If your holidays or annual vacation have become a rushed and poorly thought out escape from the mundane, you’re not alone. So many opt for ‘tourist’ destinations over authentic travel experiences because it just seems easier. When you’re already working 40+ hours a week or struggling with your business and family life obligations, pre-packaged resort and large cruise vacations can seem like a simple way to get away to relax.
So off you go, herded around with a few hundred or thousand other weary tourists. You have a program to follow. You can pretty much expect what kind of experience you’ll have from start to finish, depending on the package you purchased. After all, that’s exactly what these types of vacations are for: delivering the exact same experience over and over. The same shows. The same meals. The same ports of call or guided excursions.
These types of holidays, while they certainly serve a purpose and are even preferred by many, can leave an adventurous soul wondering, “Isn’t there something more than this?”
If you’re craving the unexpected over predictability; if you’re in search of enrichment and fulfillment over a week to ten days of complete mental shutdown, a Spitsbergen expedition just might be the ticket. With all of the planning and logistics laid out by a team of polar experts, you can still get to some of the least visited places on earth for a truly unique, immersive travel experience. You’ll come back to your everyday life feeling not only relaxed but rejuvenated, your curiosity and connection with the natural world reignited.
Here are just a few of the ways a Spitsbergen expedition will rekindle your wanderlust and feed your soul.
Life is surreal and magical in the land of the Midnight Sun. Steep, jagged cliffs give way to nutrient-rich seawater that sustains a diverse array of Arctic animals. The vast untamed tundra, massive icebergs and endless skies all play with your sense of perception. How is it possible that places this untouched and pristine still exist? Guided by Arctic expedition experts, you’ll explore issues like sea ice melt, polar habitats and ecosystems, and Arctic animal behavior in natural settings that give your experience a deep, meaningful context.
Quark passengers snowshoe the pristine Spitsbergen tundra, always watchful for whales, walrus, and other Arctic wildlife.
As the landscape constantly changes around you, it’s clear that forces far greater than ourselves are at work. You can’t explain it, let alone predict what might happen next. Spitsbergen offers a rare opportunity in a world increasingly automated and routine to be completely blown away by the magical, the inexplicable—the truly wonderful.
You’re making dinner. The TV’s on in the background, droning endless negativity and fear on the evening news. A family member is telling you about their day. You stop stirring long enough to check a notification that just pinged on your smartphone. As you’re reading an email from work, a push notification shares a new comment on your Facebook.
Constant partial attention is the process of paying attention to multiple sources of incoming information at once. It’s become nearly ubiquitous; it’s the way we work, learn, and exist in modern society.
Spitsbergen gives you the rare and increasingly important option of going digitally dark. With the distractions of media and constant connectedness cut off, you’re free to evolve from a spectator to an integral part of the expedition experience.
(Note: If you want the option of accessing Internet onboard, you can purchase it through guest services. You won’t be able to access it while you’re Zodiac cruising or on shore landings.)
You’ll see iconic arctic animals in Spitsbergen, like walrus hauled out on the beach in coastal areas.
Disconnecting from the distractions of the modern world makes way for enriching, rewarding interactions with your natural environment. On expedition in Spitsbergen, you’ll soon see how the island earned the nickname “Wildlife Capital of the Arctic.” Positioned between mainland Norway and the North Pole, Spitsbergen is one of the northernmost uninhabited wilderness destinations on the planet. Its biodiverse coastal region is home to a variety of whales, walrus, seals, reindeer, Arctic fox and over 30 species of birds.
“The overnight sail from Longyearbyen saw us in area of Bellsund, on the western side of Spitsbergen. High, snow-capped peaks with towering rock walls were the backdrop for our landing site at Vårsolbukta. Excitedly, we headed off in small groups for our adventure across the snow and tundra. High in the scree slopes was the cacophony of sound from the nesting little auks (dovekies) and the shrill calls of the kittiwakes. As we ambled Arctic-style, we became the curiosity of numerous Svalbard reindeer. Quietly we watched as they investigated us further, so close that we could admire the curl of their eyelashes!” Annie Inglis, Expedition Team
And of course, that’s not all...
