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Svalbard: Ice Bears and Ivory Gulls - Cruise

Tour Overview:

Teetering on the brink of the North Pole, Svalbard is a dramatic archipelago of rocky crags, mountains and ice. Svalbard is administered by Norway and the capital, Longyearbyen, is a delightful town and with a budding ecotourism infrastructure that belies its grimy history as a frontier coal-mining settlement. Once the sun rises in mid-April, it does not set again for 5 months. Our visit is timed to be perfect for Arctic wildlife; specifically the majestic Polar Bear. We hope that our trip, timed for early-mid June will be optimal for the breakup of the pack ice on the northern stretches of the archipelago. This is where the white bears hunt seals, and much of our time will be spent tracking down Polar Bears, Walrus, Reindeer, seals and perhaps some whales too. At these dizzying latitudes the diversity of birds is low, but the sheer spectacles are awe-inspiring. Millions of alcids, including Little Auk (Dovekie) and Thick-billed Murre are scattered throughout the serene waters while the ghostly prize of high Arctic birds, the amazing Ivory Gull, will undoubtedly be the avian highlight of the trip.

Upcoming Departures:


Departure 1: 6 - 13 June

Departure 2: 13 - 20 June

Departure 3: 27 June - 4 July

*Price: Rates range from $4000 to $7300 per person depending on cabin type.

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Other Tour Details:

Length: 8 Days (plus any extra nights) 

Starting City: Longyearbyen, Norway
Ending City: Longyearbyen, Norway
Pace: Relaxed
Physical Difficulty: Easy
Focus: Birding, Wildlife, Photography

*Note: These cruises are led by superb expedition staff leaders. A Tropical Birding guide will join the trip only if we sell a certain number of berths, but a TB guide is not essential for you to have a great trip.

Detailed Itinerary

Pre-tour: Arrival in Longyearbyen

While the cruise does not begin until tomorrow, it is highly advisable to arrive at least a day early as insurance against travel delays. It is well worth doing some birding around Longyearbyen, where great species can be found including King and Common Eider, Long-tailed Duck in its blackish breeding plumage, Pink-footed and Barnacle Goose, and the omnipresent Snow Bunting. The roadside pools often hold Common Ringed Plover, Dunlin, and Ruddy Turnstone in their fine breeding dress. This is also an excellent area to search for the only Svalbard endemic taxon, the hardy race of Rock Ptarmigan, which somehow survives the four months of Polar winter darkness. With a little luck you may catch up with some mammals too, including Svalbard Reindeer, and if you are extremely lucky, an Arctic Fox. We can help book you a night in Longyearbyen.


Day 1: Longyearbyen and ship boarding

Depending on embarkation time, there could be time to visit a Little Auk colony, or spend some time seeking out breeding plumage Purple Sandpipers or stunning breeding Red Phalaropes down at the local ponds. Or you may wish to see the impressive Longyearbyen Museum before boarding the very well appointed ship, with the highest ice-breaking capacity in Svalbard.


Day 2: Route to Raudfjorden

Sailing to Raudfjorden, on the north coast of Spitsbergen, you take in an expansive fjord spilling with glaciers – and maybe even visited by ringed and bearded seals. The cliffs and shoreline of this fjord also support thriving seabird colonies, rich vegetation, and the possibility of polar bears.

Day 3: The massive Monaco Glacier

Depending on the weather, you could sail into Liefdefjorden and cruise within sight of the 5-kilometer-long (3.1 miles) face of the precipitous Monaco Glacier. The waters in front of this glacier are a favorite feeding spot for thousands of kittiwakes, and the base of the ice is a popular polar bear hunting ground. If ice conditions prevent sailing here early in the season, an alternate route along the west coast of Spitsbergen can be implemented.

Day 4: Highlights of Hinlopen

Today you sail into Hinlopen Strait, home to bearded seals, ringed seals, and polar bears. At the entrance there is even the possibility to spot blue whales. After cruising among the ice floes of Lomfjordshalvøya in the Zodiacs, you can view the bird cliffs of Alkefjellet with their thousands of Brünnich’s guillemots. On the east side of Hinlopen Strait, you may attempt a landing on Nordaustlandet. Here reindeer, pink-footed geese, and walruses are likely sights. You can take an alternate route if ice prevents entry into Hinlopen.

Day 5: Stop at the Seven Islands

The northernmost point of your voyage may be north of Nordaustlandet, in the Seven Islands. Here you reach 80° north, just 870 km (540 miles) from the geographic North Pole. Polar bears inhabit this region, so the ship may park for several hours among the pack ice before wheeling around west again.

Day 6: Sailing the continental shelf

While retracing your route west, keep watch for polar bears and elusive Greenland (bowhead) whales. About 40 nautical miles west of Spitsbergen, you sail the edge of the continental shelf. Here fin whales forage during the summer in the upwelling zones (where cold, nutrient-rich water wells up from below the sea’s surface) that run along the Spitsbergen banks. At the mouth of Kongsfjorden, you have a good chance of sighting minke whales.

Day 7: Reindeer, foxes, and so many seabirds

Walruses sometimes haul out in Forlandsundet, your next stop. Alternatively, you might sail into St. Johns Fjord or south to the mouth of Isfjorden, landing at Alkhornet. Seabirds nest on these cliffs, Arctic foxes search below for fallen eggs and chicks, and reindeer graze the sparse vegetation. You arrive in Longyearbyen later at night.


Day 8: Return to Longyearbyen

We will have anchored just off Longyearbyen the previous night, and will enter the harbor early this morning and disembark right after breakfast. There will be a transfer to take us to the airport where this magical adventure draws to a close, with many happy memories to last for a lifetime.

Trip Considerations

CLIMATE: This is a polar region, so it is cold, even in mid-summer it hovers around zero; wind chill can make it feel like -10 to -20. The ship is warm inside and layered clothing is essential.


DIFFICULTY: Easy. The zodiac trips are fairly relaxed, boarding and disembarking from the dinghies being the only challenge. There are several short walks on land, but these can be enjoyed by people with only a moderate level of fitness.


ACCOMMODATION: The cabins on the ship are excellent, and food is wonderful throughout the voyage.

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