I had the pleasure of traveling to Antarctica with Quark Expeditions on the Ocean Diamond.
The Ocean Diamond’s specifications (as per the Quark Expedition website) are:
- Staff and Crew: 144
- Guests: 189
- Length: 124 meters
- Breadth: 16 meters
- Draft: 4.9 meters
- Propulsion: 2 Wichmann Engines, 7375 horsepower
- Ice Class: 1D
- Cruising Speed: 15.5 knots
- Registration: Nassau, Bahamas
- Lifeboats: 2 fully enclosed
1A is the best ice class rated vessel that you can hope to travel to Antarctica with. I couldn’t find much information on the Ocean Diamond’s 1D classification except that 1D means that the vessel has a steel enforced hull with measures / components to assist with sailing in ice, and that it is equivalent to the Finnish-Swedish category 2 classification of vessels. From what I saw when we sailed through the Lemaire Channel, this ship was quite capable of travelling through some icy fields.
It’s a modernised, small super yacht that offers Carbon Neutral voyages to Antarctica (even the crew’s flights to the ship are offset). Initially, I believe the vessel used to be a car ferry before being totally refitted for passenger travel. The vessel offers a variety of accommodation options, from suites with balconies to cabins with portholes for single, double or triple shared use. The cabins have power sockets that take 2 round pin adapters (there is a screw in the middle hole below).
The Ocean Diamond is owned and manned by crew from ISP (International Shipping Partners) but the ship has been chartered by Quark Expeditions who have approximately 24 of their team members and Expert’s in Residence (researchers) on board. All on-board programs are run by Quark Expeditions. I would say that the Quark Expeditions leader on board is equivalent to a cruise director on a mega cruise liner.
There are 2 doctors on board, one from ISP for the crew and one from Quark for the expedition team and guests. The expedition team is highly talented and multi-skilled. They offer photography guidance, drive the zodiacs, offer a range of lecture programs, handle all the expedition program logistics and socialise and dine with the guests – so we get to know them very well. It’s great to be among talented people with great passion for adventure, with their high levels of expertise and excellence.
IAATO (International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators) guidelines limit the number of guests that can make a shore landing to 100 at any time per vessel. Because we had 185 passengers everybody would get off the ship but half the passengers would cruise on zodiacs while the other would go onto land (for approximately 1.5 hours) and then alternate. This was perfectly fine for everyone as we were getting the best of both worlds.
Kayaking, Camping, Skiing and Climbing were also offered as optional excursions (for a fee).
Here are the kayakers at Petermann Island:
I was among these campers at Leight Cove (Photo taken around 11pm. The sky does not darken much during mid-summer nights):
Hiking, Zodiac excursions and the Polar Plunge (for those who dare) are also included in the price of the cruise.
There is one main restaurant, a smaller dining room (for private functions, and a spill-over venue if the main restaurant is too full), a club room (freely offering 24/7 hot beverages and water), an observation lounge offering panoramic views of the sea, a large main lounge (theater style auditorium) that can house all passengers, a gym, massage room and yoga wellness program on offer, a small shop, the largest portable library in Antarctica (with an assortment of reference and fiction books, games and DVD’s).
The captain on the ship was great at navigating (we particularly saw this in the Lemaire Channel). His open-door bridge policy was very welcoming. The bridge was a good place for wildlife spotting (various species of birds, seals, penguins and whales).
I had a cabin on deck 3. Here is the ship map from that deck:
Somebody posted a good video of the Ocean Diamond on YouTube in November 2012. This gave me a good idea of what to expect before I arrived on board.
The food on board is superb! Breakfast and lunch are buffet meals, and dinner is ordered and served to the table (after we see a sample of it on display at the dining room entrance). They offer vegetarian and gluten free options at all meals, and try to fulfill special requests.
Presentation (and taste) of something as simple as salad is splendid:
Here is the dinner menu from one of the nights on board.
I was on the New Year’s cruise so they threw in a midnight buffet after we welcomed the New Year out on open deck.
How was it to sail the Drake Passage on this ship? This ship is pretty stable, and does not rock too much (compared to what other small ships making the crossing may experience). Here is a short clip of what you may expect in the Drake Passage:
The doc is available with meds for those in need.You will also see the corridors lined up with throw-up bags when we are in the Drake Passage – just in case… Many people were using the patch or taking meds for motion sickness. I didn’t take any meds but sitting still (e.g. during the lecture programs), did make me feel tired. The ship is warm inside – some people were in t-shirts and short pants. However you should carry long sleeved / wind resistant clothes if you want to go out on deck. Flip-Flops / open heeled shoes are not permitted in public areas on the ship (as you are at greater risk of slipping with them). Quark Expeditions will provide you with a parka to wear (and take home) and boots on loan for your shore landings. The Quark Expeditions team members were also given some awesome looking uniforms to wear – cool Acteryx jackets with their names stitched to it.
There’s an interesting mix of passengers on-board, each travelling to Antarctica for their own specific reasons. Lots of guests from the USA, Canada, Russia, Germany and Japan were on my cruise; young and old. You will definitely make friends and get to know everyone on board, by face or through long discussions with many of them in the restaurant, lounge, zodiacs or on land.
A trip to Antarctica does not come cheap and there is no guarantee that the ship will reach all its intended destinations considering the remoteness and rapidly changing weather, sea and ice conditions – that’s what truly makes it an expedition and the Quark Expeditions team truly provides value for money considering the programs they run and options available. It’s an enjoyable and educational experience sailing to Antarctica and I’d love to sail with Quark Expeditions to the polar regions again (perhaps to visit Greenland).
I traveled to Antarctica on the Ocean Diamond with Quark Expeditions from 29 December 2013 – 7 January 2014 and booked my trip at the last minute with Sarah at Freestyle Adventure Travel – whom I highly recommend!
Read more about my trip to Antarctica here.