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Arctic Cruises

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Arctic Cruises

The Arctic is home to an extraordinary array of unique wildlife, spellbinding landscapes and distinct indigenous cultures. One of the most rewarding travel destinations on earth.

What makes an Arctic cruise enticing? Perhaps it's the sheer variety of destinations, each one boasting its own unique history, culture and animal encounters. The polar bear may well be the pinup of the Arctic but there’s so much more to discover when you sail the Arctic seas. From historic Viking settlements to remote Inuit communities, spectacular fjords, migrating whales and walruses, glaciers, volcanoes, the awe-inspiring Northern Lights and the North-western Passage, one of the most coveted sailing challenges in the world. These are just some of the exceptional experiences you can look forward to when you choose to explore the Arctic by expedition ship.

The amazing wildlife of the north is undoubtedly the main attraction for first-time Arctic expedition cruise passengers. What keeps adventurers coming back time and time again, however, is the fact that not all Arctic wildlife can be spotted in every region, with each destination being ‘ideal’ for certain species. Given the land connections throughout the region, wildlife does migrate quite a bit although each specific animal has its own roaming radius. The Arctic is home to native species that live and cruise its frigid waters all year long and many more that migrate here annually.

The polar bear thrives best on packed ice and is usually more commonly found in the Arctic seas in summer, which is what makes expedition cruising invaluable. Depending on where in the Arctic you travel, you’ll also have great chances of spotting Pacific walruses along with half a dozen species of seals and over a dozen species of whales (among them the rare Beluga), more than 200 distinct species of birds (including the revered Puffin) and, on land, you’ll see caribou in migration, grizzly bears, as well as Arctic fox and wolf.

FAQs

Where is the Arctic?

The Arctic Region encompasses all the land and seas north of the Arctic Circle, which sits at a latitude of 66° 33' 44”. Some scientists make it even simpler and define it by 'north of where tall trees stop growing’ and that’s a great way to think of it – there’s still plenty of colour and life in the Arctic tundra, with summer warmth enticing the growth of lichen, moss, shrubs and grass above the permafrost – but everything grows very close to the ground and that allows for stunning landscape viewing.

In total, the Arctic covers an area of more than 14 million square kilometres and encompasses land from the northernmost regions of eight countries, namely Norway, Russia, Canada, the USA (Alaska), Iceland, Greenland, Finland and Sweden. The region also covers the Arctic Ocean, a nutrient-rich ecosystem that attracts and sustains some of the most revered Arctic wildlife of all, including polar bears, Pacific walruses and whales. Not to be forgotten, of course, is the North Pole: the geographical one set at ‘dead centre’ of the Arctic Region and the magnetic North Pole, the one that directs the Northern Lights spectacle, constantly in motion. For expedition cruising, the best springboards are Norway (the northern island of Svalbard), Greenland, Iceland, Canada and Russia.

What are Arctic cruises like ?

By their very definition, Arctic expedition cruises are immersive and moderately active, which means you ought to have a decent level of fitness if you want to experience all the extra-curricular activities on offer, including hiking, snowshoeing and kayaking. On-land explorations in the Arctic are essential if you hope to enjoy an in-depth experience and this is especially true of excursions to remote communities, where you can learn more about the daily life and constant struggles of those who live in this spellbinding yet inhospitable environment.

Unlike any other kind of traditional cruising, therefore, Arctic expeditions can certainly be considered ‘adventurous’ although you will certainly have a say in just how adventurous you are. These liveaboard experiences are all-inclusive in terms of meals and Zodiac (inflatable) daily excursions, with certain adventure sports being offered at an extra cost. Expedition ships can vary quite a bit which means you’ll have plenty of choices depending on your likes and budget. Staffed by professional and knowledgeable teams of experts, all Arctic expeditions are also very educational and you can expect to learn a lot about this extraordinary region of the world.

Which Arctic cruise should you take?

