At Exploring Circle, we work with small Arctic cruise ships that are specially outfitted to brave the rigors of the Arctic waters, allowing visitors an exceptional platform to explore this unique and rewarding region. These vessels are equipped with Zodiac craft and sometimes kayaks which bring visitors closer still to glaciers, polar bears, walrus pods, icebergs and breaching whales. Shore visits with naturalists lend deep insight into this extraordinary landscape and its rich history.
The Arctic is defined by a longitudinal circle that rings the geographical North Pole. It is not simply the continental land masses and islands that exist with this zone, the Arctic also contains a massive polar cap of frozen sea ice that shifts seasonally and is defined as the area north of the Arctic Circle, or north of 66° 33'N.
Small expedition vessels ply the heralded passages of the Canadian Arctic, the pack ice of the magnetic North Pole, and the shores of Greenland, Iceland, and Norway and the Russian Far East. A handful of land-based wildlife tours in Churchill Manitoba Canada offer visitors the chance to see polar bears close up and in great numbers as the wait for the might Hudson Bay to freeze over.
May – August/September (July & August best and most popular)
May and June offer wildflowers in abundance, however the pack ice at this time can be a bit heavier than later in the season. June and July offer spectacular endless sunrises and sunsets when the midnight sun maximizes your sightseeing time in the Arctic. July and August offer good polar sightings in most regions.
The small expedition ships that explore the waters of the Arctic have reinforced hulls or are formerly classified as icebreakers. They range from 100 to 200 passenger luxury expedition ships to 36 - 180 expedition vessels that once served as cold weather ferries or scientific research ships. Zodiacs are deployed from the vessels for landing. Some vessels utilize kayaks as well. The nuclear icebreakers that venture to the North Pole employ helicopters to transport visitors to the more remote areas of the Arctic. Arctic expeditions explore anywhere from one to four regions, depending on their route.
Spitsbergen/Svalbard (Norway) Circumnavigations
The island of Spitsbergen, home to towering cliffs, glaciers and abundant marine life, is a prime destination when exploring Svalbard, the northern archipelago of Norway. Most trips feature full or partial circumnavigations of Spitsbergen. Sightings of beluga whales, narwhals and walrus draw explorers. The biggest draw is the polar bears, as Svalbard contains some of the highest populations in the Arctic. As the pack ice decreases annually, polar bears are increasingly being found on land. Travel with an experienced operator for the best (and safest) sightings of these majestic creatures. Some of the shortest Arctic itineraries are possible in Svalbard, making it a good choice if you have less time.
North Pole trips spend upwards to 18 days traveling to the geographic North Pole on large nuclear icebreakers which carve through the pack ice at the polar cap and also use their onboard helicopters to transport passengers to remote areas. The trips can be long and lack the abundant wildlife of other Arctic areas but they provide a rare experience and perspective on the literal ‘top of the world’ that few see.
Coastal Greenland and Iceland
Itineraries for these trips vary. While they primarily explore Greenland, a few include Iceland, Svalbard, and the Canadian High Arctic. Greenland trips visit both eastern and western Greenland. Journeys that add the Canadian High Arctic and/or Iceland offer inspiring fjords, rich wildlife and native cultures not found on Svalbard or North Pole itineraries. Some trips that circumnavigate Iceland see more than can be seen when traveling the large distances overland. These trips showcase the natural beauty of Iceland and a unique exploration of the history and culture of the land of the Sagas.
Kamchatka Islands (Russian Arctic)
Trips to the Russian Arctic are famously difficult to undertake, and only the most organized and intrepid operators venture regularly into this area. When they do, it is well worth joining them. A trip to Kamchatka boasts the full range of Arctic wonders: glaciers, polar bears, beautiful tundra, and the added attraction of islands and peninsulas dotted with active volcanos. Trips here are longer in duration.
Baffin Island Canada
Home to the second highest polar bear population, Baffin Island is a highly sought after destination among expedition travelers and is only occasionally visited by small ships. The island itself is an armchair geologist’s dream. Here, some of the oldest layers of the earth’s crust are exposed due to eroding soil and wind patterns. Add stunning fjords and mountain ranges and you have a once-in-a-lifetime destination.
Northwest Passage (Canada)
Northwest Passage trips are not offered every year as stand-alone voyages. However, the Canadian High Arctic is often included in the itineraries of western Greenland. A voyage here is an expedition of dramatic landscapes and grants travelers a wealth of exploration history.
Churchill / Manitoba (Canada)
Travel to the Arctic tundra near Churchill in Manitoba, Canada focuses on the annual gathering of the polar bears. From October to December, they wait for the Hudson Bay ice to freeze over. Tours are conducted via specially-reinforced vehicles that take groups deep into the tundra to see polar bears. Some accommodate guests in Churchill’s small town hotels while other tours house guests in the Tundra Lodge, a special vehicle with rooms the size of a large train compartment and shared bathroom facilities. The Tundra Lodge gives guests a chance to experience the tundra around the clock with special opportunities to see the Northern Lights, and more polar bears and wildlife beyond the daily tour schedule. Trained naturalists and photography experts accompany the tours, to enhance a rare experience.