A Solo Traveler’s Guide to Antarctica, with Quark Ultramarine

Welcome to our new series of insider guides to Antarctica cruises! As enthusiasts and experts in all things polar, we understand that visiting Antarctica is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many of our readers. Our goal is to provide you with the most comprehensive, independent, and firsthand insights into what it’s really like to embark on an Antarctic expedition.

In this series, we interview travelers who have recently returned from their journeys to the White Continent. They share their experiences, from the excitement of setting foot on Antarctic ice to the challenges and triumphs of navigating this remote and pristine environment. Whether you’re in the early stages of planning your trip or finalizing your itinerary, these interviews will offer invaluable tips, honest reviews of cruise operators, and practical advice to help you make the most of your adventure.

We hope this series will serve as a trusted resource for anyone researching an Antarctic cruise, providing you with the knowledge and confidence to choose the best expedition for your dream journey.

A quick disclaimer: to support our work and to keep it free for everyone, we will on occasion include affiliate links. These have zero impact on the integrity or honesty of our interviewees’ answers, which will always be independent and authentic. Thank you for joining us on this exploration, and we look forward to sharing these incredible stories with you!

Watch Barry’s video or continue reading to get his top travel tips and summary of his unforgettable trip.

Table Of Contents
  1. A Solo Traveler's Guide to the Ultimate Antarctica Expedition with Quark Ultramarine: Interview with Barry Kenny
  2. General experience
  3. Pre-Departure
  4. The Journey
  5. Activities and Excursions
  6. Wildlife and Scenery
  7. Quark's On-Board Experience
  8. Reflections and Advice

A Solo Traveler’s Guide to the Ultimate Antarctica Expedition with Quark Ultramarine: Interview with Barry Kenny

General experience

What inspired you to visit Antarctica, and how long had you been planning this trip?

BK: “Travelling is my passion, and Antarctica has always been one of those lifetime bucket list ambitions.  I actually started a saving fund for an Antarctic trip more than 20 years ago, but ended up using that money to move house instead!! However, I turned 50 in 2022, so had been looking at a few options for a really special trip, for which I started saving three years previously.  

Initially, I was going to go overland from Beijing via the Trans-Mongolian railway and onwards through Europe all the way home to Dublin in Ireland, but russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and continuing Chinese travel restrictions post-COVID put paid to that.  So I turned my attention to Antarctica, and ultimately paid for it on my 50th birthday in May 2022, more than 18 months before I travelled.”

Why did you choose Quark Expeditions and the Ultramarine ship for your expedition?

BK: “I did a LOT of research on different ship options.  I knew I wanted one at the smaller end of the scale that would allow for generous excursion and landing opportunities.  Ultramarine won the day as the quality and range of activity options – as well as the modernity and facilities on the ship – it seemed to represent the best overall package to me.  Camping on ice, paddle boarding, kayaking, and helicopter excursions, as well as the landings and polar plunge, combined with generous sized rooms with balconies, that was the combination I chose.

Since you did a 9 day cruise, would you say that is the perfect length or would you recommend a longer expedition?

BK: “I think I would have loved another one or two days.  There’s a balance to be struck with budget of course (I mean, the 21-day trip that takes in the Falklands, South Georgia and crosses the Antarctic Circle would be the ultimate!) but squeezing in another day or two would have been perfect in my view. But maybe I’m just being greedy!”


Can you describe your preparation process for this trip? Any tips for other travelers? 

BK: “My preparation process was lengthy!! While I was forever looking up early reviews on Ultramarine, and looking at general Antarctic videos on YouTube, I probably started it in earnest six months out, reviewing all the information Quark had sent me to see what sort of clothing I was missing, what did I need to take the type of photos and videos I was aiming for, that sort of thing.

My tip for other travellers is not to over-pack:  I stressed quite a bit about what I needed to have with me, and ended up bringing too much.  I was in Buenos Aires, Montevideo and Punta del Este for a week beforehand, which of course was a warm weather holiday.  But you have to realise you can duplicate the use of the type of t-shirts, and light shirts etc you’d wear there and under layers for the Antarctic trip.  Also, with the parka on board, if you’re going between the warm interior of the ship and outside you can just throw that on.  Certainly amongst the friends I made on board, I think I over-packed quite significantly! And the on-board laundry service was quick and good value, so you can take advantage of that.”

Did you bring any gear that was a life-saver / that you highly recommend? 

BK: “I would never normally use something like lip-balm but I was so glad I had it.  I was very happy with my warm socks, and also my photography gloves: you can fold the tips of the fingers back and snap them securely, allowing you to work the camera without freezing your hands off.  I had gone up on deck one day at about 5am without any gloves to take some footage as the ship was moving along, and my hands got very cold very quickly, so I never made that mistake again.”

