When to go on an Arctic cruise

Best time to go on an Arctic Cruise


WHAT HAPPENS WHEN IN THE ARCTIC

July-August is – for many – the loveliest time in the Arctic, as the sea ice has melted, leaving open waters to cruise through, while migrating whales breach the chilly surface. The Gulf Stream flows up Svalbard’s coast, creating a strangely mild oasis 1,200km north of the Arctic Circle. Earlier on the recently calved icebergs are more colossal, but the later you travel, the further north you can sail. By late September, however, the ice creeps southward again, and the Northern Lights begin to glow. Canadian and Russian cruises barely skim the Arctic Circle; the climate is much chillier, bringing ice – and polar bears – considerably further south.

When to go on an Arctic cruise


a month by month guide

There’s not much in the way of sunlight or open sailing passages during November, December, January and February, so Arctic cruises are not recommended, especially if you’re hoping to see any wildlife.

Anyone intending to experience the Northern Lights, however, is going to be met with much more success although there are limited alternative activities to accompany winter cruises in the Arctic.

The return of the sun in mid-February and early March sees the advent of spring when caribou start to migrate northwards and polar bears begin to emerge in the wilds of Canada.

April is one of the best times to go on an Arctic cruise for nature photographers as not only are there some incredible newly formed icebergs but there’s every chance of also seeing humpback whales appearing beyond untouched landscapes covered in snow and ice.

The majority of the most impressive icebergs tend to last through May and into June and it’s as they’re melting that you’ll find the best time to see narwhals, sea birds and the caribou migration in full force.

July hails the opening of the Northwest Passage which is usually accessible until the end of August, and if you’re looking to find polar bears coming closer to the shoreline as well as sea birds and Beluga whales in Hudson Bay then this is the best time to go on Arctic cruise holidays.

Sailing around Spitsbergen is also a summer activity but as soon as September turns to October the northern shores will have iced over again and the lack of daylight and colder temperatures make Arctic cruises much less pleasurable.

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What happens when in The Arctic


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Charlotte Caffrey, co-founder of our supplier Aqua-Firma, advises on when to go on an Arctic cruise to Svalbard: “The seasons are very different. In June, there’s a lot of snow and ice, so you’re able only to visit parts of Spitsbergen. As the season goes on, you get a melting of the ice so you can do a circumnavigation. It’s a longer trip and you’re getting very different aspects of the Arctic. By September, there’s no longer 24-hour daylight; you’ll get more evening time. The birdlife stays from around June into early September – there’s a lot of food around and the breeding activity is really high. So you have to think: what do I want to see? How long do I want to be there? Which parts do I want to explore?”

Mary Curry, from our supplier Adventure Life, shares her advice on when to go on an Arctic cruise: “I did a narwhal trip around Baffin Island and the narwhal move in June, so that’s the best time to see those. But if you want to go right into the Northwest Passage, you have to go in August. That’s when it’s the most free of ice so you can make the whole route through.”

What happens when in The Arctic


Our nature pick from The Arctic calendar

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It’s not all ice and polar bears up here. You’ll see brown bears feasting on salmon in a landscape dotted with delicate summer wildflowers along Eastern Siberia’s Kamchatka Peninsula in July. If you cruise along the peninsula’s coast in September, the landscape will be painted in vivid autumnal reds and oranges.
Photo credits: [Topbox: Alexandre Lavrov] [Birds: Polar Cruises] [Brown bear: Harald Deischinger]
Written by Vicki Brown
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