Cruises to the Polar Regions – the Arctic Circle and the Antarctic Peninsula – is an awe-inspiring experience, considered a once-in-a-lifetime trip for many. Extreme, pristine and serene regions, they really are at the edge of the world – at the edge of survival, yet both in their own ways utterly vital to the well-being of the rest of the planet.
Antarctica reveals the dramatic extremes of a frozen continent – the planet’s last untouched region. It’s the coldest, driest, highest and cleanest continent on Earth, but in spite of all the snow and ice, Antarctica is also teeming with life. It is home to millions of penguins, thousands of seals and is a rich feeding area for large numbers of whales that visit in the austral summer.
Experience Antarctica with an expedition cruise which will bring you closer to the wonders of this surreal landscape that includes remarkable scenery of icebergs that come in shades of white and blue weathered by the sea. Discover the world’s largest concentration of marine wildlife, with hundreds of thousands of penguins, six species of seals and nine types of whales calling it home. Marvel at calving glaciers and experience up-close encounters with marine mammals. Observe seals sunbathing on slow-moving ice floes, perfectly at ease in the company of visitors. Hear the cries of penguins multiplied by the thousands. Feel the unspeakable magnificence of a whale surfacing from beneath the frigid waters. These astounding animal encounters are opportunities found nowhere else on earth. Since most of the wildlife in Antarctica is found on the ice-free narrow ridges of coastline around the islands and mainland, cruise passengers get to witness the marine life in all its glory.
Ideal time to visit: December – March
The Antarctic summer and cruise season begins in November and ends in March. It is too dangerous for tourist ships to visit in winter, when pack ice extends more than 620 miles around the continent. At that time, it’s also dark, and temperatures can drop to as low as -90 degrees C. Each month has its own attractions. November is early summer, and the birds are courting and mating. December and January feature hatching penguins and baby chicks, along with warmer temperatures and up to 20 hours of daylight each day. February is late summer, but the whale sightings are more frequent and the chicks are beginning to become fledglings. Be aware you’ll experience a wide variety of weather conditions — rain, snow, sleet and sunny skies whenever you go. Temperatures can change by the hour, ranging from relatively mild to freezing and below zero with a high wind-chill factor.
Ideal cruise duration: Anywhere from 12 – 16 days
A typical itinerary covers:
Ushuaia, the world’s southernmost town, lies on the triangular-shaped island of Tierra del Fuego. Little has changed since the days of those intrepid first explorers. The abundant wildlife, scenic beauty and mysterious history of this rugged frontier land still retain an irresistible fascination.
Along the way, you will witness many spectacular sights from icebergs to an array of seabirds and even several whale species some of which are known on occasion to fully breach from the sea. When crossing the Antarctic Convergence, arrive in the circum-Antarctic up welling zone. In this area you may see Wandering Albatrosses, Grey Headed Albatrosses, Black- browed Albatrosses, Light- mantled Sooty Albatrosses, Cape Pigeons, Southern Fulmars, Wilson’s Storm Petrels, Blue Petrels and Antarctic Petrels.
South Shetland Islands & Antarctic Peninsula
Explore the pristine wilderness of the Antarctic Peninsula, a narrow finger of land that separates the ice-choked waters of the Weddell and Bellingshausen Seas, and surrounding islands. As the cruise sails through scenic waterways, witness a breathtaking panorama of icebergs, blue glaciers, and jagged, snow-capped mountains. In Antarctica, silence is so complete that interruptions become indelible memories: noisy penguins squabbling over prized pebbles & the boom and crack of a calving glacier near Petermann Island.
Although the itinerary varies according to local ice and wind conditions, excursions to places such as Paradise Harbour – where humpback and minke whales are often sighted offshore, Petermann Island – the habitat of Gentoo and Adelie Penguins; and Deception Island – known for its volcanically-heated hot springs are planned. Voyages through the magnificent Lemaire, Errera, Neumeyer, and other protected channels are also featured in some itineraries.
The Arctic Circle is an enchanting, widely undiscovered region that broadly encompasses parts of Canada, Norway, Greenland, Iceland and Russia. Covered in ice pack for most of the year, it is during the short summer months that travellers are offered the opportunity to witness the diverse scenery, unusual wildlife and the local culture that this region has to offer.
Within the Arctic Circle, discover the mountainous scenery, remote farmland & picturesque fishing villages of the Lofoten Islands. Immerse yourself in their local culture and heritage. Visit the charming mining town of Longyearbyen. In Spitsbergen take a hike through the valley or Plateau Mountain to discover unspoiled arctic scenery and magnificent views over the fjords. From Honningsvaag, the land of the midnight sun, take a trip across desolate lands to the North Cape. Explore the rugged coastline of Bear Island, discover Molde, the city of roses and look for local handicrafts in Bergen, a city surrounded by majestic mountains, glaciers and serene fjords. Explore the arctic wilderness with its breath-taking polar scenery, including snowy mountain ranges, polar lakes and a diverse range of polar animal and plant life. A cruise to the Arctic Circle region is the best way to experience the richness and beauty of this North Country environment.
Ideal time to visit: July – September
The best time to visit is during the Arctic summer months from July to September when the pack ice recedes and daylight lasts between 18 and 24 hours a day. The ideal time to see ice and snow is early in the season, when polar bears can be found hunting on the ice edge and birds are returning to breed. Later in the season there is less ice and therefore it is the best time to circumnavigate Spitsbergen. As the season nears its end, the days begin to shorten and the birds start to migrate south. For other wildlife, late summer is prime viewing time. Humpback whales can be sighted off the coasts of Alaska and Greenland in the late summer and autumn months, while caribou can be seen en masse throughout the autumn as they migrate to their winter feeding grounds. Also be on the lookout for the shaggy muskoxen, Arctic foxes, walruses, and several types of seals.