How was the experience of departing from Ushuaia? Any tips for exploring this city?

BK: “Because our trip was a package that started from Buenos Aires, I only had a few hours in Ushuaia between our charter flight’s arrival and Ultramarine’s departure.   We visited some of the major landmarks, had some lunch and looked for souvenirs.  I would have enjoyed spending even one night in Ushuaia, I find these “frontier” or border towns fascinating.  Also, while I tend not to frequent Irish bars when I travel, the idea of going to The Dublin bar in Ushuaia for a night at “the end of the world” would have been amazing!”

The Journey

What was crossing the Drake Passage like? Did it meet your expectations?

BK: “Before I went on the trip, I used to say to people who asked about the Drake “there’s no point crossing the roughest sea in the world and not getting at least one rough crossing!”  However, in relative terms, we had two fairly benign crossings.  On the way over, it was quite calm, without being a lake.  It did give us a bit of a shake on the way back, but nothing extreme – though you could see fewer numbers in the dining rooms and reports of some people feeling unwell.  So I got a sense of the Drake, but nothing wild.  Of course for video purposes, I’d have loved a bit more drama!!”

How did you spend your time on board during the Drake Passage crossing?

BK: “The expedition team on Ultramarine really organised activities well on the crossings, so you weren’t idle.  We had various briefings for activities, the start of the presentation programme on things like wildlife, glaciology and the history of Antarctic exploration, and preparation in the ready rooms, for the helicopter trips and more.  There were also some nice social events to help get to know other guests, and of course exploring all the ship had to offer.  On the way back, again there were good events like the auction, boogie bingo, more talks, an insight into other Quark trips and more.” 

Activities and Excursions

Can you share your experience paddleboarding and making your first landing in Antarctica?

BK: “I was probably looking forward to the paddleboarding most of all, because I do it at home and really enjoy it.  We had a great group, and just to be out there in the stillness and peace of this magnificent landscape, with the sound of ice cracking, icebergs calving in the distance, and the penguins hopping along through the water… it was awe-inspiring.  Our paddle board guide Courtney at the end of the trip just said to us all to be still for 10 minutes or so, no photos, just to take in where we were.  How right she was.  It’s a privilege I still can’t believe that I had.  

Of course it was also a thrilling milestone to physically set foot on Antarctica.  To know that from where you are you could (in theory!) follow the great explorers in history, particularly for me from Ireland the likes of Shackleton and Crean.  Even in what was obviously a tour-friendly area of the peninsula, it was instructive to see the types of dangers the landscape holds, with crevasses marked off by the expedition team ahead of us.  Every landing, every interaction with the landscape either on or off the water, was so so special.”

What was the highlight of your visit to Penguin Island?

BK: “Penguin Island was somewhere we didn’t expect to be, as we were diverted there because of a medical emergency for a crew member.  If you’d told me before the trip we’d be brought to an island with virtually no ice on the surface, I’d have been asking “why would we do that?” But it was stark and fascinating, and the first huge penguin colony we had seen up close.  The cacophony of penguins calling out was hilarious, they have so much character.”

How was kayaking among iceberg fields and taking the polar plunge? What advice would you give to people thinking about doing these activities?

Barry Kenny in Antarctica in 2024. Photo courtesy of Barry Kenny

BK: “While paddle boarding is, I believe, something you need to have done before to do it in Antarctica, kayaking was open to all, and being able to navigate into narrow channels, see the penguins swimming along beside us and taking in the landscape was brilliant. As for the polar plunge, it was such a fun and sociable event.  My friends and I went for a sauna before and afterwards, and there was such camaraderie as people emerged with huge smiles on their faces after doing it.  It is SOOOO cold though, I felt like the air instantly froze in my lungs, and I was glad to get straight back out!”

Your helicopter flight experience looked incredible. Tell us about it and whether you think this is a must for other travelers. 

BK: “I really thought the helicopter options on Ultramarine brought the trip to a new level which I wouldn’t have expected or thought of before seeing that the ship had the option.  Again, the day of the helicopter excursions was one of excitement for everyone. Getting the co-pilot seat was bonus, and the design of the chopper gave me a view that felt like it was literally 360 degrees. Glimpsing the ice fields, the aquamarine pools at the tops of icebergs, it was all just a new perspective that I wouldn’t have imagined I’d have the chance to see.  I certainly wouldn’t choose a ship without the option.”

Were there any other excursions or activities you particularly enjoyed or would recommend?

