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.
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.