Spitsbergen/Svalbard—The Ultimate Pack Ice Voyage

An Incomparable Polar Bears & Wildlife Photo Cruise to the High Arctic Floe Edge

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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/Svalbard—The Ultimate 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 the ultimate cruise that is totally dedicated to the interests of wildlife and nature photographers.
"The wildlife was spectacular. Our guides were uncanny in their ability to spot them, and the captain was able to ease and turn the ship to just the right spot for the perfect shot. The landscape was ethereal."
- M. A. Longshore
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 photography 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 will be 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. The ship is totally at our disposal and flexibility is paramount in this type of expedition cruising to take advantage of every great photo opportunity!

Because our cruise begins and ends in Longyearbyen, there are no lengthy travel days at sea. We photograph every day of the 17-day voyage, so there is virtually no wasted “at sea” time. Our ship, the 53-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 intrepid photo travelers on an unforgettable cruise to the premier destination in the world for photographing polar bears in their sparkling icy realm—one of the most remote, vulnerable and uniquely beautiful locations on Earth.

For trip questions or to enroll give us a call at (206) 463-5383

Tour Itinerary

Day 1 (Jun 26, 2023)

Arrive to Longyearbyen, Norway via Oslow. Longyearbyen is Spitsbergen’s largest community and hub of commerce. Board the Polar Pioneer in the afternoon.  It is recommended to arrive a day earlier (Jun 25) and stay in one of Longyearbyen's several hotels to make sure your luggage arrives and you catch up on rest prior to our departure. (D on board ship)

Days 2–16

These next 15 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 High Arctic’s 24 hours of daylight. (BLD)

Day 17 (Jul 12)

We disembark the ship in Longyearbyen in the morning. Fly to Oslo and continue home.  (Breakfast on board ship, Lunch and Dinner on your own)


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 Soviet spy ship.

polar-pioneer.jpgPolar Pioneer is not a luxury cruise ship. She is a comfortable and sturdy platform for photography with a relatively low 360 degree outside main deck that allows easy access to both sides of the ship for photography as well as an open bow deck,  Newer ships have been built with outside balconies that restrict movement and an enclosed bow that affords no photograpic access.

By 2023 the ship will be extensively refurbished to enhance the comfort and functionality for passengers of this plucky expedition ship. The enthusiastic captain and Swedish crew are among the most experienced ice-navigators in the world.

The ship can accommodate 53 passengers including photo staff, 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, cabin photos and cabin descriptions

Rate Schedule
Triple, Shared Bath: Triple cabin on Main Deck, porthole, one upper berth, two lower berths, shared bathroom and showers accessed from hallway  FULL    $14,995
Twin, Shared Bath: Twin cabin on Main Deck, porthole, lower berths, couch, shared bathroom and showers accessed from hallway  TWO SPACES AVAILABLE   $16,995

Twin, Private Bath: Twin cabin on Decks 4 and 5, window, private bath, most with lower berths (#402 and #403 have upper and lower berths, plus a couch)  FULL


Mini Suite: Twin cabin on Deck 5, window, double bed in separate room, foldout couch in main room, windows, private bath*  FULL

Suite: Twin cabin on Deck 5, forward and port windows, double bed in separate room, foldout couch in main room, private bath* FULL   $24,995

*Mini Suites and the Suite can be booked as triples. Contact our office for details.

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Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris Enrollment Information

Spitsbergen/Svalbard—The Ultimate Pack Ice Voyage

Jun 26, 2023 - Jul 12, 2023

A deposit and completed and signed Registration Form are required to reserve a place on a Joseph Van Os Photo Safari.


All prices are quoted in US dollars and all payments must be paid in US dollars. For deposits only, we accept Visa, MasterCard and American Express. Trip payments are non-refundable and non-transferable. Subsequent payments of the trip fee must be paid by check or bank transfer.

