ARCTIC CRUISES

COMPLETE GUIDE TO CRUISING THE ARCTIC

The Arctic is one of the most revered destinations for adventurers worldwide. It's stark beauty, cold climate and incredible wildlife make it one of the ultimate expedition cruise destinations. 

Because the Arctic region is so large and encompasses numerous countries, there are countless itineraries to choose from. On top of this, you need to consider ship options, costs, weather, and what wildlife you want to see.

Below we have provided summary information on the most frequently asked questions we get from folks looking to visit the Arctic Circle.

To help you plan your Arctic cruise adventure, we suggest reading all the information on this page and then following the links to sections you want to know more about.

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Expedition Cruise do not sell tours, we simply provide impartial advice. If you would like an exact quote from our recommended specialist click Get a Quote.

​Arctic Cruise: The Complete Guide

​Overview

Arctic cruise guide map

One of the least understood places on earth, the Arctic has enthralled, delighted and surprised visitors for decades. Largely uninhabitable, the Arctic landscape is ever changing, constantly evolving with the changing seasons.

A wild and untamed landscape where polar bears stalk the ice and whales move through the deep. All these elements make the Arctic one of the most remarkable and unforgettable places on earth to visit. You can expect an experience unlike any other, a beautifully harsh world of ice, sea, snow and rock, where creatures move above and below the landscape.

The Arctic is generally defined as the area contained within the Arctic Circle, which spans the top of the earth at a latitude of 66.5622 degrees. The Arctic therefore stretches across the North Pole, encompassing the northern regions of Greenland, Finland, Iceland, Canada, Russia and North Alaska. In total, the Arctic accounts for six percent of the earth's surface.

The gorgeous Arctic light and the wide array of wildlife make the landscape a photographer’s dream. Whether it be the bright Northern Lights, the epic sunsets or the white winter foxes, photographers will love every minute of being in the arctic.

If you're serious about seeing the Arctic properly, there is simply no better way to see the region than by cruise ship. Arctic cruises allow travellers to visit numerous locations in one trip, increasing the likelihood of spotting wildlife and also getting a greater sense of the landscape and the people who inhabit it.

An Arctic cruise also has the added advantage of including your accommodation, transportation and meals all in one! This also means that the pristine landscape is kept clear of harmful human infrastructure.

Always follow the guidelines set out by the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators and your onboard guides. 

​Best Time To Cruise The Arctic

Summer is the main Arctic cruise season and runs from May through to September.

During this period, the Arctic is known as the Land of the Midnight Sun due to the 24 hours of daylight that occurs through the season.

As a rule of thumb, most Arctic cruise ships will head north into the Arctic Circe during this period. 

Whilst early season cruises are generally shorter in length, this is a great time to see polar bears and Arctic bird species.

​Summer

The peak season of the summer is July and August. This is when the Arctic's flora comes into full bloom, bringing the landscape alive with fresh colour. 

The wildlife is also active during this period as many of the creatures try to make the most of the warmer weather.

 As the ice melts, less accessible cruise routes become available, such as the North Pole and the North West Passage cruises.

As the peak summer season closes, so does the ice, forcing most Arctic cruises to take a more southerly direction.

​Winter

Whilst the summer season is by far the most popular time to take an Arctic cruise, in recent years there has been an upsurge in travellers wanting to visit during the long and dark winter. The main reason behind this is the beautiful Aurora Borealis or 'Northern Lights' as they are more commonly known. 

There are now plenty of Arctic cruises that sail to Svalbard to witness these magical lights during the winter period.

Not only this, there are plenty of winter adventure activities on offer these days such as hiking, dog sledding and skiing which has only increased the appeal to visit during this period.

​Types of Expedition Ships

​The Arctic is a large region. Because of this, there are many ship options when it comes to cruising.

The type of expdition ship you choose to sail on will affect your trip quite considerably. Therefore, it's highly recommended to think long and hard on this particular point.

​​Although it may sound odd, ship size has a great bearing on the shape and feeling of your cruise. The larger ships offer many comforts that smaller ships cannot match, yet the smaller the ships offer less waiting times for zodiac trips, kayak adventures and shore landings etc.

Options to consider include​ on-board facilities, staff ratio, and food quality.

​Research Vessels

Research vessels are a fantastic way for people to visit the Arctic on a budget. Yes, you won't get many of the home comforts you would expect on more premium expedition cruises, but you will get a real sense of adventure! 

