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If you love a luxury vacation, but yawn at the idea of idling the hours away on some sun-kissed beach, a polar cruise might be more your speed — and soon, you’ll have one seriously outstanding option.
Starting in 2020, a new ship from polar adventure cruise company Quark Expeditions will bring travelers closer to the nature they’re craving while delivering unparalleled comfort on board. Here’s what to expect.
Imagine taking a five-star hotel, tipping it on its side, and sending it afloat through some of the world's most pristine, icy, otherworldly waters. That's the approach Quark has taken with its new 200-passenger, 140-crew-member ship, which will offer quicker-than-ever access to off-ship adventures thanks to its 20 fast-loading Zodiacs and two onboard helicopters (plus, simultaneously operable heliports).
Quark has been a pioneer in polar cruising since the early 1990s, with routes that include Antarctica's South Shetland Islands, the Drake Passage, and elsewhere in both polar circles. The company has long blended comfort with thrills — but the new, still unnamed vessel represents a shift. It will be more powerful and expedition-ready than any other ship in the fleet, Elliott Tulloch, Quark’s project manager for new building, told Travel + Leisure, noting that it will be capable of reaching farther into more remote areas.
“This will be our most luxurious ship, offering a premium on-ship experience without compromising on the expedition experience,” Tulloch said.
To make that happen, Quark designed a vessel specifically for the polar environment, instead of adapting a generic one (which is standard in the industry). The ship is currently being built in Croatia by Brodosplit, an experienced manufacturer of small passenger vessels, with input from both Quark’s resident polar experts and Norwegian naval architect LMG Marin.
"This ship is dedicated to the polar regions, Arctic and Antarctic," said Tulloch. "Each year we will re-position, North [to] South and South [to] North."
The new ship will be a huge draw for adventure travelers, but in the conversation with T+L, Tulloch disclosed some details about the amenities that are sure to thrill lovers of the finer things in life. Passengers will be able to do yoga in a fitness room with panoramic windows that overlook snow, water, and sky, and as with sister vessels Ocean Endeavor and World Explorer, there will be a luxurious spa on board. A high-end restaurant and wine bar will have window views from every seat. There will also be an indoor-outdoor grill, protected from the icy winds for al fresco dining. Cabins will have large windows or balconies, all with water views.
Of course, the pinnacle of privilege for polar travelers isn't (just) about on-board amenities or the finishings in their cabins, but how closely, comfortably, and safely they can get to the sites few people on earth have seen.
“You’re going with the real pros, who know the area and know the environment,” said Tulloch. “They’re going to take you to the best destinations, and you’ll still get a high-quality experience on board.”
To that end, the new ship’s double heliports will open new avenues for sightseeing by air, and passengers will be able to heli-ski on snowy mountains and expanses of Arctic backcountry. (For the uninitiated, that’s skiing where a helicopter does the work of a ski lift.) New Zodiacs will get people off the boat in 20 minutes — half of the industry standard, according to Tulloch. The ship itself will be able to reach 16 knots, around four knots faster than the previous capability for expedition vessels.
The ship will also be able travel longer without refueling or restocking food and water — 40 days, to be exact, up from the previous limit of 30. "This feature is unique to our ship and will not only increase passenger safety, but will also allow us to bring even more of our guests deeper into the polar environment," Tulloch told T+L.
Future destinations for the ship include the Ross Sea, in the part of Antarctica closest to New Zealand, which is home to an immense new nature reserve, and the continent's ultra-remote “Phantom Coast.”
Quark Expeditions’ new ship will begin booking in early 2019, with discounts and/or free transfer packages on select cruises. Head to their website for more information.