A non-refundable payment of 25% of the trip fee is required. An additional 25% of the trip fee is due on April 15, 2022. Final payment is due on January 15, 2023. We must receive written notice of your cancellation, at which time cancellation fees in the following amounts apply:

If Written Cancellation is Received:
Prior to April 15, 2022:
Between  April 16, 2022 and January 15, 2023
On or after January 16, 2023:
Cancellation Fee:
100% of first payment forfeiture
50% of entire trip fee
100% of entire trip fee

Emergency evacuation insurance is REQUIRED for this tour. As noted in Section 3 below, we send a brochure for trip insurance to US and Canadian residents. The policy offered includes the emergency evacuation coverage required for this trip. Participants purchasing trip insurance on their own—that is, not through our office—should confirm that a minimum of $500,000 of emergency evacuation insurance is included in their policy.

We strongly encourage you to protect your travel investment and purchase a comprehensive travel insurance policy that includes emergency evacuation coverage. We can provide travel insurance options, or it can be purchased online. A CANCEL FOR ANY REASON policy is available. Trip participants without travel protection insurance are considered “self-insured.” Without insurance you assume all risks and losses for any conditions requiring your cancellation.

Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris are within the capabilities of average people in good health. Some of these trips require the capability of walking for several miles over uneven trails, stepping from a small boat to a wave-washed rocky beach, flying in small planes and helicopters, and occasionally hiking at high elevations—all while carrying an assortment of camera equipment. If you have concerns about your own capabilities and/or fitness as it relates to a trip, please inquire with our office before reserving a space. By forwarding a signed Registration Form and trip deposit, you certify that you do not knowingly have any physical or other conditions of disability that would create a risk for you, or other trip participants and you agree to inform our office in writing if changes in your health, including viral illnesses, occur any time prior to the tour. We reserve the right to request a doctor's statement of good health. The company's or trip leader's judgment shall provide the ultimate determination of an individual's ability to embark upon or to continue a trip. Once a trip has been confirmed, medical circumstances will not be considered as exceptions to our cancellation policy. We assume no responsibility for medical care or for special dietary requirements. Tour members are asked to refrain from smoking with or near the group.

Participants will receive three emails before the trip departs: 1. Initial Tour Information sheet confirms the deposit and provides pre-departure information. 2. Invoice/Practical Information provides clothing and photo gear recommendations, climate data, and applicable health advisories. Visa information will also be included (if applicable). 3. Final Tour Information includes arrival instructions, itinerary revisions (if any), hotel addresses, trip telephone contact information and participant list. We provide the trip leader's telephone number(s) and/or email address with final documents so you can inquire about special photographic questions you may have regarding your trip. We welcome your calls or email messages to info@photosafaris.com.

Information supplied upon enrollment describes the specific details that are included in your trip fee. Generally, these include lodging in double room occupancy, all meals (specified in the itinerary as BLD denoting breakfast, lunch, or dinner), ground transportation during the trip in vans or small busses, internal tour air transportation as specified, meal and baggage tipping, and guide services provided by the trip leaders. Not included are airfare or other transportation from your home to the trip staging location, airport departure taxes, insurance, alcoholic beverages, and bar expenses (plus bottled water and soft drink expenses on international tours outside of North America), tips and gratuities to local guides, phone calls, passport or visa expenses, laundry, or items of a personal nature. Gratuities to Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris trip leaders are optional and always appreciated. Rates are based on group tariffs; if the trip does not have sufficient registration, a small party supplement may be charged.

Most of our trips are priced in double occupancy (shared) accommodations. Single accommodation is available for a supplemental cost in many locations; see the pre-departure trip information or call our office for details. You will be charged the single supplement fee if you desire single accommodation or if you wish to have a roommate, but one is not available. In some remote locations, clients with single rooms are infrequently compelled to share a room due to circumstances beyond our control. In such cases, appropriate per diem refunds will be made reflecting the direct cost of the single room at the facility where clients are required to share. There is no additional single supplement fee on ship-based cruises if you request a roommate and one is not available.

Cost increases may occur unexpectedly due to rising costs of airfares, ground transport, fuel surcharges, accommodations, and currency fluctuations, among others. Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. may be compelled to amend prices, and we reserve the right to do so without prior notice. An increase in trip prices shall not be sufficient grounds for any refund of funds paid for the trip other than as determined by the terms of our cancellation policy.

Whenever possible, our trip participants are lodged in comfortable, modern hotels. We select among the best available accommodations but refrain from extravagance. Some interesting photographic destinations are far removed from modern amenities, however, and where necessary we will be accommodated in rustic country inns, cabins, or tented camps.

