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Adventures in the Arctic

Best Arctic Expedition Cruise Lines

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Arctic expedition cruises invite you to explore the top of the world, where you’ll meet the tough indigenous Inuit communities who survive in these conditions, explore the glaciers, and witness the hardy wildlife that calls this land at the top of the world their home, like polar bears, walruses, whales, reindeer, and uncountable seabirds that flock to the cliffs. 

You can visit during the popular summer season in the Arctic when the sun never sets or the ethereal winter season when darkness shrouds the region and Aurora Borealis - the Northern Lights - illuminates the endless sky. Arctic cruises navigate far from civilization in the depths of the northern seas, requiring ships with ice-strengthened hulls. 

These expedition ships tend to host less than 500 passengers, and the highest-end luxury cruise lines seldom accommodate over 250 guests. 

There are many options for Arctic exploration, and choosing the right expedition cruise can be challenging, which is why we’ve prepared this guide to the top Arctic cruise lines. 

Where to go in the Arctic?
While Antarctica cruises feature a more narrow set of unique destinations, the Arctic promises many different adventures, and your first choice is where to go.

First-time Arctic cruisers will not be disappointed with a trip through Spitsbergen and the Svalbard archipelago in Norway, where it won’t take long for travelers to spot giant walruses, reindeer, majestic polar bears, several types of whales breaching the water, puffins, Arctic foxes, and more. Ports along the way may include Tromso, Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen, Jan Mayen, and even Reykjavik, Iceland. Some cruises even travel through Svalbard from the United Kingdom. 

Moving west across the Arctic to Iceland, Greenland, and Canada’s Northwest Passage promises a different slate of activities, such as visiting remote Inuit communities who preserve centuries-old ways of life and navigating the seascapes and fjords, speckled with electric blue icebergs. 

Arctic cruises are worth it, but they are not cheap. Itineraries can change based on weather and ice conditions, and the whole experience is unique even to most veteran cruisers. 

Here are the best small ship expedition cruise lines visiting the Arctic:

Silversea Cruises
The Silversea Arctic itineraries are growing each year and already feature an exciting slate to choose from including explorations of Svalbard to Greenland to the Northwest and Northeast Passages aboard luxurious and intimate Silver Cloud & Silver Whisper. With all-inclusive cruises, ice-strengthened vessels, butler service, and exciting itineraries, Silversea leaves nothing to be desired. 

Lindblad Expeditions
You can count on top-notch adventure and great comfort (that falls a bit short of luxurious) when you plan your Arctic cruise with Lindblad Expeditions. National Geographic photographers accompany each expedition with their ROV (remote operated vehicles) and special dive equipment to document the experience. Plus, you’ll get an up-close look at parts of the Arctic hidden to the bare senses, thanks to cutting edge technology like video microscopes, hydrophones to listen to the whales, and a crow’s nest camera that feeds into each cabin’s TVs. Our favorite Lindblad Arctic vessels are: Quark Expeditions
Looking for an experienced cruise line with decades of knowledge? Look no further than Quark Expeditions, boasting 30 years of expedition cruising focused exclusively in the polar regions, this is a great company dedicated to authentic exploration in the most remote regions of the high north and Antarctica. While not the most luxurious cruise line, their comfortable fleet of ice strengthened expedition ships features the standard Arctic itineraries through Norway, Greenland, and the Northwest Passage, but also goes beyond to feature cruises to Baffin Island and the Russian Arctic. Our favorite Quark Expedition vessels exploring the Arctic include: Ultramarine (among the newest and most capable polar expedition vessels out there); Ocean Endeavor (a small ship with generous deck space and an ice-strengthened hull); and 50 Years of Victory (perhaps the most sophisticated and largest ice-breaker ever built for Arctic polar exploration). 

Aurora Expeditions
Sister ships Greg Mortimer and the brand new in 2021 Sylvia Earle represent innovation and immersion in Arctic exploration on behalf of Aurora Expeditions. Both ships feature lower passenger capacity to really hone in on the activities and experience for each unique hand-crafted itinerary they offer, which include personalized, expert-led activities like stand-up paddleboarding, rock climbing, and yes, even scuba diving and snorkeling, if you dare! The cutting edge X-BOW design of the Greg Mortimer provides a smoother sailing experience with less emissions. 

Poseidon Expeditions
Join Poseidon Expeditions for an unparalleled Arctic cruising experience, with itineraries visiting the Arctic destinations of Svalbard, Greenland, Franz Josef Land, and Iceland. You can experience the high Arctic from different angles thanks to their opportunities to take part in both Zodiac and helicopter tours in addition to the standard hikes and kayaking. As a member cruise line of the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) and the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO), passengers are signing up for an environmentally responsible & safe cruise. The friendly atmosphere aboard 114-passenger Sea Spirit makes for an intimate and enjoyable experience. 

Innovation and style underpin all of the Ponant cruising fleet, promising guests an Arctic cruise that combines luxury, technology and personalized service on all of their yachts. Smaller ships and a uniquely French flair for intimacy means that many stops on these itineraries dock in private ports and access more secluded spots off the beaten path. The brand new in 2021 Le Commandant Charcot breaks not just ice - it breaks the mold, as the first luxury hybrid-powered icebreaker with a PC6 class hull allowing the captain to take the ship as far north as the North Pole itself!

Oceanwide Expeditions
With an older fleet of ships that have been reoutfitted or completely rebuilt, Oceanwide Expeditions takes travelers into the Arctic, including stops in wildlife-rich Spitsbergen. Their ice-strengthened ships are ideal for navigating the solid one-year sea ice and loose multi-year pack ice. Special activities centered on science-based topics that illustrate the magnificent Arctic ecosystem are also available exclusively aboard Oceanwide's new vessel Hondius. In addition to seeing some of Earth's most unusual locations and wildlife, Oceanwide's Arctic expedition trips offer fascinating polar activities like kayaking, snowshoeing, and even ski mountaineering.

For over a century now, the Hurtigruten ships have been a symbol of the Norwegian shore. Pioneers in environmentally sustainable cruising, they have combined cutting-edge ship design and advanced technology to create the world’s first hybrid electric–powered expedition ships. They have also taken a strong stance on heavy fuel oil (HFO) and declared war on plastic. New to its fleet, the 530-passenger MS Fridtjof Nansen, is a modern ice-class polar ship designed for arctic sailing. Hurtigruten offers breathtaking natural experiences in remote parts of the world, with excursions that appeal to those who value authentic exploration in a casual and relaxed setting, complete with excellent food, a science center, a gym and wellness area, in addition to the aft infinity pool and hot tubs.

A small ship Svalbard cruise operator founded in Sweden in 1999 and now a global leader in the business. Their three Arctic cruise ships can accommodate 12 or 53 guests, with the M/S Quest featuring 5 guides and 5 zodiacs. Smaller cruise ships visit more remote and narrow fjords than larger ships and offer an efficient Zodiac service regardless of whether they dock or sail. This ensures that all guests get the most out of their shore time and spend valuable time "out in nature." Onboard, the company offers a casual and comfortable expedition-style experience with delicious meals in between landings, a panorama lounge, bar and a small library. The primary focus is on the destination and time spent ashore.

Whether you choose a cruise that visits the Arctic landscapes of Northern Canada's Baffin Island, the Northwest Passage, Alaska, Greenland, Iceland, Canada, Norway, or Russia, contact one of our Arctic cruise experts for help planning your trip.


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