The High Russian Arctic is one of the least traveled and most remote regions in the Northern Hemisphere. The breathtaking ice-capped mountains, the fascinating history of the early explorers and one of the highest densities of wildlife in the world build the framework for an unforgettable expedition.
In 2020, two brand new itineraries to the Russian Arctic will offer adventurers andwildlife enthusiasts a unique and once in a life time opportunity to explore parts of the world on which very few have stepped foot.
The two expeditions will put you in the footsteps of past polar explorers on the quest to find the Northeast Passage, while visiting some of the most breathtaking locations the Arctic has to offer.
One of the most memorable places to visit in Novaya Zemlya is Inostrantesva Bay. Its landscapes are partially covered by moss and lichen but also by glaciers and icebergs. Polar bears are not a rare visitor of this breathtaking bay.
Oransky Island, a smaller island situated in the northwest of Novaya Zemlya, is the home to many different species of wildlife such as whales, walruses, many different types of seabird and more polar bears.
The first explorers to come to Novaya Zemlya arrived in Cape Spory Navlok in the late 1500s on an expedition led by Dutch explorer Willem Barents. It was his 3rd and last attempt to find the Northeast Passage. Barents died after being forced to spend the winter in Cape Spry Navlok, trapped by the sea ice. The ruins of their hut are still there today.
Frank Josef Land
Sites to explore in Franz Josef Land can include Bell Island and Cape Flo a on Northbrook Island where many expeditions passed through in the 19th and 20th century. Some of the huts and building that were constructed during these times now lay in ruins but can still be visited.
Cape Norway’s flora makes it worth a visit and specially interesting for botanists while the somewhat challenging to access Cape Tegetthof on Hall Island with its tall cliffs is home to a larger number and variety of sea birds. The island itself provides great hiking opportunities unless polar bears are encountered.
Walrus haul-outs and hundreds of pinnipeds can be encountered on Stolichy and Appolovnov Island, which can be overseen from a safe distance on a zodiac cruise.
Tiskhaya Bukta’s Rubuinis Rocks sea cliffs are home to are kittiwakes and dovekies.
Russia’s largest ice cap, the Academy of Science Glacier on Severnay Zemlya, is located on the northern end of the straight. An ivory gull colony can be visited on Trovonay Island, and polar bears are frequently sighted.
Celia Hills enjoyed a Wildfoot Travel trip to the Arctic recently. Responding to our call for ‘Traveller’s Tales’, Celia sent in this summary of her trip along with some excellent photos.
Now that we’ve set the scene, we’ll hand you over to Celia……..
“The trip began with everyone meeting at Longyearbyen airport in Svalbard and going on a coach tour of the town before boarding the Polar Pioneer for the start of the adventure into the Arctic.
The first exciting thing was to be briefed on safety & to do a lifeboat drill as we were leaving harbour. Trying to get into one of two small lifeboats with all 53 passengers & some crew was a challenge with huge lifejackets & little space. As there is permanent daylight at these latitudes at this time of year there was much to see already.
Huge numbers of sea birds to be seen included Fulmars, Glaucous Gulls, Little Auks, Puffins, Black Guillemots, Brunnichs Guillemots, Kittiwakes Eider Ducks & Arctic terns. As the trip progressed the numbers of some of these verged on the staggering with huge seabird cliffs bulging with adults & chicks. Less often seen were the Arctic Skuas & Great Skuas. Geese were also abundant with Pink Footed geese & Barnacle Geese the most common.
Only two days into the trip & the first of 12 polar bears was sighted. This trip was outstanding for bears with the best left to last with a sighting of a mother & cub. One encounter with a male bear on a hunting mission was deemed to be worthy of a “Frozen Planet” sequence by the guides as it had the bear stalk & attack three bearded seals over a 3 hour period.
Another highlight of this trip were the glaciers & icebergs for sheer beauty of colours, size & shapes & glaciers calving when viewed from a zodiac is amazing with the sound & then mini tsunami.
History is also a strong feature of this trip with various ancient camps, huts and burial grounds of the ancient explorers & trappers.
Walrus were also a highlight with some amazing sounds & smells in the pushing & shoving of a group of young males, while an encounter from the zodiac of a group of females & young was enchanting.
Tiny Arctic Foxes were a delight & some almost tame in their tolerance of close humans. One catching an unfortunate Kittiwake chick that was pushed from its nest showed nature in the raw.
A pod of over 20 Beluga whales was another of many highlights with them cruising around the zodiacs.
Crossing the Greenland Sea from Svalbard to Greenland was mostly uneventful with birds & fog being the order of the days.
Greenland has certainly got the wow factor with glorious scenery & magnificent rock formations & colours. Scoresbysund being the most amazing place. The addition of Musk Ox in Greenland added to the wildlife total.
Apart from Longyearbyen in Svalbard the only other occupied area visited on this trip was Ittoqqortoormiit, one of the only inhabited area of east Greenland & home to 350 people.
For me one of the best experiences was on the last landing in Greenland where there were a pair of Gyr Falcons, a bird I had never seen.
To summarise this trip is difficult because there were so many highs – Polar Bear, Walrus, Arctic Fox, Musk Ox & the thousands of birds – but what made I was the staff & crew of the Polar Pioneer being so friendly & knowledgeable.
Mike Unwin is a freelance travel and nature writer based in Brighton UK. He writes regularly for the Telegraph, Independent, BBC Wildlife and numerous other publications, and is the author of more than 30 books for both adults and children. In 2013 Mike was voted UK Travel Writer of the Year by the British Guild of Travel Writers.
Here Mike gives us a brief account of his experience on an expedition cruise aboard the Spirit Of Enderby with Wildfoot Travel.
Arctic cruises to Svalbard and the Norwegian archipelago’s largest island of Spitsbergen have always been in high demand here at WILDFOOT, and the story of our travel advisor’s latest trip to the region helps to demonstrate precisely why. Brace yourself for her retelling of the first two days of yet another incredible journey.
