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.