness Guide.

These are just two of the many incredible professionals who help make the Arctic group tour experience a fantastic one for Quark passengers. With the lowest staff to passenger ratio in the industry, you'll have plenty of face time with these knowledgeable, passionate Arctic tour experts – you’ll even get to break bread with them. Access to Remote Areas Traveling with an organized cruise gives passengers access to some of the most beautiful and remote places on the planet. Trekking alone to the North Pole would be a harrowing experience (just ask Børge Ousland or Yasunaga Ogita) and is a feat most could never accomplish. Hiring charter flights, renting boats or traveling with local guides can get you into some pretty remote areas, yet they can be cost-prohibitive, as well.

 

Passengers at North Pole Photo by Quark passenger at North Pole.

However, it's not impossible – passengers aboard 50 Years to Victory, the world's most powerful nuclear icebreaker, not only journeys all the way to the geographic North Pole, but gets you there in style. Decked out with a gym, lap pool, two saunas, a dining room and bar, a library and even a helicopter for shore excursions, this magnificent ship can cut through ice over 9 feet thick as it propels passengers to the one place on earth where every direction is South. The decision to travel the Arctic alone or as part of a group is a personal one that deserves careful thought and consideration. We welcome any questions you have about Arctic travel – call one of our Polar Travel Advisers today at (888) 892.0073 or share your comment below!

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Arctic Quest: Cultural & Geographical Contrasts from Greenland to Churchill

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Arctic Quest, our most diverse Arctic expedition, is popular among wildlife lovers, adventurers and historians alike. This is a journey of contrasts, where you may find yourself alternately immersed in Inuit culture, in awe of naturally magnificent icy fjords, and even enjoying close encounters with walrus or polar bears.

Your journey begins with an overnight stay in Denmark, before boarding a charter flight to Kangerlussuaq, home to Greenland’s largest commercial airport, where we’ll kick Arctic Quest off with two days of West Greenland exploration. The adventure begins immediately with a Zodiac transfer from the port to Sea Explorer, your home for the duration of the cruise.

Sea Explorer

The sister ship to our Sea Spirit, Sea Explorer is an exercise in contrast itself, as passengers enjoy luxury accommodations onboard even while experiencing some of the most primitive, natural scenery and wildlife on the planet.

You’re safe and secure in this ice-strengthened vessel, with two on-board doctors and an experienced crew to ensure your comfort. Our ship captain and expedition leader are always on the lookout for weather and other factors, to guide you on the safest route, but also that most in line with our goal to share with you the wonders of the Arctic.

The harbour walkways beckon in the small fishing village area of Sisimiut, a northern town in Greenland and home to an eclectic hybrid of traditional whaling history and modern, urban Arctic life.

 

Sisimiut Sisimiut. Photo taken by Quark passenger Fiona.

We head north to Ilulissat, deeper into the Arctic Circle and a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. There, you’ll witness one of the earth’s fastest and most active glaciers, Sermeq Kujalleq, and find your adventurous side zodiac cruising and hiking around Ilulissat, the Kalaallisut word for “icebergs.”

On Day Five, we venture into the Davis Strait, heading west towards Canada and your next destination, Baffin Island. Onboard the Sea Explorer, enjoy all-inclusive beverages, wholesome and delicious meals and fantastic views of whales, sea birds and more from the deck.

Before we reach Baffin Island, we’ll stop at Monumental Island (Oomienwa in Inuktitut), a hotspot for polar bear and walrus sightings, in Canada’s Nunavut. Bring your camera on our zodiac cruise around the island – you might just catch a polar bear in search of his next meal!

 

Illulissat Illulissat. Photo taken by Quark passenger Emily.

On Day Ten, leave civilization behind once again as we venture into the second largest bay in the world, en route to the Islands of Hudson. If you’ve craved more exposure to wildlife, this is your chance to explore our landing site options including Zodiac excursions around Walrus Island and hiking at Digges, Coats and Marble Islands.

