The Arctic Ocean is an ocean surrounded by land, the North Pole, an environment unlike any other in the world. Harry and I embarked on Silversea’s Silver Explorer’s first expedition sailing of the season. This ship carries a maximum of 132 passengers and a staff of 117. On my expedition, there were only 102 passengers representing 16 countries from around the world. The Explorer is compact, and I found it easy to navigate.
The ship left Tromso, known as the gateway to the Arctic, and rocked and rolled through the North Atlantic Ocean and the Barents Sea. It was rough until we reached Bear Island. Bjornoya “Bear Island” is a Norwegian Arctic island that forms the southernmost part of Svalbard. The island is located in the western part of the Barents Sea, halfway between Spitzbergen and the North Cape. It was discovered by Willem Barents, a Dutch navigator and explorer, in 1596, and he named the island after a Polar bear that was seen swimming nearby. The ship anchored, and we ventured out on our first zodiac expedition. The ice has receded, so today you will not find any bears on Bear Island, but you can delight in viewing some amazing geological formations and birds, thousands and thousands of birds.
Exploring the Arctic in Zodiacs from the Silver Explorer
This was my first expedition cruise, and life on board is very different from classic ocean cruising. There are none of the following: casinos, multiple restaurants, cruise directors, or shows. What you will find, however, is an expedition leader, naturalists, briefings, lectures, and zodiac expeditions. In the Silversea tradition, the expeditions are well planned. Passengers were divided into 4 groups. Groups 1 and 2 disembarked together and upon their return, groups 3 and 4 would follow. There is a rotation system so that everyone can start early and sleep in too. In this disappearing environment, everything is controlled, including how many people can be ashore at any given time. Each zodiac carries 8 to 10 people, including the naturalist who navigates the zodiac. Expeditions last approximately 90 minutes.
In the afternoon, the ship continued heading north and the next day we were exploring Sorkapp, the bear territory. Most of the morning was spent on the deck looking for bears. We didn’t find any, but everyone enjoyed the ice cruising. The Explorer anchored in Gashamna and that’s where we spent the night.
One can call this area “Spitzbergen in a nutshell”. It is a place of spectacular beauty, impressive mountains, glaciers, bird cliffs, and picturesque fjords with floating ice chunks and wildlife. We experienced a 90-minute zodiac cruise to Burgerbukta. Although we didn’t spot any bears, we did see some lesser-known bird species, a massive glacier, and a bearded seal floating on a chunk of ice.
In the afternoon, the Explorer anchored in Gnalodden which is best known for its stunning bird cliffs and trapper’s hut. We learned the history of Wanny Wolstad, a woman from Norway who spent five years living in the trapper’s hut. I couldn’t imagine Wanny living in that hut, especially during harsh Arctic winters, and wondered how she managed to sleep through the cacophony of thousands of hummingbirds. (It was so noisy; I was ready to swim back to the ship!) A group just ahead of us spotted an arctic fox. I didn’t see it, and I didn’t care–the scenery was spectacularly soulful!
Julia Shore, Arctic Explorer and Lara Hat Model
Briefings and lectures are well attended and perfectly scheduled. They end just in time as the restaurant opens for dinner at 7:30 PM.
Our next zodiac exploration was in Poolepynten to look for walruses. This is a very small, flat, sandy-pebble Island and a perfect environment for the walrus. There were a dozen or more just sleeping on the beach; others were swimming and playing in the water. These massive creatures are fun to observe, and they were the topic of our evening lecture.
Nordaust Nature Reserve is a place for ice cruising and bear spotting. It was delightful to see the mother & cub in their natural habitat.
Polar Bear and Cub
The following day, we took a hike to the glacier, and in the afternoon the ship docked in Ny Alesund, one of the settlements in Spitzbergen still in use. The mountains and glaciers of inner Kongsfjord are only a few kilometers away, which makes this a very scenic place.
This was our last day on board. Everyone was winding down, packing, and getting ready for disembarkation in Longyearbyen to then charter a flight to Oslo.
The Arctic is one of those “once in a lifetime” trips. It is for the old, the young, and those in-between. It is educational and awe-inspiring. It is at the top of the world… the land of the Polar bears and the midnight sun, an extraordinary experience!