Cruise to Svalbard: Cooling Off In An Arctic Summer

Posted by on March 31st, 2023

Sunset twilight over pack ice in the Arctic.

Years ago, when Vaya first began arranging trips to Antarctica, I was fortunate to be invited to travel south to the end of the world to research this dream destination. That Antarctica trip was truly the most spectacular travel experience of my entire life. So of course, I was thrilled this past summer when I learned I would now be traveling north, to the other end of the world, to plant the proverbial Vaya flag and begin our new Arctic travel program. Today, I am eager to share more about my first trip to this extraordinary destination as the High Arctic has quickly topped my list of favorite places to spend your summer vacation!

The High Arctic: Venturing to the Top of the World

Where does this strange attraction of these polar regions come from, so powerful, so tenacious that after returning from them, one forgets the moral and physical fatigues to think only of returning to them?” 

Jean-Baptiste Charcot – French doctor, scientist, and polar expedition leader and explorer

My journey aboard Oceanwide Expedition’s Hondius, a premium expedition polar ship, took me deep into the Arctic Circle to Svalbard, an archipelago that belongs to Norway. It’s as close as you can get to the North Pole via a regular commercial flight. It’s also where you can find the world’s northernmost craft brewery, church, and fine-dining restaurant (which also happens to have one of Europe’s largest wine cellars!). And Svalbard is a major wildlife hotspot in the Arctic, home to seals, walruses, puffins, Arctic foxes, whales, reindeer, and perhaps the most iconic species of the region—the polar bear. The classic Svalbard cruise itinerary is one of the most popular options to explore the High Arctic. This expedition typically circumnavigates the archipelago while other shorter cruise itineraries will focus just on a smaller section of the coastline.

Passengers gathered at the bow of  Hondius, the Oceanwide Expedition's expedition cruise ship, as it travels through pack ice.
Aboard the Hondius deep in the Arctic pack ice

What Exactly Do You Do in the Arctic?

The question I most often get about the Arctic (and Antarctica) from clients, friends, and family alike is: What exactly does one do there? Well, first, you bawl like a baby because it’s one of the most breathtaking and surreal places you’ve ever seen. There are few places left on earth that are so raw, remote, and truly humbling, and this is one of them. After that, there are lots of things you’ll do!

All polar cruises will include zodiac boat safaris to admire the glaciers and icebergs and search for wildlife. You’ll also have various landings to hike along the shores and hills and visit the region’s fascinating historical sites. Some itineraries offer more adventurous excursions like kayaking, snow-shoeing, stand-up paddleboarding, and longer, more challenging hikes. And sometimes, you may just relax on your private balcony with a glass of wine as the icebergs glide by below.

The Arctic for Photographers

For photographers in particular, the polar regions are a must. Besides the wildlife, the landscapes at the top of the earth are surprisingly varied: bright blue waves lapping the shore of sandy beaches, soaring black granite peaks, grassy green hills dotted with grazing reindeer, fields of bright fuchsia wildflowers, and of course, glaciers, icebergs, towering ice shelves, and pack ice as far as the horizon.

A large turquoise iceberg floating in icy Arctic waters.
Cruise among turquoise icebergs in the waters of the High Arctic.

A single tiny cabin along the shore with huge striking cliffs and steep sand hillsides positioned just behind.
Dramatic cliffs and tiny isolated cabins are among the sights to be discovered when traveling to the Arctic.

Purple Arctic flowers seen along the shores of the Svalbard coast.
Summer flowers discovered on shore while cruising the Arctic.

Blue skies and views of snow-capped mountains overlooking the tidal waters along Svalbard's picturesque coastline.
The coastal views of Svalbard.

A Travel Specialist’s Favorite Arctic Trip Moments

  • Sailing through the pack ice was one of the most peaceful, serene, and inspiring experiences I’ve ever had. Jean Baptiste was right. The wind, feeling so small among the vastness of the ocean, the crackling of ice, and the somehow cacophonous sound of the silence—this Arctic expedition cruise will stay with me forever!
  • That very first polar bear sighting after days (well, really months!) of anticipation
  • A massive male polar bear resting on the pack ice with a fresh kill 
  • Seeing the remnants of the fascinating history of human exploration at the top of the world
  • Seeing new species for the first time (and learning about their vibrant personalities)

How to Get Started Planning Your Dream Arctic Adventure

A cruise to Svalbard is really just the tip of the iceberg (pun fully intended) when it comes to Arctic travel. Greenland offers a unique mix of fascinating culture, some of the most dramatic and pristine scenery in the region, and active land-based excursions. Or journey through the Northwest Passage, a cruise that follows one of the main migratory routes for many species of wildlife and traces the footsteps of famed explorers throughout history. During the Arctic winter, you can see the Aurora Borealis (the northern lights) dance across the sky. Or you can even join the exclusive group of very few who have set foot upon the North Pole itself.

Reach out to one of our Polar specialists to learn more about all the possibilities for travel to the Arctic!

Call us and start planning your journey today.

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