Research ships are also generally quite small which means you'll be able to reach inlets and bays that larger ships cannot. Don't expect big cabins and luxuries like pools and beautiful bars though. This is bare-knuckle expedition cruising. 

​Expedition Ships

​Expedition-style ships offer a nice balance between research boats and luxury cruise vessels. 

Although not as luxurious as top-end ships, expedition vessels often offer several restaurant choices, bars, gym and well-apointed rooms.

Expedition-style boats vary in size but tend to be on the smaller size. They generally offer excellent activity options such as kayaking, skiing, camping etc.  However, they are significantly more expensive than research ships.

​Luxury Cruises

If you have the money, then sailing aboard a luxury expedition cruise ship is definitely something you won't forget!

You'll have all the comforts of home and more. Expect a pool. sauna, gym, restaurant options, library, and first-class service. 

Be warned though, many of the luxury vessels are very large and won't be able to make as many shore landings as perhaps a smaller expedition-style vessel. Saying this, there are small luxury vessels that offer premium service, but have slightly less facilities.

​Arctic Cruise Cost

​There is no escaping the fact that Arctic cruises do not come cheap.

Because of the regions remoteness, operating cost are high. Expect to pay at least $2,000 minimum for a basic tour – this price would mean sharing a cabin with communal bathroom facilities on a research vessel.

However, depending on your itinerary package and accommodation, Arctic cruise prices can be upwards of $30,000 per person.

For a great 2 week experience, expect to pay between $4,000 – $9,000.

​Other Cost Considerations

​Beside the main cruise cost, there are also a number of other cost factors to consider. 

​Solo Travelers

​Flights

​Gear

​Visa and other Misc. Expenses

​Choosing The Right Arctic Cruise

With countless itineraries, ships and operators out there, choosing the right Arctic cruise to suit you can often seem daunting and somewhat complicated.

Luckily, we're here to help you through it. This website has been designed for just that purpose!

The main question when starting out is 'what do I want to get out of my Arctic cruise?'.

Simply answering this question will bring you well on your way to deciding. 

  • ​When
  • ​How long
  • ​Where
  • ​Wildlife
  • ​activities
  • ​cabin type
  • ​book ahead

​When you decide to sail will greatly alter your Arctic cruise expereince. For instance, Arctic cruises to Svalbard in summer are likely to see polar bears, whilst a winter cruise to Svalbard will provide you with some stunning Northern Light displays, but no polar bear. 

​However, due to pack ice and short winter days, 95% of Arctic cruises operate in the summer period. Saying that, when you cruise during this period will also alter what you see. The early summer cruises will see far more ice whilst the later summer cruises will get more wildife.

Get a Cruise Quote!

Expedition Cruise do not sell tours, we simply provide impartial advice. If you would like an exact quote from our recommended specialist click Get a Quote.

​Arctic Cruise: Wildlife

​The majestic wildlife of the Arctic Circle is, without doubt, what draws most visitors to the region every year.

Whilst the star species like polar bears and walruses are ​what attract most visitors, there's actually far more biodiversity in the Arctic than people give credit for. 

Below we have listed the major species that can be seen on Arctic cruises.

However, this will very much depend on what region you are sailing in.

​Types of Wildlife

​Polar Bear

arctic wildlife polar bear

​The most iconic of all Arctic species, the polar bear is a must see site for all wildlife lovers.

Most commonly seen in summer on the Svalbard, North Alaska and Canadian Arctic cruises.

​​Walrus

arctic cruise wildlife walrus

​Fabulously charismatic creatures, walruses are a favourite of many Arctic cruise goers.

Most commonly seen in North Alaska and the Russian Arctic.

​Musk Oxen

arctic cruise wildlife musk ox

​​Huge, stoic and totally mesmerising, the Muskox are sadly in decline due to habitat loss.

Most commonly seen in North Alaska, Canadian Arctic and Greenland.

​Arctic Fox

arctic cruise wildlife fox

​​One of the most beautiful and difficult creatures to spot, the Arctic fox is a photographers favourite.

Can be spotted throughout the Arctic region.

​Arctic Wolf

arctic cruise wildlife wolf

​​One of the more elusive and rare Arctic creatures, the grey wolf is one of the region top predators.

Most often spotted in Northern Greenland and the Canadian Arctic.