The Arctic region may well cover regions of eight countries, yet Arctic cruises are not available everywhere, for obvious reason. There may be human habitation, this far north, but this expansive region is still remote and much of it is inaccessible. The best casting-off points for Arctic expeditions are in Norway (namely the ‘polar bear’ hub island of Spitsbergen), Greenland and Iceland (most cruise itineraries meander between these two neighbouring countries), Canada (the springboard for Northwest Passage cruises) and the Russian region of Chukotka, one of the least visited and remotest Arctic region of all, home to lesser-visited archipelagos like Franz Josef Land, bursting at the seams with an astonishing amount of Arctic wildlife.

It's easier to choose the right Arctic cruise when you have a general overview of the most popular itineraries on offer and which countries can be seamlessly visited in the one expedition journey.

Here are the main options:

Spitsbergen

This northern Norwegian archipelago is renowned as the European polar bear hub and its main island, Svalbard, is about the best place in the world to see them. Svalbard is an Arctic cruising destination of its own accord, although it is also a great springboard for cruises to nearby Arctic regions. Svalbard is the #1 Arctic cruising choice, due to its many historical and cultural attractions as well as wildlife spectacles. Its proximity to the European mainland, moreover, means cruises to and around Svalbard can be the best value-for-money expeditions around.

Greenland

The largest island on earth is an exquisite Arctic cruise destination and one of its most distinctive, given that it doesn’t boast much cruising infrastructure at all. A land of deep dramatic fjords and magnificent glaciers, Greenland is mostly visited and explored ‘on the fly’ aboard expedition ships that depart either from Svalbard and Iceland (for its eastern coastline) or the Canadian Arctic (for its western coastline). Small clusters of very interesting communities can be visited along both sides of the island’s coast, with the western being particularly fascinating. Greenland seems to exist in a world all its own and is especially grandiose –  adding a few extra days to a standard Arctic cruise to fit in a visit is one of the best decisions you could make.

Iceland

Given the current position of the magnetic North Pole, the Greenland Strait (the body of water between eastern Greenland and western Iceland) is right at the heart of the Northern Lights viewing oval, making an Iceland + Greenland Arctic cruise the most rewarding option if travelling in September. Even outside the Aurora viewing season, however, you’ll be privy to spectacular fjords and glaciers when you visit this region and can easily extend your travels by including an on-land journey through Iceland to discover breathtaking waterfalls and volcanoes.

Canada

The Canadian High Arctic really seems to have it all, a spectacular array of inlets, fjords and endless ethereal tundra plains, inhabited and visited by a flurry of Arctic wildlife species. Arctic cruises which visit both Canada and Greenland are renowned for offering the best whale-watching experiences in the entire Arctic region, with several whale hot-spots found in this corner.

The North Pole

Only a handful of ice-strengthened expedition ships make the journey to the North Pole every summer, the exclusive endeavour being the longest and most expensive Arctic cruise option of all. The two main options are North Pole cruises which depart from Russia (usually lasting two weeks and including stops in the Franz Josef Land Archipelago) or, more conveniently, departing from Svalbard. The latter option is out of this world: a month-long voyage that combines the best of Svalbard and the cruising to the geographic North Pole.

What should you pack for Arctic cruises?

Winters in the Arctic are brutally cold, yet summer daytime temps can hit 10-degrees-Celsius so although it will be rather chilly, it probably won’t be as breathtakingly cold as you may imagine. Winds can be considerable, and the lack of trees will make it feel a lot colder. When packing for an Arctic cruise, you ought to focus on good-quality windproof and waterproof outer gear, worn over functional and warm clothing. The ‘onion’ approach works best on Arctic cruises, with layering being your best antidote to the unpredictable changes in climate, even just in a single hour. Climatic unpredictability is perhaps the most pronounced calling card of the region, so even though you may disembark your Arctic expedition cruise ship with a clear and sunny sky, you can never assume it will stay that way so you must dress accordingly.

The most important accessories to pack are an insulated beanie that covers your ears, a scarf and a pair of gloves, your extremities being the most vulnerable to the cold, especially if you get splashed on Zodiac outings. Most importantly, all your clothing needs to be immensely comfortable, as Arctic expedition cruises offer plenty of active excursions and you’ll need a fair amount of agility to get in (and out) of inflatable Zodiacs. Do also ensure that your boots are waterproof and rise above your ankles but also ensure they don’t weigh a ton.

