Quark Expeditions has been sailing the frigid waters of the extreme north and the ultimate south since the 1990s, and boasts the largest polar class fleet in the industry. They’ve long navigated with rough-and-ready vessels like the former Russian icebreaker Kapitan Khlebnikov and the nuclear-powered ship 50 Years of Victory. But with their brand-new Ultramarine, Quark had the chance to design a ship from scratch, putting in all the bells and whistles any explorer could dream of.
The ship’s launch follows the current trends in luxury expedition cruising, with a heli-deck and two helicopters on board. Yet for all its wow factors, Ultramarine remains solely focused on the expedition.
Decks were specifically designed to fast-launch zodiacs, or for wildlife viewing. Dining is upscale, but enjoyed in just one venue. While you’ll find a full-service spa plus sauna, there’s no pool or hot tub. State rooms are relatively huge, and comfortable, and most include balconies—perfect for a quick dash outside to photograph a passing iceberg, or a breaching whale. With no evening shows or entertainers on board, this ship is all about the activities it can support, from heli-hikes to alpine kayaking to zodiac cruises.
The adventure begins on the top deck, and continues throughout the ship, with a vessel ready to take full advantage of everything it will encounter in the polar regions. Up top, on Deck 8, two twin-engine Airbus helicopters sit, waiting to shuttle passengers off to wild times, whether heli-hikes or alpine kayaking or camping places in hard-to-reach locations.
And that spirit continues down through the decks. On Deck 7, the Panorama Lounge sits at the bow, with huge windows wrapping around on three sides, and direct access to outdoor space. There’s a small library with tales of great explorers and, strangely, a basic version of the bridge, with navigational controls that the captain can use to get the ship back to a safe place, if need be.
A series of eight penthouse suites line the hallway just aft from here, with the other end housing other busy parts of the ship (the gym and spa), so noise is potentially an issue in these high-end rooms.
Deck 5, with its wrap-around deck, is all public spaces. At the back, is the theatre where naturalists and historians and other experts hold forth in lectures, and the daily briefing, which is usually held just before dinner, takes place here, too. It’s large and comfortable, with cushy banquettes and bucket chairs in the middle and semi-circular, semi-private couches lining the sides (with the only other bar on the ship at the back), but one feels they could’ve increased the grade on each level, to allow easier viewing of the stage and screen.
At the bow, the Balena Restaurant, where guests currently eat all their meals. (Bistro 487 on Deck 7 isn’t currently in use.) Large, floor-to-ceiling windows face out on sea and sky and mountains and whatever else is outside.
Twin ready rooms, where you house your galoshes and waterproof gear, and a “zodiac hangar,” all on Deck 2, allow for fast, efficient disembarkation on expeditions.
Expedition cruisers are accustomed to fairly basic accommodations when they sail to remote locations, so these rooms are definitely surprise. First: they’re big. Second: they’re really comfortable. Last: there’s barely a bad one in the bunch.
The Ultra Suite and the Owner’s Suite are the ship’s top suites. There’s only one of each, and they sit side-by-side on Deck 6. Of the two, the Ultra Suite is probably just a tiny bit better, with three distinct, fully separated areas—living, dining, and bedroom, plus bathroom (with deep-soaker tub) and walk-in closet.
Balcony suites are the most common category, and include a roomy veranda as well as luxuries common throughout the ship, like heated floors in the bathrooms. In terms of rooms to avoid, balcony suites 421, 422, 423 and 424 have partially enclosed terraces, which could impede viewing and photography. Explorer’s suites on Deck 3 do not include any outdoor space (just a big window to look outside). The Explorer triple (two of them) sit at the stern on Deck 3, and are mostly designed for sharing (or perhaps families), with three single beds in the room (two can be combined into a double, on request).
A relatively small ship, Ultramarine currently has one dining venue (although a smaller space on Deck Seven called Bistro 487 will, at some point, provide an alternative). Guests eat all meals in the Balena Restaurant, an upscale version of a traditional dining room on an expedition ship.
Breakfast offers consistent, familiar offerings in buffet form, and while lunch is also usually a buffet, the culinary crew keeps things fresh with pop-up stations serving stir fry, say, on one day, and pasta, the next. Dinners remain traditional, with several courses served at large, communal tables (perfect for swapping stories after a day of adventure), or small seating areas built for two (or four, or six). The evening meal includes soups, salads, mains and desserts that change every day, plus an everyday menu that includes standbys like steak and Caesar salad. In general, portions are hearty, perfect for refueling after a day of hiking and paddling, and everything tastes good.
For the most up-to-date testing, masking, and vaccination requirements aboard Ultramarine, please refer to Quark’s website. You can also refer to Cruise Critic’s guide to masking requirements on the world’s major cruise lines as we know them.
· All meals
· Free-flowing wine at dinner
· Most excursions, including landings and zodiac cruises
· Heli-hikes and flight-seeing on the helicopters, as outlined by excursion staff
· Air transfers on charter flights (from Reykjavik, Toronto, Buenos Aires, etc).
· Access to sauna and relaxation rooms
· Drinks at the bar, and wine outside of mealtimes
· Spa treatments
· Some excursions (inquire at time of booking)
· Travel insurance with a minimum of $50,000 emergency medical coverage is required on Arctic and Antarctica sailings.
Passengers here tend to be dedicated expedition cruisers—people who have been to places like Svalbard and Antarctica, perhaps multiple times. Think: active folks in their 50s and 60s, with a full closet of gear from REI. Smaller gatherings tend to be grouped by activity (kayakers, campers). The ship isn’t accessible, which limits who can be onboard.