I chose this expedition because it focused on locations immediately in and around Antarctica. Quark's "Fly the Drake" expedition departs from Punta Arenas, Chile - not by ship, but by a chartered 2.5-hour flight that arrives on a gravel airstrip on King George Island. This approach bypasses the Drake Passage and its potentially turbulent waters. Quark's expedition includes one night before departure at Dreams Hotel and Casino, in Punta Arenas; and another night upon our return from King George Island at the end of the trip.
As the senior staff reminded us prior to the day we were to head out on the flight, conditions on the Island could restrict our ability to land (and, after the trip, to return). The landing strip is shared by Spain and Russia and is rustic. Brace yourself when landing on the strip. Our initial departure time - 7 a.m. - was scrubbed in favor of an afternoon departure to the Island. This meant we commenced the World Explorer part of the trip later than expected. This underscores the point that Fly the Drake is not a cruise - it's an expedition. Apart from targeting departure and arrival dates, the captain and crew did not provide an itinerary in advance of our landing on the Island. Instead, we had nightly briefings that reported where we were and where we hoped to travel the following day. This gave our well-traveled crew the chance to get the most out of our time in the waters off Antarctica.
Each day during these briefings our crew members, the naturalists, social scientists, and navigators, would explain what wildlife we might see. They did not disappoint. We saw Gentoo, Adelie, and Chinstrap penguins, petrels and cormorants, skuas and terns; and we saw fin and humpback whales, fur, leopard and Weddell seals, and witnessed the successful hunting of penguins by orcas. While much of this might have been lost on me, our crew brought these sightings to our attention in time for us to share in the experience.
As I understand it, each cabin on the World Explorer (built in 2019) had a balcony view. The view from Cabin was excellent. Further, the cabin was quiet, well-insulated from noise that might come from nearby cabins. I was please to see no single-use plastics anywhere in the cabin – we had shampoo/conditioner dispensers. For the dining hall, we were required to wash our hands at a hand-washing station at the entrance to the hall, and there again there were no single use plastics, and wash cloths were provided for hand-drying.
The cabin had USB ports, easily accessible lighting, and power outlets like those in Punta Arenas (so you’ll need an adapter). The bed was comfortable and firm, and I had no trouble sleeping, even with modest ship roll for some of the nights.
Quark's "Fly the Drake" expedition departs by charter flight from Punta Arenas to King George Island. I arrived a day early to explore Punta Arenas. First night stayed at the Hotel Almasur, second night at the Dreams Hotel and Casino. Both were clean, close to the heart of the city, and were able to understand my questions and provide information in a way that I could understand them.
Once in the city, dining at Darwin, Speechless Patagonia, History, La Luna - all used QR menus in Spanish and English, so ordering was easy.
The airport is about a 25 minute drive away. There's a small Priority Pass lounge in the airport, but it fills up pretty quickly.