Polar Bear Cruise - Spitsbergen Archipelago

Enjoy the magnificent Arctic scenery and wildlife aboard the M/V Plancius.

Polar Bear Cruise - Spitsbergen Archipelago

Overview

This cruise takes you to an outstanding region to see polar bears, walruses, seabirds and other arctic wildlife. Our expedition ship is an excellent vessel designed for traveling naturalists. Cruise around the islands closest to the North Pole where the rich waters support seals, seabirds, walruses and one of the world's greatest concentrations of polar bears. Traveling in near continuous midsummer daylight, you do daily excursions ashore with naturalists and plenty of time to observe wildlife from the ship. If you want to see polar bears - while it's still possible - and dream of visiting the high arctic, this is one of the best cruises available.

The heart of this trip is seeing magnificent Arctic scenery and wildlife, and the itinerary includes lots of time ashore. The vessel is not luxurious, but it can comfortably and safely cruise into remote bays and along the edge of the permanent polar ice.

We invite you to join us on a very special trip to the realm of the polar bear.

Highlights:

  • Daily excursions with expert naturalists
  • Frequent walks ashore
  • Photograph polar bears, walruses, and arctic wildlife
  • Comfortable expedition vessel designed for natural history trips
  • Fleet of Zodiacs for excursions
  • Small group - limited to 114 passengers
  • Explore the high Arctic Ocean in comfort
  • Outstanding birding
  • Visit the world’s northernmost town - Ny Ålesund

Itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in Longyearbyen, the administrative capital of the Spitsbergen archipelago of which West Spitsbergen is the largest island. Before embarking there is an opportunity to stroll around this former mining town, whose parish church and Polar Museum are well worth visiting. In the early evening the ship will sail out of Isfjorden.

Flights to/from Longyearbyen: there are several scheduled flights per day from Oslo, Norway, to Longyearbyen. We will provide flight guidelines for flight reservations during the planning process.

Day 2

Heading north along the west coast, we arrive by morning in Krossfjorden, where we board the Zodiacs for a cruise along the sculpted front of the 14th of July Glacier. On the green slopes near the glacier, a colorful variety of flowers bloom, while large numbers of Kittiwake and Brünnich’s Guillemot nest on the nearby cliffs. There is also a good chance of spotting Arctic Fox, who patrol the base of the cliffs in case a chick falls from its nest, and Bearded Seal, who cruise this fjord. In the afternoon we sail to Ny Ålesund, the world’s most northerly settlement.

Once a mining village - served by the world’s most northerly railway, which can still be seen - Ny Ålesund is now a research center. Close to the village is a breeding ground for Barnacle Goose, Pink-footed Goose and Arctic Tern. Visitors interested in the history of Arctic exploration will want to walk to the anchoring mast used by Amundsen and Nobile, in the airship Norge in 1926 and Nobile in the airship Italia in 1928, before their flights to the North Pole.

Day 3

Near the mouth of Liefdefjorden, we will go ashore for a walk on the tundra island of Andøya. Many common eider and Pink-footed goose nest here, and the more rare King Eider may also be seen. Sailing into Liefdefjorden, we will cruise near the face of the impressive Monaco Glacier. The waters of the glacier front are a favorite feeding spot for thousands of Kittiwakes and occasionally Polar Bear are seen on the glacier.

Day 4

Today we will reach our northernmost point at Phippsøya, in the Seven Islands north of Nordaustlandet. Here we will be at 81 degrees north, just 540 miles from the geographic North Pole. Polar Bear inhabit this region, along with Ivory Gull. We may sit for several hours in the pack ice, taking in our spectacular surroundings and seeing a Ross Gull, before we turn south again.

Day 5

We will visit Laagøya today, a low island with a big lagoon where a big herd of Walrus tends to congregate. Sabine’s Gull nest on the island as well. At Sorg Fjord we may find another herd of walrus not far from the graves of 17th century whalers. On a nature walk, we may encounter families of Ptarmigans.