When I was told that I would be travelling to Svalbard in January my first thought was ‘you can travel to Svalbard in January?!’ With the capital, Longyearbyen, having a latitude of 78.22 degrees north, during the winter months the archipelago is in the grip of the polar night, when the sun never comes near the horizon, let alone crossing it! ‘What activities could you possibly do in the dark?’ I thought. I was about to find out…
Day 1: Arrival
Our flight into Longyearbyen, the main town on Svalbard’s main island of Spitsbergen, arrived in the early hours of the morning so of course it wasn’t at all strange that it was dark! There to meet us at the luggage carousel was the first of what turned out to be many stuffed polar bears in Longyearbyen.
Stepping out of the airport the temperature was decidedly fresh but not as bitterly cold as I was expecting – perhaps because the air is so dry? Checking into our accommodation, the Coal Miner’s Cabins, my main concern was: would it be warm enough? I needn’t have worried; it was toasty!
Day 2: Snowmobiling
Following a hearty and delicious breakfast we set out on the first of our activities: snowmobiling. With the outside temperature -21 centigrade, and an approximate distance of 140kms to be covered, it was definitely a case of ‘in at the deep end’…
Once fully kitted up for the cold we had a brief introduction to snowmobile handling and then were off! Riding a snowmobile is pretty easy actually – like riding an automatic scooter but more stable – there aren’t any gears and you don’t really even need to use the brakes, just ease off the gas if you want to slow down. Our snake of snowmobiles twisted off into the darkness of the Advent Valley, a line of light in the black of the polar night. In late January, in fact there is a little light in the sky; for around an hour and a half at midday the sky turns from black to a beautiful dark blue, with just enough light to hint at the shapes of the magnificent snow covered mountains lining both sides of the valley. I can’t deny that the whole experience left me a tad chilly (multiple layers, balaclava and heated handlebars notwithstanding) however it was utterly magic to experience the wildness of such a pristine and deep-frozen landscape.
One of the most-loved aspects of our Arctic holidays is the wide range of wildlife that one can see. Arctic wildlife is quite simply some of the most varied, stunning and entertaining on the planet!
What’s on offer?
Whether you are one for a cruise or you prefer to keep yourself on land, there’s plenty of wildlife to see either way.
Dependent on location, a variety of bears can often be spotted during our expeditions. brown bears are spotted in Russia, Canada, and Alaska while polar bears roam in Canada and Svalbard, among other locations.
If you prefer to keep your feet dry, various other species including arctic foxes, musk ox, reindeer and lemmings are often spotted.
The various cruises that we have on offer allow for one of the most-desired experiences on the planet. Whale-watching is an absolute joy in the Arctic, with various species of whale simply begging to be spotted in the waters. Humpback, grey, sperm and even beluga and narwhal whales could all be identified by you in what may be a once in a lifetime opportunity.
A speciality of ours is bird watching cruises. In the Russian Far East coastal region, over 200 species of bird can potentially be spotted. Regardless of which region you visit, though, plenty of birds are spottable and all are unique to the arctic environment. Different, rare species of gulls, such as ivory and Sabine’s, and other Arctic birds can often be seen.
Whichever holiday you decide to embark on, you are safe in the knowledge that our guides will be there to help every step of the way, besides providing more information on the wildlife that you can see.
Cruise the Arctic in style
As well as our standard ships, we also offer the option of our luxury cruise ships, for that little bit extra. If you choose to indulge in one of our luxury cruises, you get to experience the adventure of the arctic, without any compromise on comfort.
With several different ships on offer, you’ll be in safe hands all the way, no matter which one you choose. For more information about this or any other aspect of our Arctic holidays, simply call our friendly experts right here at WILDFOOT.
WILDFOOT is a world-class provider of Arctic cruises. We have a comprehensive range of itineraries to fantastic Arctic holiday destinations and we’re proud of our reputation for providing unique and adventurous wildlife experiences. As a company with more than twenty-five years of experience, our dedicated team of specialists supply the knowledge and passion that will help you create a memorable, once-in-a-lifetime trip to your choice of iconic Arctic holiday destinations to explore in the most exciting and fulfilling way possible.
It’s important to remember that this spectacular part of the world is like nowhere else on the planet you’ll ever have seen before. The wildlife, landscape and people are both unique and fascinating, and for those who take the time to learn a little more about the region before heading off on an adventure, it will be all the more rewarding.
Taking time to prepare for your trip is crucial if your experience is to be a success, and there’s probably more to think about than most other places – but the payoff is well worth it! Our team of experts at Wildfoot have come together and collated some of the most valuable advice we can offer if you’re thinking of heading to this extraordinary part of the world with us.
The Best Time to Travel
Of course, everyone is different – not just in terms of their physical abilities but also when it comes to their favourite season for travelling. But, broadly speaking, unless you are looking for a particularly tough challenge, it’s probably best to head to Arctic holiday destinations between the months of June and September.
The temperatures at this time are milder (between about 3–7 degrees Celsius) and the wildlife tends to be more active. (If you travel outside this part of the year, the weather can be extreme and visibility tends to be limited.) During the “high summer” period, the days are long and the weather is comfortable enough for your experience to be memorable for the right reasons.
During the summer months, temperatures are usually above freezing – indeed, even double-figure temperatures are not out of the question. However, there is a wind chill factor that you’ll need to cater for especially if you join the zodiac landing excursions. Most of the vessels provide each passenger with their own polar parka jacket along with rubber boots for the beach landings. You’ll be wading through a few inches of water and there’s often some sea spray or snow flurries that make it a good idea to pack waterproof trousers.
Another important aspect is that the ships are able to travel further north during these months, enabling you tovisit other Arctic holiday destinations – like the incredible Spitsbergen region, or perhaps even up to the North Pole.
Spotlight on the Spitsbergen Region
As the largest island in the Svalbard archipelago in Norway (and laying claim to the world’s northernmost permanent human population), Spitsbergen is home to an intriguing craggy landscape of mountains, fjords, glaciers and frozen tundra. With over half of its land under ice all year round, it may at first glance look inhospitable, but the 37,673 square kilometres is home to around 2,500 people (mostly in the administrative settlement Longyearbyen, and various other settlements around the coastline), and an array of wildlife. During winter the Northern Lights are frequently visible, while in contrast, in the summer there are 24 hours of sunlight – aka the “midnight sun”.
