While some people's idea of the perfect summer vacation involves a bikini, a hotel suite steps from the sand, a cocktail and a beach lounge, for others a thermal parka, polar fleece gloves, a cramped cabin and a 1000mm zoom lens is more appropriate, especially when your idea of the ultimate adventure is a trip on an Arctic ice breaker or expedition ship.
Arctic travel is an experience without equal for those who cherish the beauty of pristine landscapes and venturing to remote destinations. For many it is a once in a lifetime experience and with that comes a rather hefty price tag -- in general, these trips range from $4,000 to over $30,000 excluding airfare to the ship embarkation point. Traveling aboard an ice breaker or a more luxurious expedition ship (complete with observation lounge, spa, fitness center and sauna) allows you to explore some of the planet's great wonders from the volcanic landscapes of Iceland to the sparkling ice shelves of Norway's Svalbard archipelago and the far reaches of the Canadian Arctic. Travel along the fjords of Greenland, navigate Canada's Northwest Passage, take to the icy waters high above coastal Norway under the midnight sun and visit little-known towns where communities maintain their traditional way of life under some of the planet's harshest climatic conditions. For animal lovers, a chance to see polar bears, whales, walrus and a host of Arctic fauna in their natural habitat is the highlight of an Arctic adventure, as is the opportunity to get closer to icebergs and surreal landscapes traveling on Zodiacs or kayaking.
Arctic sea adventures are not last-minute travel ideas and due to restricted occupancy and narrow departure dates (summer months only) you will often need to book these trips a year in advance to secure a spot. Each expedition company will outline the type of clothing and equipment you will need to cope with the climatic conditions and some supply extreme outer wear like jackets and boots. It is important to check what is and is not included in the expedition price. In most cases airfare is additional, but some providers include the cost of the short haul flight from a major airport to a smaller regional outpost to board the ship. Land excursions, Zodiac trips and kayaking are generally part of the rate but add-ons like helicopter rides may incur additional cost.
Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic (tel. 800/EXPEDITIONS; www.expeditions.com) offer a number of specialized expeditions to discover the Arctic from June to September. There are five different itineraries that range by destination and duration (from ten to 17 days). All expeditions are accompanied by specialized staff including scientists, biologists, professional wildlife photographers and Arctic experts. On August 29, 2008 the National Geographic Explorer, an ice-class polar expedition vessel that holds 148 guests in 81 outside cabins will set sail as part of the Lindblad fleet on the "Icebergs and Ice Bears: From Baffin Island to Greenland" trip, the shortest of these Arctic adventures. On Baffin Island the focus is wildlife, especially polar bears, as well as walrus, seals, and whales. In Davis Strait, view enormous tabular icebergs and arctic wildlife at the ice's edge and on Greenland's west coast, discover dozens of long, deep fjords, many with glaciers fed by the Greenland Icecap that covers most of this country. Highlights include cruising among the towering icebergs of Disko Bay and exploring the Ilulissat Glacier. This ten-day trip (seven days aboard the ship) is priced from $6,590 per person plus airfare from the U.S. to Ottawa, Canada and on to Iqaluit, Nunavut to board the ship.
The 15-day "Ice's Edge: Arctic Svalbard and Iceland" trip is priced from $11,290 (this year's July 22 adventure includes round-trip airfare from New York to Oslo in the price). Svalbard lies between Norway and the North Pole and offers the thrill of seeing magnificent ice bears in the wild. Explore one of the wildest, most pristine and dramatic places on earth and experience 1100 year old Viking history and culture. Hike, kayak or Zodiac around Jan Mayen Island, known for its active volcano and take in the glaciers, hot springs, geysers, active volcanoes, icecaps, tundra and vast lava fields of Iceland. See an abundance of wildlife, both above and below the sea on kayaks, ROV and through underwater cameras.