​​Whales

arctic cruise wildlife whales

​​Whales have always been one of the top reasons to take an Arctic cruise.

Common throughout the Arctic region, you should keep your eyes peeled for beluga, narwhal, minke, orca, humpback and the rare Greenland whale.

​Arctic Seabirds

arctic cruise wildlife puffin

​​Huge numbers of wildfowl and waders visit the Arctic region each summer, nesting deep in the tundra.

Awe-inspiring sea cliffs are the breeding ground for millions of pairs of puffins, guillemots, kittiwakes and fulmars. Also look out for little auks, ivory gulls and skuas.

​​Arctic Cruise: Things To Do

​Because the Arctic is such a special and unique region, there are l​iterally countless things to do on your Arctic cruise.

To give you a better sense of your options, we have listed the top things to do below. 

Please remember, not every itinerary offers each option, so always make sure you check with the operator prior to booking!  

​The Northern Lights

things to do on an Arctic cruise - Northern lights

​Streaking across the sky like an otherworldly glow, the Northern Lights are one of earth greatest natural events. We have seen people stood mesmerised for hours simply staring upwards at these beautiful lights.

​The best place to see the lights is definitely Svalbard, Norway or Iceland.Because the Northern Lights are a winter phenomenon, only occurring from mid-September through to April, you'll need to book yourself onto a special winter Arctic cruise. ​​

If you would like to know more about a Northern Lights cruise, please see our detailed page here.

​Photography

things to do on an Arctic cruise - photography

Photography is probably the main reason travellers visit the Arctic region. The epic mountains, harsh landscape and abundance of wildlife make the Arctic a photographer's dream! ​

Most cruises offer photography experts that will help you get the most out of your Arctic photography experience. ​

Things like filters, extra batteries, dry bags, tripods are all valuable assets on your trip and something you won't want to forget.

For more information, please see our page on Arctic photography here. ​

​​Wildlife Watching

things to do on an Arctic cruise - wildlife watching

​​Wildlife is generally the main reason why people choose to do an Arctic cruise. 

​Your cruise ship will literally pin point the best locations to spot wilsife such as polar bears, walrus and Arctic foxes.

Have your binoculars ready at all times as you never know when a whale might appear alongside your ship!

​​Kayaking and Zodiacs

things to do on an Arctic cruise - kayak

​Once aboard your expedition ship you'll notice a bunch of zodiacs. Most days you'll make shore landings via these zodiacs and also take frequent whale watching excursions aboard them.

Kayaking is one of the most popular options for travelers abaord an Arctic cruise. By taking a kayak, you'll get closer to the nature around you. Please book before hand.

​​Scuba Diving and Swimming

things to do on an Arctic cruise - scuba

​S​uba diving is not something that most people associate with Arctic cruises. 

Surprisingly though, a number of itineraries do offer this added extra (at additional cost). There are many locations that are absolutely stunning and just seeing an iceberg from below is very special.

You'll need to be a certified diver and have expereince with cold water. Diving equipment will be provided by your operator as long as you book ahead.  

​​Camping, Skiing and Hiking

things to do on an Arctic cruise - camping

​There a number of added activites that you can book for your Arctic cruise including camping, skiing, hiking, dog sledding etc. 

Although an additiobal cost, these activites are well worth doing. Not many people can say they have camped out on the ice, dog sledded across Svalbard or hiked up a volcano!

Always check if your operator offers the activity you wish to do and make sure you book in advance.

​Arctic Cruise Packing List

Because an Arctic cruise travels to extreme destinations, having the proper clothing and gear is paramount for your enjoyment. ​

No matter when or where you travel, there are a few key items that are required to enjoy your Arctic cruise experience.

Whilst some of these can be rented at your port departure city or onboard your ship, it's always better to own your own gear for comfort sake.

​If you would like to see ​a detailed Arctic packing list, then please click here.

​Items To Consider

Clothing: Weather conditions in Arctic are significantly colder than most places you'll visit. Therefore, purchasing the right clothing and layers is key to keeping warm.

Footwear: The right footwear is critically important as you'll be taking daily shore excursions on icy and uneven terrain. Choosing he right boots and dry-socks is a must for these trips.

Headgear: From beanies and to UV sunglasses and headlamps, you'll want to be prepared, particular on winter cruises.

Gloves: Your hands will be the first part of your body to freeze. Therefore, it is critically important to get the right gloves for your Arctic cruise.

