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Tour The Arctic On Our Polar Cruises

Choosing the right Arctic expedition cruise may be a little confusing at first, considering there are a surprising number of options, in distinctly different parts of the region.

Some Arctic destinations are easier to reach (like Svalbard or Iceland) whilst others, like the Chukotka Region of Russia, a little less so, although it really does depend whether you’re heading north from New Zealand or planning on a longer journey abroad. Choosing the right Arctic expedition cruise, however, is not only about convenience. Each Arctic destination offers unique experiences, not only in terms of wildlife-watching value but also dramatically different wilderness and local, indigenous culture.

The Arctic may seem just a single region of stark but homogenous beauty to most, yet every nook boasts its own inimitable enticements. Arctic cruise tours can be taken from four countries, namely Norway (Spitsbergen), Iceland, Canada (Baffin Island) and Russia (Chukotka). 

FAQs

Where should I cruise in the Arctic?

Spitsbergen, Norway

The Norwegian archipelago of Spitsbergen sits merely 1,000km south of the North Pole, directly north of the Scandinavian mainland. This is by far the most popular and easily accessible Arctic springboard since it is inhabited and boasts excellent expedition infrastructure. Yet the ease of accessibility isn’t the only thing that lures people to Spitsbergen: this is one of the top 2 polar-bear spotting hotspots in the Arctic (the other being Canada) and boasts innumerable ice-covered islands that attract both land and marine wildlife en masse. Given its high latitude, Spitsbergen is also the prime hub for expeditions to the North Pole. All of this, coupled with the highest concentration of Arctic expedition ships, also means you’ll find the widest array of ship availability and cruise budgets. All up, you’ll find Arctic cruises that circumnavigate Spitsbergen, options that also include Iceland and, most famously, East Greenland, the reputed ‘wildest’ Arctic coast of all.

Find out all there is to know about Arctic Cruises from Spitsbergen.

Iceland and Greenland

Iceland is a stunner in every which way, least of all for the fact it offers the shortest Arctic cruises to Greenland, one of the most rewarding Arctic destinations of all. Although, Greenland doesn’t have much infrastructure to offer many expeditions off its own shore. Most, but not all people who want to visit, must arrive here aboard an expedition ship that departed somewhere else. Iceland, being so close, is the most obvious choice. Aside from its genial location right across the Denmark Strait from Greenland, however, Iceland offers plenty of its own highlights, including dramatic fjords, stunning glaciers and, of course, a wealth of breath-taking waterfalls and volcanoes inland. Iceland and Greenland cruises are the most popular multi-country cruise options in the Arctic.

Discover more on our Iceland and Greenland page.

Baffin Island, Canada

The Canadian High Arctic is a remote corner of the Arctic and, for this precise reason, one of the most astonishing. The ‘headquarters of Arctic cruises in Canada is Baffin Island, the 5th-largest island on earth, located west of Greenland and directly north of Labrador and Newfoundland. Baffin is lapped on the east by famous Baffin Bay, one of the renowned ‘whale highways’ in the Arctic, in the north by the infamous Northwest Passage (one of the most coveted cruising challenges in history) and in the south by Hudson Bay, whose coast is revered for being the very best polar-bear sighting hot-spot in the whole region. Yes, the Canadian Arctic may be remote, isolated, hard to reach and expensive but, unsurprisingly, is also considered the holy grail of Arctic expeditions.

Learn more about Arctic cruises in Canada.

Russia

Arctic expeditions in Russia explore inarguably the most remote corner of the region and are considered the ultimate ‘bucket-list’ journeys to the north. Highlights here include the crossing of the Barents Sea, home to the largest cold-water reef on our planet, which attracts millions of sea birds, as well as whales, seals, walruses and narwhals every year. You can also visit the wildlife-brimming, isolated hubs of Franz Josef Land and Wrangel Island, and take on a Northern Sea Passage, perhaps the most awe-inspiring sea route in the world. Sipping a glass of champagne as you cruise right at the very top of the world, is something else. North Pole expeditions are surely the ultimate dream of avid seafaring explorers.

See more about Arctic expeditions to Russia.

What activities can I do on an Arctic cruise?

When it comes to exploring the Arctic by expedition ship, the word ‘cruise’ is more than a little misleading – these journeys are unlike any other ‘cruises’ offered, anywhere in the world. Much like expeditions to Antarctica, Arctic cruises (even luxury options) are primarily aimed at getting you out and about and immersing you into the magnificent wilderness of the region. So forget cabaret shows and comedy nights aboard your Arctic small ship cruise and, instead, soak up the magic of the Arctic.

