Kay & Richard Howells (Baker)

United Kingdom



Customer Rating On return from their adventure we ask customers: “On a scale of 0-10, with 10 being the highest, how likely is it that you would recommend Swoop to a friend or colleague?”

Kay & Richard Howells (Baker)'s Trip Date:

16th Jul - 29th Jul 2018

Kay & Richard Howells (Baker)'s Ship:

Polar Pioneer

Overall, how was your trip?

The highlight has to be the close up sightings of polar bears (all 13 of them!) and also few pods Beluga whales. The real "David Attenborough moment" was watching a large male polar bear walk along the sea shore and amble in between a massive haul-out of around 150 walrus. The walrus were clearly a little concerned and some reared up and bellowed, but that didn't put the bear off. We were mesmerised as we watched the scene unfold from the Zodiacs. The landscape was spectacular. As a geographer in the past, I've read and studied all about these landscapes and features so it was fantastic to be able to explore them up close. The huge expansive glaciers, the majestic icebergs, the sea ice - it was all breath-taking! Another highlight was the walk we did on an actual glacier! Not many of us ventured there but it felt so different from anything I'd done before. There were so many other aspects to the wildlife too - arctic foxes, reindeer, huge haul-outs of walrus and seals (bearded, ringed, harbour and harp seals). The bird life was also incredible. There were too many to mention but the most significant bird experience was the after dinner Zodiac trip we took to view the sheer cliffs with millions of guillemots nesting on tiny ledges. The sky was black with them and we watched them swooping and diving as we slowly made our way along the cliffs.

In one sentence, what did you think of the Arctic? Did it live up to your expectations?

Amazing experience! The Arctic lived up to and even exceeded our hopes for the trip in every way.

Would you visit again?


How was the service that Swoop provided?

We were delighted with the recommendation made by Swoop regarding the trip we eventually booked. We'd been overwhelmed with the amount of information and choice of trips available when we looked on the internet so being able to explain what we were looking for and for Alex to come back with a limited choice, any of which would have hit the mark, was very helpful. Our eventual choice - "Spitzbergen Odyssey" was perfect. Alex's knowledge of the Polar Pioneer and its layout meant we chose an ideal cabin for us; although it was a little more expensive, having private facilities made all the difference. Aimee from the Swoop Team was very helpful in answering our questions and helping us ensure we had all the documents we needed.

How likely is it that you would recommend Swoop to a friend?

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

10 out of 10

How were your experiences on the guided excursions?

The expedition staff worked incredibly hard to ensure we had the best possible experience. Christian was the expedition leader and his knowledge and experience gave us a real insight into the Arctic. This year, due to the unusually high temperatures experienced across Northern Europe, we had to travel over 200km further north and much further east than usual to find any sea ice. Christian worked well with the Polar Pioneer captain to ensure that our route was quite different from the normal route and kept us informed every day as to what was happening through his daily briefings and updates as the day unfolded. Plans were changes on numerous occasions to accommodate polar bear sightings - either to get closer to watch them and in some cases, to avoid them so that we could actually land safely to explore! We made a number of landings. Sometimes there was a historical slant hearing about the explorers who had made attempts to reach the North Pole or and the whaling and seal hunters of the past. On other landings we focussed more on the amazing plant life of the tundra. Heidi, the naturalist on the expedition team was very knowledgeable, naming and explaining the myriad of tiny plants which spring to life during the Arctic summer. Heidi was invaluable during all wildlife sightings too. An excellent and engaging presenter, Heidi also gave 3 slide shows focussing on the wildlife which added to our understanding of what we'd seen or might expect to see. Christian also made 2 presentations about Nansen, one of the early Norwegian explorers and the ice itself. Both were very informative and added to our enjoyment of the trip. All team members were always helpful and friendly. we got to meet them all over the course of the trip, either through being in their Zodiac for one of the trips or sitting with them for meals.

​How would you describe {vessel.title} if talking to somebody potentially interested in going to the Arctic, and what tips would you pass​ on?

We'd never done any trips on a ship before; we're not experienced "cruisers" and so we didn't really know what to expect. what we didn't want was to be part of a huge trip on a massive ship that simply siled around. We wanted to get out and explore the Arctic and we wanted the smallest ship possible as we wanted to have as many Zodiac trips each day as possible. The Polar Pioneer was the perfect ship for us. There were 52 of us on the trip, all like-minded people with similar interests and whom enjoyed meeting. Each day we did 2, sometimes 3 Zodiac trips which meant we were off the ship a large part of the day, exploring our environment. The ship itself was old and unpretentious yet we felt at home straight away and most importantly - safe! Our cabin was one of the more spacious with 2 windows and ensuite facilities and that was thanks to Alex's recommendation. The accommodation was comfortable with plenty of storage space so we never felt cramped. The Russian crew were very polite and helpful and always ready to provide support . The food was hearty, nourishing and plentiful and the catering team worked very hard for us. Our cabin was cleaned and tidied regularly and it really was our home form home for the duration of the trip. We've certainly spoken very enthusiastically about our trip to our friends and family since returning and would have no hesitation in recommending the trip to anyone who might be considering something similar.

If Swoop arranged some of your travel before/after your voyage/group trip. How did we do?

We booked the flights ourselves and also the accommodation in Longyearbeyen (Coal Miner's Cabin). The 2 day extension in Oslo was part of the Aurora trip and the hotel - Bristol Thon was excellent.

Do you have any tips or advice for other people planning a trip to the Arctic?

Talking to Swoop made all the difference for us. Being able to cut through all the detail to find the perfect trip for us was invaluable. Alex was able to ask us the questions that helped us crystallise what we actually wanted from such a trip. These trips aren't cheap so you want to be sure you're going to get something that's right for you. Swoop made that happen for us.

Anything else? Tell us anything you’d like to share that we forgot to ask! It’s ok to leave this empty too :-)

We don't want to share our photos simply because they aren't spectacular as we've not got any high-tech kit. There will be others with far better pictures than ours! We just want to say thank you for making our trip so memorable.

13 people found this review helpful

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