01 August. Russebukta, Diskobukta & MS Expedition

Located on the west coast of Edgeoya the third largest island of the Svalbard archipelago. The landing at Russebukta was on a sandy beach leading to colorful flat march lands and lagoons and huge hills beyond some with a showing of snow. Historically an area where trappers built huts and trapped Arctic Fox and Shot Polar bear. Arctic flowers were everywhere but coming to an end in the next two weeks – Snow buttercups, Arctic cotton grass, Arctic saxifrage, Purple saxifrage and Arctic willow. A good morning for the birders – Red throated diver, Barnacle goose, Long tailed duck, Common eider with young, Snow bunting adult and young and Arctic Skua. Overcast but excellent visibility and bright.

The ivory Gull yesterday keeps springing to mind as it’s high on any birders list when in the Arctic regions. It’s a true Arctic species living and breeding entirely 70 degrees north, one of very few birds including the snowy owl and the ptarmigan, the Arctics only game bird which reacted to the last ice age by adapting to severe cold and half year darkness and remaining year round. The ivory gull lives off caught fish but principally scavengers they are great followers of hunter Polar Bears and no strangers to feasting on bear leftovers along the coast. But also common near pupping grounds of the hooded seal where they find sustenance in dead pups or afterbirth. They also follow dog teams and not shy to take whatever hand outs they can get – anything for an easy meal. As our experience showed yesterday they are quite tolerant of human presence and seem extremely bold especially if there’s a potential meal on offer.

The MS Expedition is a very good quality vessel. I’m surprised because the inside, whether it’s common areas or cabin are really clean, well maintained and for an expedition vessel easy on the eye. The dining in the evening is waiter service and 4 courses with a choice of three main courses but vegetarian option, excellent food and very friendly service. Breakfast and lunch are buffet style, but varied and again delicious. I keep reminding myself this is an expedition vessel and should therefore be limited on its level of dining but its hitting above mine and most passengers expectations every time. There are also a group of Chinese on board and the kitchen has also provided a good level of buffet style food for them. One can burn off the excess calories from the amazing cuisine in the gym which is a good size for the limited space available but is limited in equipment offering two running machines, one cross trainer, spin cycle, loose weights and multi gym, fresh towels and water machine.

The cabins are spacious for an expedition vessel all with private WC & Shower. The beds are comfortable with a firm mattress. Cabins are light and modern. We are in a grade 3 with twin beds large picture window, writing table or for dressing, adequate wardrobe storage for clothes and luggage space under beds. service is good, helpful and friendly mainly Philippine hotel staff and the cabins are cleaned thoroughly in the morning and turned down with a tidy up early evening whilst you are at dinner. Hair dryer, shower gel, shampoo and conditioner are provided. Temperature gauge for air conditioning in each cabin. In grade 4 cabins you will expect a little more space with larger windows and in grade 5 a double bed if required with floor to ceiling windows and lounge area. I will remind you that this is not a luxury expedition vessel and if you are looking for 5 Star on board Silversea Explorer, Le Boreal, La Austral, Hanseatic are the best options but this is a 4 star expedition vessel and I have no hesitation in recommending it to discerning adventurers with high expectations.

The outside and inside viewing areas very good with 360 views for whale and bird spotting from the top outside deck. It’s easy to navigate your way around the vessel and bars, restaurants, lounges are simple to locate. The Library is well stocked and you are able to take a selection of the books away from the library if needed except for the reference books and guides.

The briefings, de briefs and lectures are given in the main lounge where there’s hot and cold refreshments and snacks readily available 24/7 with the bar open during lecture times and evening. Alcoholic beverages are reasonable and priced in US Dollars. During happy hour the main beverages are $4 usually $8. Bottle of wine with meals from $15.

Lectures so far have been well delivered and I particularly enjoyed Frank Todd who gave an intro to the Wildlife of Spitsbergen. Briefings and de briefings are very informative and given by a selection of the expedition team including Doug in charge of fire arms who is entertaining and precise in delivery of information. Alexander the lead guide is first class and you can clearly see he wants to deliver the best wildlife experience whilst safety is paramount. Paul Harris is an inspiring and interesting historian from the Uk but lived in China for many years. I’m looking forward to his Polar history lecture in the next day or so. Its clear to see the credentials of these experts is of a good level. Zodiac landings could be a little quicker but I’m sure there’s a reason and it’s not the slowest I’ve experienced in the Polar regions. The photographic lectures by Chasi Annexy have apparently been extremely informative and helpful, aimed at beginner to intermediary level but Chasi has been assisting one to one and seems very helpful. The other guides also have good photographic knowledge and are also available either on deck looking for overt unities or other times on board or on landings.

Kayaking isn’t available on this expedition but I’ve inspected the Kayaks and they are top quality most of them double Kayaks. Whilst there are hiking options on some landings we are encouraged to take our walking boots on the landings but the rubber boots are comfortable and essential for the Zodiac landings. The boot room is a good idea and not available on most expedition vessels. It’s where the landings are co ordinated and where you may leave your rubber boots, Polar parka, wet weather pants to dry out instead of them taking up useful room in the cabin space.