Ideal cruise duration: 12 -15 days
A typical itinerary covers:
There are several different lengths of cruises available and they cover some of following destinations:
Spitsbergen, located in the Svalbard archipelago of Norway, is the wildlife capital for the Arctic. In Spitsbergen the wildlife is protected, so you have a chance to see the animals in their natural state, in great abundance. It contains six national parks and has many glaciers, mountains, fjords, polar bears, reindeer, whales, dolphins, seals and walruses. Spitsbergen, Dutch for ‘pointed peaks’, has a human population and a Polar bear population that is roughly the same. Although 60% of the land is covered with flowing glaciers, it has incredibly diverse scenery, including tundra, fjords and mountains from which it gets its name.
From the Fjord of Eternity to the Arctic ghost town of Skoldungen, Greenland rewards you with sites and experiences unlike any other place on Earth. Dogsledding settlements and cultural shows give you a connection to the people who live here, while whale watching, tundra hiking and exploring one of the world’s fastest moving glaciers gets you closer to nature.
Embark on a journey of contrasts, from Newfoundland with its rich Viking history through Labrador discovering isolated fishing villages and finally reaching Baffin Island, where the Inuit are still linked to the land in a way that very few cultures can claim.
With a distinct goal in mind, this journey offers the chance of a lifetime, to be one of the privileged few to stand at 90° north, the top of the world. You will look around at the still, white icescapes and marvel at the courage and heroism of those who came before you. This destination is not easily accomplished and daily you will stand in awe of the power of the ship that carries you there.
Connecting the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, the Northwest Passage, that has claimed the curiosity, hearts and lives of so many, is now a journey into the past to discover the courage, misery and pure determination of some of history’s greatest explorers. For the birders there are over 26 species of sea birds that nest, fish and migrate through the area. But what makes the trip truly memorable is that first encounter with the imperial Polar bear, nature’s most dangerous yet beautiful creature, who wanders the ice floes with her cubs in search of seals.
Iceland is a volcanic island in the North Atlantic Ocean. The most westerly point of Europe is the Látrabjarg cliff in the West Fjords, while Reykjavik is the world’s most northerly capital of Europe. In Iceland witness its vast glaciers, National Parks, geysers, waterfalls and the warm waters of its blue lagoon, where you may take a relaxing dip. You will be enchanted by Heimaey, an island of colourful houses, lava fields, marine caves and sheer cliffs that are home to many varieties of birdlife, including the famous Atlantic Puffin. You may also be lucky enough to see seals and killer whales.
Cruises to these regions are expensive since limited number of cruise companies operate and the ships tend to be smaller, accommodating 100 – 250 passengers only.
Tariffs start from US$ 4000+ per person only for the cruise and this excludes airfare to the embarkation port. Bookings need to be made at least 6 months in advance to secure your cabin on these expedition cruises.
Antarctica: Ushuaia, Argentina
Arctic Circle: Copenhagen, Denmark; Southhampton, UK; Longyearbyen, Norway
Cruiseliners that operate in the Polar Regions:
Seabourn Cruises are the epitome of modern luxury cruising. Seabourn Ships are amongst the most luxurious and well equipped cruise ships operating in the world today. Ranging from just 10,000 to 30,000 tons, all the ships in the Seabourn fleet offer a sense of style, sophistication and level of personal service that is unmatched by any other cruise line currently operating. Each of the six Seabourn cruise ships are fitted and furnished to the highest standard and each suite comes with a personal stewardess to ensure that your every demand is met. With its exceptional range of on-board facilities and high level of service it is no surprise that Seabourn won the ‘Best Small Ship Cruises’ in 2011.
No one knows the vast wilderness of the Arctic Region better than Hurtigruten. The Norwegian Cruise Line has spent the last 120 years touring the magnificent unspoilt region so you know you’re in the hands of the experts. Hurtigruten cruise ships are designed with one mission in mind – to take their passengers closer to the nature and wildlife of unique destinations, creating a series of unforgettable sights and memories. This cruise line offers voyages that go beyond expectations and give you the opportunity to discover environments, wildlife and people at the very ends of the Earth. Experience the spectacular Norwegian fjords, the Snow Mountains of Antarctica and the delightful charm of various Scandinavian fishing ports.
Founded in 1994, Silversea Cruises have built an enviable reputation for providing all-suite, all-inclusive ultra-luxury cruises. The Silver Explorer is the smallest ship in the cruise line’s fleet. Weighing just 6,000 tons this ship provides expedition cruises to the Arctic Circle, South America and Antarctica for only 132 guests. Silversea offers an incredible array of luxury all suite accommodation. Regularly recognized as “World’s Best” by Conde Nast Traveller, Silversea is a true luxury cruise line and is the perfect choice for the discerning traveler looking to experience the finest cruise experience possible.
Charter Cruise Operators to the Polar Regions:
Abercrombie & Kent is a pioneering, upscale international tour operator that began by operating East Africa safaris in 1962. A&K operates high-end charter cruises to Antarctica and the company has been selected by the readers of Condé Nast Traveler as one of the “Top Small Ship Cruise Lines in the World” for the 14th consecutive year.
Cruising with Quark Expeditions is all about being close to nature, wilderness, wildlife, off-the-beaten-path adventures, and learning. Quark Expeditions has been one of the leading innovators and operators of expedition cruises, especially in Polar Regions, since 1991. Active in the international community of professionals who cooperate in regulating Arctic and Antarctic travel, they arrange landings in unique and highly protected areas, some previously unexplored by non-specialists.