Meals are always a special part of our trips for the camaraderie they engender and the opportunity they provide to try new foods from different areas. Depending on the trip and specific locale, participants order restaurant meals from the full menu or, less frequently, table d'hôte. Some trips include picnic lunches in the field. Fruit juice for breakfast and coffee or tea is included with the meals. Soft drinks are included with meals on tours within North America. Participants are responsible for their own bar tab (including bottled water, soft drinks, as well as alcoholic beverages on tours outside of North America) at restaurant lunches and dinners.

Our itineraries are intended as examples only. Participants should allow for flexibility due to changes in weather, natural history or cultural events, or other logistical arrangements deemed necessary by Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., or our leaders.

The second tour leader (and any subsequent additional leaders) listed for each trip on the website will be added as the group size warrants. If only one space remains on a trip, and logistics permit, we accept two people traveling together, even if it exceeds the trip maximum.

Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. and/or their Agents act only as agents for the passenger (trip participant) in regard to travel including, but not limited to, sightseeing, meals, lodging, transportation, and all other services whether by railroad, motor coach, automobile, van, boat, ship or aircraft or any other conveyance, and they assume no liability for injury, damage, loss, accident, delay or irregularity which may be occasioned for any reason whatsoever, or through the acts, bankruptcy or default of any company or person engaged in conveying the passenger or in carrying out the arrangements of the trip.

They can accept no responsibility for losses or additional expenses due to delay, cancellations or changes in flights or other tour services, and by force majeure including sickness, weather, strike, war, volcanic eruption, terrorist acts, political unrest, quarantine, epidemics, pandemics and outbreaks, or other causes. All such losses or expenses will have to be borne by the passenger, as trip fees provide for arrangements only for the times and locations stated. Baggage is at the owner's risk entirely.

The right is reserved to 1) substitute hotels of similar category for those indicated and to make any changes in the itinerary or transport where deemed necessary, or caused by changes in flight schedules or equipment substitution; 2) cancel any trip prior to departure due to low enrollment, in which case full refund of the paid trip funds will be given, but Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. is not responsible for any other trip preparation expenses such as penalized or non -refundable air tickets, visa fees, travel insurance premiums and medical related expenses; 3) At the company’s sole discretion, suspend or postpone any trip due to force majeure or disease outbreak in which case the trip may be rescheduled, or a refund issued less any non-refundable deposits paid to tour component providers on behalf of the passenger, or a travel credit given, but Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. is not responsible for any other trip preparation expenses such as penalized or non-refundable air tickets, visa fees and medical related expenses; 4) substitute trip leader(s) for the leader(s) originally specified, in which case the substitution is not a basis for participant cancellation or refund other than provided by our normal cancellation policy; or 5) accept or retain any person as a member of any trip.

Trip prices are based on tariffs and exchange rates in effect at the time of publication and are subject to adjustment in the event of any change therein.

A signed Registration Form with the Enrollment Conditions and Release and Assumption of Risk sections must be returned by each participant prior to the commencement of the trip. Participation by any trip member will be declined in the absence of the signed Registration Form including the Release and Assumption of Risk section, with no trip fee refund. No modification to the Registration Form including the Release and Assumption of Risk section will be accepted.

Should Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., or anyone acting on their behalf be required to incur attorney's fees and costs to enforce this agreement, the enrolling trip participant(s) agree(s) to indemnify and hold them harmless for all such fees and costs. In the event a lawsuit is filed, the enrolling participant(s) agree(s) to do so solely in the County of Lewis in the State of Washington.

I have read, understand, and agree to the terms, conditions, and provisions of the enrollment information, as stated on the Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris website and the Enrollment Conditions section of this form, especially noting the policy on cancellations, refunds, and limitations on responsibility.