Best time to cruise to the Arctic?

Arctic expedition cruises set off in June and sail all the way until September, covering the period from the start of the northern summer up to the beginning of autumn. The ‘best’ time to visit can be highly subjective because it’ll depend on where in the Arctic you wish to travel and which of the many unique experiences you wish to have.

Early season – June

Sail the Arctic at the beginning of the cruising season and you’ll see the largest icebergs and pristine, snow-covered landscapes. Sea ice will still be widespread so although your route will be somewhat limited on an early cruise, you’ll also have great chances of spotting polar bears atop ice floes out in the open seas.

Mid-season – July and August

Widely considered the absolute best time for wildlife viewing in the Arctic, mid-season cruises take advantage of extensive ice melt to travel further. Good climatic conditions and even 24 hours of daylight for several weeks means on-land explorations are at their most rewarding. Given the extensive ice melt, however, polar bears will be much more difficult to spot out at sea and that’s when a cruise of Svalbard becomes unmissable. North Pole and Northwest Passage cruising options are only offered now, at the height of the Arctic summer.

Late-season – September

As days get progressively shorter and colder, passengers on late-season cruises will have the unrivalled chance to spot the Northern Lights for a few hours every night. If cruising the Arctic and seeing the Aurora Borealis are a combined ‘must; for you, then consider September your best month yet. 

Can I cruise across the Arctic Circle?

Most of our Arctic cruises cross the Arctic Circle. Our Iceland cruises may stay below the Arctic circle. Please contact us for a cruise that specifically crosses the Arctic circle. 

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Some of the main Attractions

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Spitsbergen or Svalbard

A group of islands off the north coast of Norway. Today the correct name for the archipelago is Svalbard, changing in 1925. This is one of the best places to see polar bears, reindeer and Arctic foxes amongst huge glaciers and fjords.

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Greenland

Greenland isn't only famous for its wildlife and culture; it also has a huge ice cap covering 80% of the landmass. Cruising the worlds largest island you could spot seals, whales, musk oxen and deer. Meet the Inuit community and purchase unusual crafts.

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Canadian Arctic

Cruise in Canada and experience the Northwest passage, Newfoundland and a group of 36,000 islands called the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. This Arctic destination is famous for its remote wilderness, polar bears, walrus plus a long history.

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Russian Arctic

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the 1980s, this is one of the last true wildernesses left to explore. Here you can visit Wrangle Island were the woolly mammoths made their last stand and Franz Josef Land, 191 islands full of Arctic wildlife.

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North Pole

It is possible to cruise to the north pole! Stand on top of the world and look South in every direction. Crush through the ice on a huge nuclear-powered icebreaker while looking out for Arctic wildlife. Possibly the most desolate place on earth.

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Iceland

You cannot get more dramatic than Iceland's steamy hot springs, volcanoes, giant waterfalls and fjords. Combine cruises with Greenland, Spitsbergen or circumnavigate the entire country exploring geothermal beaches and lava fields.

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Our Vessels

MS Fram | Antarctic & Arctic Cruise Ship

max. 318 Passengers

MS Fridtjof Nansen | Antarctic & Arctic Cruise Ship

530 Passengers

L'Austral | Arctic & Antarctic Cruise Ship

264 Passengers

Ocean Endeavour | Antarctic & Arctic Cruise Ship

199 Passengers

M/V Plancius | Arctic & Antarctic Cruise Ship

116 Passengers

MV Hondius | Arctic & Antarctic Cruise Ship

176 in 83 cabins + 72 Staff & Crew Passengers

M/S Expedition | Antarctic Cruise Ship

134 Passengers

MS Spitsbergen | Antarctic & Arctic Cruise Ship

max 335 Passengers

World Explorer | Arctic & Antarctic Cruise Ship

125 Passengers

Ocean Adventurer | Arctic & Antarctic Cruise Ship

132 Passengers

Le Boréal | Arctic & Antarctic Cruise Ship

264 Passengers