A three hour flight north of Norway’s capital Oslo and you’ll reach the remote community of Longyearbyen on the island of Spitsbergen (the largest of Svalbard archipelago). This tiny community and town with two streets is the starting point for many Arctic cruises. Spitsbergen’s landscapes are incredible, snow capped mountains, enormous glaciers, glistening icebergs, deep fjords and towering cliffs make a stunning backdrop for your Arctic cruise.
Svalbard is home to an estimated 4,500 polar bears as well as good population of walrus, bearded seals as well as being the breeding place of many of the Arctic’s most beautiful birds (including puffins, red-throated diver & eider ducks). When you add massive glaciers and stunning mountain scenery you perhaps start to understand why a Spitsbergen cruise is equally rewarding an experience as a cruise to Antarctica.
Making the choice as to which voyage, when, which ship or operator is where we help; unlike ship owners/operators we’re not obliged to sell the ships we own/operate – we offer independent expert advice and can match the best experience for you.
As with the nature of expedition, the focus is having incredible wildlife experiences along with immersing yourself in the magnificent environments that surround you. All of the itineraries are merely a guide as weather and nature may dictate your journey as you take advantage of your unique surrounds.
There is a large variety of birdlife in the Arctic with guillemots, razorbills, puffins, terns, gulls, geese, ducks, phalaropes, curlew, sandpipers, owls and falcons. Other wildlife includes: three species of seal, four species of whale, Arctic fox, walrus and the undoubted stars of the show Polar bears.
Polar bears would have to be one of the most amazing creatures on earth. A true marine mammal, equally at home in the water as it is on land/ice, that over-winters in sub-zero temperatures and roams widely in search of a variety of prey.
Our operators ensure your cruise adventure is filled with incredible experiences without disturbing the wildlife. In the event of a polar bear sighting, on land or on ice, from a zodiac, the zodiac-driver will make sure that they always keep a distance of at least 30 meters between the zodiac and the land/ice/spot where the polar bear is present (this increases to 200 metres from ships). This is for the safety of both guests and the bears.
Over 60% of Svalbard is covered in Ice. The resulting glaciers, icebergs and bergy bits – the variety of colours, shapes and sizes are impossible to adequately describe, are definitely as spectacular as the scenery found on the Antarctic Peninsula.
During each voyage guests will spend time zodiac cruising among icebergs that are thousands of years old, some black, some blue, all amazing and a photographer’s dream. You’ll also have the opportunity to cruise past the vast (often over 50 metres high and kilometres wide) glacial walls including Monaco, 14th July and Lilliehöök.
Since the near-extinction of walrus in Svalbard in the middle of the 20th century, Moffen Island has played an important rule in re-establishing the species here. Today Moffen Island is protected, and lucky visitors may witness more than 100 walrus hauled out at island’s southern tip. Approach during the summer is limited to a minimum distance of 500 metres; as the waters around Moffen are very shallow most ships stay further off. Being a fraction north of 80°N Moffen Island is often visited on longer voyages.
There are a small number of ‘walrus haul-outs’ scattered around Spitsbergen; the numbers of walrus at each site will vary throughout the season. Your guides will ensure appropriate movement near the walrus to ensure they are not disturbed and you can watch them in a natural and relaxed state.
Some sites don’t lend themselves to a physical landing or may be best seen from water level; a ‘zodiac cruise’ means you’ll explore the site whilst sat on the side (inflatable tube) of the zodiac, each zodiac will have one of the expedition team with them.
Zodiacs (rubber inflatable boats) not only offer a safe way to explore they are an integral part of exploring Spitsbergen, excepting Longyearbyen and Ny Alesund there are no jetties to enable disembarkation from the ship, i.e. you’ll use the zodiacs to go ashore at most sites.
Note: Please ensure you are adequately dressed as it can get cold; waterproof pants are essential.
Some ships offer kayaking (for an additional cost) for up to 20 guests. It’s an incredible way to gain a very different perspective, to experience the Arctic with no sound, other than the splash of your paddle, and to be close enough to the crystal clear water to see the incredibly rich invertebrate life that sustains almost all of the wildlife found here.
Your safety is paramount; expert guides and a Zodiac will be close enough to offer assistance, yet far enough away not to disrupt the tranquility. Occasionally, if you’re lucky, whales, or even a polar bear (see image – you’re safe as polar bears do not hunt from the water – and we’ll continue to observe the disturbance rule) will come to investigate but don’t worry as the guides will form the kayaks into a ‘raft’ and you will enjoy a genuine once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Due to limited numbers please request your kayaking at time of booking your voyage.
These luxurious ships combine more traditional-style ‘cruising’ with an Arctic expedition. They offer large, very comfortable cabins with en-suite facilities and many have private balconies. We’ve chosen to work with two of the best; National Geographic Explorer (148 guests) and the Sea Spirit (114 guests). The experienced expedition team enable you to explore the Spitsbergen with Zodiac dinghies and come home to an exquisite ship with superior comfort and excellent cuisine options.
Expedition ships generally have a greater emphasis on maximising time off the vessel or out on deck. All ships have fewer than 100 guests, enabling efficient disembarkation. The expedition team works closely with the ship’s captain and crew to get you out exploring on the Zodiac dinghies and on shore as much as possible. Most voyages also offer kayaking. Cabins are simple and comfortable, the food excellent. The ships are stable, fast and manoeuvrable.