Things to consider

Choosing the right ship to travel aboard is a key decision when planning your Svalbard adventure. To help you get started, here are a few key tips on what to consider:

  • To be guaranteed the best chance of bear sightings you need to choose a ship capable of muscling into the pack ice, the true realm of the polar bear. Pick a ship with a high ice rating
  • Few people pay attention to a ship's draft, but it can make a real difference in Svalbard as ships with shallower drafts will be able to access areas others can't
  • Quieter ships often get good wildlife sightings compared to noisier ones as Arctic wildlife tend to be skittish
  • Kayaking is a fantastic optional add-on which gets rave reviews, but its not offered by all Svalbard ships, so choose carefully

Swoop Says

Svalbard ships

MS Expedition (134 passengers)

Our colleague Sarah was Expedition Leader on MS Expedition.

Naturally biased, she rates this ship in Svalbard for its spacious outer decks for great wildlife viewing, the captain and staff with their many years of experience, its capable 1C ice strength hull and the cavernous mudroom, where you leave your outdoor gear.


Akademik Ioffe & Vavilov (96 passengers)

Few ships are more capable in heavy ice than these sister ships. Coupled with their quietness through the water, allowing them to manoeuvre closer to wildlife, they're ideal for exploring Svalbard.

Other things we like are the optional kayaking, large expedition staff and generous outer decks so there's no jockeying for position when wildlife is sighted. Plus, the loan of full outer clothing is a nice add-on and simplifies packing.

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Ocean Nova (70 passengers)

Ocean Nova is our colleague Loli's favourite ship. She may be biased having worked on her for many years, but we all agree. In Svalbard, her strong hull and experienced captain means she can get deep into the pack ice where other ships can't go.

Clean Scandinavian lines and functional cabins are complimented by her intimate size and a well established onboard team.


Polar Pioneer (54 passengers)

A former Russian 'spy boat', what this small ship may lack in finesse she more than makes up for by her character and capabilities. Perfectly at home in heavy ice, the very experienced captain and expedition staff know Svalbard really well.

Plus, travelling with such a small number of passengers (max. 54) makes a real difference - it's more intimate. The kayaking programme on this ship is excellent.


Noorderlicht (20 passengers)

Travelling as part of such a small group, sailing rather than motoring where possible, with the chance to actually get involved with the running of the ship, this traditional ship offers a very different, more adventurous Svalbard experience.

The cabins may be basic cabins, but this won't lessen the appeal for somebody looking for a more elemental experience.


Trips on these selected ships

Other Svalbard ships

  • Ocean Adventurer
  • Plancius 
  • Ortelius 
  • Le Lyrial & Le Soleal 
  • Rembrandt van Rijn
  • Sea Spirit 
  • National Geographic Explorer & Orion 

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