The Wildlife of Spitsbergen
Along with the iconic polar bears, which are seen all over Spitsbergen (including sometimes close to human settlements), you’ll also have the chance to see the three other terrestrial species of the island (Arctic foxes, the endemic Svalbard reindeer and southern vole), a host of marine mammals (including dolphins, walruses, seals and whales), and a plethora of bird life.
The other animals you may encounter are dogs (usually huskies), which are used for one of the most fun and exciting activities on offer – dog-sledding. (Wildfoot even offers a dedicated dog-sledding expedition!)
With six National Parks, much of the island is classified protected – which means wonderful opportunities to view wildlife in its natural habitat. The dramatic terrain is nothing short of breathtaking, with rugged, towering snow-capped peaks, unique flora, other-worldly glaciers, huge ice-fields, and dramatic fjords dotted with massive icebergs. Spitsbergen is often referred to as one of the last great wilderness areas on the planet – and only when you experience it for yourself, will you truly understand why.
How Do We Get You to the North Pole?
The North Pole is one of the ultimate Arctic holiday destinations,and to set foot on its frozen expanse is a bucket-list item for many intrepid adventurers. Only the privileged few ever get to see and experience this awe-inspiring place, and here at Wildfoot, we’re proud to be able to help you discover just how incredible it really is. There’s not a lot that can compare to the feeling of standing at the actual North Pole, in front of the legendary “90-degree” sign, surrounded by nothing but a frozen white landscape. It’s truly unforgettable.
Your expedition to the northernmost point of the planet with Wildfoot will take place on special ice-breaker ships – including the magnificent LeCommandant Charcot, the world’s only luxury ice-breaker – that cut effortlessly through the ice floes on the way to the geographical point of the North Pole. Along the way, from the vessel you’ll be able to take in the abundance of terrestrial and marine wildlife and the vast, spectacular landscapes of the Arctic region.
LeCommandant Charcot heralds a new class of polar vessels and is the world’s first hybrid-electric exploration ship powered by liquified natural gas. Aside from its mighty capabilities to safely traverse the ice floes in complete safety and with the least disruption to the environment, the luxury aboard this vessel is unprecedented. Complementing the 135 stunningly appointed suites and staterooms (with private balconies or terraces), other features include a swimming pool, spa, restaurant, bar, observation lounge and even a butler service and private Jacuzzi in premium rooms.
Mike, one of our team members has put together this great webinar on this vessel so if you want to know more feel free to check it out.
The length of the journey itself will depend on conditions and can take up to a week – but one thing’s for certain, you won’t be bored!
The North Pole consists of a collection of massive ice floes floating in the Arctic Ocean (up to three metres thick) – there’s no actual land mass. And beneath that ice is an ocean more than 4,000 metres deep…
Unfortunately, due to the climate crisis, scientists predict that as soon as about 30 years there’ll be no sea ice in the Arctic during the summer months – as it is warming at two times the rate as the rest of the planet. This means rising sea levels and the potential for huge global climate ramifications.
In winter the North Pole is enveloped in 24 hours of darkness, while in summer it’s the opposite, with 24 hours of perpetual sunlight. In contrast to the rest of the Arctic region, there is no terrestrial fauna or flora here, although there’s an abundance of migratory birds to be spotted overhead and plenty of marine life that exists below the ice – but that’s not so easily seen!
Some of our Wildfoot expeditions include a helicopter sightseeing ride, a memorable experience that offers a true birds-eye view on this incredible location, and you’ll also have the opportunity to see the Franz Josef Land archipelago.
You should consider investing in a good camera in order to get high-quality shots while exploring the Arctic. Carrying a spare battery with you is a very good idea and will help you to avoid being caught short when you’re most in the mood to start snapping away.
If you’re an avid photographer (or a novice looking to learn) you might like to go one step further and take up the opportunity to enlist in a dedicatedphotography workshop while on your trip with Wildfoot. Many of our expeditions offer this as an optional activity (usually at no extra cost) and anyone who’s keen to expand their skills is very much encouraged to join in.
These workshops are an extremely worthwhile experience, as they are led by experienced professional photographers, who are also experts in wildlife and polar photography – an important factor, as the environment and conditions present some very unique challenges.
Many of our expeditions offer these workshops, so if you’re interested make sure you speak with your Wildfoot consultant about it.
Checklist of Essentials
There are some things that we believe are essential to ensuring you’re safe, comfortable and warm during your trip to any of our Arctic holiday destinations. Bear in mind these are all just recommendations, but because we know the region like the back of our hands, we do know what we’re talking about.
In terms of baggage you should try to stick to one suitcase, hold-all or backpack plus a small daypack for excursions and activities.
Clothing, Footwear, Toiletries
Layers are the best option so we recommend bringing a range of clothing that can be utilised on its own or as a layer.
Along with pyjamas, undergarments and optional swimsuits, bring both long and short sleeved shirts, long pants and shorts (zip-off pants are highly practical), a rain jacket, sun hat, jacket, windbreaker and sweaters. Depending on the class of cruise you book you might also want to pack some smart casual attire for dinners. Multiple pairs of comfortable, breathable socks are essential, along with a couple of pairs of footwear, which should include closed-toe waterproof walking shoes and sports shoes, sandals or flip/flops (depending on the time of year).
In terms of toiletries make sure that along with your regular requirements (and any prescription medicines) you add some sunscreen, anti-histamines, plasters, lip balm, hand sanitizer, and moist towelettes.
You will definitely need some good quality sunglasses due to the sheer brightness of this environment, with high-factor sun cream an absolute must on account of the UV light and clear air. Binoculars (for better wildlife spotting) and pen knives can prove to be worth their weight in gold, too. You should also consider bringing a small umbrella, notebook and pens, playing cards or games, purification tablets, water filter and small gifts for guides or local children.