BK: “The general zodiac trips were out of this world.  For all that I loved the wildlife encounters, and the majesty of humpback whales literally brushing by our zodiac one day, just slowly navigating amongst the icebergs and ice fields was magnificent. It was like being in nature’s greatest sculpture gallery.  I popped my GoPro under the water just to get a slightly different shot, and I couldn’t believe the images which it captured – a surface on the submerged iceberg like shimmering mirror-like fish scales.  As we said on our final zodiac excursion, “we’re in heaven.”

The medical emergency we experienced did mean that the camping on ice excursion I’d booked didn’t happen, due to the re-routing.  While this was one of the things I really wanted to do in advance, it says something about how good the trip was and how much I enjoyed it that I didn’t mind at all.  But if I was going again, I definitely would try to do it.”

Wildlife and Scenery

What was the most memorable wildlife encounter you had during the trip?

BK: “We saved the best til last with the two humpback whales cruising along beside our zodiacs on the final day.  They were teasing us too, forever looking like they were going to dive and show their full flukes to us, but just stopping short!! However, after giving us the closest pass-by, where you felt you could almost have touched them, they then put on the full show.  Just spectacular, what a memory.”

Tell us about your photography set up – what equipment did you take, and do you have any photography advice for other travelers who want to take the best photos possible from their Antarctic experience?

BK: “What equipment didn’t I take!!  While I took a lot of photos, my main focus was on video, so I’m keen to get a variety of interesting and engaging clips to reflect what it was like to be on the trip.

My main camera is the Sony A7iii, which I would have used mainly on the ship and on landings.  For more action shots, during water-based activities and for “run and gun”, I had a combination of my GoPro Hero Black 10, my 360 camera the insta360 X3, and of course my iPhone! 

I have to say that my GoPro is so durable and versatile, I always use it more than I expect to.  But the insta360 x3 came into its own on this trip, I got some amazing shots with it.  I had this ridiculous 10 foot long selfie stick for it: if you can get over the fact you look daft using it, there are drone-like shots achievable in a place that doesn’t permit drones. 

Both action cameras also allow you stay in the moment of what you’re seeing rather than peering through a viewfinder all the time, and there’s a lot to be said for remembering to do that.

So my tip would be to have a choice of devices that allow you get the type of photos or videos you want to get for all scenarios.  Also, I wouldn’t waste time and luggage space with tripods: it’s pointless on board, and with the requirement to minimise impact on land, putting tripods down isn’t in keeping with this.”

Quark’s On-Board Experience

Credit: Quark’s website

How was your experience in the Quark balcony suite? 

BK: “I’ve done two cruise-type trips before, a Royal Caribbean one in the Caribbean and a Hurtigruten Coastal Express for four nights along the coast of Norway.  I could not get over how good the Quark balcony suite was compared to what I’d experienced before, and indeed compared to many a hotel. 

Of course I got extremely lucky in that I had booked twin share, but the second spot in my room hadn’t been booked, so it was made up as a double for me.  It wasn’t just that the suite itself was so spacious, it was how well designed it was – excellent storage space for everything you could think of, good charging facilities, a really well designed bathroom including the amazing underfloor heating!”

What was your access to the internet like? Was there wifi in Antarctica? 

BK: “There was a choice between a free basic WiFi package, and a paid premium one.  I was aware of this in advance, so had decided I would stick with the basic one.  However, I found its standard to be way better than I expected, and I was able to video call home every day, so I had no complaints.  In any event, I was enjoying where I was so much, that other than calls home I wasn’t unduly concerned about my connectivity to the outside world!”

How was the social atmosphere on board the Ultramarine? Any standout moments?

Barry and his fellow explorers in Antarctica. Photo courtesy of Barry Kenny

BK: “The greatest surprise to me was how sociable the trip was.  Because you are in different zodiacs, and doing different activities, you end up with a variety of people each day, even when – like me – you end up with a core group of friends.  I think the crew were very good at fostering this, and also the crew themselves were very sociable: they did feel like friends throughout the trip.  

I think the night we left the Antarctic peninsula and headed back out into the Drake was the standout: I had gone out on deck to get some footage of the sea getting a bit wilder, and got drenched by a wave lashing over deck 5, which provided great entertainment for everyone in the lounge watching in comfort! 

The music started up not long after, and it felt like an impromptu nightclub opened with people dancing against the tilt of the ship to stay upright!  I also loved the drinks reception on the helideck as we were about to leave the peninsula, as well as being a really special moment and location with guests and crew, it did make you stop and think how lucky we all were to be where we were.”

Do you have advice for solo travelers looking to visit Antarctica? 

