Spitsbergen, Svalbard: Arctic Vacation Cruise Destination

For the adventure traveler the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard delivers all the icons of the Arctic – polar bears, walrus, reindeer, tundra and icebergs. The bonus for time-strapped travelers is that the islands can do so in as short as eight days. Spitsbergen, the largest island of the group, is the Arctic in miniature, making a rich high northern experience possible without days and days at sea.

Getting to Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen

Cruises through the Svalbard islands embark in Longyearbyen, the administrative center of the region. Direct commercial flights from Oslo, Norway, take 4 hours, but be prepared for stopovers. Direct flights are limited. Booking in advance will avoid disappointment.

Daylight is Continuous north of the Arctic Circle

The advantage to continuous daylight is that expedition activities can occur around the clock. Polar bear sightings at midnight are not unusual. Travelers sleeping comfortably in their bunks can expect to be awakened if the conditions surrounding their ship are optimal for cruising beneath a bird cliff or exploring a picturesque fjord.

The disadvantage to continuous daylight is that the aurora borealis – the northern lights – is invisible. To see the aurora, travelers must visit Spitsbergen between October and April, when cruise ships do not sail.

Arctic wildlife is wary of humans due to a tradition of exploitation. Unlike Antarctica, in the north wildlife retreat from the sound of ship engines and the buzzing of Zodiacs. Choose an expedition company with experienced shipboard staff who know the wildlife haunts. Book the longer cruises – 11 to 14 days – to ensure you see the greatest diversity of wildlife.

The Big Four sightings are polar bears, walrus, Svalbard reindeer and Ivory Gulls. Svalbard reindeer are a unique subspecies endemic to the islands. Ivory Gulls are one of the rarest species of birds on the planet. Polar bears, walrus and Ivory Gulls share the same habitat – the ice edge. Polar bears and Ivory Gulls have a symbiotic relationship. The birds often appear when a bear makes a fresh kill. The boldest of them dance just out of reach waiting for an opportunity to steal a morsel of food.

English Spoken: Passport Required

Choose an American or British cruise company if you want English to be the primary language on board the ship. Norway is planning to introduce passport control to Svalbard. However, as it is extremely difficult to enter Svalbard without passing through a country that requires the presentation of identification, a passport is essential.


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