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Spitsbergen Cruise

An Arctic adventure cruise with Hurtigruten's MS Nordstjernen

photo LEFT: A shore landing from MS Nordstjernen in the Bockfjord on the northern coast of Spitsbergen


2014 update: MS Nordstjernen was retired from Hurtigruten's fleet after the 2012 season, but the company continues to offer cruises in Spitsbergen aboard the MS Fram, a modern 318-passenger ship that was designed for cruising in the Arctic and Antarctic. We've kept this review online to give you a preview of what you're likely to experience during a cruise from Longyearbyen to the wilderness of Svalbard and waters near the North Pole.


photoSpitsbergen is the largest island in Svalbard, an archipelago that lies directly between Norway and the North Pole. Longyearbyen, the administrative center of the territory, is closer to the Pole than to the Arctic Circle--and the northernmost reaches of Svalbard lie above the 80th parallel, the last tiny circle before the dot on the top of your world globe.

photoSvalbard is the last frontier of Europe. It's a mountainous region covered in glaciers (60% of the land mass is beneath an icecap), with more polar bears than people and a profusion of other wildlife such as whales, seals, walruses, Svalbard reindeer, seabirds of various kinds, and Arctic foxes. It's so wild that the law requires locals and visitors to carry weapons for self-defense against polar bears when venturing beyond the handful of human settlements.

Unless you're a wilderness trekker or snowmobiler, the easiest way to explore Svalbard--and Spitsbergen--is by cruise ship. And while large ships such as the QE2 and Deutschland often pay brief visits to Spitsbergen during Norwegian North Cape itineraries, passengers on such cruises get only the tiniest taste of the Svalbard experience. A far better option is an Arctic adventure cruise on a small expedition ship with an ice-rated hull and boats that can land in remote fjords.

photoThe main operator of such cruises in Svalbard is  Hurtigruten (formerly Norwegian Coastal Voyage in the U.S. market), which operates two ships in Spitsbergen during the summer: the vintage coastal steamer MS Nordstjernen, with 3- and 4-night adventure cruises, and the modern expedition ship MV Polar Star, which offers 7-day expedition cruises. Both ships provide an "up close and personal" view of Spitsbergen. When ice conditions permit, they'll also take you north of the 80th Parallel where there's nothing between you and the North Pole but the Arctic Ocean.

In June, 2006, I sampled a three-night Spitsbergen adventure cruise aboard the MS Nordstjernen. This article, which is accompanied by a day-by-day photo diary, shows what you're likely to experience if you take your own adventure cruise amid the fjords, glaciers, and mountains of Svalbard.

Next page: The ship - MS Nordstjernen




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