Leave at Home
We highly recommend you leave any valuables and jewellery at home. You won’t have any need for them!
Of course, you’re welcome to get in touch with our expert team at any point if you have any queries about what to take and how to stay comfortable during your adventure. We are more than happy to use our knowledge and experience to benefit you, and are passionate about helping you make your trip a success.
If you want more advice on preparing your luggage have a look at our video:
Ready to Go? Let’s Go!
Talk to us today if you’re keen to secure a booking and prepare yourself for a trip quite unlike any that you will have embarked on before – or will ever embark on again. We can’t wait to take you on your adventure of a lifetime to our range of Arctic holiday destinations where you will discover the unique wildlife and truly extraordinary landscapes for yourself.
Pick up the phone or send us an email whenever you’re ready and we’ll be waiting to help you plan every last detail of your trip.
Some of Our Favourite Trips
There’s so much to see, do and explore in the Arctic and below are some of our favourite itineraries – all designed by people who’ve been there themselves! That’s the Wildfoot difference.
This fantastic cruise takes you on an 8-day trip that’s packed to the brim with adventure and has a focus on magnificent glaciers. Aboard the Safari Explorer or Safari Endeavour, the journey delivers a huge array of highlights including a visit to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Glacier Bay National Park, the Grand Pacific and Margerie glaciers, hiking through Tongass National Forest, and sailing around Chichagof Island, Sergius Narrows and Baranof Island.
With a range of excursions and activities available, you’ll be kept busy with kayaking, hiking, paddleboarding and skiffing, and you’ll see wildlife including whales, bears, otters, seals, porpoises and so much more!
Be dazzled and awed by the vast, icy beauty of Greenland (the world’s largest island) on this fabulous 17-day odyssey. Before boarding the vessel Sylvia Earle in Iceland for your adventure, you’ll explore the highlights of Reykjavik then head off for the adventure of a lifetime, discovering the wildlife and majestic scenery of Greenland’s east, south and west coasts.
As well as taking in the scenery of the fjords and mountains, including the stunning beauty of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Ilulissat Icefjord, you’ll visit Viking ruins and local communities, encounter wildlife like reindeer, Musk Ox and Arctic fox, and cruise icy waterways in a Zodiac.
Wilderness snowmobiling, spectacular scenery, remote lodge accommodation and as much fun as you can handle! This 5-day safari takes you into the frozen wilderness and allows you to enjoy the unique experience of exploring the landscape up close and personal in a way most people never target to see it.
Staying in the wonderful Spitsbergen Expedition Lodge, as your base, the location puts you between the valleys of Adventdalen and Eskerdalen, delivering views towards Skolten, the highest mountain on Nordenskiöld Land, and Drønnbre-massif. You may also explore the mountain massif between the Adventfjorden and Sassenfjorden fjords, or other routes north to Pyramiden, Fredheim, around the east coast of Spitsbergen or to the glaciers of Tuna and Von Postbreen. What an adventure!
Discover the fire and ice of inimitable Iceland in winter on this 8-day small group tour that takes in the majesty and intrigue of the country with an experienced local guide. Travelling in a comfortable, specially-modified 4WD off-road vehicle you’ll explore the extraordinary landscape and geological wonders at a relaxed pace, and stay in quality tourist class hotels. On this fabulous itinerary you’ll discover the diversity of Iceland through its waterfalls, beaches, hot springs, glaciers and national parks. You’ll visit Vatnajökull National Park to see the Glacier Lagoon, travel deep into incredible blue ice caves to marvel at their icy beauty, and enjoy multiple opportunities to go on the hunt for the famous Northern Lights.
The polar regions will always be irrevocably associated with many of civilisation’s greatest explorers, and while we by no means expect you to repeat their feats on your own excursions in the Arctic here at WILDFOOT, your visit will nonetheless almost certainly give you a taste for the spirit of exploration that inspired these greats. For evidence of that, one only needs to look to the vast range of exciting Arctic activities that we make possible.
Even the most conservative of our itineraries will take you to places that you have never before experienced, but some of our travellers wish to especially capitalise on that, through one of our more adventurous packages. With our sailings offering an average of three shore landings per day while in the Arctic and not ‘at sea’, there is opportunity to indulge in all manner of optional activities. Even those who remain on board can be thrilled by our comprehensive education programme, delivered by our leading Arctic experts.
But let’s imagine that you would rather hop off the ship every now and then – in which case, your excursions in the Arctic really will be like none other that you have ever experienced. It’s enthralling enough to witness the compelling polar wildlife at close quarters, from walrus and polar bears to whales and seals. But what about indulging your physical side by going hiking, skiing, climbing or dogsledding in the remarkable Spitsbergen, or discovering the Arctic’s magical underwater world, scuba diving and snorkelling with one of our seasoned Arctic Dive Masters by your side?
If you would like a more intimate experience of Arctic waters but fear that donning the snorkel and flippers may be a little too extreme for you, never fear – on some of our expedition voyages, you also have the option of kayaking. Just imagine drifting through majestic, isolated icebergs or just stopping in the middle of the water, miles from land, revelling in the solitude of one of the most remote spots on Earth. Many others choose shore excursions in the Arctic that give them an entirely different, but no less spectacular view of the region’s icescapes, land and wildlife.
There really is no experience quite like one of our famed excursions in the Arctic, and whether you take advantage of every possible excursion before you or instead concentrate on just the one or two that most excite you, with the intimate assistance of our guides, you can rest assured of a trip to be remembered for a lifetime.
If you are looking to explore the spectacular surroundings of theArctic Circle, cruiseships offer the best way to take in the sights – and we have a variety of excellent vessels waiting to welcome you onboard! A cruise is truly the best way to uncover the untouched beauty that this remote region has to offer, and whether you are planning a luxury excursion or want to make sure that your trip is packed full of adventure, it is easy to find the right cruise operator for you.
Not all vessels are the same, and you’ll want to choose one that ticks all your boxes from budget to passenger size and atmosphere. To help you find the type of Arctic Circle cruise that will offer you the experience you are looking for we’ve put together an overview of each group and examples of their ships.
