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Realm of the Polar Bear - M/S Expedition ACS
4 reviews for this tour
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Our trip in the Arctic on board the M/S Expedition was truly awesome. We were lucky enough to have a total of about 14 polar bear sightings – though I can only claim to have seen about 8 or 9 of them myself. Two large and well-fed looking bears came right up to the ship, posing for the camera and rolling between leaps from ice floe to ice floe. In order to find these bears, we sailed up to the edge of the pack ice which was around 81°N when we were there. We went to the small island of Kvitoya in the north east of Svalbard, which was the first time the ship had been there this year and were then able to circumnavigate Nordaustlandet (the big North-East island of Svalbard). On our Zodiac cruises, we saw some less well-fed looking bears on land (possibly juveniles and females) as well as some large groups of walrus swimming and lying about on land. Cruising along the cliffs where Guillemots nested in their thousands was a remarkable experience for the ears, as well as the eyes! We went ashore too to enjoy watching arctic fox cubs waiting for mum to return after hunting below the Kittiwake nesting cliffs as well as reindeer grazing peacefully. We enjoyed many more bird sightings (including Ivory Gulls and Red Thoated Divers), awesome landscapes, glaciers and geology. The icing on the cake though was whale encounters. Not only did we have a pair of fin whales around the ship, but we were able to watch a pair of blue whales feeding around the ship for around an hour one evening. I just stood up from the dinner table and saw two blows off in the distance – and there they were. Truly a once in a life-time experience! I told you that I wanted to see whales didn’t I – and I got whale sightings beyond my wildest dreams! The crew and housekeeping staff were brilliant and the food was just soooo good. Although there was fog on a couple of days, we also had sunshine and were even able to enjoy a barbecue on deck one evening! The experts and expedition staff were all very good with several outstanding ones. The photographer, Sue, was just amazing and so hard working. Oh and the cabins worked well too for us; we didn’t feel overcrowded with our son in our triple cabin. So thanks for all your help early on when we booked – it was a truly wonderful trip to a magical place and we will treasure the memories for a long time. Can’t wait to get my photos downloaded and sorted.
What was the highlight or most memorable moment of your tour?
Standing on the bridge of the ship watching 19 polar bears go about their business on the ice in front of us. An utterly magical moment that I really can't put into words. Followed closely by sitting on the greenest moss imaginable while weeks-old arctic fox cubs played less than 10metres from our feet. That doesn't even take into account the bird cliffs at Alkefjellet, the Austfonna ice sheet and watching icebergs calve, climbing the 14th July glacier and being in a zodiac when a bear suddenly popped up in the water beside us. To be honest, it was all the most memorable!
How was your Explore Tour Leader?
All the guides on board were fabulous. All experts in their field with interesting, amusing and engaging styles of lecturing when on board, and helping us get the most out of our excursions when on land.
What tips would you give to someone else booking this tour?
"Pack less than you think - a couple of pairs of trousers, lots of under layers and several jumpers plus a windproof top layer is all you really need. It's never that cold, i spent time on shore in just a thin jumper, but on deck with the wind blowing it can be really nippy so ear and fingertip protection are really useful.
Do not expect this to be a relaxing holiday, it's an expedition (albeit one in some comfort with magnificent food!), if wildlife is spotted at 2am you will be woken and even on a normal day the schedule starts at 6am and things are planned all the way through to 9pm. Sharing a cabin can really bring the cost down and is still incredibly comfortable and roomy, plus you get to meet new people! "
Do you have anything else to add?
Book this, you won't regret it! It's a trip of a lifetime and regardless of seeing bears or not, to get within 600miles of the north pole, travelling in uncharted waters and seeing things that no person before you has seen, and doing it in style without a tent or survival gear in sight is an experience not to be missed.
After a day of travelling and a very comfortable night at Hotel Spitsbergen we joined the M/S Expedition. The staff welcomed us aboard and we were shown to our cabins. We had a category 3 cabin which had plenty of room, a window instead of port-hole and en-suite bathroom.
After all the necessary drills we set sail and this is where the fun started. As we progressed along Isfjorden, the pack ice which had been patchy began to thicken and we could see in the distance another ship and a couple of yachts that were not moving and were surrounded by ice. Expedition is ice reinforced not an icebreaker and our captain tried to get through but decided to turn back and we woke the next morning at anchour inYmerbukta inside Isfjorden. It was a beautiful calm warm day and the views from the deck stunning with the Esmark glacier on one side and pack ice on the other.
The morning briefings provided us with information on zodiac operations and behaviour in polar bear country. All our guides were armed every time we went ashore in case of bear encounters .The afternoon gave us a chance to practise our zodiac skills. We saw a bearded seal sunning itself on the pack ice, numerous birds and having found a place to land got quite close to Reindeer. So a good first day and back to the ship for dinner and then back to tackle the pack ice again. It took until 8am the next morning but we made it through so a day at sea with interesting lectures .We reached 80degrees north and what was to be a brilliant day. We started at the bird cliffs at Alkefjellet 60,000 pairs of Thick-billed Murres nesting on narrow ledges, an amazing and somewhat smelly site. Then just after lunch a female Polar Bear with 2 cubs was spotted on the pack ice. They were quite hard to spot as she was moving on and off the ice but we stayed with them and one of the cubs stood on his hind legs to get a better look at us. This was to be our only bear sighting but how wonderful to see them in their true environment. We finished our day with a beach landing and 18 Walrus’s. The next few days we visited Gravneset Whaler cemetery and beach (where the brave can take a dip!), bird cliff and a hike to the top of a glacier, Ny Alesund, and just watching the breathtaking scenery from the deck. As we returned to Longyearbyen the pack ice had gone but was replaced by fog so our last hike was cancelled as it would not have been safe to land.
This trip brings home how wild and unpredictable this land is and wildlife is not”guaranteed" as with other trips (Galapagos and some African safari’s). The ship was comfortable, food varied and delicious and the crew and staff went out of their way to make our trip enjoyable so would recommend this cruise to anyone wanting to experience the Arctic.
Tips - I took my own wellies as have large feet but they do need to have a good sole with grip as having landed you walk in them on different terrains, inner soles will help keep feet warm when landing in water. It was not too cold, waterproof trousers over jeans were fine most of the time; ski salopets were useful for on deck when the ship was moving. Clothing doesn’t have to cost you a fortune, I bought cheap ski wear from a supermarket and it was fine. If you are prone to sea sickness we nibbled on stem ginger as well as taking medication, although we only had 1 rough night.