Day 6

Today we will sail into Hinlopen Strait, home to Bearded Seal, Ringed Seal, Polar Bear, and Ivory Gull. We’ll navigate the ice floes of Lomfjordshalvøya in our zodiacs and explore the bird cliffs of Alkefjellet with thousands of Brünnich’s Guillemot. On the east side of Hinlopenstrait, we’ll attempt a landing at Augustabukta on Nordaustlandet, home to reindeer, Pink-footed Goose, breeding Ivory Gull, and Walrus. Near Torrelneset, we will explore the polar desert of Nordaustlandet, next to the world’s third largest ice cap, which meets the sea nearby. We will walk along beautiful coastline covered in smooth rocks, sculpted by the surf over thousands of years, and may see walrus.

Day 7

In Freemansundet we plan to land at Sundneset on the island of Barentsøya to visit an old trapper's hut and then take a brisk walk across the tundra in search of Spitsbergen Reindeer and Barnacle Goose. Later we cruise south to Diskobukta on the west side of Edgeøya. After a Zodiac cruise through the shallow bay, we land on a beach littered with whale bones and tree trunks, which have drifted here from Siberia. We can also climb to the rim of a narrow gully which is inhabited by thousands of Kitttiwake, together with Black Guillemot and piratical Glaucous Gull. During the breeding season, the base of the cliffs is patrolled by Arctic Fox and Polar Bear, especially females with young cubs, searching for young birds that have fallen from the nesting ledges.

Day 8

We start the day cruising the side fjords of the spectacular Hornsund area of southern Spitsbergen, enjoying the scenery of towering mountain peaks. Hornsundtind rises to 1,431m, while Bautaen shows why early Dutch explorers gave the name ‘Spitsbergen’ - pointed mountains - to the island. There are also 14 magnificent glaciers in the area and very good chances of encounters with seals and Polar Bear.

Day 9

Today we land on Ahlstrandhalvøya at the mouth of Van Keulenfjorden. Here piles of Beluga skeletons, the remains of 19th century slaughter, are yet another reminder of the consequences of thoughtless exploitation. Fortunately, Beluga were not hunted to the edge of extinction and may still be seen locally. Indeed, there is a good chance that we will come across a pod. Cruising into Recherchefjorden during the afternoon we can explore an area of tundra at the head of the fjord where many reindeer feed.

Day 10

Return to Longyearbyen and disembark for the transfer to the airport and the flight to Oslo and home.

N.B.

The chances that the ship can complete a full Spitsbergen circumnavigation range from 30% to 60% in July and the itinerary may be modified to spend more time in northeast or southwest Spitsbergen if necessary.

All itineraries are for guidance only. Programs may vary depending on local ice and weather conditions and in order to take advantage of opportunities to see wildlife. Flexibility is paramount for expedition cruises.

Activities

Activities and Places Visited

This is an active trip with many walking excursions ashore and Zodiac cruises along the coastal waters to look for polar bears, walruses and other Arctic wildlife. Most days you will go ashore multiple times with guides. Rigid inflatable boats (RIBS), often known as Zodiacs, are used for most excursions either to go from the ship to shore or for excursions to view wildlife from the water. There’s lots of walking with guides to explore the landscape, look at birds and examine the nature of the High Arctic. Wildlife photographers will have opportunities to stop and take photos on shore.

Here’s a list of the many places you may visit on this itinerary:

Spitsbergen

Spitsbergen is an Arctic archipelago about 650 kilometers (400 miles) north of Norway. The archipelago ranges from Bear Island at 74° North to Rossøya at 81° North. It is by far the largest wilderness area of Europe; it covers an area of about 62,500 km², about the size of Ireland. About 60% of the land is glaciated.

With its rugged mountains, sweeping tundra, ice-caps and glaciers, Spitsbergen is a true high-Arctic archipelago, and only 1000 kilometers (600 miles) from the North Pole. Spitsbergen is still today a virtually unspoiled wilderness with abundant wildlife. This wildlife was once a huge draw for whalers and trappers, but now discerning visitors are discovering the attractions of huge Arctic seabird colonies and the chance to enjoy and photograph species such as walrus, the indigenous Svalbard Reindeer, Arctic Fox and, of course, Polar Bear. Several whale species, such as the magnificent Beluga, Minke Whale and Fin Whale, are also found in the waters surrounding Spitsbergen.