Unlike a traditional cruise vessel, these mid range ships offer enough space to prevent cabin fever and accommodate sufficient passengers to make them more economical. They aren’t so massive, however, that your opportunities for landings are limited by having to take turns with the other passengers.
It is often the case that our Arctic Circle cruise ships lived a former life as a research centre before taking curious travellers around the world. That’s the case with Plancius, which originally functioned as a Dutch oceanographic research boat. This means that it’s well-equipped for the harsh weather that you might encounter in this frozen world. The stent and bow are ice-strengthened and, alongside the usual facilities such as a lounger, bar, dining room, and library, there’s also a lecture theatre.
Despite being able to carry more passengers, the guests are still limited to 116, which means it will never be overcrowded. You and your fellow passengers will be looked after by 45 wonderful staff and crewmembers.
The Ortelius was also a research ship with roots in Russia, and it too has been ice-strengthened making it ideal for polar explorations. Since her time as a scientific hub, she’s been entirely refurbished to offer a selection of quality suites and cabins. You will have the option of private or shared rooms, depending on availability. The guest count on board is set at 106 passengers, and the Ortelius offers two dining rooms and plenty of open deck space for whale watching. But the real treat is the helicopter land pad which is perfect if you’re looking to add a once-in-a-lifetime helicopter excursion over the Arctic circle. Cruise ships have never been so well equipped!
Just because you’re looking for real adventure doesn’t mean you have to compromise on comfort. These First Class expedition vessels emphasise high-level service and onboard facilities. If passenger numbers mean that it’s only possible to offer 1 daily landing per passenger then these vessels will have other invigorating activities available such as sea ice kayaking.
The Sea Spirit can accommodate up to 114 passengers, and every cabin boasts windows with incredible sea views, its own en-suite and even satellite phone access. If you’re lucky, you may even get yourself a room with a private balcony – just imagine sipping your morning coffee and spotting a whale in the freezing waters!
This larger vessel allows for more facilities such as a spacious dining room, gym and even a hot tub. Again, there is plenty of deck space for you to stretch your legs and admire the view, and this ship offers an open bridge policy. Although it is larger and heavier, the Sea Spirit is much faster than the mid-range vessels mentioned above, reaching a cruising speed of 15.5 knots.
When it comes to redefining the Arctic Circle cruise holiday, the Ultramarine leads the way. This brand new boat is changing what’s possible on a polar expedition, and if you ever thought heated flooring would be quite nice while exploring the Arctic, then the Ultramarine is the ship for you.
You shouldn’t worry, though, that luxury compromises on authenticity because it really doesn’t. As a passenger on the Ultramarine you are guaranteed to enjoy just as many close encounters with wildlife and scenery as you would expect on any of the smaller vessels.
Before we get to the accommodation, there’s so much on offer to excite the intrepid explorer in you. This vessel boasts more outdoor wildlife viewing platforms than most, providing incredible opportunities for unique sightings and photo opportunities. Furthermore, with two helicopters the activities on offer are out of this world. From aerial flightseeing to camping on ice, kayaking to cross-country skiing – whatever gets your adrenaline pumping, the Ultramarine has got it.
Besides the thrill-seeking opportunities, the facilities are out of this world. You will have seven different cabin styles to choose from, but all include private bathrooms (with those coveted heated floors), premium beds, windows and flat-screen TVs.
When it comes to the ultimate Arctic Circle cruise, these purpose-built expedition vessels offer top-of-the-range onboard facilities and high-end service levels that are hard to beat.
Something to take into consideration when planning your Arctic Circle cruise is the environmental impact. There’s a reason why this remote part of the world remains relatively untouched and that’s thanks to innovations such as those integrated into the Greg Mortimer. This new purpose-built expedition ship has been built to withstand the strongest winds and waves, using the ULSTEIN X-BOW, a novel nautical technology that reduces vibrations and motion at sea, which not only reduces the journey’s environmental impact but also makes the journey safer and more comfortable for passengers.
This cutting-edge technology reduces the ship’s carbon emissions by reducing the amount of fuel required to power it. Every aspect of the Greg Mortimer’s design has been crafted with the strict environmental standards of the Polar Code in mind. The custom-made viewing and Zodiac platforms minimise the intrusion of human presence, whether you’re looking for wildlife on deck or on the water. Plus, the facilities are top-notch too! Luxury cabins, a large dining room, a library and Wellness Centre complete with a sauna and spa mean that there’s a perfect balance between expedition and relaxation.
The Hondius is unique in that it is the first civilian ship on the planet to receive a Polar Class 6 notation, which means it complies with (and exceeds) the obligatory requirements of the Polar Code. Although it provides more than comfortable accommodation for 174 guests, the well-being of the surrounding environment has also been taken into careful consideration. Its sheltered Zodiac boarding zone means that any land-based activities can be carried out quickly, easily, and with the least impact on the natural habitat.
But your comfort is not forgotten! The M/V Hondius offers some of the very best accommodation in polar exploration, with a variety of suites to choose from. Some include suites with four portholes while others have their own private balcony. If you’re interested in the research being carried out in this part of the world, there is a whole deck dedicated to lectures and presentations, which will take your Arctic Circle cruise to the next level.
Although smaller, these intimate ships and yachts foster a sense of camaraderie and adventure whilst still being luxuriously furnished.
The Wilderness Legacy may be smaller, offering room for just 86 guests, but she is mighty. This beautiful ship is perfect for travellers who enjoy comfort but want to put adventure first when it comes to their Arctic Circle cruise. With four decks to enjoy, she is perfect for exploring the remotest regions of the frozen world in a more intimate setting. As well as two hot tubs on the largest deck, visitors can enjoy an open bridge, a spacious indoor lounge, a games room and a welcoming bar. Each cabin features a view window, a private bathroom and very comfortable beds – a warm welcome after a day of adventure.
