The Arctic 101
The Arctic – Our northernmost polar region consists of the Arctic Ocean, adjacent seas, and parts of the United States, Canada, Finland, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Russia and Sweden. The Arctic is more difficult to pinpoint geographically than it’s southerly continental counterpart of Antarctica. Only parts of these countries are inside the Arctic circle which sits at 66 30″N.
The actual geographic North Pole sits in the middle of the Arctic ocean and is covered with drifting pack ice.
A region of extreme contrast: During the summer you can experience the midnight sun – 24 hours of sunlight. While the winter may bring 24 hours of darkness, which are prime months to witness the stellar Aurora Borealis – the Northern Lights.
Tourism to the Arctic region can be categorized in two ways: Land and Sea
Scandinavia is more than just Oslo, Helsinki, Stockholm and Copenhagen. Get out off the beaten path and explore the northern regions of these countries. You can cruise around the fjords of Norway or take an organized tour, hike or backpack into more remote parts of these countries. Adventure Travel to this region is increasing at a steady rate. Scroll Instagram and you will see sensational images of people camping out in glass igloos and even take a reindeer safari in Lapland!
Polar cruises focus mainly on Norway and Iceland. Greenland and the northern territories of Canada and Russia are up and coming for the more adventurous and well traveled. Many people have tried to recreate the fabled Northwest Passage Journey from the Atlantic to the Pacific made famous by Roald Amundsen in 1906 with very few success stories. In 2016 and 2017 Crystal Cruises successfully completed the journey from Alaska to New York, and other companies have plans to complete in the coming years.
Most people who chose the polar cruise do so mainly for one or two main reasons: Polar Bears and Northern Lights. In recent years, the decline in Arctic sea ice due to global warming has put the Polar Bear and its’ arctic habitat front and center and aroused the curiosity of many intrepid travelers.
When is the best time to go?
There is a huge draw for the northern lights in Iceland, Norway, Finland and Sweden. Don’t let the long dark days fool you! These places are alive all year long! Norwegian coastal cruises operate year around and there are also some fantastic places in the northern Scandinavian countries to visit with some jaw dropping hotel options like Igloos and snow hotels and even Santa’s Home in Finland!
How do I get there?
Again, this question is dependent on what your travel goals are for the Arctic. There are many cruise and expedition companies that offer the Polar expeditions. Your travel style should be taken into consideration when choosing the right company. Cruise companies range from luxury cruises to research vessels, the former being the most basic of experiences.
The luxury cruise market offers a reasonably all-inclusive product including gratuities, wi-fi, alcoholic beverages and all zodiac excursions, with some even including butler service. All ships are Polar Class ice vessels with reinforced hulls.
Other expedition cruise lines focus more on the adventure and exploration of the destination. These lines may not offer top shelf luxury like the others, but you will still experience the destination in style and comfort. Most of your time will be spent on board cruising the arctic circle for all types of wildlife, including the polar bear. Depending on who you sail with, you will have the opportunity to go out in zodiacs, but keep in mind that your safety is their number one priority and if Polar Bears are in the area, you are safer on board than in a zodiac. The summer is tough time for the polar bear and they are actively looking for seals, and if they are hungry you never know what they might do! You will certainly not be “roughing it” with these outfitters, all staterooms are very comfortable and nicely appointed, but balconies are few and far between and you might not get that wi-fi to FaceTime your family back home.
For land-based vacations, there are direct flights to the capital cities from most major US gateways, with connecting flights to smaller, lesser known cities and towns. There are many tour companies that offer guided tours of the regions, and of course you can always organize your own trip or enlist the services of a qualified travel agent to assist with your travel planning.
Do I need a visa?
US and Canadian Citizens do not require visas to visit most of these locations. Please check with your local embassy or check your visa requirements here:
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