Image via Abercrombie & Kent
Over a century ago in 1906, the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen made history as the first person to traverse the Northwest Passage. This fabled sea route in the Arctic Ocean runs along the northern coast of the US and connects the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific. Prior to 2009, pack ice made it too treacherous for many to navigate and only 200 or so ships have been able to follow in Amundsen’s footsteps and complete the journey. As a result, few people have ever seen this area for themselves. However, now that the ice is shrinking, there is a small window of opportunity each year during summer, when the waterways become ice-free and navigable.
Image via Travel + Leisure
Amundsen once observed that “adventure is just bad planning,” so if you’re like us and more in the mood for something planned (by someone else), a plush way to go is a high-end cruise. The last word in L-U-X-U-R-Y when it comes to travel is probably Abercrombie & Kent, whichchartered the chi-chi expedition cruiser Le Boréal for an Arctic “adventure” in Norway, Greenland and Iceland. The journey includes 198 other adventurous souls, which is the guest limit they impose, plus experts – from scientists to writers – who deliver intimate lectures and lead excursions. Amazing views include crystalline glaciers, snow-capped mountaintops, remote fishing villages and a naturalist’s paradise stocked with polar bear, humpback whale, ringed seal, Arctic fox, reindeer, walrus, musk oxen, puffin and other birds aplenty.
What You’ll Experienece
The journey begins in the pristine wilderness of the Svalbard Islands, a Norwegian archipelago covered in glaciers. Watching them slowly travel out to sea is best observed from the rugged wall rocks of the fjords. Cathedrals of ice abound, craggy mountain peaks loom and sheer cliffs are home to thousands of guillemots and kittiwakes – attracting polar bears and Arctic fox, who come in stealth to feast on eggs and birds alike. The local residents also including walrus, Svalbard reindeer and an incredibly rich variety of birds.
Along the east coast of Greenland, an area rarely visited, there are majestic fjords which are fun to discover by Zodiac. Isolated fishing villages, too, like Ittoqqortoormiit, a small settlement founded in 1925.
And in Iceland, the glacier-carved terrain beckons with sparkling waterfalls and icebergs. On the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, views include the extinct Snaaefellsjokull volcano that inspired Jules Verne’s to pen Journey to the Center of the Earth. Sites described in the Icelandic Sagas are all part of a day’s hiking, be it the beautiful Berserkjahraun lava field, the 240-foot Mt. Helgafell (“The Holy Mountain”), or, weather permitting, views of the Breidafjordur islands. Finally, in the old town of Stykkisholmur and Bjarnarhofn (“Bear Harbor”), there is a shark museum to explore.
Image via Fodor's
When to Go
The only time the ice clears enough to make tourism viable is in summer, which is good because it will give you time to save your pennies. Even no-frills visits aren’t cheap, A&K especially so. Their 15 day Arctic Cruise Adventure: Norway, Greenland & Iceland runs just under $30,000 (yes, per person). But the experience and memories of seeing something for yourself that so few others have? Priceless.
Book early! The travel insiders at Fodors advise booking well in advance because of the speed with which these tours sell out. If A&K is fully booked, they recommend Crystal Cruises, which will making a 32-day trek in August of 2016 from Seward, Alaska to NYC with stops in Greenland. Alternatively, Lindblad Expeditions – which has an ongoing alliance with National Geographic – offers half of the passage with trips starting in either Svalbard or Reykjavik.
What to Pack
- Waterproof jacket or parket
- Rubber boots
- Waterproof Pants
- Warm Underlayers – wool or synthetic – at least two pairs
- Fleece Jacket
- Warm Socks – bring extras
- Gloves or Mittens
- Warm Hat
- Scarf or Neck Gaiter
- Onboard Attire: comfy trousers, a t-shirt or long-sleeve shirt, flat shoes
- Gadgets: of course you’ll want to snap pix and shoot video. But remember that the fancier you get, the more peripheral stuff you have to pack, like extra lenses, sound-recording equipment, tripod, monopod, batteries, chargers, memory cards, cases – which all adds up to more-more-more weight and stuff to lug around.
Beyonce and Jay-Z in Iceland. Photo via Beyonce's Instagram
“Lots of you are thinking I don’t want to buy the clothing because I’ll never use it again,” adds one veteran Arctic explorer. “Well, if you are like me…once you do your first Polar trip you will be hooked. It won’t be the last and you will need all that clothing and gear again and again.”
Would you visit the Arctic? Where else would you love to travel in 2015? Let us know and don’t forget to use @Isharya