Safari Quest is the smallest vessel we’ve introduced yet! In fact, with room for only 22 guests, she’s more of a yacht but she’s incredibly well-equipped for a cosy, Arctic exploration. Each of the eleven cabins, boasting either a viewing window or a balcony, has been thoughtfully furnished to maximise the sense of space whilst still remaining comfy. Despite being small, Safari Quest still has room to offer facilities such as a hot tub, fitness equipment and a lounge and bar.
Sailing vessels are for the true thrill-seekers looking for a hands-on sailing experience. While the accommodation is low-key, the adventure is the opposite! Perfect for intimate small groups.
Compared to the previous boats, this is something of a grandfather having been built in 1910. But the two-masted schooner is prepared for the at-times challenging conditions of the Arctic Circle. Cruise boats like this have true character and are fitted with ten basic cabins complete with twin bunks and shared bathrooms. You will feel like a real explorer, and the sense of camaraderie on these smaller launches is like nothing else. Nonetheless, there is still room for a bar and dining lounge.
SV Rembrandt Van Rijn
She may be a bit younger than SV Noorderlicht but the SV Rembrandt Van Rijn is still something of an antique, having first launched in 1922. However, with age comes experience (and a few updates as well) and this three-masted schooner offers passengers a true taste of being at sea on an expedition. There is room for 34 guests in twin cabins as well as a dining room, lecture space and even a separate bar. With a large deck space, there are also plenty of opportunities to try your hand as a crew member and help out with the sailing duties.
Our Team Picks
One of the benefits our customers enjoy is our team’s first-hand experience. We’ll share our opinions and recommendations with you to craft that perfect trip. So it naturally follows that we each have our favourites when it comes to vessels that cruise the Arctic.
One of our highlights for many reasons, the Sylvia Earle is unlike any other boat we’ve come across. Aside from her beauty and incredible facilities, the ship honouring accomplished marine biologist Sylvia Earle has one of the lowest polluting engines in the world and utilises cutting-edge technology designed to protect the natural environment. She has been designed to not only look after the surrounding habitats but also to ensure that every passenger is safe and sound and the journey is smooth, thanks again to the ULSTEIN X-BOW.
When it comes to comfort onboard, the Sylvia Earle features a beautiful Glass Atrium Lounge which offers incredible panoramic views. If that wasn’t enough, there’s even a swimming pool, gym, sauna and plenty of bars and lounges to relax in after a long, adventure packed day.
We love the Albatros for its innovation and green credentials. Another spanking new boat, she is built to the highest standards of the Polar Code and is ideal for polar cruising thanks to its X-Bow-Infinity class, providing the most stable of journeys even in awful weather. She is a low-energy yacht and has more than a 50% lower carbon footprint when compared to traditional expedition ships.
As well as the thoughtful design features, the Ocean Albatros is stylishly furnished and offers 95 rooms and suites, offering 9 different styles to choose from. There are even a few cabins dedicated to the solo traveller.
The Ocean Victory wins a place in our hearts for similar reasons to the Albatros; both are part of the Green Initiative Program and are low-energy which means they use electronic control to optimise fuel consumption and speed. As well as offering some of the most modern features you’ll find in polar exploration, the Victory has 93 comfortably furnished rooms and suites, all offering unobstructed sea views and nearly everyone will have a balcony.
There are also several communal areas to mingle with your fellow passengers, including restaurants, an open-air swimming pool, a Nordic Bar, a barbeque deck and more!
Le Commandant Charcot
We had to mention our love of the Commandant Charcot because there simply is no other ship like her. This vessel takes luxury and eco-travelling on an Arctic Circle cruise to the highest level. Not only is it designed for high specs but it is the very first hybrid-electric polar exploration ship powered by liquefied natural gas.
However, it’s the facilities on offer that win Commandant Charcot a place in our hearts. She offers travellers a stunning indoor swimming pool, spa, panoramic restaurant, lounge bar, observation lounge and plenty more! The 135 luxury cabins are generous with space and each has been designed to evoke the sense of cruising on a private yacht. What’s not to love?
Some of Our Most Popular Arctic Experiences
If these vessel descriptions have whet your appetite to explore the White Continent you should now consider some of the activities you can experience on these adventures.
A zodiac trip gives you the chance to fully immerse yourself in the surrounding environment during an Arctic Circle cruise – and might even get you close up and personal with some of the incredible wildlife. You and a group of up to 16 people will be able to zoom around frozen bays or glide quietly past floating hunks of ice that creak as you pass them. This is fun for everyone!
Polar Bear Watching
Polar bears are emblematic of the White Continent, so spotting your first one will be an unforgettable moment and is often at the top of passengers’ wishlists during an Arctic Circle cruise. There are a number of itineraries that offer polar bear watching as an activity and your guides will know exactly when and where you need to be to see them.
A photograph will never do this mystical spectacle justice and for many travellers, witnessing these magical lights is a moving moment. While there are a few locations around the world to watch the Northern Lights, there’s nothing quite like breathing in the cold Arctic air and looking up at the night sky filled with colour. We can help put together a trip that will give you the best chance of a sighting of this incredible natural phenomenon.
Whether you are a pro or an amateur, the frozen world of white is a photographer’s paradise. With vast landscapes, fantastic wildlife, and plenty of otherworldly scenes, Arctic Circle photography during an Arctic Circle cruise is an activity that everyone can try out.
Spitsbergen is one of the most interesting destinations in the northern hemisphere. It is part of Svalbard and is its only permanently-populated island. Svalbard belongs to northern Norway, with Spitsbergen being the 36th-largest island in the world. It also borders the Arctic Ocean, as well as the Norweigan and Greenland Seas. Here at WILDFOOT, we can assist if you have ever considered Arctic cruises in Spitsbergen.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, Spitsbergen was a whaling base before it became a hotbed for coal mining. It is now heavily associated with both tourism and research, with residents and visitors travelling from settlement to settlement via boats, aircraft and snowmobiles. It is home to a vast range of seabirds as well as reindeer, Polar bears and marine mammals. Spitsbergen is also where you can find six national parks, and is loved for its mainly untouched character.