Here are the most common activities offered on Arctic cruises:

Zodiac outings

They call them ‘safaris’, up here, the daily excursions taken on inflatable Zodiacs, and for very good reasons. Zodiacs allow you to not only reach the shore for walking excursions, but also to scour the coastline and icebergs so you’ll have better chances for up-close visuals of the striking wildlife. Inflatable zodiacs also allow you to explore inlets where your ship may not be able to navigate. Given that there are only so many Zodiacs each ship can carry, it pays to choose the smallest expedition ship your budget allows so you can spend less time waiting your turn to alight the ship and more time on the actual inflatable and exploring on land. Zodiac excursions are the most common inclusion on Arctic cruises.

Kayaking

Slowly and quietly gliding in the Arctic seas is a spectacular activity. You can see glaciers close-up, sail alongside seals and whales (if you’re lucky!) and just gain a totally different perspective among the overwhelming landscapes. If you’d love to try kayaking in the Arctic, choose a ship that accommodates beginners and they’ll give you a rundown and send you off with guide in tow. Kayaking is usually offered at an extra cost.

Snowshoeing, Glacier Hiking, Ice Climbing, Skiing

Arctic cruises collectively offer an impressive array of extra-curricular activities although not every ship offers every activity. If you’re happy knowing that there will always be ‘something super cool’ on offer, then you can choose the right ship for you with a different criterion in mind. Yet if there is something very specific that you’d love to do (like ice climbing, for example) then it’s best to tell us right from the get-go so we can eliminate the ships that don’t offer it.

Hiking

Yes, you can climb mountains in the Arctic, but you can also simply take a leisurely stroll around a landing site to explore the startling nature and see a side of this magical land that’s inaccessible by boat. There are always plenty of options given on Arctic cruises so groups tend to split up once they reach land: some may want to hike for three hours whilst others just wish to stay close and discover the little things instead. Everything is optional so, aside from some agility needed to alight the Zodiac, you can choose to be as active (or not) as you’d like.

Professionally guided excursions

Arctic expedition crews are there to keep you safe, first and foremost. Not only will they enlighten you on everything to do with the region (presentations and lecturers are the norm aboard Arctic cruise ships) but they will also ensure the safety of your group, primarily when it comes to possible close sightings of polar bears. You are required to always follow the crew’s instructions and not go wandering off alone. This is really the one place on earth you’d want to stay in a group.

What Arctic cruise ship is the best?

When it comes to Arctic cruising, ships are usually subdivided not only by size but also performance and level of luxury. All Arctic expedition ships are perfectly comfortable and beautifully functional, some also happen to throw in jacuzzis and a few extra indulgences for good measure.

The choice, as always, is yours.

Icebreaker cruise ships – 100/150 guests

The Chuck Norris of the Arctic cruising family, the icebreaker will get you further north than any other ship and are those used for North Pole expeditions. These may not be the fanciest Arctic expedition vessels known to man and they may boast smaller common areas (they do need to carry more fuel and whatnot) but they have been built to handle the harshest Arctic conditions. When you choose to venture to the remotest corners of the Arctic, this is really all you need to know. True-blue expedition vessels for hard-core explorers, that’s the icebreaker promise!

Next Generation cruise ships – 70/250 guests

A wider-ranging choice of vessels, the Next Generation ships were all purposely built for cruising (as opposed to icebreakers, which were purposely built to break ice) so they boast the latest high-tech gizmos for super smooth cruising, plenty of mod-cons and interior designs that are aimed at sightseeing and wildlife spotting (think floor-to-ceiling windows in dedicated observation lounges). These amazing vessels also boast better fuel efficiency (and lower emissions) and an abundance of adventure activities. They have the room to carry all the fun gear because they were designed specifically for this purpose.

Premium Expedition cruise ships – 100/200 guests

Take a hard-core expedition research vessel, give it a multi-million dollar make-over to include a few delicious luxuries, and you have the Premium Expedition cruise ship. Ideal for those who don’t want too much fluff on their adventure journey but certainly enough to feel like the trip is a bit indulgent. Consider this level of Arctic cruise ship the ideal ‘compromise’ between Chuck Norris and what’s following next.

Luxury Expedition cruise ships – 140/240 guests

If it’s 5* luxury and services you want, when scouring the Arctic, then these grand dames of the sea are for you. We’re talking suites with private balconies, multiple gourmet dining options, butler service, excellent crew-to-guest ratio, designer toiletries, unlimited WiFi, steam rooms, spa, fitness centres and…you get the idea. Many extra-curricular activities are included in luxury expedition cruise ships and, for the price, they’d want to be!

Keep reading for answers to the most frequently asked questions regarding Arctic cruises.

How do I get the best Arctic cruise deals?

There are a few ways to save some cash on Arctic expedition cruises:

Special Deals

Early bird and last-minute specials are by far your best bet for getting the best deals around. However, last-minute specials are a much bigger gamble and can potentially cost a lot more given you’d have to book last-minute flights too. Most often, the savings on the cruise will be all but eliminated. It’s worth keeping tabs on our Specials Page to know what’s on offer and discounted, at any given time.

