All about Arctic cruises
To satisfy our inner adventurers, we travel to unexpected places to explore the most remote corners of the world. An Arctic expedition cruise is a comprehensive journey that can make our adventuring dreams come true. Just like the brave polar explorers that came before, you can go to the High Arctic destinations of Svalbard, Franz Josef Land, and Greenland — with one exception: a modern-day Arctic tour can be carried out in complete comfort and won’t take longer than your average holiday.
An Arctic cruise is an opportunity to discover the pristine ecosystem of the polar regions, learn more about the flora and fauna of the high latitudes, and see it all with your own eyes. And not merely observe: think of it as a real expedition, with landings, hikes, photography tours, kayaking, and active exploration of the land. A nimble ship perfectly suited for Arctic travel can take you, among the select few passengers, to places others can only dream about visiting.
What you can see in the Arctic
An Arctic expedition allows you to witness the geological and topographical characteristics specific to the polar regions. These include different types of sea ice, icebergs of all shapes and sizes, fjords, glaciated mountains, basalt columns, cliffs, and tundra. The High Arctic also boasts an abundance of wildlife: polar bears, Arctic foxes and hares, whales, walruses, muskoxen, and seabirds are the true residents of these remote areas. When you travel to the Arctic, you may also have the opportunity to meet the people that have made a home here: local merchants, Inuit residents, and a multinational community of researchers.
There are three main Arctic destinations that you can explore with Poseidon Expeditions: Svalbard, Franz Josef Land, and East Greenland.
Svalbard is a Norwegian archipelago that stands out by being easily accessible and offering most of the key elements of the polar regions: icy mountains, tidewater glaciers, polar bears, and legacies of human endeavor. It is a great choice for your first Arctic encounter. Svalbard acted as a starting point in many legendary expeditions, and contains remnants of those times in abandoned North Pole staging areas, whaling camps, coal mines, and trapper’s cabins.
Franz Josef Land is a Russian High Arctic archipelago that is famous for striking landscapes and a history of polar exploration preserved by the cold. Travelers have a chance to encounter polar bears, walruses, and whales anywhere along the route. Geological wonders include the mystical spheres of Champ Island and basalt columns of Rubini Rock, which harbor thousands of seabirds.
East Greenland is widely known for the magical Northern Lights displays, a show that travelers have front-row tickets to from the ship’s deck. But this Arctic area has a lot more to offer, from the colorful autumn tundra inhabited by prehistoric animals like muskoxen to the largest fjord system in the world, Scoresby Sund, filled with towering icebergs.
This Arctic expedition cruise starts and ends at Longyearbyen and lasts 9-10 days. Two days will be dedicated to learning the town’s history. This includes a walking tour of the town, a visit to a closed mine and the Svalbard Museum, and a short trip to Barentsburg. After that, we will embark on an expedition around the islands of western and northern Spitsbergen to explore the nature and history of the Arctic.
On this voyage, we will attempt to perform a circumnavigation of Spitsbergen in 11-12 days, hoping to get closer to the polar ice edge and encounter even more of its wildlife: polar bears, Arctic seals, Svalbard reindeer, seabirds, and whales. Along our route lies the Northwest Svalbard Nature Reserve, which covers extensive parts of the largest islands of the archipelago.
This is an expedition cruise for travelers who want to experience the highlights of the Arctic on a single trip: polar bears and the glaciated mountains of Svalbard, enormous icebergs and the Northern Lights of Greenland, and the cultural heritage and volcanic landscapes of Iceland. Over the course of 14 days, we go from the northwestern part of Spitsbergen across the Greenland Sea to visit the Northeast Greenland National Park and Scoresby Sund. The last expedition day is spent in the Westfjords of Iceland, followed by disembarkation in Reykjavík.
A voyage beyond the boundaries of civilization, the Franz Josef Land expedition cruise presents a complete change of scenery. The stark landscape is dominated by mountains, cliffs, and scree slopes. Even more surprising is the diversity of wildlife thriving in these polar conditions: polar bears, walruses, whales, seabirds, and other species are frequently spotted on land and at sea. Over two weeks and depending on weather and ice conditions, we may visit Bell Island, Champ Island, Cape Flora on Northbrook Island, and Cape Tegetthoff on Hall Island, among other islands of the High Arctic archipelago.
In early autumn, the conditions in Greenland are ideal to observe the mesmerizing Northern Lights. We take advantage of that with one or two September trips each season, usually lasting 11-12 days. The expedition starts in Reykjavik, and we go across the Denmark Strait to the spectacular fjords, coasts, and islands of Scoresby Sund. Archeological sites, colorful tundra, wildlife encounters, and iceberg watching will be frequent and plentiful.
In 2022, we start this Arctic Circle cruise by exploring the British Isles, including the Shetland and Orkney islands, a haven for birdwatchers and history lovers. From there, we make our way to the Faroe Islands, with ancient cathedrals, traditional houses, and authentic charm. We then cross the Arctic Circle on our way to Jan Mayen, an uninhabited island with the northernmost subaerial active volcano on the planet. The voyage ends with a four-day exploration of Svalbard.
What you need to know
How to get to the Arctic
Our Svalbard and Franz Josef Land cruises start and end in Longyearbyen, the main settlement on Svalbard’s biggest island, Spitsbergen. You can get there by a regular commercial flight from Norway. At the airport, you will be greeted by our staff and transferred to a hotel, which is included in the cost of the program. A group transfer to the embarkation pier the next day is also covered by us. Similarly, our Arctic Circle cruise ends in Svalbard but starts in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Cruises to East Greenland start and end in Reykjavik, Iceland. We will book you a room in Grand Hotel Reykjavik, but cannot arrange a transfer from the airport. The drive from Keflavik International Airport to the city center takes around 45 minutes by airport shuttle (recommended) or taxi. Group transfer to the airport after disembarkation is included in the cruise price.