The island also features various mountains, fjords and glaciers. So wild and remote is this part of the Arctic, that there are 3,000 polar bears roaming around Spitsbergen. As there are no roads connecting the settlements, Spitsbergen is also necessarily home to around 4,000 snowmobiles. There are no sunrises for four months, between October and March, and when the sun finally does resurface, its return is marked by Solfestuka, a weeklong celebration that consists of parties, exhibitions and music.
Longyearbyen is one of the busiest parts of the region, a place where reindeer rub shoulders with humans on a regular basis. Spitsbergen is also known as the home of the world’s most northernmost gourmet restaurant, which has more than 20,000 bottles of wine and has received the equivalent of the Michelin star for the quality of its cuisine.
Here at WILDFOOT, we’re waiting to hear from you if you’re interested in exploring Spitsbergen. We offer a range of unique packages that allow you to experience the glory of Spitsbergen and see it with your own eyes. Our team members are experts when it comes to what the region has to offer and are keen to help you to plan the perfect expedition to Spitsbergen.
We can even take you around Spitsbergen by sailing ship, so why not enquire today about what might just be a journey never to be forgotten?
Thanks to our experienced and knowledgeable team here at Wildfoot Travel we can offer our customers the very best bespoke Arctic adventures. Every one of us has travelled extensively to the regions offered in our packages. Planning an adventurous holiday for your next getaway or looking for a wildlife bonanza in the Alaskan wilderness? Our expert guides who are on board the vessel know where all the best spots are to see a polar bear or when’s the best time to explore the ice on a sea kayak.
It’s fair to say that the remote nature of many parts of the Arctic is key to their appeal and, in our experience, it doesn’t get more remote than the archipelago of Svalbard. Holidaysto this region, and in particular, the island of Spitsbergen, are guaranteed to make memories that will last your lifetime. The world’s most northern permanently inhabited area bar a few military bases, this particular part of Norway has plenty to recommend it, even for veteran travellers of the Arctic.
What draws visitors to the Arctic?
Why should you personally mull over joining one of the Arctic cruises to this remote destination on offer from WILDFOOT? In our opinion it’s the chance to catch sight of striking aspects of Arctic nature, including a good variety of native plants and animals, that should be a major draw.
The Svalbard holidays put together by our experienced team offer opportunities to see the kind of glaciers and mountains that give the Arctic region its iconic character. After all, the name Spitsbergen from the original German, means ‘pointed mountains’. However, look more carefully and you should soon also be able to spot polar bears, which are one of the island’s biggest tourist attractions, and other local animals like foxes, seals, walruses and reindeer.
Landscape and Wildlife
Svalbard holidays aren’t really complete if you don’t experience a hike on one of the islands in the archipelago. From the choice on offer, Forlandet is one of the most breathtaking. This small island is the westernmost piece of land that you can reach in this region – the next stop after this is Greenland! The landscape is defined by spectacular alpine mountains that surround the vast coastal plains below. It’s quite a harsh-looking vista, which makes for incredible photo opportunities and even better hiking routes.
While the flora is relatively scarce due to the tough conditions out here, you’ll still have the chance for some animal spotting. Many walrus make their home on the coast of Forlandet so keep your eyes peeled for a sighting.
This lesser-known fjord is something of a known secret, due to its limited accessibility. However, we can arrange for you to travel on a cruise ship with a flexible itinerary so that you will have a good chance of witnessing this breathtaking world of ice, often described as one of the most spectacular corners of the west coast. Parts of the fjord are almost entirely surrounded by glaciers, making it feel as if you’ve been transported to another planet. Adding to this effect is the imposing peaks of mountains and the huge Sophiakammen rock wall.
As well as the scenery you can catch sight of polar bears. Hornsund is only a few kilometres from the popular polar bear hangout, Hamburgbukta. As well as seeing the giant white bears in the summer months, there are also many seabirds for the twitchers among you.
Located on the north coast, Raudfjorden boasts beautifully varied landscapes distinguished by an orange-red soil and boasts a particularly rich array of plant and animal life. Unlike Hornsund, the climate here is much more favourable, which means flora and fauna have a better chance of survival. The clay-coloured soil provides a viable home for plants such as the Purple saxifrage and another you’re probably familiar with: the Spider Plant.
If you’re a bird lover, we’ll make sure that we include a visit here. Breeding Arctic terns, Common Eider and even a King Eider can be seen in fairly large numbers. Just be sure to respect the habitat of the birds during this season and keep your distance so as not to disturb them.
It might surprise you that around 5,000 years ago temperatures were warmer in this part of the world, about 4 degrees to be exact. Thanks to the colder climate in the last few millennia, conditions for glaciers and permafrost have been perfect. This means the glaciers that you’ll see on here are a lot younger than you might expect but that doesn’t make them any less impressive. Today, roughly 60% of the area’s landmass is covered by glaciers, a key feature that you cannot miss.
14th of July Glacier
Spitsbergen is glacier central, which means you have lots of fantastic opportunities to explore them. However, our team unanimously agrees that this glacier is particularly spectacular. Named after Bastille Day in France, the 14th of July Glacier is located in north-western Spitsbergen and surrounded by dark mountains, adding to the dramatic effect of the landscape. Whenever we find ourselves on an expedition to this area we are especially moved by the contrast of the white ice against the background. It’s simply breathtaking. During your visit, be sure to keep an eye out for the breeding puffins that make their home nearby.
Zodiac cruises along the edge of the Monaco Glacier
From our experience, there’s no better way to immerse yourself in this unique world than by taking to the water. Monacobreen (or Monaco Glacier) is the perfect destination for a zodiac cruise. There is simply nothing like the sound of creaking ice breaking the eerie silence as you move smoothly through the icebergs that float in the cold water. The scenery is stark, if you imagine Svalbard holidays to be full of vistas of vast ice walls and floating icebergs then this is the place you’d be imagining. We love to organise itineraries that include this once-in-a-lifetime experience, so if you’re interested, be sure to let us know.
