Why Svalbard is the best place to see a polar bear in the wild

Why Svalbard is the best place to see a polar bear in the wild

Svalbard

Where is Svalbard, you ask?

Svalbard is a small Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Circle, about 600 miles from the North Pole and equal distance from Tromso, on the North Cape of Norway.  Not very well known until a few years ago, it is making a name for itself as one of the best places for adventure travel.  The long winter nights are prime season for sightings of the Aurora Borealis while the long summer days are perfect for hiking, dogsledding and other adventurous activities.

Why Svalbard

Svalbard, arguably, is the least off-the-beaten-path location to find a polar bear.  There are more polar bears in the archipelago than there are humans.  They are elusive at the best of times, but particularly in the summer, when the sea ice melts.  During these long summer day polar bears find themselves stranded on the pack ice hundreds of miles from the closest shoreline. They are excellent swimmers and can swim long distances in a single day searching for food.  As ring seals are their main source of food, the bears rely on this pack ice from which to do their hunting.   You will find that by late summer most polar bears have retreated to the shores to wait for the ice to freeze over again in the late fall and winter.

Expedition Cruising

If you have ever taken a cruise, you understand the serenity of standing at the bow of the ship looking out onto the horizon at the endless ocean.  Now close your eyes and imagine seeing ice floes dotting the landscape.  Listen to the hull of your polar class expedition ship tearing through the ice, crunching as it sails through the frigid arctic waters.  You look out towards the horizon and see a polar bear in it’s natural environment.  Is it lounging on the ice absorbing the suns’ rays.  Or is it leaping from one ice floe to the other in search of it’s next meal?  This is truly the most spectacular way see these formidable creatures.  If your lucky, you may find one come curiously close to your ship as was the case for these lucky Expeditioners on their Lindblad Expedition/National Geographic cruise.

Where Else Can You Find Polar Bears in the Wild

Polar bears can be also be found above the Arctic Circle in Alaska,  Canada, Russia and Greenland.  You won’t see polar bears on a typical Alaskan cruise. That climate is far too warm and temperate for a polar bear who requires the hardy temperatures and frozen waters of the Arctic to survive.  To see a polar bear in Alaska, you need to travel to the far north along the Beaufort Sea.  Ever heard of Kaktovik, Alaska?  Click here to find it’s location.  Yup, all the way up there.  

Churchill, Manitoba along the Hudson Bay has become somewhat of a tourist destination for polar bear sightings over the past few years.  These polar bears have arrived in Churchill over the warmer summer months due to the receding sea ice in Hudson Bay.  The melting ice forces them onshore to wait for the bay to refreeze for the winter, usually around November.  They spend these months as scavengers along the shore eating flora and any other plant life they can find just to survive until the sea ice freezes over again and they can go back to hunting seals.

The same holds true for Kaktovik.  Every year the local community is permitted to hunt one bowhead whale whose meat and blubber is divided up among members of the community for provisions to see them through the long, harsh winter.  The carcass is left on the beach and the local polar bear population takeover the clean up.

There is nothing quite like polar bear spotting from an expedition ship.  Catching a glimpse of a mama bear with her cubs looking at you with as much curiosity as you are looking at them.  It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that should be at the top of anyone’s bucket list.  I hope one way you will have the opportunity to experience it!

‘Til next time

Emma

Explore.Discover.Learn

P.S.  Download my free expedition cruise guide and find out which cruise companies ply the Arctic waters in search of elusive polar bears.

What you can expect from a cruise to Antarctica

What you can expect from a cruise to Antarctica

A Cruisers Guide to the Ins and Outs of Traveling to Antarctica

So, you’re thinking about a trip to Antarctica…

Do you have ANY idea what you are getting yourself into?

Antarctica

AKA the White Continent.  One of the last unspoiled landscapes of our planet.  The allure of this frozen desolate land is twofold:

For some, it is the chance to see the native wildlife: Penguins in their rookeries, sitting on their eggs. Baby penguin chicks being incubated under their parents bodies. Leopard seals lounging on the ice floes and whales breaching off the side of your zodiac, a mere few feet from where you are sitting.

For others, it affords them the luxury of crossing off the 7th and final continent from their bucket list.

How to get to Antarctica

A trip to Antarctica is not for the unadventurous or faint of heart.  It is a journey in itself to reach the jumping off point for most cruises.  The majority of expedition ships will leave from Ushuaia, Argentina.  Arriving here, you will have already achieved something spectacular – the southernmost city in the world. 

Punta Arenas, Chile is also port of embarkation for cruises to Antarctica, but the majority will leave from Ushuaia.

Getting to either of these cities requires the better part of two days to arrive.  If you are departing from the US, most flights will be overnight flights into Buenos Aires or Santiago. There, an overnight pit stop and a chance to do some exploring are on the menu.  With only a 2 hour time difference from the Eastern Seaboard, jet lag should not be too much of a problem.

From there, another 4 ½ hour flight to either Ushuaia or Punta Arenas.  Most expedition cruise lines will incorporate this as a charter flight from Buenos Aires or Santiago and transfers to the port of embarkation.

The Drake Passage

Now the real adventure begins.  Will you experience the Drake Shake or Drake Lake?

Make no mistake about it, the Drake Passage is not something to take lightly. While all ships are equipped with stabilizers and all of the modern sonar, radar and technology, the Drake passage can get ROUGH! And at 800km, it is not a short stretch.  Be prepared for deep swells and plenty of pitching and rolling, maybe even a chance to start that diet you were talking about!  Dramamine will be your best friend – make sure to keep yourself well stocked.  Rough seas are the norm, not the exception, but you could get lucky and witness the great Drake Lake – but don’t put money on it.

