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Spitsbergen—The Pack Ice Voyage

Polar Bears & Wildlife of the High Arctic Floe Edge

No other expedition voyage in the world is dedicated to spending as much time traveling amidst the pristine arctic ice floes in search of polar bears and other wildlife photography opportunities as Spitsbergen—The Pack Ice Voyage! This is a unique and absolutely incredible chance to visit the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard and its largest island, Spitsbergen—the most spectacularly photogenic arctic destination on Earth—on a cruise that is totally dedicated to the interests of wildlife and nature photographers.

The Svalbard Archipelago comprises four large mountainous islands and hundreds of smaller ones. We depart from the island of Spitsbergen at Longyearbyen—the world's most northerly town, positioned more than 10 degrees north of the Arctic Circle. Using satellite imagery we head toward the largest expanses of pack ice and experience the stark and photogenic beauty of Spitsbergen's glaciated and snowcapped mountain coastline on our way. The location of the ice depends on recent wind and ocean current conditions. Drifting pack ice frequently crowds the shore, or may be found as a free-floating ice field miles from the islands. Here at the floe edge—where the ice meets the open water—it is common to find numerous polar bears, occasionally with their cubs, hunting for seals and walruses. The Norwegian Polar Institute has estimated that there are more than 2,000 polar bears in the Svalbard region—a relatively high number for such a small geographic area. Virtually every trip we've ever operated has seen and photographed bears and their seal kills at very close range. Before the inception of our cruises, these remarkable images of bears and their prey were very rare.

Spitsbergen is also home to some of the largest concentrations of seabirds in the North Atlantic, including immense and accessible colonies of dovekies (little auks), black-legged kittiwakes, thick-billed murres (Brünnich's guillemot) and northern fulmars. Bearded seals and walruses are additional highlights of the voyage. We use the ship to approach the seals and, conditions permitting, launch our Zodiacs to approach walruses snoozing on the pack ice—we're often able to get so close that we can photograph them with a wide-angle lens! As if that is not enough, while cruising along the pack ice we see ivory gulls, jaegers, puffins, ringed and harp seals, and possibly a whale or two.

Though much of our photography is done from the ship—photographing wildlife on the ice—we make sure to spend time shooting enormous calving glaciers and other stunning icy landscapes from the shore as well. This voyage provides photographers with dramatic imagery of tangible changing climate conditions in the High Arctic. Because the pack ice is dynamic, all of our photographic opportunities, landings and Zodiac cruising depend on the constantly changing navigation conditions between island passages—and every day brings a new adventure. Flexibility is paramount in this type of expedition cruising!

Because our cruise begins and ends in Longyearbyen, there are no lengthy travel days at sea. We photograph every day of the 10-night voyage, so there is virtually no wasted "at sea" time. Our ship, the 54-passenger Polar Pioneer, has a fleet of inflatable Zodiacs, which get us ashore and also allow us to cruise among the ice floes in search of bears, walruses, seals and beautiful scenery. Become a member of our congenial group of photo travelers on an unforgettable cruise to the premier destination in the world for photographing polar bears in their sparkling icy realm—in one of the most remote, vulnerable and uniquely beautiful locations on Earth.

Day 1

Depart from home.

Day 2 (Jun 28)

Arrive in Oslo, Norway. Cruise participants have the option to purchase our hotel/transfer package listed below or arrange their own hotel accommodations and transfers in Oslo and/or Longyearbyen.

Day 3

Transfer to the airport for the flight to Longyearbyen and board the Polar Pioneer in the afternoon. (Breakfast is normally included with your accommodation, Lunch is available for purchase during the flight, Dinner is on the ship.)

Days 4–12

The next nine days are dedicated to exploring the enigmatic and legendary Svalbard Archipelago and its icy environs. Our exact day-to-day itinerary remains flexible, depending on local ice conditions. We spend our days in search of polar bears and other fantastic wildlife, plus ice-altered landscapes. The ship offers a wonderful platform to use long lenses from a tripod, or hand-held lenses utilizing stabilization features.

