All Arctic cruises are not created equal. They go to different locations, have different focuses, cross paths with different varieties and amounts of wildlife. Our friends at Oceanwide Expeditions let us in on how to choose the perfect Arctic cruise for you.
Decide what’s most important to you.
The Arctic is big. Huge. It runs about 14.5 million km2 (5.5 square miles). Needless to say, you’re not going to be able to take it all in on one cruise.
So if you’re heading off to the Great White North (especially if it’s your first trip) make yourself a quick list of what you want to see and what you want to do. That way you can immediately narrow down those long lists of cruises offered by cruise companies to the ones that focus on what you most want to experience.
Type of ship
Are you going for pure exploration and adventure, or are you looking for a little more luxury? Some cruise ships are just that, they’re cruise liners very much like the ones you’d take if you wanted to hop from one Mediterranean port to another. They come with spas and hot tubs and luxurious suites.
Other ships are all business. They’re not quite so fancy (some are ex-research vessels and the like), but they carry you further into the harder-to-reach spots in the Arctic.
And for those who truly want to get into the nooks and crannies of the North Pole, there are even some cruise lines that offer spots on much smaller sailing vessels that poke into fjords and bays that the cruise liners are simply too big to visit.
The Arctic is the boss
While cruise lines will do their very best to fill your trip with the best sights and sounds of the North, they’re still at the whim of the weather, ice, and wildlife. There are no absolute guarantees that you’ll get to lock eyes on the Aurora Borealis or tickle a Polar Bear.
By the same token, schedules may get shifted so that you get the chance to visit sighting opportunities as they arrive. So go into your expedition with flexibility in mind.
Make sure you have travel insurance
Make sure your travel insurance has coverage for the activities you’re going to be participating in on your cruise. You’re also absolutely going to want to have medical evacuation costs covered – there are no extensive medical facilities so far north, so you’ll have to be evacuated south, and possibly back to your own home country. You do not want to be covering those costs out of your own pocket.
Bring sunblock and sunglasses
People can be caught unawares about how much they can get sunburnt in the Arctic (especially those from temperate, snowless climates). The sun bounces from the ice and snow, having the effect of those mirrors people hold up under their chins while lounging by a pool. Be prepared!
Be in reasonable shape
You can stay on the cruise ship the whole time, but that’s not really the goal of an Arctic cruise. You want to get on shore and explore, right? That means you’re at the very least going to be taking some mild hikes.
Plus, most ships require you to get into their Zodiacs (the rubber out-board engine boats they use to get you from the cruise ship to the shore) via a ramp, which takes a bit of physical prowess.
So if you’ve been sitting at a desk for the past year, start getting some walks in before you set sail!
Don’t go off on your own
Polar Bears will eat you. So stay with your guides. In some places, you’re going to be escorted by armed guides. While Polar Bears will generally stay away from groups of people, if you go off on your own (even in settlements) you’re just a snack-pack on legs. Stay safe!
Bring zoom lenses
Whether we’re talking cameras or binoculars, make sure you have some quality zoom action ready to go. Polar bear and whale sightings are often quite distant, so make sure you’re prepared to take advantage of these long-distance opportunities.
Go late for the best chance to see the Aurora Borealis
To up your chances to see the Northern Lights you’re going to want to head out on your Arctic cruise during the winter months (September through March) when the nights are at their longest.
However, the problem is that the waters freeze over during those months, and cruise lines stop their excursions until the following year. So if the Borealis is at the top of your must-see list, try to nab a berth on one of the last sailings of the year, in mid to late September.
Prepare to be hooked
If our own passengers are any indication, once you take one Arctic cruise you’re going to want to come back for more. Consider yourself warned!