The White Continent

So, you survived the Drake Passage. Now what?

One of the great things about being on an expedition cruise is the freedom and flexibility of the captain to choose where to go, when and for how long. It is nothing like a traditional ocean cruise where port times are rigid and inflexible and where being late might mean missing the ship.

Most cruise lines also offer the ability to connect with a professional photographer on board who can help you take the most amazing Instagram worthy photographs you will ever have the pleasure of taking.  The penguins are unafraid and insatiably curious of us humans and although we are not able to seek them out and touch them, we can sit and wait patiently for them to come up to us and check us out.  Have your camera ready for the best photo shoot of your life!

Zodiacs: Your Chauffeured Limo to Paradise

Your main method of transportation will be by Zodiac. You will soon become an expert at boarding and unloading on one of these, but it may take a few tries to get it right.  Depending on which expedition cruise company you choose, you will have about 2 zodiac landings per day on “sea days”.  A chance to see icebergs,  land on the “beach” or the Antarctic peninsula dotted with thousands of pairs of penguins.  There will also be opportunities to kayak, or hike/walk.

Wait, what?  Did I just say “kayak”? 

Yes!

Picture yourself kayaking in deafening silence amid icebergs, seals and even whales.  This is not a passive trip, this is an explorer’s trip, a do-ers trip. You can’t pay all that money to sit in a lounge chair and watch out the window.  You are an active participant in this once in a lifetime experience.

Back on board, the evenings are filled with lectures and discussions about the days events and what you can look forward to tomorrow.  No casinos, no Broadway shows here.

See the Rare Antarctic Undersea

Again, depending on which cruise line you travel with, some expeditions ships come equipped with their own undersea specialist, qualified to dive in polar waters.  The undersea specialist suits up and dives, or mans a ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) and films undersea life in real time –  no movies or edited footage.  The number of ships offering this technology today is limited, however, several top expedition cruise lines are building new vessels as I write and more of the companies are investing in these technologies for their ships.  Lindblad Expeditions is one of the few offering this now, but companies like Scenic, Ponant and Crystal all have new ships in the works that will offer this unique experience.

The Polar Plunge

What is the polar plunge?

Get ready for the most exhilarating 30 seconds of your life.  Jump off the ships loading platform into the icy, frigid waters of the Antarctic Ocean.  Brrrrrr!  Would you do it?  Not many people can say that they did.  Definitely something to put on your bucket list.  

 

Antarctica is a true once in a lifetime trip. And with the per person cost weighing in at the average price of a car, a decision that requires careful consideration. Despite this, these cruises book up fast – up to two years in advance. If you are dreaming about a life changing trip to the 7th continent, the time to start planning is now.  

What are you waiting for?

‘Til next time

Emma

Explore.Discover.Learn

P.S.  Download my free expedition guide to expedition cruising to get the down-lo on the cruise operators that sail to this remote and pristine continent at the bottom of the world.

Why your next family vacation should be to the Galapagos Islands

Why your next family vacation should be to the Galapagos Islands

Why SHOULD your next vacation be to the Galapagos Islands?

Does this sound like your last vacation?

Long lines; tired, cranky children, 2 minutes away from a tantrum because they have been standing for an hour waiting to go on a ride that will be over before it starts.  Back to the mega resort for a dip in the overcrowded pool with hundreds of other guests, standing in line again to go down one of two slides before the kids decide they have had enough.

I feel your pain.  Been there, done that.

NEVER. AGAIN.

Visiting theme parks in the summer is hot, humid, crowded and totally overpriced.  What’s more there is zero educational value in one of these trips.

Zilch.

I know parents who have taken their children out of school to go on vacation during off peak travel times to avoid the crowds, and save money.  Smart idea?  Sure.  What would be even better, is if in doing so, your children would receive some kind of educational benefit for their time out of class.

Consider this: A family expedition cruise to The Galapagos Islands.

Why?

Travel as Darwin did—aboard an expedition ship equipped to give you the most engaging experience possible. With a maximum capacity of 100 passengers, there won’t be any standing in line and with moderate temperatures all year long, there won’t be whining or complaining that it’s too hot.

Sail from one unique island to the next, making fresh discoveries daily. While your ship anchors off-shore, you can reach land by small group zodiacs and explore the islands where you will see that each one has its’ own indigenous species. Mornings are spent hiking and exploring the islands on the lookout for blue footed boobies, frigate birds, sally light foot crabs, flamingos, and sea lions lazing on people-free beaches.  Back to the ship for a nice relaxing lunch.  No corn dogs here!

Afternoon excursions are yours to go birding and wildlife spotting from your zodiac (beats the line for Dumbo the Elephant any day of the week).   Go kayaking or paddle boarding (The only standing you need to do!)  If that sounds like too much work and you are ready for a dip in the Pacific Ocean, then try snorkeling with sea turtles, marine iguanas, Galapagos penguins, sea lions and a plethora of beautiful fish.  Don’t be surprised if an occasional manta ray or octopus graces your presence.

Your daily schedule is flexible and can be adapted to the marine and wildlife activity in the area.  No rushing around trying to make that all-important next show at the other end of the theme park with your cranky kids in tow.

Take a look at this video from National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions:

While a trip to the Galapagos can be done at any time of the year, if you do happen to take your kids out of school, then you can sleep at night knowing that the trip was educational.

And nothing says educational like visiting Darwin’s Enchanted Islands.  This should easily get you an “A” in science, don’t you think?

Until next time,

Emma

Explore.Discover.Learn