History and Culture
Given that the population of about 2,600 is so small and so much of the nature remains untouched, you could be excused for reckoning that there can’t be much historical sightseeing to enjoy on any of WILDFOOT’s Arctic cruises. You would actually be wrong to reckon so!
Longyearbyen, with its population of roughly only 2,000, is tiny for what is a ‘capital city’. However, it is home to two museums, Svalbard Museum and the Spitsbergen Airship Museum, where you can check out exhibits related to significant Arctic expeditions. Outside Longyearbyen, you can even see two Lenin statues, a legacy of Soviet Union influence in the area.
Longyearbyen: A unique Arctic town
Situated in the valley between the shores of Adventfjorden, this unique settlement is surrounded by mountains and glaciers. Despite being the ‘metropolis’ of the area, there are only 40 kilometres of roads, which connect the town centre with different parts of the town. It might be small but it’s an important part of the archipelago offering a gateway to nearly all nature-based activities for most Svalbard holidays – and the wilderness of the Arctic can be found right in the centre of town.
As well as a friendly, international community, you’ll find all kinds of animals roaming the streets of Longyearbyen, so keep your wits about you. It might be wild reindeer but it’s not uncommon for polar bears to venture into the town, drawn in by the prospect of food.
As well as the beauty and unique atmosphere of Longyearbyen, here are some interesting things that we thought you’d like to know before you visit:
There’s only one grocery store
Everyone takes their shoes off before entering hotels or restaurants (a tradition that goes back to the old mining days)
Whale watching from your window is a normal pastime
The streets are numbered instead of named
Ny-Ålesund: A scientific village
If you’re interested in explorers, then you’ll know Ny-Ålesund as the starting point for the Arctic exhibitions led by Roald Amundsen – you can still see the mooring that was used for the “Norge” airship. There’s lots to interest you in the world’s northernmost settlement, which only has about 40 residents throughout the year.
While its history is rooted in coal mining, today the village is used as a hub for scientists studying the surrounding landscape. It’s also the location of The Norwegian Mapping Authority’s geodetic station, which means the use of wifi and Bluetooth is prohibited. No Netflix here, we’re sorry to say. But it’s this radio silence that adds to the quirkiness of the village. Plus, it boasts the world’s most northern post office!
This small island in the northwest corner of Spitsbergen is a popular destination on our Svalbard holidays for history lovers. Danskoya, meaning ‘Danish Island’, is world-renowned as the site where Salomon August Andree made two attempts to launch his hot air balloon (The Eagle) in 1896 and 1897. Tragically, he and two of his team were found dead in 1930 in Kvitoya. But the failed attempts didn’t do much to repel others from trying the same. In 1906, 1907 and 1909, American journalist Walter Wellman tried to reach the north pole in an airship that was to follow the same path as Andree; he failed on all attempts. However, both explorers left several artefacts which draw many tourists every year. We think it’s a truly incredible destination.
We wish we had the space to mention even more than this…
These are just a few tips for enhancing your experience after booking one of our Arctic cruises. There are so many other reasons to be excited about your trip but WILDFOOT can assist in making your journey one to remember.
Other Destinations to Combine with Our Svalbard Holidays
Many of our itineraries can be combined with other destinations. Here are a few of our personal favourites which we think would be a wonderful addition to your Arctic itinerary.
A perfect destination to include on an Arctic Circle tour. We’ll sail you through the narrow channels and fjords of the coast on Zodiac excursions that give you access to the rich wildlife and fauna. In addition, Greenland’s iconic towns and villages nestled beneath the soaring peaks of the dramatic mountainscape, are bursting with Norse history and culture.
The members of our team who accompany you on these trips are as experienced in helping you spot the orcas, whales and eagles as they are in sharing the historical background that will enrich your visits to the local settlements.
We often recommend that you start a holiday to the region from Reykjavik. Our team never tires of a chance to experience the vibrant capital city of Iceland and would be delighted to share its highlights with you. We also send many of our customers on the Golden Circle tour – an amazing way to kick off the adventure of a lifetime with a visit to Thingvellir National Park, its geysers and Gullfoss Falls. We’re certain that you’ll end up loving Iceland as much as we do.
This mystical island has a long history and is characterised by the cloak of mist that rarely clears. It was first occupied in the 17th century by Dutch and English whalers, but today it’s used as the site of a meteorological station and a destination we love to add to the itineraries of our Svalbard holidays. Without a doubt, the scenery is the main draw to Jan Mayen. Its landscape is defined by a volcanic presence, which is never far away thanks to the active volcano, Beerenburg, in the north half of the island. In the southern part, you’ll find evidence of former eruptions, as the land is marked by huge lava flows, cinder cones and striped hillsides. If you’re looking for some unique photo opportunities, we’d highly recommend visiting this destination.
We can’t wait to help you find the perfect option from our range of Arctic holidays. Contact us with your wishlist and we’ll be sure to help you plan your dream adventure.
Nothing compares to the adventure and thrill of one of WILDFOOT’s inspirational Arctic packages. Our talented team use their experience and passion to ensure that every trip is personalised and bespoke, meaning that you’re guaranteed the adventure of a lifetime.
Including the very best that our Svalbard holidays have to offer. This voyage takes you through unique landscapes full of local wildlife. You can expect dramatic scenes of mountain-scapes and ice formations, plus plenty of opportunities for spotting creatures like the Arctic fox and the iconic Polar Bear.
This adventure includes all the highlights mentioned in this blog, such as the lush Shetland isles, the picturesque Faroe Islands and the remote Jan Mayen Island. This itinerary showcases the best that this isolated part of the world has to offer and is truly unforgettable.
This unique voyage allows passengers to witness the changing of the seasons, as the winter landscapes transform into springtime, which is the perfect time to spot wildlife. You can expect to see reindeer, seals, walruses, Arctic foxes and even the magnificent polar bear, as well as plenty of birdlife.
If you want to travel with all the home comforts, this is the trip for you. Aboard a luxury vessel, you’ll discover the wonders of this beautiful part of the world. Sailing past ice floes and exploring in the Zodiac, there’s just as much as an adventure with a little more luxury.