The haunting landscape of the Arctic is incredibly vivid. It awakens our senses, forcing us to breathe deeply and contemplate the fragile environment around us. As you sail through the quite landscape, the aqua blue waters blend seamlessly into the ice, giving an otherworldly sense that is hard to describe.
For wildlife lovers, the Arctic is quite possibly the most rewarding cruise destination on earth. Only Antarctica and the Galapagos can compete on the same scale. Because of the barren nature of the landscape, only the hardiest and well-adapted creatures call the Arctic home. Most notable among these is the mighty polar bear!
The largest carnivore to live on land, the polar bear can weigh up to half a ton and is one of nature’s most intelligent hunters. Seeing one of these creatures up close is a sight you’ll never forget. However, the Arctic is an enormous region, stretching all the way from Scandinavia to Northern Alaska, and seeing polar bears is not always guaranteed. Because of this, you’ll need to pick your cruise carefully.
To help you on your quest, I have listed 5 epic Arctic cruises that give you the best chance of spotting these majestic bears.
The Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard is becoming one of the most popular Arctic cruise destinations thanks to its beautiful scenery and incredible wildlife. Home to over 3,000 polar bears, a Svalbard cruise gives you just about the best opportunity anywhere in the world of seeing one. In fact, it’s not uncommon to see between 30-50 of these beautiful bears on a 10 day cruise!
It’s not just the polar bear that makes Svalbard interesting to wildlife lovers. It’s also home to a colony of walrus – 4,000 strong – and one of the best places to see narwhal, and beluga! Both whale species are quite rare and seeing them glide through the water is a very special sight. I suggest taking a ‘In-Depth’ cruise of Svalbard and visiting in the high summer season around June/July when polar bears are most active.
2. The Canadian Arctic
The Canadian Arctic archipelago is one of the most isolated and least explored parts of the world. Because of this, wildlife thrives here. The 36,000 islands that make up the Canadian Arctic archipelago are both rugged and wild, distilling in you a sense of freedom found in few other places.
Of all the islands here, Baffin Island stands above the others and should definitely be on your itinerary! Known as the Jewel Of The Arctic, Baffin island is home to numerous polar bears, musk ox, foxes, wolves, walrus, and over 70 bird species. For wildlife enthusiast and photographers, this is without doubt one of the greatest islands on earth.
3. The Russian Arctic
Very few people know that cruise itineraries to the Russian Arctic are even an option. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the Russian Arctic is one of cruising’s best kept secrets! The landscape changes dramatically during your cruise from the forests of the Kamchatka region to the barren plains of Wrangel Island. With so few inhabitants, it’s easy to see why this is one of the best places on earth to see both brown bears and polar bears.
If cruising here, make sure you visit Wrangel Island. If you’ve ever seen a picture of a whale carcass with 50 polar bears tearing meat from it, chances are it was taken here. In fact, polar bears are so frequently spotted on this UNESCO Island that most people call it the ‘polar bear nursery’. This is not a cheap place to visit though and you will probably have to fork out over $8,000 per person.
4. The North Pole
Possibly the most epic cruise on earth, the North Pole has captivated explores and travellers for years. Because of it’s remoteness though, only a few itineraries depart each summer and each aboard the nuclear-powered 50 Years of Victory ship. Costing a minimum of $28,000, this is not a cruise for the feint of heart and accommodation is by no means luxurious.
For wildlife lovers, the North Pole is not actually the best place to be. However, it’s made my list because of the Franz Josef Land archipelago that is visited en-route. These islands are teeming with wildlife including walrus, foxes and polar bears. The area is also a protected marine reserve and you’ll have a great shot at seeing minke, humpback and beluga whales.
5. The Northwest Passage
The Northwest Passage is the ultimate Arctic cruise. Closed off by sea ice until very recently, the fabled route is now open to cruise ships during the high summer period. The Passage stretches all the way from Greenland to Northern Alaska and, whilst numerous operators make the journey each season now, only 10% of the waterways have been chartered still.
Although many people choose to take this cruise for the exceptional history and culture it has to offer, the wildlife is by no means left behind. Because the cruise covers such a distance, you’ll have the chance to spot just about every Arctic creature possible – polar bears included! Look out for musk ox, whales, reindeer, foxes, and wolves also!