Please refer to the “Rates include” and “Itinerary” sections on the desired cruise page to find out more about the hotels, transfers, and flights you will need to arrange. Airfare is not included in any of our cruises, but we can refer you to our partner airlines and suggest the best routes from your location.
Depending on the destination you choose, you might require a visa. For trips starting in Longyearbyen, citizens from some countries need a visa to travel through mainland Norway. Franz Josef Land cruises currently require a valid Russian visa. Check with your consulate or embassy to find out more. For Franz Josef Land cruises, we provide a visa invitation letter which you will need for travel into Russian territory.
Facts about the Arctic
The most commonly accepted definition of the Arctic is the territory above the line of latitude about 66.5° north of the Equator, or the so-called Arctic Circle.
The northernmost point of our planet, the North Pole, is located in the middle of the Arctic Ocean. The North Pole and its surrounding ice-covered sea do not belong to any country.
The Arctic summer lasts from June to early September, and temperatures can reach up to 10°C (50°F). The polar day prompts intense ice melting. In the winter, it can be as cold as -50°C (-58°F).
The Arctic has a permanent population of more than four million people. The largest cities are located in Russia.
Early Arctic exploration goes back to the Viking Era, when these hardy seafarers sailed from Iceland and settled in Greenland in 981. As the climate got colder, the food supply became scarce. The next significant period started in the 1500s, when Europeans tried, and tragically failed, to find the Northwest Passage from Europe to Asia. One of those attempts led to the discovery of Svalbard: Willem Barentsz spotted its northwest coast in 1596. In 1906, Roald Amundsen, a famous polar explorer from Norway, finally succeeded in traversing the passage.
Franz Josef Land was discovered a bit earlier, by an Austro-Hungarian expedition to the High Arctic under Julius von Payer and Karl Weyprecht in 1873. The next big conquest was to reach the North Pole. Debated to this day, two explorers claimed to have done it first, both from America: Robert Peary in 1909 and Dr. Frederick Cook in 1908. Other expeditions followed to put the rest of the Arctic on the map. We now have the opportunity to see memorials and remnants of these conquests and follow in the footsteps of the great explorers with comfortable Arctic travel.
What will I do on the cruise?
We want our passengers to get as many experiences out of their Arctic tour as possible at a comfortable pace. Each cruise day will have a pre-set schedule and most likely will include one or two landings or Zodiac excursions that take place off the ship. This involves nature and wildlife watching, polar photography, walking tours, and boat rides. Evenings are usually spent on the ship, with all the necessary amenities for having fun and getting ready for the next adventure.
During the expedition cruise, travelers spend a significant amount of time off the ship, exploring islands, fjords, and landing sites along the route. Activities include Zodiac cruises, historical site visits, hiking or walking tours, and photography workshops. During landings, our expert guides take you closer to see the flora and fauna of the region and can provide educational context for every animal, plant, or landscape element. On an Arctic cruise, we also offer optional kayaking and an opportunity for a polar plunge.
Back onboard, passengers also have an array of options for entertainment and relaxation. The expeditions take place aboard the Sea Spirit, a modern 114-passenger Arctic cruise ship with spacious public spaces including a library, a gym, an outdoor jacuzzi, and a presentation hall. Meals are served at the restaurant three times a day. The open decks provide wonderful opportunities for wildlife watching and nature photography.
Optional (Ocean, Alpine)
On each Arctic cruise, we gather a small group of kayakers who get to discover the Arctic from a unique angle. This option is not included in the cruise cost and should be booked well in advance as the kayaking roster, limited to just eight lucky adventurers, fills up fast.
Do I need travel insurance?
Before your expedition, you do need to get insurance with evacuation and repatriation coverage of no less than $200,000 USD per person. Please note this is not a regular insurance package you get for other vacations. It should be purchased no sooner than six months before the cruise departure date. We also strongly recommend but do not require trip cancellation and interruption insurance.
How close can I get to the animals?
A certain distance is always required to guarantee the safety of both parties. Approaching potentially dangerous animals like polar bears or whales too closely is prohibited in order to keep passengers safe. And even if the animal does not seem harmful, we still need to respect its boundaries. We are just guests in the pristine wilderness of the Arctic and should act accordingly, keeping a camera distance. Rely on your experienced guides to assist you with this.
How cold is the Arctic?
An Arctic expedition takes place during the summer or early autumn, with average temperatures of 0 - 7°C (32 - 44.6°F). With appropriate Arctic-quality clothing, passengers can spend several hours off the ship and not get cold.
Is there internet onboard?
Complimentary Wi-Fi is offered on all our Arctic cruises. Keep in mind that the polar regions are remote areas, and the connection might not always be as stable and strong as we are used to in cities. Still, you will be able to read the news or keep in touch with your loved ones back at home.
What is not included in the cruise rate?
The most significant expenses that are not included are travel insurance and airfare, the same as for all major cruise lines. You might also need to purchase appropriate outdoor clothing before the voyage. The expedition price does include accommodation, meals, excursions, and a parka and boots for landings. The parka is yours to keep and take home.
Am I going to be seasick?
The Sea Spirit is equipped with Rolls-Royce stabilizers to lower the effect of the waves. Most of the routes during an Arctic cruise have the ship sheltered by islands in the ice-bound waters, with no ocean swell or heavy seas. We do have seasickness medication onboard during the expedition just in case.