The Arctic is one of the most rugged, remote, ice-choked and unexplored regions in the world and we can help you get there. If you are thinking about visiting the Arctic, read further:
Where do you go on an Arctic cruise?
The Arctic is often considered to be the area 60 degrees north from the equator, looping around the top of the globe. This area is defined by the Arctic Circle and it is above this circle that you can experience 24 hours of daylight in summer and 24 hours of night in winter. The Arctic Circle is not located as high as you might expect: It runs just above the middle of Norway and across the top of Finland and Sweden.
The Arctic includes parts of a number of different countries: Norway (including Svalbard), Swedish Lapland, Finnish Lapland, Russia (High Arctic North East), the United States (Alaska), Canada (Yukon, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories), Greenland, and Iceland (where it passes through the small island of Grímsey). Within the cruising industry, this region is also commonly called the High Arctic.
Your typical Arctic cruise could visit any of these regions, except Alaska which generally gets sold as a separate region. Some cruises include several different Arctic regions, such as an 18-day Greenland, Norway and Iceland cruise whilst other Arctic cruises just concentrate on one location, such as the Svalbard voyages which begin and end in Svalbard.
Regarding the North Pole, it is not currently owned by any single country. It sits in international waters and the closest land is the Canadian territory Nunavut and then Greenland. Cruises from Murmansk (North West Russia, quite close to Kirkenes, Norway) are the only specific ones that reach and land on the North Pole, provided that the weather is on their side.
Deciding on an Arctic cruise: Does the size of the ship matter?
There are a variety of options for passenger ships, each with different capacities for passengers. This can range from the capacity to carry a few dozen passengers to the capacity to carry close to 1000 passengers. The size of the boat you choose will affect the overall experience you have.
A key consideration is how efficient the ship is in catering for its travelling numbers. For instance, ships with well-planned social, panoramic and functional space makes for a much more comfortable journey. Larger ships feature a lot more cruise ship-style amenities that smaller ships cannot (dining rooms, saunas, fitness centres, bars), but they also need to be small enough to navigate into canals and narrower landscapes.
Not having to queue for anything, in our opinion, is the ideal situation. Alongside this, the right amount of service and expedition staff greatly improves your Arctic cruise. Experts on board, such as a migratory birding expert also makes a big difference to what you get out of the cruise.
Secondly, picking a ship that has an efficient system in getting you off for excursions is also very important. It might seem incidental, but when the ship stops and you are heading out for an excursion, it is very frustrating having to queue. You want a ship with effective ways to get you off the boat and into the action!
What time of year should I go on an Arctic cruise?
Weather, and ice particularly, often set the schedule for journeys to the Arctic. If you are interested in seeing polar bears, it is often recommended to travel in early spring just as the pack ice is breaking up, so that you are more likely to see the polar bears still at sea hunting seals. It is still possible to see polar bears throughout the peak and late summer, however during this time the polar bears are more often found on land. In this case, you are unable to pull up onshore and therefore watch the bears from rib boats. However, it is still a good, alternative way to see the bears. Late summer also brings more predictable weather, longer summer days and more colour to the landscape with flowers and autumn colours.
Many of the more remote, adventurous expedition voyages to the Arctic only have one departure per year, however several different shipping companies will offer virtually identical itineraries within days of each other to coincide with the optimum time to travel in that spot. You just need to weigh up what works for you with one of our polar cruise experts.
A degree of flexibility is necessary as conditions can be unpredictable even in midsummer. The captain and crew will always have alternatives on offer and the very things that cause your itinerary to be altered can themselves be a different or better option to what the cruise plan was. For example, getting stuck in unseasonal pack ice may mean multiple chance encounters with polar bears!
We understand that when anyone thinks of the Arctic, they think of COLD. And yes, it is pretty cold, but it is not so bad! Inside the ship, there is good heating and air conditioning and new ships have the option to adjust the temperature inside the cabins. Outside from May to August, the temperature ranges from -2C to + 12C / 28F to 54F (average daily low and high). It can get up to a pleasant mild temperate mid-summer (T-shirt weather when hiking).
In any case, you are often provided large outer jackets and boots to wear, helping you combat the cold winds. However, be sure to bring a warm woollen hat and a good pair of gloves. Special waterproof boots also protect the natural environment from anything harmful being introduced.
May & June (Late Spring / Early Summer):
- Polar bears will still be hunting seals on the ice floes
- Sami reindeer migrations in Northern Norway
- Winter snow and ice still in abundance, especially on the mountains. The scenery is white, clean and pristine with pack ice and icebergs
July and August (Mid-Summer):
- Normally the Arctic's warmest months with Arctic flowers in full bloom
- Longer days create great light conditions and you can experience the 24-hour midnight sun
- Whale watching opportunities increase
- Wildlife sightings at their height - especially birds and white arctic animals such as the fox and rabbit are easier to see. These animals think they are still camouflaged, so stay still when spotted, white behind the summer reds!
- Best time for beluga whales in Canada
- North-west passage accessible
October - November (Autumn / Fall):
- Northern Lights viewing, however you need to be aware that this is the stormy, unsettled time of year.
What are the highlights I should not miss?
One of the main differences between the two poles - people - actually becomes one of the main highlights of the Arctic. The Arctic has been inhabited by people for many thousands of years whereas the Antarctic has never had any indigenous population and still doesn't have any permanent residents (although not through a lack of trying). There are many groups of Arctic peoples such as the Sami, Inui and Chukchi amongst others, each with their own traditions and cultures. These indigenous populations make a huge impact on your appreciation of the region and the hardship of living in this Arctic climate. Also, the indigenous populations are not the only ones to have left their mark. On remote Arctic cruises, many landings involve seeing historic ruins of bygone industries, such as tiny remote cabins for hunters, derelict and forgotten.
Pre and Post Arctic Cruise Planning
There are a number of easy access points to the Arctic all around the northern hemisphere. Flights are regular, frequent, and as affordable as many other routes - and often direct! The Northern Europe section of the Arctic is very popular as the Gulf Stream that warms the west coast of Europe keeps the North Atlantic largely free of ice and therefore easy to access. Iceland, Greenland, Norway, Svalbard, and Russia in the area of the Barents Sea are all good starting points to experience the Arctic. Longyearbyen is the main town in Svalbard, Norway and it is where most Polar Bear Cruises start and end. Flights from Oslo are short and, if booked early enough, very economical.
There are many cruises that start or end in the Canadian Arctic that include scheduled or charter flights to / from major airports such as Ottawa and Edmonton. A number of smaller habitations such as Resolute, Iqaluit and Cambridge Bay have airports that can transit passengers from larger cities to waiting cruise ships. In the East, Newfoundland and Quebec can be the start or end points for cruises. If you are trying to compare Arctic cruise prices, don't forget to find out about these charter flights as they are often an additional cost to your cruise.
The town of Anadyr in the far eastern region of Chutotka region is a hub for land and sea journeys into the Russian Arctic. It is also the starting or ending point of longer Arctic cruises along the Northeast Passage ending at Svalbard, and one end of journeys that include Nome in Alaska.
Do I need a visa for visiting the Arctic?
The Arctic is a geographic rather than a political region and documentation or visas may be required depending on your country of origin for all or any of the countries you may visit during your Arctic trip.
Where to from here?
For more information on Arctic Cruise options with 50 Degrees North, please see our Arctic tours or contact us at email@example.com