The huge bird cliffs along the Spitsbergen coasts are a major attraction. Spitsbergen is a breeding ground for large numbers of guillemots such as the Brunnich's and the Black Guillemot. Other bird species such as Atlantic Puffin, Little Auk, Northern Fulmar and kittiwake can also be found on or around the cliffs, while the Arctic Tern, Ringed Plover, Purple Sandpiper and four species of skua prefer the tundra. On top of the list of many birders are the rarely seen, elusive gulls - Ivory, Sabine's and Ross's.

Longyearbyen

The main settlement is Longyearbyen, which has approximately 2000 inhabitants and is one of the world's northernmost villages.

The walks are generally easy and the crew will always explain what to expect in advance. A pair of good walking shoes or sandals are generally all that’s needed.

Ny-Ålesund

In the beautiful Kongsfjord the northernmost of the four settlements on Spitsbergen can be found. Ny-Ålesund even boasts being the northernmost settlement in the world at latitude 78° 55' North. In summer up to 120 international scientists work here. Their research includes environmental studies, for instance climate change, geology, biology, oceanography, zoology and more.

The west coast

The west coast of Spitsbergen, with its deep fjords and towering glaciers that calve with a thundering noise, its sharp mountains (1000+ meters, 3000+ feet) in the north and the south and its lush tundra full of flowers has a lot to offer to wildlife lovers and hikers. Due to the warming influence of the Gulf Stream temperatures on the west coast are relatively high. Spitsbergen therefore has an Arctic flora and fauna. In the far north-east, where the Gulf Stream is much less strong, it is High Arctic. There is an amazing variety of plants, 164 species of flowering plants having been identified. The fauna is also abundant and you will see huge bird cliffs with tens of thousands of kittiwakes and guillemots, and lush tundra with Svalbard Reindeer and Arctic Foxes. The coastal seas are abundant with several seal species such as the Bearded and Ringed. In several areas walruses can be found, hauling out on ice-floes or on beaches. And Polar Bears are frequent visitors to the west coast.

The north-east coast

The north-east coast of Spitsbergen has a different topography to its west coast. Less sharp, more rounded hills, consisting of softer sediments. Without the warming effect of the Gulf Stream the glaciers and ice-caps have become considerably larger. The landscape is more barren and empty: this is the real High Arctic. Here the pack- ice keeps the adjacent seas in an icy grip for more than 6 months of the year. There is almost no lush tundra, often just barren rock. Yet, amazingly, there is still life here, sometimes even abundant life, due to the rich seas that provide food for birds and sea mammals. Elusive Arctic species such as Ivory gull, walrus, Polar Bear and Beluga can frequently be seen here.

The south-east coast

The south-east coast of Spitsbergen is rather mild compared to the north-east. Here you can find table-mountains with small ice-caps and green valleys full of reindeer. Whalebones thousands of years old litter the beaches, bird cliffs are crowded with birds and there are good chances of seeing walruses and Polar Bears. This area has been an important hunting ground for Russian and Norwegian trappers who went after walruses, Arctic Foxes and Polar Bears. Remains of their settlements and huts can be found here.

Ny-Ålesund

In the beautiful Kongsfjord the northernmost of the four settlements on Spitsbergen can be found. Ny-Ålesund even boasts being the northernmost settlement in the world at latitude 78° 55' North. In summer up to 120 international scientists work here. Their research includes environmental studies, for instance climate change, geology, biology, oceanography, zoology and more.

Frequently visited places on Spitsbergen's west coast:

  • Hornsund. An Antarctica-like fjord with jagged mountains and huge glacier fronts. Good chances of seeing Brunnich's Guillemot, Arctic Fox, Polar Bear and Beluga.
  • The lush Bellsund with its evidence of ancient and modern whaling and hunting. Good chances of seeing Little Auk, reindeer, Polar Bear, Beluga and Minke Whale.
  • Isfjord, with Longyearbyen and the Russian mining settlement Barentsburg, and its vast tundra and abundant reindeer population. Good chances of seeing Atlantic Puffin, geese, skua, Svalbard Reindeer, Arctic Fox, Beluga.
  • The majestic Kongs and Kross Fjord, with the settlement of Ny-Ålesund and the Tre Kroner (typical pyramid shaped peaks, also called nunataks, that stick out of the ice-cap). Fjords with great hiking opportunities, evidence of daring mining adventures, beautiful glacier fronts and overcrowded bird cliffs. Good chances of seeing guillemot, kittiwake, skua, puffin, Ivory Gull, geese, Svalbard Reindeer and Arctic Fox.
  • Magdalena Fjord, famous for the steep mountains that surround this frequently visited fjord. Good chances of seeing Little Auk, Ivory Gull, Bearded Seal and Polar Bear.
  • Liefdefjord, a deep fjord in the far north-west. It is appropriately named after a Dutch whaling ship with the name "Love", as it has a remarkable red color due to red sedimentary sandstones. Great scenery and large glacier fronts. Good chances of seeing lots of bird life, Bearded Seals, Polar Bear, Minke Whale and Beluga.
  • Nordaustlandet (North-East Land) is the biggest island in the far north of Spitsbergen. Most of its surface is covered by a huge ice-cap. The ice-front of this ice-cap extends along the coast for about 150 kilometers. Nordaustlandet is completely uninhabited and is a nature reserve. In the coastal regions of Nordaustlandet and its adjoining islands there is a great deal of Arctic wildlife. Here you can experience the real High Arctic, but with good chances of seeing Ivory Gulls, Arctic Foxes, Bearded Seals, Ringed Seals, walruses, Polar Bears, Minke Whales and Belugas.
  • Sjuøyane (the Seven Islands) are located at latitude 80º 49' North and are as far north as you can get in Europe. Here you are about a 1000 kilometers (600 miles) north of the famous Norwegian Nordkapp, which is often seen as the most northerly point of Europe. These rocky, barren islands do have a lot to offer besides having the real "Nordkapp". It is a wild place with amazing scenery and high chances of seeing walruses and Polar Bears.
  • Hinlopen Strait. A beautiful sea strait between Nordaustlandet and the main island of Spitsbergen. For the Around-Spitsbergen Expeditions Hinlopen Strait is sometimes a bottleneck because of the pack-ice which can clog up in the strait. On the pack-ice and around the islands in the strait there are good chances of seeing Polar Bears, walruses and whales. Even the elusive Bowhead Whale is sometimes seen here.

Frequently visited places in the south-east of Spitsbergen are:

  • Barentsøya was named after the Dutch navigator Willem Barentsz. The island is situated south-east of the main island and is separated from it by a couple of narrow sounds, including the spectacular Heleysundet. About 100 kilometers (60 miles) to the east of Barentsøya are the Kong Karls Islands. These islands, which are closed off from visitors, are main denning areas for Polar Bears. The pack-ice delivers large numbers of bears from the Kong Karls Islands to Barentsøya and also to Edgeøya. That is why these islands are particularly good for spotting Polar Bears. Besides Polar Bears there are also good chances of seeing many bird species, as well as Arctic Foxes, reindeer and Belugas.
  • Edgeøya is the third largest island of Spitsbergen. The large variety of landscapes makes Edgeøya very interesting place to visit. Canyons full of birds, thousands of years old whalebones on beaches, green tundra with herds of Svalbard Reindeer, remains of Russian settlements and beeches where walruses haul out. Good chances of seeing Arctic Foxes, Polar Bears, walruses, Belugas and Fin Whales.

Cabins

Your expedition ship: M/V Plancius

293 ft long, 42 feet wide, registered in The Netherlands

This former Dutch research vessel was nicely refurbished in 2009 to accommodate 114 passengers in 53 comfortable cabins. All cabins have private bathrooms and, except for the quad- and triple-cabins, two lower beds. There's plenty of open deck space for viewing wildlife, a spacious observation lounge/bar with big windows and a comfortable dining room/lecture hall. It's a very comfortable ship well designed for excursions – there are two areas for boarding Zodiacs for landings, which makes for speedy loading for excursions ashore. The friendly, professional crew of 44 includes 8 naturalist guides and a doctor.

The dresscode is completely casual in keeping with the adventurous, outdoor-oriented nature of this journey. There is no smoking on the ship.

M/V "Plancius" is comfortable and nicely decorated, but is not a luxury vessel. Its voyages in the Arctic regions are and will still be primarily defined by an exploratory educational travel program, spending as much time ashore as possible.

