Antarctica: A Sensory Overload!

King penguins and the Explorer in Antarctica. Tab Hauser photos.
King penguins and the Explorer (a different ship than described below) in Antarctica. Tab Hauser photos.

Journey to Antarctica: Advice from Travelers

By Max Hartshorne

Zaid Mohamedy in Antarctica with Quark Expeditions.
Zodiac cruise near Cuverville Island. Zaid Mahomedy photo

We spoke to three travelers who have taken trips to Antarctica to find out what the best parts are and what you need to know if you’re considering adding Antarctica to your travel plans.

Each of these travelers has different reasons for choosing to visit Antarctica. They traveled with Quark Expeditions and shared dazzling moments and what they all said they consider a true ‘bucket list’ experience.

Zaid Mahomedy, a South African, traveled in January 2014 on the Antarctic Explorer trip on the Ocean Diamond. At age 30 he was taking a career break (he quit his job three months before to the trip to travel and recover from burnout).

Dennis O’Connor, 62, is married and recently retired after working for Kraft Foods for 36 years. He lives in Concord North Carolina

Merv Colton and his wife have been traveling around South America for the past two years, they’re from Ireland. They went on Quark’s Falklands, South Georgia, and Antarctica trip at the end of 2012. “Explorers and Kings”

Zodiac cruise in blizzard near Cuverville Island. Zaid Mahomedy photo.
Zodiac cruise in a blizzard near Cuverville Island. Zaid Mahomedy photo.

What was the one thing you would recommend to a person who is thinking about taking the same voyage, ie, anything you wished you had packed, or anything you brought that you shouldn’t have?

Zaid: It is not really important to carry extra camera batteries for excursions off the ship. Excursions typically last 3.5 hours and a fully charged battery should suffice

.Merv: “Bring a LOT of memory cards and a good camera with a long lens – at least 400mm. Also, bring wide-angle lenses, even a fisheye has a place in Antarctica!

And strangely, do not bring a huge warm coat – Quark will look after that for you!

Dennis: Ï would recommend that they extend a trip whenever possible. I wanted to go to Argentina without delays, which allowed time for a side trip. I would also caution about bringing too many clothes. Yes it’s Antarctica and you need to bring the correct clothing, but this was an expedition, not a fashion show. Comfort trumped style.”

What was surprising to you about Antarctica? What was different than what you thought it would be?

Zaid: “When I took the Polar Plunge I was really surprised at how salty iceberg filled water can be. That was the first thought that came to mind when I jumped in, followed by “Yikes, this is COLD.”

What really made the expedition to Antarctica even more amazing was the crew and other passengers. All of us had a passion for adventure and similar reasons for journeying to Antarctica.

We could relate with each other.

Dennis O'Connor, left, with friends on the ship.
Dennis O’Connor, left, with friends on the ship.

Dennis: “I don’t think I was prepared for the sensory overload of Antarctica. The enormity of it, the beauty, the wildlife was beyond explanation or expectation. I came away with a feeling that I will never be able to top this trip.”
How cold is it in Antarctica? Is there much of a difference between seasons? When is the best time and when did you go?

Watch videos of Antarctica

Traffic Jam on the Penguin Highway

Day in the Life: Falklands

How to Pack for the Polar Region

It’s definitely not as cold as I expected it to be. It was 1 degrees Celsius the night I spent camping on the continent (before wind chill). Summer is the best and possibly the only time you can travel to Antarctica.

If you travel at the beginning of the cruise ship season you will see more icebergs. Travel later n the season and you will see more wildlife. Midseason may be best.

“Interesting Weather”

Dennis: The weather was very interesting. We had better weather aboard the ship than my family back home. While we basked in sunshine and 35-degree weather, it was. 5 to 10 degrees back home in North Carolina.

Merv said: “It certainly is cold, but because you are only outside during the day it is never too cold. The air is quite dry surprisingly, so we never felt that damp cold we often got in Ireland. We hard heard that December and January were the best times, and we spent most of January on the cruise. The New Year’s Eve party was great!

Ocean Diamond 2 January 2014 in Antarctica. Zaid Mohamedy photo.
Ocean Diamond 2 January 2014 in Antarctica. Zaid Mohamed photo.

Dennis: The only time I was cold was when I camped overnight on the land ( snow ). I had a good sleeping bag and warm clothes, but at 6’6″ I was bigger than the sleeping bag.

I woke up on a beautiful night and was freezing. I took several pieces of clothing and stuffed it into the top of the sleeping bag, scrunched down, and went back to sleep, outdoors in Antarctica!

Whale's tales in Antarctica. Dennis O'Connor photo.
Whale’s tales in Antarctica. Dennis O’Connor photo



Is there anything that stands out, a particular moment that sums up the trip for you?

Zaid: The night I camped on the continent was the most unique and memorable experience of the entire trip. The ship had cruised out of sight so that we could not hear its engines.