Nine miles off the Nunavut mainland, Marble Island is an eco-tourist and history buffs’ delight, with a rich legacy of whaling, tragedy and Inuit myth. Polar bears may stop here as they traverse the surrounding waters; walrus, caribou and muskox sightings are possible, as well. British explorer Luke Foxe said of the place in 1631, “The island is all of a white marble.” A geological wonder, the four islands of Marble Island are actually a type of sandstone with massive veins of quartz. Each century, Marble Island continues its rise from Hudson Bay by approximately one meter, as it’s done for the last ten thousand years.

The area is also popular with divers, thanks to its relatively shallow waters and rich marine environment. Beluga whales often play around the ship, while Black Guillemots and Iceland gulls soar the cliffs at Digges Island. Here, you have four days to explore, relax, and enjoy, participating in excursions on foot or by zodiac, as weather permits, guided by our expert expedition guides, who can fill you in on the magic and history of the area.

Our last day on the water takes you to Churchill, the “Polar Bear Capital of the World,” on the west shore of Hudson Bay. On this final day, you’ll set out in search of beluga whales on a zodiac before coming into port and catching your flight back to Toronto for one final overnight.

 

Polar Bear Polar Bear. Photo taken by Quark passenger.

Our next landing, at Akpatok Island, is a birder’s paradise. This uninhabited island spans almost 350 square miles and has International Biological Program status, thanks to its healthy population of Thick-billed Murre, Black Guillemot and Peregrine Falcon. The island, predominantly limestone, is a fantastic habitat for Arctic birds, who nest in the tall cliffs in their quest to avoid their carnivorous island neighbour, the polar bear.

At Akpatok, it is truly untouched and natural in a world now largely synthetic and constructed. Historically it is also widely known as home to many cannibals until the 1900s. At your next landing in the tiny village of Kimmirut, your mind will drift to life as it was hundreds of years ago, as you experience a lifestyle rich in tradition and history among the Inuit people.

Archaeological evidence points to the presence of Dorset people, pre-Inuit Arctic settlers, 2500 years ago. More recently, Kimmirut was uninhabited until the Anglican Church arrived in 1909 and Hudson Bay Company brought a trading post two years later, when the village was known as Lake Harbour. Now, over 90% of the population are Inuit who sustain themselves as crafters and artisans, selling their indigenous artwork and sculptures. Wander the village in search of native Canadian soapstone carvings or ivory scrimshaw etchings.

Day Nine finds you in Cape Dorset, a tiny hamlet recognized as “The Capital of Inuit Art.” The Inuktitut name for this settlement, Kinngait, means “high mountain” and refers to the picturesque hills surrounding it. Here, over 20% of residents are employed in the arts, making it the most artistic community in Canada. Be sure to stop in at the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative for exquisite stonecut prints, etchings, sculpture and more.

Although Inuit people are initially shy and minimal in conversation, they are very warm and welcoming to travelers. Culture and tradition are their way of life and if given the chance they open their homes to visitors, it is proper to ask permission before taking pictures of the people or their homes.

 

Greenland home Quark passengers are invited as guests into an Inuit home.

Nine miles off the Nunavut mainland, Marble Island is an eco-tourist and history buffs’ delight, with a rich legacy of whaling, tragedy and Inuit myth. Polar bears may stop here as they traverse the surrounding waters; walrus, caribou and muskox sightings are possible, as well. British explorer Luke Foxe said of the place in 1631, “The island is all of a white marble.” A geological wonder, the four islands of Marble Island are actually a type of sandstone with massive veins of quartz. Each century, Marble Island continues its rise from Hudson Bay by approximately one meter, as it’s done for the last ten thousand years.

The area is also popular with divers, thanks to its relatively shallow waters and rich marine environment. Beluga whales often play around the ship, while Black Guillemots and Iceland gulls soar the cliffs at Digges Island. Here, you have four days to explore, relax, and enjoy, participating in excursions on foot or by zodiac, as weather permits, guided by our expert expedition guides, who can fill you in on the magic and history of the area.

Our last day on the water takes you to Churchill, the “Polar Bear Capital of the World,” on the west shore of Hudson Bay. On this final day, you’ll set out in search of beluga whales on a zodiac before coming into port and catching your flight back to Toronto for one final overnight.

Want to learn more about Arctic Quest? Why not download the dossier, or contact us – we’re happy to help you out!

Written by Miranda Miller

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