10 Top Tips for your First Trip to the Arctic with Quark Expeditions

It never crossed my mind to travel to a destination such as the Arctic. The main reason for this is that I hadn’t quite shaken off my ‘backpacker‘ mentality while travelling in my 20s and I always deemed the trip experience to be unaffordable.

We decided to take the chance to go when the maiden voyage of the Ultramarine was advertised and we embarked on the ‘Spitsbergen in Brief‘ Trip in May 2022 on a 7 day voyage.

I found the experience to be an awe-inspiring expedition. The beauty and wild scenery of one of the harshest environments in the world made the trip an experience to remember. We took in the sights of electric blue icebergs, sky-piercing mountains and saw a range of fascinating wildlife such as Polar bears, walrus and puffins. Our cruise had guests of every age on board from 13 to 80 and over 10 different nationalities.

I didn’t know what to expect from an Arctic voyage and here are my top 10 tips for a first polar expedition.

1). Clothing

I was worried that I’d have to invest in a-lot of technical gear, but being a keen walker meant that the items I already had worked perfectly for a polar trip. My top tip would be to bring a really good pair of gloves for the Zodiac trips.

Quark Expeditions provide a free Parka Jacket (with an inner fleece layer) worth $350 and the complimentary outer layer kept us warm and toasty for the Zodiac navigations. I found the video below very helpful on what to pack. For the 7N itinerary, we found ourselves wearing mostly the same layers for the Zodiac navigations, then changing out of them once we boarded the ship again.

2). Equipment

We had a 23kg hold luggage allowance and 5kg for hand luggage but we packed light and brought everything we needed in a small wheely bag each.

There are laundry facilities on-board the ship but layering wise, my top tip would be that ‘less is more’. As long as you bring a base layer, a mid-layer, and a spare jumper and then wear the parka jacket on top, this would provide sufficient warmth for the trip to the Arctic.

For our equipment, looking back I wouldn’t have carried a laptop with me. I downloaded a selection of Netflix movies but this wasn’t necessary, as there was a modern smart TV installed in all cabins. The TV had an array of films available to watch in the evenings. There were board-games and a library for reading material as well. I’d recommend bringing binoculars with you. A complimentary water bottle is provided as well.

3). Internet

On our navigation, there was virtually no Wi-Fi or an internet connection. On Quark Expeditions, there is a free basic service where the odd WhatsApp message will filter through now and then. It felt really liberating to be away from the clutches of technology. Quark charge $50 per day for ‘high speed’ access and even this was temperamental in itself as we were in such a remote region. I’d recommend switching off and leaving the internet devices at home for the expedition.

4). Food

With the trip starting in Oslo, I was tempted to bring food/snack provisions to avoid the high prices and mediocre food offerings at airports. Once we boarded the cruise, the meals provided were incredible! We were absolutely spoilt with surprise gourmet dishes served on a daily basis.

My only top tip is on the outbound charter flight from Oslo – Longyearbyen (approx 3hrs), we were served a delicious meal on-board the flight. However on the return journey from Longyearbyen to Oslo, no meals or food provisions to purchase were provided. I would recommend buying lunch at Longyearbyen Airport to bring on-board the plane as there is an early disembarkation from the cruise (approximately 07:45am) on the day of departure. As we weren’t prepared for this, it meant that we accidentally went for over 8 hours without a meal.

5). Zodiac Navigations

There is a tannoy system on board that announces when to expect the Zodiac navigations and guests are given plenty of notice to prepare. We would normally go on either a boat trip, hike or ice landing twice a day from the Ultramarine, there would be one navigation after breakfast and another in the late afternoon after lunch.

You are given a pair of Muck Boots to borrow for the expedition and I would recommend going up a size when filling in your online passenger form for ladies in particular.

6). Bring swim-wear

With 24hrs of daylight in the Arctic, it was an incredible experience to enjoy a sauna and steam-room experience with the snowy vistas of Arctic region in the backdrop. We were able to book 15 minute slots for the steam-room, they were bookable on a private basis due to Covid restrictions.

7). PCR Test Requirements

Quark guests are required to carry documentation to show that they are fully vaccinated and you also have to provide proof of a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of arriving at the airport hotel. The documents are checked by the Expedition Staff on arrival and a further antigen test is conducted at Oslo Airport as well.

I can recommend Dam Health as a good provider for the PCR test prior to departure. The initial PCR test requirements took me by surprise, as the information wasn’t in the booking confirmation but a reminder is sent to guests in the Final Documents before departure.

8). Toiletries

Shampoo, shower gel, conditioner and body lotion are all provided and I’d only recommend bringing extras such as face-cream, sun-screen and lip balm.

9). Warmth

There was one particular navigation where we went out in -13°. Upon returning back to our cabin, the shower and toilets have heated flooring and there is a laundry line provided for drying any wet clothing. A top tip from Alex is that the most effective way to get warm again after a very cold Zodiac navigation is sit on the floor in the shower cubicle!

10). Tipping

The Ultramarine crew and staff members work incredibly hard and the voyage in May ran seamlessly. At the end of the trip, it is recommended to tip approximately $10 – $20 per person, per day for the cruise staff, and a discretionary tip for the leaders as well. Envelopes are provided and tips can also be left on your Credit Card at the end of the voyage. The cabins are cleaned twice a day and the hospitality on board made it an experience to remember.

I hope these tips help before you embark on your first Polar voyage. If you have any questions, please feel free to comment here and I will be happy to help. If you are interested in a Quark trip, you can contact me here and I can book a space on the trip for you.

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