Possible subjects include towering glaciers and sea ice in many forms—including startling documentation of the effects of global warming—as well as walruses amidst the ice floes, bearded and ringed seals, and several species of whales. But the main feature of our trip is our search across the pack ice for the very icon of the arctic—the polar bear—in spectacular photogenic situations that can surpass any place else on Earth! Birdlife, including throngs of wheeling seabirds, barnacle and pink-footed geese, arctic terns and red-throated loons, offers wonderful additional photo possibilities. Because we have chartered the entire ship, we control every aspect of the itinerary, and we have a remarkable amount of time available for photography during the 24 hours of daylight. (BLD)

Day 13

We disembark the ship in Longyearbyen and fly to Oslo. Airport hotel on July 9 and breakfast on July 10 are included in the optional hotel/transfers package. (Breakfast on board ship, Lunch and Dinner on your own)

Day 14 (Jul 10)

Participants may depart at any time today. (B)

About The Vessel, Polar Pioneer

The Polar Pioneer is ideal for exploring the Spitsbergen region due to its strength and maneuverability. This 236-foot-long, 2,140-ton ship can cruise at up to 12.5 knots, has an ice rating equivalent to Lloyd's 100 1A, and is fully equipped with first-rate navigational and radio systems, as well as a passive stabilization system for rough weather. She was built in Finland in 1985 as R/V Akademik Shuleikin, a “research vessel” that for many years plied the treacherous waters of the USSR’s northern coast as a spy ship.

In 2000, the ship was completely refurbished to serve as a small and comfortable expedition ship. The enthusiastic Russian captain and crew are among the most experienced ice-navigators in the world.

The ship can accommodate 54 passengers, all in exterior cabins with a desk, small washbasin, storage and hanging space for clothes and equipment, and porthole or window. All twin and triple cabins have single beds. The mini suites have a separate small bedroom with double bed and a sofa bed in the main room, as well as a TV and video player. The suite features a lounge area with table, a separate small bedroom with double bed, a sofa bed in the main room, as well as a TV and video player, refrigerator, and large forward and port-facing windows.

The spacious bridge is always open to passengers and the decks are ideal for photography from the ship, as well as excellent places to watch for special wildlife. In the bar/lounge area, you can relax and also find a good collection of polar books. Enjoy entertaining lectures on the area’s flora, fauna, history and glaciology as well as photographic techniques. Meals are wholesome and uncomplicated, prepared by a European chef and served in a comfortable dining hall.

Shore excursions are made possible by a small fleet of Zodiacs with outboard motors.

 View Polar Pioneer's deck plan

Expedition Rates
Cabin Type Rate
Triple, Shared Bath: Triple cabin on Main Deck, porthole, lower berths, shared bath on the hall $5,995
Twin, Shared Bath: Twin cabin on Main Deck, porthole, lower berths, shared bath on the hall $6,695
Twin, Private Bath: Twin cabin on Decks 4 and 5, window, most with lower berths, private bath (#402 and #403 have upper and lower berths, plus a couch) $7,695
Mini Suite: Twin cabin on Deck 5, window, double bed in separate room, foldout couch in main room, windows, private bath* $8,795
Suite: Twin cabin on Deck 5, forward and port windows, double bed in separate room, foldout couch in main room, private bath* $10,295
*Mini Suites and the Suite can be booked as triples. Contact our office for details.

Tour Details

June 27–July 10, 2012
From $5,995 from Longyearbyen, Norway*
Complete rate schedule
25% of trip fee

Special Terms & Conditions Apply

*Cruise only, from Longyearbyen, Norway, per person, based on shared occupancy

A package including 2 nights at the Radisson Blu Airport Hotel in Oslo, 2 buffet breakfasts and transfers between the airport and ship in Longyearbyen (including short tours of the town and environment) will be available at an additional cost of approximately $500 per person in double occupancy.

The recommended Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) connecting flight numbers to Longyearbyen and return will be sent to participants as soon as they become available.

Emergency medical evacuation insurance is mandatory

"Great opportunity to see polar bears doing what polar bears do—hunt and live on the pack ice."
—W. Abildgaard

"Polars Bears of Spitsbergen far exceeded my expectations by offering me hourly photo opportunities of many different types of wildlife. I had thought, prior to the trip, I’d be happy if I got one good shot!"
—J. Graybill

"Good fun and superb management as well, and a beautiful and fascinating, peaceful part of the world."
—H. Eriksen

Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. P.O. Box 655, Vashon Island, Washington USA 98070
Phone: (206) 463-5383 Fax: (206) 463-5484 Email: info@photosafaris.com
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