Spitsbergen offers the best chance of seeing that most majestic and fearsome of polar animals, the polar bear. In fact, you can even opt for an expedition focused primarily on finding and photographing them, on Introduction to Spitsbergen: Polar Bear Safari.
A polar bear lies on an ice floe in Spitsbergen, waiting and watching for an unfortunate seals to pop its head out for air.
We take you to Spitsbergen in June and July, before the majority of the sea ice melts away. Sea ice provides a fertile hunting ground for polar bears, which lie in wait for seals coming up for air. The thrill of seeing a polar bear in the flesh, prowling his natural environment for a meal or perhaps teaching her cubs the art of hunting, is sure to leave you awestruck.
“While some luxurious cruise ships cross into the Arctic Circle, you have to head to the High Arctic, where sea ice forms, to have any real hope of seeing a wild polar bear. The Svalbard archipelago has one of the largest polar bear populations in the world, with more than 2,000 of these marine mammals. In summer the ice retreats and many bears stay on land, often close to coastal waters.” - Dale Templar, The Telegraph
Be at one with the sea and stunning Arctic landscape with guided hikes and snowshoeing, Zodiac cruises and optional kayaking adventures. Each moment on your Spitsbergen expedition is an entirely new and unpredictable adventure.
You might visit a few of our favorite landings, like 14th of July Glacier, the bird cliffs of Alkefjellet and the seldom-visited, historic island of Kvitøya, where Salomon A. Andrée, Strindberg and Frænkel died trying to pilot a hydrogen balloon over the North Pole in 1897. Imagine silently gliding past icebergs in a sheltered inlet, below towering mountains and ice, perhaps passing walrus hauled out on shore, or even attracting the attention of inquisitive whales in the area. See for yourself:
Spitsbergen is home to Longyearbyen, the world’s northernmost city at 78°N. In and around Longyearbyen, you’ll have a chance to see traditional arctic homes, take in spectacular views of the Adventfjorden, visit the world’s northernmost post office, and dive into 400 years of history and culture at the Svalbard Museum.
Quark Expedition Team members guide passengers on a hike at Poolepynten in Spitsbergen, careful not to disturb a nearby huddle of hauled out walrus.
Your pre-embarkation time in Longyearbyen is just the start, though. Once onboard, your Captain and Expedition Leader are constantly monitoring conditions and adjusting accordingly to transport you safely to the most incredible shore landings and Zodiac cruising sites possible. You’re guided by our expert Expedition Team and enjoy one of the highest staff-to-guest ratios in the industry. Just as each day promises a new adventure, it offers myriad opportunities for immersive learning and personal enrichment, too. Your Expedition Team will lead workshops and lectures onboard, guide you in the field, organize activities and events, and even take meals with you in the dining room. They’re available to you throughout your journey and are dedicated to making every moment exceptional.
Hands-on instruction complemented by Spitsbergen’s fantastic scenery and wildlife subjects will unleash your creativity. Each expedition offers a photography workshop and an onboard expert who will help you capture and process your best images yet.
Spitsbergen passengers photograph a polar bear on a passing ice floe, from the safety of their small expedition ship’s deck. Photo credit: Acacia Johnson
If you’re looking to seriously up your photography game, you can even take a photography expedition in search of polar bears. On this expedition, the search for polar bears guides our route and shore landings. Professional wildlife photographers Sue Flood and Cindy Miller Hopkins lead photography workshops and accompany into the wilds of Spitsbergen to help you capture your best photos of every memorable moment and wildlife interaction. See Spitsbergen Photography: In Search of Polar Bears for details.
Want to learn more about planning your own Spitsbergen expedition?
- Read more Spitsbergen expedition stories from expedition experts and travelers like you
- Get your Spitsbergen Destination Guide
- Download your free Spitsbergen Explorer: Wildlife Capital of the Arctic brochure
About the Author
A travel and business writer from Ontario, Canada, Miranda has written for Quark Expeditions since 2013. Right out of high school, she packed a bag and went west to embark on a 10-year career in camps, resorts and lodges across Canada. Miranda spent several months spent in the Canadian Arctic and years in the Rocky Mountains before returning home to Georgian Bay to raise her family. Now a digital nomad, she’s never happier than when traveling and writing. Miranda visited Antarctica with Quark Expeditions in 2016.More Content by Miranda Miller