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Spitsbergen - Realm of the Polar Bear: an exclusive charter cruise

Clients on our Spitsbergen tour

Clients on our Spitsbergen tour

Operations Manager and Naturetrek’s wildlife cruise specialist, Paul Stanbury, outlines the advantages of joining one of Naturetrek’s exclusive wildlife charters around the Arctic island of Spitsbergen and recalls some of the highlights of our 2014 cruise.

In July 2006, Naturetrek exclusively chartered the 50-berth MV Professor Molchanov to operate our very first ‘whole ship’ wildlife expedition around the Arctic island of Spitsbergen, the largest in the Svalbard Archipelago. This cruise not only helped us celebrate our 20th anniversary in style, but set a benchmark in wildlife sightings which included an unbroken Naturetrek record of 56 Polar Bears! This trip was such an outstanding success that we’ve been chartering (and filling) ships for our Spitsbergen cruises ever since.

By exclusively chartering the whole vessel, Naturetrek is able, uniquely, to tailor the expedition voyage to suit the specialist wildlife-viewing and photography interests of our clients and take control over the itinerary, focus and guiding. We can ensure that our cruise only visits the very best sites for wildlife and scenery, and avoids the non-wildlife landings included by other tour operators and cruise organisers who are required to follow the general itineraries set by the ship operators. With such a limited amount of time to enjoy the islands, why waste precious hours visiting numerous dilapidated old trappers’ huts or a bleak coal mining community! Naturetrek ensures that the wildlife and scenic delights of Svalbard are the focus of our cruises and that every minute is used to the full! By travelling on one of our exclusive charters — Spitsbergen or elsewhere — you can also be assured that the guides will be wildlife experts and that everyone else on board will have the same passion for natural history as you!
For the past few years we have been chartering the ice-strengthened MV Ortelius which offers comfortable accommodation in en suite cabins for 116 people. Her reinforced hull allows our groups to head out into the pack-ice and, importantly, unlike most cruise vessels, MV Ortelius carries enough Zodiacs for everyone to leave the ship at the same time.
Once again, our Spitsbergen cruise during June/July 2014 was a great success. We may not have topped the Polar Bear record set in 2006, but last summer’s group enjoyed wonderful views of bears, both out on the pack-ice and on land. Although the number of Polar Bears we see each year varies from cruise to cruise, 10 or so individuals is our average for an 11-night expedition. We can, however, boast a 100% success rate for Polar Bears on our Spitsbergen cruises and will do our very best to ensure that this unbroken record continues! This year, even before they encountered their first bear, our group enjoyed some wonderful wildlife and scenery. On their very first evening, whilst sailing from Longyearbyen (the main community on Svalbard) to King’s Bay on the north-west coast, they were treated to an amazing sighting — seven Blue Whales! A few days later they had the wonderful experience of being checked out by a trio of inquisitive Walruses which lumbered out of the sea at Torellneset, on the shores of Nordaustlandet, to within a couple of metres of our admiring group.
Cruising along the base of the towering dolerite cliffs at Alkefjellet (the aptly named ‘Auk Mountain’), enveloped in a blizzard of Brünnich’s Guillemots, was equally memorable, as was sitting quietly on the edge of the Little Auk colony on Fugelsangen (‘Bird Song’ Island) whilst thousands of these endearing little birds chittered away nearby. Ivory and Glaucous Gulls, King Eider, Grey Phalarope, Snow Bunting, and Long-tailed, Pomarine and Arctic Skuas were amongst the other avian highlights of our voyage, whilst additional mammals included Arctic Fox, a further three species of whale — Humpback, Fin and Minke! — and Bearded, Ringed and Harp Seals. These species were just some of the other wildlife our group enjoyed during their memorable 11-day holiday, and sightings were enhanced by the 24-hour daylight that our expeditions enjoy at this time of year, since the sun never sets in June and July!
Yet, it is not just the wildlife that lingers in the memory; the scenery, too, is breathtaking. Our cruise visited huge glaciers backed by jagged mountains, flat polar deserts, tundra clothed in colourful saxifrages, and steep-sided mirror-calm fjords. Fortunately for the bears, plenty of pack-ice still remained around the north of Svalbard this summer, allowing our group the opportunity of experiencing one of Spitsbergen’s true highlights, the chance to head out into the pack-ice and be surrounded by a ‘crazy-paving’ of ice stretching to the horizon.
So, please do join us this summer. You will be able to enjoy the very best of Svalbard’s amazing scenery and wildlife, with every precious minute in the Arctic being used to the full.

Our 2015 Spitsbergen Cruise runs from Thursday 25th June to Sunday 5th July ’15 and costs from £4,995.

View images from our Spitsbergen Cruise here.

Book our Spitsbergen Cruise:
To book a place on our 11-day Spitsbergen — Realm of the Polar Bear holiday (which includes a 10-day voyage around the island of Spitsbergen) please call Paul Stanbury on 01962 733051 or email

‘An Alaskan Voyage - Whales, Bears & Glaciers’:
To find out about other Naturetrek exclusive charter wildlife cruises, such as our 14-day Alaska Cruise holiday (which includes a 10-day voyage through south-east Alaska’s ‘Inside Passage’) please click on the link or call Paul on 01962 733051.