At the mention of the Arctic Circle, one can’t help but imagine icebergs, seals, walruses and polar bears. Most of us learn about the Arctic from books and television from which we understand that it is the coldest and most remote place on earth.
No matter how utterly bleak the Arctic is – did you know that there are expedition cruises to the Arctic for travellers?
Yes, that’s right. Modern travellers can realise their dreams by going on an expedition cruise to the Arctic which for many of us consider it as a trip of a lifetime. I have always wondered – what is it like to be on an Arctic cruise? Well, let’s find out, shall we?
Arctic cruise is different from the “normal cruise”
Cruise to the Arctic is unlike the “normal cruise” in which the latter has 3,000 passengers who are provided activities and entertainment onboard and sightseeing trips upon disembarking at ports.
Cruise to the Arctic, however, is an expedition cruise run by smaller ships containing at the most 100 passengers, and educational lectures are conducted by naturalist guides onboard to enhance knowledge on the local environment from walruses to glacial geology. The expedition team also helps passengers to spot animals when viewing wildlife on deck.
Shore landings are subject to weather and wildlife conditions
Passengers of Arctic cruises are given plenty of opportunities to disembark from the vessel for shore landings with the focus on exploring the local environment and wildlife.
However, be prepared for shore landings to be called off or curtailed for in such a remote place, Mother Nature always rules. Visibility can reduce tremendously in thick fog or the landing spot is inaccessible due to ice. Or in some cases, shore landings can be cancelled when a polar bear is spotted! This is because the expedition guides always ensure that safety for the passengers is Number One. They send out scouts to make sure that there are no bears on the shore landing area and they usually carry guns when passengers disembark for off-vessel excursions. Passengers need to adhere to strict protocols at all times when going out to see wildlife, swimming, kayaking or hiking.
One can never be sure when the next shore landing is but be prepared for plans to be cancelled for a few days before the expedition team gets the all clear for the next landing.
Best time for Arctic Cruise
The best time to go on an Arctic Cruise is during the summer when daylight is 24 hours and icebergs have receded enough to allow the vessels to explore. Because of the 24-hour sunlight, one can see many bird species and other wildlife reveling in the warm temperatures.
Expedition cruises also take place outside of summer, either early in the season or during winter but expeditions tend to be shorter. Cruising in the early season means that one can easily spot polar bears and walruses as these animals have finished their winter hunting whereas cruising during the winter means one can witness the spectacular Northern Lights.
How is the Arctic Cruise different from the Antarctica Cruise?
Many travellers wonder what is the difference between an Arctic or Antarctica cruise. Although Artic and Antarctica are the coldest places on earth, they are both polar opposites (with pun intended!) in terms of geography and wildlife, hence the experiences on both cruises are said to be completely different.
The Arctic consists of a vast frozen ocean around the North Pole surrounded by North America, Greenland, Svalbard, Northern Europe and Russia whereas Antarctica is just a frozen continent in the South Pole. The Arctic is also home to small settlements of indigenous population but the Antarctica is uninhabited save for a couple of research stations for scientists.
Polar bears are found in the Arctic but Antarctica is home to penguins. Polar bears are not easy to spot, in fact, some Arctic cruises to Svalbard in the north only saw four polar bears over eleven days, thus spotting polar bears is always the most sought-after goal on an Arctic cruise. However, penguins are in abundance in Antarctica for they live in giant colonies.
Coming back to the Arctic, even though the expedition cruises are costly, they are still the best way to venture to the North Pole to come face-to-face with spectacular natural landscape of icebergs and deep fjords, polar bears, walruses and whales. In the past, most people assumed that only explorers would go to the Arctic Circle but today, it is possible for the modern traveller.
Will I foresee myself on an Arctic cruise some day? Time will tell 🙂
*All images sourced from Oceanwide Expeditions with permission.