I am aware that during any trip or tour that I am voluntarily participating in under the arrangements of Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., a Washington corporation, and its employees, agents and associates, certain risks and dangers exist while traveling in the United States, foreign countries, and wilderness areas in any country or territory that include the possibility of property damage, bodily injury, and death. There is a possibility of accident or illness occurring without access to immediate or timely medical treatment or facilities. There is a risk of tropical or communicable diseases that may require quarantine and removal from the tour at my expense, food-related illnesses, the risk of personal injury and property damage or delay or inconvenience by forces of nature, wildlife or wildlife models, quarantine, political instability, acts of terrorism, strikes, government restrictions or regulations change, thefts, and the risk of accidents during travel while on foot or by aircraft, train, automobile, van, bus, boat, ship, or other conveyance. I understand that such risks cannot be eliminated without jeopardizing the essential qualities of this trip or tour. In consideration of, and as part payment for the right to participate in such trips, tours and/or other activities and services arranged for me by Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., its employees, agents and associates, I have and do hereby assume all risks, and hereby release Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., its employees, shareholders, agents and associates, and will hold them harmless from any and all liability, actions, causes of actions, debts, claims, and demands of every kind and nature, howsoever caused, which I now have or which may arise of or in connection with any of my trips or tours and participation in any activities arranged for me by Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., its employees, agents and associates.

Should Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., or anyone acting on their behalf, be required to incur attorney's fees and costs to enforce this Agreement, I agree to indemnify them and hold them harmless for all such fees and costs. In the event a lawsuit is filed, I agree to do so solely in the County of Lewis in the State of Washington and further agree that the substantive law of that state shall apply in that action without regard to the conflict-of-law rules of that state. The terms hereof shall serve as a release and assumption of all risk for myself, my heirs, executors, and administrators, and for all members of my family.

If any part, article, paragraph, sentence, or clause of this Agreement is not enforceable, the affected provision shall be curtailed and limited only to the extent necessary to bring it within the requirements of the law, and the remainder of the Agreement shall continue in full force and effect.

I acknowledge that if anyone is hurt or property is damaged during my participation in this activity, I may be found by a court of law to have waived my right to maintain a lawsuit against Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., its employees, shareholders, agents, and associates, based on any and all claims from which I have released them.

Spitsbergen/Svalbard—The Ultimate Pack Ice Voyage: Easy Activity Level

Ship and Zodiac travel. All polar bear photography is accomplished from the ship or from Zodiacs.  An estimated 65% of all photography will be from aboard ship. Participants should be able to negotiate a steep gangway when boarding Zodiacs for shore landings and be able to exit the Zodiac by swinging their legs over the inflated gunnel.  All landings are wet landings requiring waterproof boots.   Occasional optional walks over rocky and cobblestone beaches and moderate hiking across uneven and sometimes spongy tundra.
Trip Details
Jun 26 - Jul 12, 2023
Fee: From $14,995 to $24,995 per person *
Deposit: 25% of trip fee
Limit: 49 participants
Activity Level: EasyEasy

*Cruise only, from Longyearbyen, Norway, based on cabin category and shared occupancy. See complete Rate Schedule.

  • This unique trip offers maximum opportunities to photograph polar bears amidst the pristine pack ice on a ship chartered exclusively for our photo group 
  • Fifteen photography days with plenty of time allotted to search for bears hunting along the floe edge
  • Photograph immense glaciers, drift ice formations and serrate maritime mountain landscapes
  • Spectacular seabird colonies, seals, whales and walruses await our cameras
  • Calm seas and "moderate" weather normally prevail throughout the islands
  • The ship's ice-hardened hull delivers us deep into the pack ice where other ships can't (or won't) go
  • An early season trip when the pack ice is normally more expansive and closer to the archipelago than it is later in the summer
  • Includes all shipboard meals and lodging, Zodiac transportation, national park fees, photo guides and instruction
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Tour Leaders
Rinie van Meurs

Rinie van Meurs

Wayne Lynch

Wayne Lynch

Eric Rock

Eric Rock

Joe Van Os

Joe Van Os

As with all Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, the Spitsbergen Pack Ice Voyage was planned and carried out with a very high degree of professionalism. The wildlife and scenic images I captured, especially of the polar bears, made this Arctic adventure an experience of a lifetime.
—D. Wisler

Joseph Van Os tours are, in my opinion, the best—I have been on six and also on other tours, none of which compare to the Van Os tours. Everything is always done to help the photographer obtain the best images and the support given by the tour leaders is unsurpassable.
—M. Gore