What to expect on an Arctic expedition voyage

What wildlife will I see in the Arctic?

Whales of the Arctic

Month-by-Month Guide to Svalbard Wildlife

Month-by-Month Guide to Northwest Passage Wildlife

Arctic Weather Guide

Preserving the Arctic

The Arctic is one of the most beautiful, unique and perfectly preserved regions on the planet. Its variety of landscapes are home to many amazing species, each uniquely adapted to its extraordinary climate.

Largely untouched and undisturbed, special guidelines exist to ensure it continues to be a constant source of wonder and inspiration.

The Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO) offer advice on how to have the safest and best experience possible, while keeping the Arctic pristine, in their short video.

What to expect in the Arctic

© Ralph Lee Hopkins

Zodiac cruises & landings

Exploring off-ship in the Arctic is split into two types of activity. Zodiac cruising and landings. In all instances, during your trip, you will need to abide by the AECO guidelines, which include keeping a safe distance from wildlife (minimum 5 metres) and avoiding any activity which may cause an animal to alter its natural behaviour.

Rubber zodiac vessels will be used to get you ashore for landings, after which you will explore on foot. Generally, these are wet landings, where the boat will push up onto the beach and you will then step out into the water and up onto the shore - hence the need to wear your waterproof boots and trousers/pants.

On arrival, you will be briefed by the expedition team as to the nature of the specific landing. They will point out the route, which will be marked by flags, any particular points of interest and any hazards to avoid. Landings may include walks up to a ridge point for a spectacular view, or you may be focussing on a wildlife encounter.

Tips for zodiac cruising

  • Wrap up warm! Put on extra layers as the lack of physical movement means that your body cools down much faster.
  • Keep your eyes peeled – the guide will always be looking for wildlife, but if you spot something interesting, please alert them.
  • Ask questions – whether it be about an iceberg, a seal you’ve spotted or a bird flying overhead. If your guide isn’t a specialist in that particular area, they will be able to radio the rest of the expedition team for more information.
  • Look at the ice – from the water level, you can really appreciate the myriad shapes and textures, not to mention the fifty shades of blue!
  • Stay quiet – especially if you are approaching wildlife as they will likely be resting and recovering their energy. It is also wonderful to experience the serenity of the Arctic, away from the ship’s engines and surrounded by crackling ice.
What to expect in the Arctic

Waterproof and windproof keeping out the chill on a zodiac

Tips for landings

  • Bring a backpack and dress in layers! Once you start walking you can get surprisingly hot. It's helpful to be able to strip off a layer and pop it in your backpack. This is also a useful place to store spare batteries, memory cards and other equipment.
  • Make sure to put the camera down every now and again so you don’t spend the whole time looking through a lens! Find a quiet spot and soak up the spectacular 360-degree vistas.
  • Don't attempt to touch Arctic wildlife, just enjoy the moment.

Zodiac cruises do not involve landing at all, instead, you will head out for a water-based adventure that could last 1-2 hours. This is one of Swoop’s favourite ways to explore the Arctic as it is the best way to enjoy spectacular icebergs and marine wildlife.

What to expect in the Arctic

Hikers take in the views on Scoresby Sun, East Greenland

Ship cruising & time on deck

If you are booked onto a voyage in the Arctic you will have 'ship cruising' time scheduled in, as well as zodiac cruises and landings. This often signals a time where the ship is making its way to the next location on the itinerary or passing through somewhere particularly jaw-dropping, which is best viewed from the vantage of the ship’s decks. 

The deck of the ship is often the best location from which to spot wildlife and you may hear impromptu announcements on the tannoy inviting you outside to see whales “at 3 o’clock”. This is not a scheduled viewing time, but rather a description of the animals’ position relative to the ship at that exact moment – so this would be directly starboard (right off the ship). 

What to expect in the Arctic

On deck at dusk

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What our customers think of What to expect in the Arctic

Most memorable moment: After watching a polar bear feed on land for an hour, the adrenaline from hearing about, then seeing then following another polar bear swimming directly for the first bear, and then witnessing the tense interactions that followed between them as they faced off for the food. Read the full review

Travelled: June 2022

Helen Starkie Camejo - UK

No need for NOK (Norwegian Krone); Longyearbyen only accepts cards because it doesn’t have a bank. You can’t take too many warm clothes. Read the full review

Travelled: June 2022

Pamela White - UK

Bring warm clothes. Be prepared for the cold in Longyearbyen when you get off the plane. Read the full review

Travelled: May 2022

Shari Murphy - Australia


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Swoop says

We recommend you spend any spare time out on deck to make the most of the Arctic. Once aboard, familiarise yourself with the ship's layout including access to the decks, and always have your camera and warm layers to hand, so you can get outdoors quickly if there is a sighting announcement. 

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