I have been trying to experience Quark Expeditions’ brand new Ultramarine expedition ship for seemingly forever. First I was to experience her in Svalbard and it polar bears, but it was canceled due to Covid. Then I was to experience her in Patagonia, but to too was canceled due to Covid. My third attempt is to experience her on a 17 day journey through a good portion of the Northwest Passage (Northeast Canada and Northwestern Greenland) departing August 30, 2022. Third time lucky??? I hope so.
To be honest, I think this is best of my three efforts to see how Quark Expeditions’ newest ship performs in three ways: As an Expedition Ship; as an Expedition Team; and as an Elevated Level of Service by Quark; who – for years, before its new owners – was known as one of the more qualified, but “rustic”, operators. Oh, have things changed with introduction of the Ultramarine!
I have always been fascinated by Greenland. I spent a good bit of time speaking with Greenland tour operators when I was in Iceland this past October. There is a cultural calmness and love of both people and nature that both fills your heart and slows your heart rate.
What I am looking forward to the most is – unlike Antarctica – exploring the interrelationship of humans and the environment on a daily basis and with a focus on harmony rather than controlling it. Yes, time will be spent learning about the explorers who tried to find the Northwest Passage as well as those indigenous people that pre-date the Inuit, who have lived in Greenland for over 5,000 years.
I am sure there will be plenty of wildlife and ice, as well as awe-inspiring beauty. And it will all be done at a fairly slow pace with a very relaxed atmosphere.
I have written a bit about the big changes at Quark Expeditions as well as the Ultramarine and her onboard experience: Quark Expeditions: This Polar Expedition Specialist Has Evolved. This ship carries 199 guests and 140 staff and crew; a very impressive ratio. And there is much more focus on both delivering the best expedition off the ship and great onboard experience as well.
Ultramarine carries two Airbus H145 twin-engine 10 passenger helicopters which are used for more than flightseeing. They are used for Heli-Hiking (where you are dropped off and picked up from the same location unattainable otherwise) and Heli-Trekking (where you are dropped off and picked up at different locations). As you know, I have concerns about the new trend of helicopters, but less so in this area of the Arctic; especially when used in areas that are not intensely populated with breeding wildlife. No such concerns on this expedition!
It also has two different type of kayaks; ones for those who are focused on kayaking and ones for those who which to kayak in a more casual manner. Added to that are 20 zodiacs that store inside the ship (double-stacked) in the Ultramarine’s garage which is integrated with its aft loading platform which, in turn, is adjacent to the dedicated “get ready” room.
Before I get to the public areas, let me talk about accommodations. I will be staying in a Balcony Suite – which is the entry level balcony accommodation – and is very nicely appointed. It is a very comfortable 226 square feet of interior space and 52 square feet of balcony with a shower-only bathroom (a definite trend in the industry) complete with heated floors. Wonder no more why I am now delving into Quark Expeditions!
While there are some oceanview suites, including a few that are set up as a triple (for those who want to share with others), there are also Deluxe Balcony Suites with 299 square feet of interior/70 square feet balcony space with a full bathtub and separate toilet.
“Tundra to Table”
What makes this true expedition even more interesting is that it is a Culinary Expedition. Yup, an Inuit “Tundra to Table” one; a so-called “On-Ship Adventure Option“. While participating costs a bit extra ($125 per person), you know me, so you know I am in! Local Inuit chefs will be preparing culinary experiences such as Honey-glazed Ptarmigan (similar to a grouse), Beer-braised Muskox, Pickled Angelica (not of Rug Rats fame!)…and, of course, fresh-caught seafood (such as Arctic Char and Halibut). These special meals with a variety of styles from modern fusion to truly authentic combined with cultural stories and tableware.
These culinary events will be held in the main dining room, Balena, which – interestingly – has a wraparound deck; something those of us who have raced from a dinner because of a wildlife sighting will most certainly appreciate.
Bistro 487 is the more casual dining venue, which offers an indoor-outdoor experience.
There is one social gathering venue, the Panorama Bar and Lounge
Ultramarine also has a nicely equipped Fitness Center, the Tundra Spa & Sauna.
The Ambassador Theater, with its high-definition LED screens is where all of the lectures and briefings are held.
To be sure it will be a more active expedition than the once I have done in Antarctica for, in addition to zodiac cruises and landings and kayaking (an additional cost), there will be true hiking – including the aforementioned Heli-Hiking (also an additional cost), where Quark’s two helicopters will fly guests to more remote areas to hike in the wilds of Greenland. There will, hopefully, be a number of polar bear viewing opportunities, possibly walrus, lots of seabird life, glaciers, spectacular views and a real focus on the history and cultures of the High Arctic, visiting local communities along the way.
This expedition starts in Toronto, Canada with an overnight in a hotel before our flight to Resolute, Canada, an Inuit hamlet and the second most northern community in Canada and boarding the Ultramarine. After fourteen days of expedition, we will disembark in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland. At the end of a large fjord, this town is the former home of a US air force base and, as in Iceland, has been converted into the country’s major aviation hub. From there it is a flight back to Toronto, Canada for a final overnight before flying home. Here is more information: Northwest Passage: Epic High Arctic | Quark Expeditions
There is still space available for this expedition starting at about $21,000 per person (double occupancy) if you are interested in joining me. And, of course, if you join me there will be some extras!