Superior

Decks 4, 5, and 6

2 windows, 1 double bed, 1 sofa bed, Private shower & toilet, Desk & chair, Flatscreen TV, Telephone and Internet connection, a refrigerator, a hair dryer and ample storage space.

Twin Deluxe

Deck 4

2 windows, 2 lower berths, Private shower & toilet, Desk & chair, Flatscreen TV, Telephone and Internet connection, a hair dryer and ample storage space. These cabins are corner cabins and are slightly more spacious than the normal twin cabins window / porthole cabins.

Twin Window

Deck 4

1 window, 2 lower berths, Private shower & toilet, Desk & chair, Flatscreen TV, Telephone and Internet connection, a hair dryer and ample storage space.

Twin Porthole

Deck 3

1 porthole, 2 lower berths, Private shower & toilet, Desk & chair, Flatscreen TV, Telephone and Internet connection, a hair dryer and ample storage space.

Quad and Triple Porthole

Deck 2

There are 2 quad rooms with 2 bunk beds and 2 triples with 3 berths (2 lower, 1 upper). 1 porthole Private shower & toilet, Desk & chair, Flatscreen TV, Telephone and Internet connection, a hair dryer and ample storage space. These cabins are suitable for families traveling with children, or passengers who do not require a twin or more luxurious cabin.

Pricing & Dates

Pricing & Dates for Polar Bear Cruise

Around Spitsbergen on the M/V Plancius.

2014 Cruise Dates: July 10 - 19 | July 19 - 28 | August 6 - 15
Superior $8350
Twin Deluxe $7550
Twin Window $7050
Twin Porthole $6750
Triple Porthole $6000
Quadruple Porthole $4950

Prices are per person in US dollars, based on double occupancy, starting and ending in Longyearbyen, Norway.

Single: 1.7 times the per person cabin price.

Flights to Longyearbyen: there are daily flights from Oslo, Norway, to Longyearbyen. It is regularly scheduled service. We will advise you of the flight schedule based on departure dates and assist with planning.

Evacuation/cancellation insurance is mandatory on cruises to Spitsbergen.

Most cabins are for two guests, but there are triples and quad rooms available for singles willing to share.

Included:

  • Voyage aboard the indicated vessel as indicated in the itinerary
  • All meals throughout the voyage aboard the ship including snacks, coffee and tea
  • All shore excursions and activities throughout the voyage by Zodiac
  • Program of lectures by noted naturalists and leadership by experienced expedition staff
  • Free use of rubber boots and snow shoes on Plancius
  • Transfers and baggage handling between the airport, hotels and ship for those passengers on the group flights to and from Longyearbyen

Not included:

Any airfare, whether on scheduled or charter flights; pre- and post land arrangements; transfers to / from the vessel outside Spitsbergen; passport and visa expenses; Government arrival and departure taxes; meals ashore; baggage, cancellation and personal insurance (which is mandatory); excess baggage charges and all items of a personal nature such as laundry, bar, beverage charges and telecommunication charges; and the customary gratuity at the end of the voyages for stewards and other service personnel aboard (guidelines will be provided).

Fuel Surcharge: if the price of fuel goes above a certain price 90 days or more prior to sailing, there will be a $25/per person/per night surcharge.

Reviews

Overall: Show Rating Distribution 5.0 / 5 based on 1 reviews

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1 of 1 reviewers would recommend this product to a friend.

  • 5/5

    Outstanding wildlife cruise - 8/30/2013
    By: from Vermont

    We saw 22 polar bears on this cruise in July, so it was a great success, but there was much more to see in addition to the bears: stunning high arctic scenery; icebergs in the midnight sun; walruses; beluga whales; and seabirds by the thousands. The Plancius is very comfortable and the naturalists are among the best anywhere. The ship is allowed to go into remote bays where larger ocean liners can't, so this is the best way to explore the high arctic in comfort.

Contact the expert at Orvis Travel:
Abby Liell
Polar Bear Cruise
800-547-4322
Mon-Fri, 8am - 5pm (ET)
Orvis International Travel

800-547-4322 | 802-362-8790
orvistravel@orvis.com

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