There are a lot of unknowns when it comes to visiting the Arctic – one of nature’s most vast and wild landscapes. If you’re new to the Arctic cruising game, we’ve got a few tips to help you make the most of your journey.
When to book
Most Arctic cruises kick off during the summer, typically from May to September. This is when the famed Midnight Sun comes into play, which means the Arctic sun is out for 24 hours a day and your chances of spotting wildlife are much higher.
Cruises in the dead of winter aren’t commonly recommended as the sunshine at this time of year is few and far between. Northern Lights cruises are perhaps the only exception, given that this natural phenomenon is best viewed between September to May. It all ultimately depends on what you’d like to see.
Once the heat of summer kicks in during July and August, the ice will begin to melt and open up routes that wouldn’t otherwise be accessible. This is also when area flora begins to boom and the local wildlife is really out on display. It’s important to remember however that even the warmer Arctic seasons are a lot chillier than we’re used to.
Best cruise lines
Just about every cruise line features some variety of Arctic cruise itinerary, it just depends on where you’d like to go and what kind of experience you’re after. It’s a good idea to first decide what kind of features you’d like on your cruise – smaller in size with a humble swimming pool or a range of spa treatments and five restaurants to choose from – so that you can then match a line to your requirements.
Royal Caribbean® and its fleet of big time ships tend to offer a more traditional cruising experience – casinos, live entertainment, a rock wall – while lines like Hurtigruten use smaller ships to take you farther north into passages that can’t be reached by ships of a larger size.
At the complete other end of the spectrum are expedition cruises, like those offered by Silver Explorer from Silversea. Your express purpose here will be to explore the vast wilderness of Arctic spots, including Norway, Iceland and Greenland, with hikes and boat journeys. Traditional cruising amenities will be much more limited and the price for this cruise tends to run high, but it’s a voyage you won’t soon forget.
Where to go
Typically, an Arctic cruise is categorised by destinations such as Norway and its outlying islands – Greenland, Iceland, Canada, parts of Russia and Alaska. Unlike years gone by when an Arctic holiday was practically off limits, there’s virtually no part of this snowy region you can’t visit nowadays.
If it’s the Northern Lights you’re after, an Iceland cruise or a voyage to Norway is the way to go. Alaskan cruises are all about adventure and seeing the great outdoors, as are Greenland cruises. If you’re particularly looking for incredible scenery viewable from your deck, it’s a Norwegian fjord cruise you’ll want. These towering cliffs form narrow passages you’ll get pretty up close and personal with, making for some seriously incredible photo opportunities.
Just because it’s cold outside doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to get out and about. On the contrary – as Arctic Circle cruises are all about connecting with your cold weather surroundings. Don’t just expect your run of the mill excursions, either.
Dog sledding is an especially popular excursion on Arctic cruises, as is sea-kayaking past glaciers and going for hikes. You can fish for crabs in Norway with Royal Caribbean, explore Denali National Park with Norwegian Cruise Line or hunt for the Northern Lights with P&O Cruises. Just remember to pack a coat if you plan to head off the ship.
- It’s a good idea to become as familiar with your ship as you can, so that you know exactly what to expect before you board. If there’s a swimming pool, you’ll probably want to remember your suit. If there’s little to no internet connection, you’ll need an extra book or two.
- If possible you should try to book your excursions as soon as possible – ideally soon after you’ve booked your cruise. We recommend this so that you know what kind of gear you might need – hiking boots or a swimsuit for the polar bear plunge, for instance.
- Bring binoculars! That way, you’ll be able to spot wildlife from the deck of your ship with ease. You might think polar bears will stand out because they’re so huge, but they’re masters of camouflage when it comes to snow.
- Try to know in advance what your ship’s dress-code will be – for example, whether or not you’ll need formal wear. This will help you avoid packing unnecessary items, thus leaving more space for bulky coats and winter gear.
- We know it’s difficult, but part of making the most of your Arctic cruise is managing your expectations. You won’t be able to book a polar bear sighting in its natural habitat in advance, while the Northern Lights are similarly finicky. Try to remember that nature will always run its own course and we have a feeling you’ll be in for a pretty spectacular voyage.
Arctic cruises are one of those once in a lifetime experiences, so above all you should remember to bring your camera. Once you’re finished, you’ll have a lot of bragging to do.
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