Arctic Cruise - How to find the best Arctic Cruise Ship for you?
How to choose the best Arctic Cruise experience?
Wildlife Trails first visited the Arctic way back in 2003, when our North American Operations Manager, James Manson, flew into the tiny Inuit community of Qikitarjuaq, Nunavut; way up in the Canadian High Arctic which is vast and underdeveloped.
Our aim was to find a less commerical way of viewing Polar Bears and other Arctic Wildlife on a small boat Arctic Cruise through the numerous spectacular fjords found all around the southern tip of Baffin Island. This was real adventure; with simple bunkhouse accommodation, James wearing his full immersion suit in the small uncovered boat, and long days out on the seas, scanning the water for Seals, Bowhead Whales and Polar Bears swimming between the numerous islands. Some of the photos James took on this trip were sensational and conveyed both the beauty and isolation of this little visited community. Unfortunately the husband and wife team who operated these tours stops for commerical reasons back in 2007, and we have only recently found a similar style of tour in Repulse Bay, Nunavut. These type of tours are not for everyone; with the skins of various hunted animals clearly visible within the communities, and the relatively casual approach to structured wildlife viewing sometiems taken. However with the right guide, you can glimpse some amazing wildlife, learn about a fast disappearing way of life, and enjoy it in complete privacy - how often does that happen on a wildlife tour these days?
One of the reasons we started to look a larger Arctic Cruise Boats in 2007 was due to the fact that they were able to cover larger distances, and therefore see a greater variety of marine and terrestrial wildlife. I was astonished to see Polar Bears in double figures, huge haul outs of Walrus, Reindeer, Arctic Fox, 3 species of Whales and a huge variety of birds. The quality of the guides on the Spitsbergen Cruise was first class and although the boat held 80 passengers, I found a hard core of only 20-30 were stood outside most of the time, scanning for wildlife. We were also woken up at 04:00 to take the Zodiacs to see a female Polar Bear with cubs, and everything about this tour was designed to maximise your wildlife encounters - also to educate people onboard about the problems facing this fragile region. So if you are looking for a reasonable degree of comfort, to view a great variety of wildlife, not just Polar Bears, then I would suggest a Spitsbergen Arctic Cruise is the best option for you; with the best time to travel July to September. Try to book with a company like Wildlife Trails who work with Arctic Cruise Ships whose capacity is 100 passengers or less; otherwise you will find it slow going for the Zodiac transfers for either shore excursions or glacier/bird viewing tours.
Our final thoughts on this subject are about the magnificent Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights, which I am sure many of you will know are particularly strong this year, and will continue to be so in 2014. One of the big advantages of an Arctic Cruise to see the Northern Lights is the complete lack of light pollution. So many of the companies offering Arctic Cruises this year are including additional dates, so you can combine wildlife viewing with spectacular light shows in the skies. Because of the complete lack of darkness during the height of the summer, these cruises will head out either before July/August or after, to increase your hours of darkness for viewing the Northern Lights.