BK: “I would say to solo travellers: don’t hesitate.  Particularly on a ship like Ultramarine that lets you travel solo without financial penalty (through sharing). Find your fellow solo travellers – I was very lucky in that the breakfast table I sat at in the hotel in Buenos Aires had three other solo travellers on it, and along with two other friends travelling together, we all became great friends really quickly.  The people that are on an Antarctic trip are – by definition – serious and passionate about travelling, so you may be travelling solo, but you are with your tribe!

Reflections and Advice

What was your favorite part of the expedition overall?

BK: “It’s hard to pick one thing from the excitement, the intrepid feeling, the landscapes, the wildlife, the activities, but the bond with friends made was truly the highlight.  Our little group, the “Penguin Colony” as our WhatsApp group is called, shared an experience that was so special and just see each other as kindred spirits now.  It was such a privilege to be in such a place with just the best group of people.  We keep the spirit of that trip alive still, and already this year, some of the group have met up with more planned.  We laughed so much, we enjoyed each other’s company so much, it’s what brought the trip from something amazing to truly exceptional.”

What were the most challenging moments from the trip? Was it physically challenging? 

BK: “I feel the heat very easily, which means that even somewhere in freezing conditions you can find me sweating profusely!  On our first landing on Antarctica, we were hiking up a hill, and I had the full parka and a couple of layers on. I felt that very quickly, and didn’t make the same mistake again.  

Perhaps the most challenging moments though was the uncertainty when the ship had to divert to King George Island as a crew member had a medical emergency, and a medical evacuation was being arranged.  The expedition team were very open with us that things needed to go our way for the med-evac to work, so we were all concerned for the crew member and of course also worried about what it would mean for the voyage.  There was great relief when it was successfully done as planned – afterwards, we were told that had they missed the window for weather conditions for the med-evac, the whole trip may have had to come to an end.  So I think it’s worth everyone who travels knowing that this is a place of extremes, and extremes mean uncertainty.”  

Were you surprised by anything while in Antarctica? Any preconceptions that proved to be false? 

BK: “I was probably surprised by how mild the weather was, relatively speaking.  Now it wasn’t different to what we were told in advance, but the idea that you need to be wrapped up and layered up at all times is a misconception.  

Also, I didn’t expect to be so tired!! I suppose it was the activities and the post-adrenaline situation, but the number of times I’d be in the ambassador theatre for a really interesting talk or presentation, and I’d be dozing off was embarrassing!!  I felt bad for the people giving the talks too!  At night too, you might have one or two drinks after dinner, but generally after that sleep would be calling!”

Do you have any advice for those considering an Antarctic expedition, especially with Quark Expeditions?

BK: “For me, and for most people who’ll go, it won’t be a casual decision.  It’s likely the most I will ever spend on a holiday, but I would say: don’t let that stop you deciding.  Decide you’re going to go, and start saving.  I saved for more than four years: three before booking and then one more for other bits like flights, my week in South America etc.  Also, get ready to tell people before and after your trip many times “no, polar bears are in the Arctic!!!” 

In terms of going with Quark Expeditions, as they are polar specialists, I think they’re a fantastic choice.  The expedition team, and the hotel / restaurant teams were just brilliant at what they do.  I did say to Quark that they should communicate more with customers between payment and departure, just to build the excitement with us, but on board they are as good a team as I’ve experienced in any travels.

How did this trip impact your perception of Antarctica and its environment?

BK: “Before going, there had been a lot of media reporting that this year saw the lowest level of sea ice ever recorded in Antarctica, so the risk to the environment there was one I was very aware of.  Although the risk to the environment wasn’t explicitly spoken about much in our lectures and briefings, the care and concern shown – gear checks to make sure we weren’t bringing anything we shouldn’t ashore, disinfecting footwear getting off and on – made you think about your impact on the environment at all times.  It is such a special environment that the idea that it may be damaged or destroyed by climate change is horrifying.  I know the penguin populations in many locations have been seriously impacted already.  So this place is a special location and critical to life on our planet, way beyond its own footprint, and we need to support awareness and protection of it.  I think we all felt leaving that we were ambassadors for Antarctica now.”

Is there anything you wish you had known before embarking on this journey? 

BK: “I wish I’d known how disruptive it would be to my mindset once I got home!!  It’s been the hardest trip to “leave behind” I’ve ever done.  I feel a little sad that in all likelihood, I probably will never see this awe-inspiring place again.  It shows the possibilities of going further, of seeing our planet’s extremes and frontiers, and has made me even more ambitious to do and see more.”


  • Reuben Lewis

    Reuben is a polar region enthusiast and writer with words in leading travel publications such as Culture Trip, VICE, and more.

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