Arctic trips come in all shapes and sizes. They range from the areas they visit to the activities you can do to the size and luxuriousness of the ship. How do you know you’re going to be choosing the cruise that gives you the most bang for your Arctic cruising buck?
“What do I want to see?”Your first step is to figure out which Arctic treats appeal to you the most.
Maybe you’re a bird-watcher looking to check off a few of the rarer species in your bird book. Maybe you’re a history buff looking to connect with some historic sites. Perhaps you’ve always wanted to get up close to the beauty of an ice berg, or stand out under the Aurora Borealis without it being dimmed by a city’s light pollution. And of course, for many people, wildlife is the biggest draw with the mighty Polar Bear being the king or queen of the heap.
Jot down a quick list of what you’re most looking forward to experiencing and from there you’ll have an easier time picking out the Arctic cruise best suited for your taste.
History buffsThere are three very broad categories covered by Arctic history:
- European exploration and industry (mining, whaling)
- Inuit and pre-Inuit culture (Thule)
- (Aside from Euro-history as a whole) Vikings
For broad European history try taking a look at Arctic cruises that centre around Svalbard (Spitsbergen). Located in the north of the continent, the Svalbard region was home to both whaling and mining venture, and its note-worthy history carried on right through to WWII.
Some cruises will allow you to spend time ashore exploring old abandoned whaling and mining stations, as well as the graveyards of the men who worked in the isolated terrain. Just keep in mind it’s a big no-no to try to take a souvenir home.
If you’re looking for an Arctic cruise centred more around the history of Inuit culture try investigating Greenland cruises. Greenland represents a fantastic mesh of the Inuit and European cultures.
And if it’s Viking history you’re looking for, then Greenland once again should hit the top of your list. Greenland is home to some still-standing Viking sites including Erik the Red’s farms, the Gardar settlement, and the ruins of the Hvalsey Church which was built around 1300 A.D.
Polar BearsOne of the biggest draws for any Arctic cruise is the chance to see Polar Bears. These Kings and Queens of the Arctic are loners (unless Mom is with her cubs) and of course no cruise line can 100% guarantee a sighting.
That being said, Svalbard should up your chances for a sighting by a significant degree. An estimated 3000 bears live in the area. In fact, it’s the law that people travelling outside the settlement must carry a gun for protection.
The runner-up for Polar Bear sightings is Greenland. Polar Bears are often seen swimming off the coasts of the island, on the hunt for delicious and sustaining seal meat.
Type of shipDifferent cruise lines offer a variety of ships. You can head out on your Arctic cruise on more luxurious crafts complete with hot tubs and spas, or you can go full-adventure mode and choose to set out on a much smaller sailing vessel.
Aside from the factor of luxury versus “roughing it” you should also keep in mind that the smaller sailing vessels are able to dip into much smaller bays and fjords that the bigger cruise liners simply can’t manage.
Arctic cruise activitiesWhat do you want to do once you reach the Arctic? If you’re just looking for a casual hike along the shores then almost any Arctic cruise will suit you just fine. However, if you’re looking for something a little more challenging then you’re going to want to pay a little more attention to your cruise options.
There are more strenuous hikes and snowshoeing. Kayaking. Ski mountaineering. Photo workshops for both the beginner and the more experienced. You can even go diving under the Arctic seas (experience is usually required).
IcebergsCanada’s east coast boats a location off of the province of Newfoundland’s shore known as “Iceberg Alley” with good reason. If you’re looking to combine your iceberg-gazing with one of the locations mentioned above then Greenland is a good bet, the country dubbing the region of Ilulissat Icefjord the “iceberg capital of the world.”
Whale-watchingWhale-watching destinations vary greatly depending on the species of whale and the time of year. If you have a specific type of whale you want to see you’ll have to do a little more in-depth research, but generally speaking an Arctic cruise around the Spitsbergen area or Iceland can up your chances to lay eyes on some of the oceans’ gentle giants.
Northern LightsThe Northern Lights cross across the whole of the Arctic, so there isn’t necessarily a tip top spot for taking in this wonderful phenomenon. Therefore instead of location you might want to pay more attention to the time of year.
The best time of year to see the Northern Lights on an Arctic cruise is during their winter months (September through mid-April) when it’s dark almost the year round. However there’s a catch – cruise lines generally don’t run during most of these winter months because the waterways freeze over.
So if the Aurora Borealis is at the top of your Arctic cruise to-do list then you’re going to want to book your journey at the edges of the dark season as best you can. Look for cruise lines with ice-safe ships that run through to December or begin their season early in the year around February or March.
This was written by one of our contributors. Photo from oceanwide-expeditions.com.
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