Where is Svalbard?

There’s something very special about being able to journey to a remote location, a wild place where you can still view nature untouched. Pristine blue glaciers, towering mountains and quite possibly spotting a polar bear are quite the allure and  thus, we set off for another Arctic adventure, this time in Svalbard. Dermatologists like me don’t do beach vacations very often!

Svalbard is located approximately halfway between Norway and the North Pole. Combined with Franz Joseph Land, the area is home to more than 3000 polar bears. It is an archipelago of islands with few inhabited areas.

glacier svalbard
mountains in svlabard

How To Visit

There are few ways to experience Svalbard. The capital, Longyearbyen, is quite the bustling town for a place so geographically remote. You can find modern hotels and apparently, quite the luxury dining experience at various restaurants in town. If staying in Svalbard, you must connect with a tour or guide to leave town as polar bears are a very real threat to your safety. We explored staying here as a possibility, but ultimately chose an expedition ship that would attempt to circumnavigate the archipelago of Svalbard. To us, this was an easy decision to be able to see as much as possible in a relatively short time period.

When to Visit

The warmer months of May to September are when expedition ships cruise as the pack ice is melting and you can journey farther north. Additionally, the midnight sun starts here in April so you have longer daylight hours for viewing. If you traveled to Longyearbyen in the winter, you would be met with 24 hours of darkness which is great if you were attempting to catch the Northern Lights. Finally, there is something called the blue season when you haven’t quite emerged from the total darkness and everything is cast in a beautiful dusky shade of blue which occurs in March.

How to Find a Deal

Like our journey to Antarctica, expedition ships are not inexpensive; however, as with Antarctica, if you have a little patience and luck, you can secure a last minute spot for a much better price. For this journey, I searched for many months waiting for deals. We were lucky to discover a brand new ship from Swan Hellenic, the SH Diana, that just launched in 2023. Given that is was its inaugural year, I don’t think many travelers had it on their radar. So, we scored a great rate on a gorgeous new ship with plenty of lux touches. As a bonus, the ship was not even close to capacity. We used Cruise Norway as our travel broker and they were very responsive through all aspects of the booking process. For your own rate sleuthing, we also did see many deals around Black Friday in November. For example, this year Quark was offering 2 for 1 for Black Friday. Our package included the cruise itself, a pre and post hotel night stay, all transfers and a charter flight from Oslo to Longyearbyen. We did consider other ships, but having the charter flight included was a key in saving.  International flights are not included but we were able to use miles to get to Oslo without too much trouble. 

The SH Diana

The SH Diana is absolutely a gorgeous ship and the arctic expedition was luxurious. I would venture you can’t really find more glamour while expedition cruising. The expedition team really did make every effort to get us out to different locations despite some wind and weather setbacks. The staff were extraordinary. The food was delicious with shamefully generous breakfast and lunch buffets, afternoon tea and an exquisite sit down formal dinner each evening. If that wasn’t enough, there were turn down chocolates and spiked hot beverages on your excursions returns. You could literally eat for every hour of the day. The final night our our trip, our 5th wedding anniversary, they even had a cake and serenaded us! The waitstaff was top notch and every possible need was met. Alcohol is included and wine was offered with dinner or lunch if you desired. The housekeeping was also flawless. I frankly don’t know how our cabin that we left in a furor each day with winter gear strewn everywhere was organized to perfection on our return. Finally, the ship was sparkling clean with smudge free windows for wildlife viewing. (Read our Svalbard Day 1 Synopsis for a more detailed description of the ship)

Overall Experience

Overall, this is a fantastic expedition cruise and we can really find no fault with the voyage. We were spoiled by having only a quarter of the ship’s capacity which made everything feel very intimate though I think with a a few voyages completed, it will be streamlined to handle the full passenger volume without issue. Our only suggestion is, much like our Antarctica cruise, the excursions are brief and if you are incredibly active, a more adventurous ship might be preferable. Given the luxury of the ship, certainly meal times and lectures were set with a strict time schedule…our typical style is to stay out until our fingers are literally freezing and to skip meals in favor of granola bars not to miss a minute with the wildlife, so it’s a trade but the luxury is really unparalleled for the Arctic. 

The Arctic is a truly a voyage to unspoiled beauty and harsh wilderness that must be seen before it’s too late!

Minor Indulgence

Like our other polar excursion to Antarctica, the expedition cruise itself was our splurge. However, we really felt we had an outstanding value given all the luxury we experienced, included pre and post hotel nights and the charter flight to Oslo. Also, be vigilant in searching for last minute deals!

Major Buzz

Svalbard is becoming victim to over tourism and major decisions will be made on the feasibility of future cruises in this area. Go now!

Open Rhode Insider Tips

  1. Cruise soon…Svalbard cruising may be severely limited in the future due to over tourism.
  2. You won’t need to pack an outer top layer as you’ll be provided with an expedition parka with insulated zip out lining which is quite warm and waterproof that is yours to keep post cruise.
  3. You’ll also be provided with a waterproof backpack to keep (very convenient on the zodiac cruises in foul weather) and loaned waterproof knee high boots.
  4. Summer in Svalbard means no sunset..the sun is up 24 hours per day. Bring an eye mask if you are a light sleeper though the cabin stewards do a great job with the curtains and dim room lighting at turn down service.
  5. Bring your bathing suit. There’s a pool, hot tub, sauna….but you’ll need it for the Arctic polar plunge.
  6. Binoculars are in the room for your use during the cruise but I’d also recommend a telephoto lens. You are privileged to see wildlife, not invade their space at in close proximity so you’ll need a long lens for photos.
  7. Surprise. It’s cold in the Arctic…even in the summer. So dress in layers and a waterproof outer layer is must (you’ll just need the pants as they’ll provide the boots and parka.
  8. There is a very quintessential polar bear sign outside the airport…don’t miss it!

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