Different Ships 

Larger ships tend to offer better prices because they carry more people and can, therefore, spread the expense of running the vessel among more passengers. Of course, you’ll be giving up the small ship bonuses (more time on land, better and more dedicated service etc) but the savings can be impressive, so it may be worth the compromise if your budget is limited. Opting for fewer onboard luxuries and, overall, an older vessel (which will still be an ice-strengthened, world-class ship) is a great way to cruise longer for less. You can also opt for a windowless cabin which, between us, isn’t too much to give up because you’ll no doubt only be suing your cabin to sleep.

Season

Moreover, there’s also the issue of seasonal differences – early and late-season cruises tend to be cheaper than those running in July and August and, from where we stand, they don’t necessarily offer an inferior experience. In some cases – like September cruising – they can offer the bonus of possible Northern Lights viewing. Early season cruising of the Arctic does come with the added thrill of unpredictability – although global warming is melting Arctic ice earlier, every year, there’s no telling just how much pack ice you’ll encounter, when you’re on the first cruise ship to head off.

Shared Cabins

Then there are the options to share cabins if travelling solo. You can opt to share with 1, 2 or 3 same-sex passengers and that’ll see you save a small bundle indeed.

Destination and Itineraries

Homing in on Spitsbergen is also a great idea if you wish to spend less, as the Norwegian archipelago boasts the stiffest cruise competition so you can end up cruising longer here and spending the same as a much shorter Arctic cruise elsewhere. More cruise itineraries, more cruise ships and shorter flights from the nearest mainland usually translate to the cheapest Arctic cruises of all. Obviously, shorter cruises cost less than longer ones but do fight the urge to opt for a ship that doesn’t offer ANY on land excursions at all. Yes, they exist and yes, they cost less but, in all seriousness, if you fork out thousands to even reach the Arctic and then must ONLY see it from the ship you will be disappointed. Then you’ll either kick yourself for not spending just a little bit more or want to jump off.

How much is an Arctic cruise?

A cruise to the Arctic is never going to be a cheap holiday yet there’s no cheap holiday we know of that can gift you the kind of experiences these once-in-a-lifetime journeys do. The best option here is to give you a ballpark cost of cruises by their departure points, given that the locations are so diverse. If you’re casting off from New Zealand, we can help you work out which departure point offers the best value-for-money. If, however, you’re planning to include an Arctic cruise on a longer holiday (say, to Europe or the USA), then your choice of departure point may be altogether different.

Spitsbergen, Norway

From the island of Svalbard, you can sail for 5 days relatively cheaply. This is one of the most inexpensive ways of exploring the Arctic.

Iceland

Iceland and Greenland cruises are relatively more expensive, mostly because of itineraries here last about two weeks. 

Canada

The second-most expensive cruising destination, Canada offers two-week cruises, up to 19-day expeditions.

Russia & the North Pole

The most expensive option of all, Arctic cruises from Russia really are exquisite journeys, the kind of ‘adventure in the middle of nowhere’ you’ll never forget. 

What’s the best place to see polar bears in the Arctic?

Polar bear sightings are very common on Arctic cruises, no matter where you sail. Having said that, the two destinations that just about guarantee a sighting are Spitsbergen and Canada.

Where do Arctic cruise ships depart?

Spitsbergen – Longyearbyen is the island’s largest settlement and the main hub for Arctic cruises in Europe. The city is accessible via short flights from Oslo and Tromso (on the Norwegian mainland)

Iceland – The capital city, Reykjavik, is the springboard for Iceland cruises

Canada – Charter flights to Baffin Island depart from Ottawa

Greenland – Most cruises to Greenland depart from either Spitsbergen, Iceland or Canada

Russia – Murmansk and Anadyr are the two departure points for Russian Arctic cruises and how you get to either spot will depend on your point of departure

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Polar Bears

If you are wondering whether you should travel to Antarctica or the Arctic, the one thing that Antarctica hasn't got is polar bears. Polar bear sightings are very common in Canada and Svalbard but you will still be lucky to spot one.

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Travel to the North Pole

Not many people will be able to pull a Leo and say 'I'm on top of the world' and actually mean it! Travel on a nuclear powered Russian Icebreaker on an expedition to the remotest place on earth.

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Arctic History and Culture

The Arctic has many indigenous cultures including the Inuits of Greenland. It is also steeped in history and adventure with old whaling stations and stories of explorers like John Franklin who tried to navigate through the northwest passage.

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Our Vessels

MS Spitsbergen | Antarctic & Arctic Cruise Ship

max 335 Passengers

MS Fram | Antarctic & Arctic Cruise Ship

max. 318 Passengers

MS Fridtjof Nansen | Antarctic & Arctic Cruise Ship

530 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

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