People were told not to talk after a certain time. After that, all we could hear were the sounds of Antarctica. Penguins from far away, walking on the snow, the wind blowing and the waters of Paradise Harbor flowing. Not to forget the chill from sleeping on the ice.

Merv: We got to visit Ernest Shackleton’s grave, and to drink a toast to this Antarctic explorer. We learned a lot about him on the voyage during the historic lectures about Antarctica, and this was very special for my wife and me, as Shackleton was born and raised in our home county of Kildare in Ireland. It made us feel we were following in the footsteps of a giant.”

The moments that stood out the most were when we officially crossed into Antarctica, and when I stepped off the zodiac, knowing I was living the dream of a lifetime.”

Passengers trekking up Danco Island. Zaid Mohamedy photo.
Passengers trekking up Danco Island. Zaid Mohamed photo.

What was surprising to you about Antarctica? What was different than what you thought it would be?

Merv: On our trip the weather was great, blue skies most days, certainly better weather than we expected. We were also surprised by the number of excursions we did off the ship, and how much wildlife and diversity we saw.

No two days were alike. While the trip was a lot of fun, we felt we learned a lot from the talks given by the guides on the transit days. We were not idle for a minute!”

Tell us about one person who worked for Quark who impressed you. Why?

Zaid: Shanti Davis a field biologist is really knowledgeable about marine life. It’s great to be surrounded by people with a passion for education, conservation, and skill for guiding others.

Shane Evoy, an Expedition leader, in a zodiac boat. Dennis O'Connor photo.
Shane Evoy, an Expedition leader, in a zodiac boat. Dennis O’Connor photo.

Merv: “The whole team on the boat were so good, it’s hard to pick any one person out. If we did have to pick one, it would probably be Lupe, who was the Argentinian girl who ran the boutique on the ship.

She was so cheerful and positive and happy she put everyone into a good mood Shane Evoy, an Expedition leader, in a zodiac boat. Dennis O’Connor photo.the minute they met her.

After each excursion, she would ask what we saw and wanted to hear all about it even though she must have heard these stories many times.”Dennis: I would say our expedition leader, Shane Evoy from Quark impressed me the most.

A campsite in Antarctica. Dennis O'Connor photo.
A campsite in Antarctica. Dennis O’Connor photo.


His passion for Antarctica, his 20-hour workdays and encouraging words when you were too tired to do another landing were inspiring.

He also had a great sense of humor. He was truly humbled when we saw an explosion of every kind of whale on a perfect day. In fact, we renamed the Wilamena Bay “Whaleamea Bay.”

Was there anything difficult about the trip?

Zaid: “The only difficulty I had was trekking all the way up Danco Island which is a bit steep. I am not used to trekking in snow and ice.”

Merv: “The only hard thing about the trip was deciding to go as it’s so different to many other types of trip. Once we had decided everything was taken care of and the whole experience was easy. It was a bit difficult to stop piling on the pounds, the food is maybe a little too good!”

Plus and Minus of a Solo Trip

Dennis: “As a solo traveler, there are pluses and minuses. I had a wonderful king size room, all to myself. The minuses were, I was by myself, primarily amongst couples. I really had to work hard to connect with people from all around the world.

There were several barriers, language, cliques. I succeeded with some, was rebuffed by others. There were other solo travelers, some wonderful, some rather odd.

“I collect friends for life and I can say I added several to my collection. In fact, I will be spending some time next year in England with my newest friends for life, Darren and Tracy Matthews.

Baby penguins take a snooze. Dennis O'Connor photo.
Baby penguins take a snooze. Dennis O’Connor photo.

Aside from the difficulty of leaving this spectacular world, the only real difficulty was the inability to speak directly with my spouse for two weeks. It was all email, and that was iffy at times.”

About Quark Expeditions

Quark Expeditions has been leading trips to the Arctic and Antarctica for 23 years. Quark’s Arctic fleet includes the polar-class icebreaker: the nuclear-powered 50 Years of Victory. purpose-built to navigate the frozen waters of the Russian Arctic.

The icebreaker is equipped with helicopters and Zodiacs, enabling travel to remote locations that other vessels in the Arctic cannot, including the North Pole. Quark Expeditions is the leader in Antarctic travel, and they offer more than 10 different trips there in 2014.

Quark has the largest and most diverse fleet of passenger vessels in the Antarctic, including the Sea Spirit, an all-suite ship, and the Ocean Diamond offering the first carbon-neutral voyages in polar travel history. Trips include the Falklands/South Georgia and Antarctic, Antarctic Explorer, and a full range of trips to the Arctic.

The fleet enables Quark to operate the widest variety of polar itineraries of any other adventure company in the world, and the greatest number of departures to Antarctica. Find out more at or call a Polar Travel advisor in Waterbury Vermont 1-888-892-0073 or email

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