​Bags and Daypacks: Travelling with a diverse bag will make your life far easier, particularly if you plan on travelling onwards after your cruise.

Important Accessories: From water bottles and zip-locks to spare batteries and ear plugs, there are tons f accessories that will make your Arctic cruise that much more pleasant.

Get a Cruise Quote!

Expedition Cruise do not sell tours, we simply provide impartial advice. If you would like an exact quote from our recommended specialist click Get a Quote.

Arctic Cruise Highlights

Baffin Island

arctic-cruise-home-page-highlights-baffin

​Baffin Island is the gateway to the Northwest Passage. The island is an enormous frozen haven for Arctic wildlife, including polar bears, walrus, seals and epic colonies of seabirds. The waters surrounding the island are also home to many species of whale including the bowhead whale. You can also meet the Inuit inhabitants of tiny Kimmirut who still live a traditional Arctic lifestyle.

​Eastern Siberia

arctic-cruise-home-page-highlights-siberia

​Once known as the Ice Curtain, the frozen sea between Russia and the US is a wild landscape that becomes possible to sail for several months a year. The wilderness islands include the Wrangel Nature Reserve, where interesting endemic flora can be found in the mammoth steppe vegetation. You can also find the remains of a 3,400 year old Eskimo camp and search for walrus, grey whales, polar bears and the stoic musk oxen.

​Svalbard

arctic-cruise-home-page-highlights-svalbard

​Deep within Arctic Circle lies the archipelago Svalbard. An icy landscape carved from a  fairytale, you can spot all manner of wildlife including Walrus, auks, reindeer, bearded seals, foxes and over 3,000 polar bears! The sea life is just as rich and you can spot narwal and beluga at certain times of year. The landscape of glaciers, fjords and windswept tundra are truly some of the most amazing on earth.

​Longyearbyen

arctic-cruise-home-page-highlights-capital

​Longyearbyen is Svalbard’s capital and has a population of just 2,000. The small museums are absolutely fascinating and reveal the story of many Polar explorers through original artefacts. The capital offers a wide range of Arctic activities from dog sledding and kayaking to coal mining trips and swimming!

​Hudson Bay

arctic-cruise-home-page-highlights-hudson-bay

​Hudson Bay is the world's second largest bay and an absolute paradise for wildlife. Probably one of the best places to see Beluga whales, you can also spot polar bears, enormous caribou and millions of sea birds. You can also visit numerous Inuit villages and experience the remains of the Thule settlements - the Arctic’s original inhabitants.

​Northeast Greenland

arctic-cruise-home-page-highlights-north-greenland

​The world's largest National Park, Northeast Greenland is an epic landscape of fjords, towering cliffs and rugged mountains. Wildlife is also abundant and you can spot narwals and walrus and view stunning glacier of vivd turquoise. On land you can explore small isolated segments that sit o the edge of the world. In winter the Northern Lights shine bright.

​North Pole

arctic-cruise-home-page-highlights-north-pole

​Sail aboard the Victory ship - an icebreaker of huge proportions. This is one of the greatest expedition cruises on earth and something you will never forget. Just a few cruises reach the North Pole each year and standing at the top of the world is a huge accomplishment. You'll also get to visit isolated Russian islands that are rarely explored by man.

​Northwest Passage

arctic-cruise-home-page-highlights-north-west-passage

The most legendary cruise route is now a reality thanks to the melting pack ice. Many explorers have lost their lives trying to navigate the Passage and this is truly one of the most extraordinary cruises on offer. Discover the remote wilderness of the Northwest Passage and experience the wild landscapes teeming with Arctic life. Inuit communities are dotted along the route and give you a fascinating insight into their culture.

​West Greenland

arctic-cruise-home-page-highlights-west-greenalnd

​Western Greenland is a dramatic landscape that hosts a UNESCO ice field, the 5km-wide Jakobshayn Glacier and huge icebergs of Disko Bay. Whale watching is popular in this region and the remains of the Thule culture of the 11th century can be seen dotted among the hills. Explore the culture of Kangaamiut – a traditional handcraft hub.

Arctic Cruise Insurance

​In our article – Arctic Travel Insurance – we have provide all the information you need to find your perfect insurance policy. Alternatively, you can get a quote straight away with our rcommended specialist below. ​

Arctic Cruise Video

​Below is a short video by Kimmo Ohtonen showing the wonders of an Arctic cruise!

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