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
Whether you're heading north to catch of glimpse of the ice bear, experience the pack ice or to sail Svalbard's sheltered waters, there's a wide enough choice of ship to suit every kind of traveller.
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.
M/V Plancius (116 passengers)
Built in 1976 for the Dutch navy, Plancius was remodeled for passenger exploration in 2009 and has spent a huge amount of that time in the ice around Svalbard.
We like her for her large open deck spaces and cosy atmosphere on board, as well as a hugely experienced onboard team
Ortelius (116 passengers)
A true workhorse of polar exploration and with a 1A ice class rating meaning she can get places others can't. Built in Poland in the 1980s there is a definite rustic feeling that really makes any expedition feel a little bit more real.
With plenty of deck space from which to look out for wildlife and take in the stunning scenery, she is a perfect basecamp for any expedition to Svalbard.
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.
Silver Explorer (132 passengers)
If you want to explore Svalbard in ultimate luxury and yet not sacrifice any of the expedition aspects then it is hard to look beyond the Silver Explorer. With spacious cabins and impeccable service, the ship is an incredible place to find yourself after a day out on the ice.
Trips on these selected ships
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…
Other Svalbard ships
- Ocean Adventurer
- Le Lyrial & Le Soleal
- Rembrandt van Rijn
- Sea Spirit
- National Geographic Explorer & Orion
Plan your trip
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Getting to Svalbard
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When to visit Svalbard
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Help Me Choose
We're all clear on where the Arctic is located and why we want to visit, but its vastness and the sheer variety of experiences on offer can be a real challenge when deciding where …