What will I do on a Svalbard cruise?
Typically two off-ship excursions a day are arranged, lasting around 2-3 hours each subject to ice conditions and wildlife sightings which are influencing factors.
- Zodiac cruising along the glaciers edge searching for wildlife
- Walking the tundra learning about Svalbard's flora & fauna
- Going ashore to explore old whaling and trapping stations
- Pushing deep into the pack ice looking for the ice bear
- Optional extras may include kayaking in peace through the ice, snorkelling and diving for the brave, and the polar plunge.
Svalbard landing sites - Swoop Arctic
Top landing sites on Svalbard
The whole of Svalbard is a lesson in glaciology, however the Monaco Glacier is arguably one of the archipelago’s most beautiful. Approached by sailing up Liefdefjorden, you are confronted by a vast curtain of vertiginous blue-tinged ice over 7km (4.3 miles) wide, the last glacier before achieving 80° north.
It’s a majestic place and provides a fabulous backdrop for both zodiac cruising and walking the tundra. Black-legged kittiwakes frequent the glacier in their thousands and whales are commonly sighted in this area; it’s also a popular polar bear hangout, so keep your eyes peeled.
Alkefjellet Bird Cliffs & Hinlopen Strait
The name of Alkefjellet, or ‘Mountain of the Guillemots’, perfectly matches Spitsbergen’s most famous bird cliffs which plays host each summer to 60,000 pairs of breeding Brünnich’s Guillemot, as well as thousands of kittiwakes and black guillemots. With its sheer basaltic rock faces rising up to 100 metres high, Alkefjellet’s a magnificent spot and a perfect place to spend a few hours zodiac cruising watching the birds.
Hinlopen Strait is a narrow, frequently ice-choked channel dividing the islands Spitsbergen and Nordaustlandet. This 93 mile stretch of water holds the key to a successful circumnavigation of Spitsbergen by ship. Traditionally it’s not been until mid-July that it is ice-free enough to allow ships to navigate through.
The northernmost island of the Svalbard archipelago at a latitude of 81° degrees north of the equatorial plane; Phippsoya is only 540 nautical miles from the North Pole. Due to its proximity to the permanent pack ice, Phippsoya offers the potential for great polar bear sightings and has certainly lived up to expectation over the years.
Whether you’re fortunate with bear sightings or not, navigating through heavy ice is a thrilling experience and you really do get a sense of being off the map. Being so northerly it’s worth noting that access to Phippsoya can’t be guaranteed, even during the summer months, particularly earlier in the season (May - early July).
When you're travelling by ice-strengthened ship with a flexible itinerary to make the most of local ice and wildlife conditions, expedition cruising couldn’t be more different to a traditional cruise.
Since the Second World War it's Russians who have been the largely dominant nationality on Svalbard. While the mining which originally attracted them has steadily declined, the Russian built settlements of Barentsburg and Pyramiden (abandoned) are fascinating time capsules and hint at more prosperous times.
Barentsburg is a curious Soviet relic which like a ghost feels trapped in the past, in spite of its population of approx. 500 Russian and Ukrainian working miners. It’s an odd place for sure with brutally austere Soviet architecture, the obligatory Lenin statue and buildings at the point of collapse.
Bourbonhamna goes by many names, including Bamsebu (‘Hut at the Beluga bones’) and Fleur de Lys Hamna. Well known for beluga whales which can often be sighted transiting the narrow sound, it’s a stunning setting and a poplar landing site.
While the massive piles of beluga whale bones often capture people’s attention, an old hunting cabin and other historic artefacts make for interesting diversions as you walk the tundra. It's also a good place to see reindeer which inhabit the area in good numbers.
Introductory Svalbard trips
As the name suggests these shorter trips (6-10 days) offer an excellent introduction to the Svalbard, with daily off-ship excursions and good opportunities for wildlife sightings.
In-depth Svalbard trips
These longer trips (11-13 days) not only improve your chances of wildlife sightings, but the later departures also offer the opportunity to do a full circumnavigate of Spitsbergen.
This 11-day Svalbard voyage is a ‘classic’ providing ample time for near guaranteed polar bear sightings, alongside encounters with the region’s other plentiful wildlife and exploring its dramatic scenery. Phippsoya, 14th of July glacier and Hinlopen Strait are all popular…
Designed with photographers in mind, this extended 13 day voyage maximises photo opportunities. Travelling in early summer when ice is still prevalent, a fully flexible itinerary provides the best possible chances of capturing the white bear and other arctic wildlife…