One of the reoccurring themes while traveling in the Arctic was the importance of flexibility. Anytime you head into the unknown, a bit of flexibility is key, but this proved to be especially true in the far north. First and foremost, everything in Svalbard is weather dependent.
We quickly learned that our itinerary would be determined by the weather. Our Capitan and expedition leader determined that our best route would be to circumnavigate Spitsbergen counterclockwise. We were the anomaly, and all of the other 20+ ships went clockwise. This turned out to be a great decision, all of our planned landings came to fruition, and we didn't experience any weather related delays or issues. We heard the other ships had to cancel a number of their landings and experienced mainly overcast days. Meanwhile we were enjoying the sunshine and blue skies. Every evening, after the days activities, we would meet in the lounge to discuss the plans for the following day. These "plans" were always pitched as "proposals" just in case the weather chose not to cooperate.
We also heard many times about how the quickly the weather could change. We experienced this first hand during one afternoon on our hike up to Faksevagen, it started out snowing sideways. We half-questioned whether the hike would even be worth it, since there obviously would be no view. By the time we got up to the viewpoint the clouds had cleared and we could see blue skies for miles. At this point I regretted having so many jackets on. Fortunately I was able to shed a few layers to stay at the optimal temperature.
Some Arctic travel Tips:
*Be flexible & open minded- Plans will change for weather reasons, for wildlife reasons or just because. Enjoy the moment and the unique experience!
*Bring layers- The weather is unpredictable. I often went back and forth between jackets and long sleeve tops multiple times a day. Our ship provided us a large waterproof parka, and usually a simple capielene long sleeve layer underneath was proficient. Other times all I needed was a light fleece layer. The last thing you want is to get too hot and start sweating and end up cold, so being able to shed/add layers as needed is key.
*Bring binoculars- We were lucky to get up close to a lot of wildlife, but I was glad to have my binoculars when we saw polar bears from afar and there is nothing like looking at a walrus through binoculars from 30 meters away. No one wants to feel left out when everyone else is ooh-ing and aw-ing while viewing the wildlife!
*Bring Waterproof pants- We found out this was a "requirement" on our ship, and we were grateful we had these During the zodiac rides to and from the shore you will get wet. Waterproof pants were a lifesaver.