Quark Expeditions (tel. 800/356-5699; www.quarkexpeditions.com) likewise has a selection of Arctic adventures that range in price, duration and destination. Their "Spitsbergen Explorer" trip aboard the Akademik Sergey Vavilov departs twice monthly during the months of June, July, and August from June 26, 2008 to August 14, 2009 and prices range from $3,390 (triple share cabin) to $9,590 (in a suite) per person. This 11-day active adventure begins and ends in Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen, one of Norway's Arctic islands in the Svalbard archipelago. The aim of this expedition is to circumnavigate the coastline of the largest island in the group, Spitsbergen. The exact course depends on local weather and ice conditions. Sail magnificent fjords, cruise in Zodiacs past towering sea cliffs and encounter polar bears and walrus in their natural habitat. Visit 14th of July Glacier, Smeerenburg, Moffen Island, Thousand Islands, and Bournbonhamna. Optional kayaking is available.
The "Labrador Explorer" trip departs each July aboard the Akademik Ioffe with rates ranging from $4,100 to $7,900 per person. This 13-day adventure begins in St. John's in Newfoundland and then follows the Labrador Coast to Ungava Bay. En route, you'll visit the 1,100 year-old Viking village of L'Anse aux Meadows and shore landings will be made in Torngat Mountains National Park Reserve, Canada's newest national park. Visit Hopedale, Okak Bay, Cape Mugford, Hebron, Saglek Bay, Nachvak Fjord, Button Islands, Martin Bay, Akpatok Island, Hudson Strait, Lower Savage Islands, and Monumental Island. The expedition team will contrast the cultures and languages of the indigenous people who live along the coast. The trip disembarks on Baffin Island in the Nunavut capital, Iqaluit.
For the ultimate Arctic adventure, board the nuclear-powered 50 Years of Victory icebreaker in Murmansk, Russia on a North Pole expedition. The 16-day trip starts and ends in Helsinki, Finland and the round-trip flight from Helsinki to Murmansk is included. Shore landings are planned in Franz Josef Land and at 90°N, the top of the world. Sightseeing by helicopter provides an aerial view of the icebreaker crushing through the Arctic Ocean pack ice. The trip departs in July and August and is priced at the high end of ice-breaker trips -- from $22,690 (per person in a standard twin cabin) to $33,390 (in the Arktika suite). An on-board marine biologist provides illustrated presentations, an ornithologist will accompany you topside to identify birds, an artist-in-residence will lead interactive workshops that encourage you to create your own polar masterpiece and you can attend the 90N Wildlife Film Festival. All trip prices include airport transfers, shipboard accommodation, all meals, all shore landings and excursions, an experienced Expedition Leader, formal and informal presentations by the Expedition Team and guest speakers, a photographic album on DVD, a pair of waterproof expedition boots on loan for shore landings, a Quark Expeditions parka, miscellaneous service taxes and port charges, and emergency evacuation insurance to a maximum of $100,000 per person.
If you can overlook the disaster film name, Poseidon Arctic Voyages (tel. +44/870-068-9142; www.northpolevoyages.com) is a European expedition cruise company operating voyages to the North Pole and alternative Arctic destinations aboard icebreakers and ice-strengthened ships. Their 11-day Anadyr, Chukotka and Wrangel Island adventure takes passengers to the lesser known Russian Far East, part of the Pacific Ring of Fire known for its abundance of active volcanoes.
The trip visits Egvekinot settlement, Zaliv Kresta Bay, known for its local culture and impressive bird colonies; Yttigran Island where bones of Bowhead Whales are laid out along the beach; the walrus breeding site of Arakamchechen Island; Janrakynnot, famous for its thermal springs; Cape Dezhnev, the easternmost point of Eurasia; Kolyuchin Island, the gloomy, abandoned weather station enlivened by thousands of nesting Puffins, Murres (Guillemots) and Cormorants; the Wrangel Island Nature Reserve, home to 40 endemic species, and the main breeding place of the polar bears in the Russian Arctic, plus walrus, reindeer, lemming, Snow Geese, and Musk-oxen.
This expedition is priced from $6,915 per person triple share (with shared facilities to $9,400 twin share with private bathroom. Suites are also available and priced from $11,770 to $15,670 per person. Rates include group transfers between the airport and the ship; ten nights aboard the Marina Tsvetaeva; all shore excursions and activities throughout the voyage by Zodiacs; a program of lectures by noted naturalists; experienced guides; three meals a day; pre-departure materials and expedition log; and miscellaneous service taxes and port charges. A net fuel surcharge of $28 per person per night and a fixed amount of $280 is applied for the cruise.
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