The whole experience was amazing, being our first trip into the Arctic. The landscapes and wildlife were stunning. The experience of which made much more enjoyable and meaningful by the talks, explanations and guidance by Charlotte and Jordi. They were both incredibly knowledgeable and enthusiastic.
There were so many 'highlights' it would be difficult to single them out but for sure the experience of sitting quietly above the 14th of July glacier with Charlotte and 'listening' to the total silence broken only by the grinding of the stones under the glacier. (and all sucking Fox's Glacier Mints!)
Also the whole experience of being at sea in the Arctic, particularly under sail in ever changing weather conditions - sometimes glassy flat calm sometimes choppy Force 5 or 6, sometimes dark with low cloud other times bright blue skies and sunshine.
We were totally captivated by the wildlife sightings, some at very close range (reindeer, walrus, seals) and some not so close but still amazing (arctic foxes, two sightings of Polar Bears, dolphins and Beluga whales). We saw so many different types of bird I couldn't list them all but particularly in our memory are ptarmigan, puffins, eiders, guillemots, snow buntings, terns, kittiwakes and barnacle geese.
The experience of life on board the sailing ship really made the holiday for us - topping off the whole experience. A lovely ship and wonderful friendly crew. And great food!
We also enjoyed that it was an active holiday - two landings with good walking most days.
We appreciated the talks and daily and pre-landing briefings and learnt a lot.
The pre-trip information provided and communication with Aqua-Firma was excellent and made for a totally stress free experience.
We are already looking at Greenland for next year - definitely with Aqua-Firma and definitely on the same boat.
Paul & Wendy Stubbs
Thanks for all your help in organising one of our best-ever holidays - it exceeded our high expectations! The scenery was amazing, the wildlife abundant and we enjoyed the company of our fellow passengers.
Thank you again for your help in making the various arrangements and answering our questions. We're almost certain to travel with Aqua-Firma again so our paths will probably cross.
Jenny & Tony Stanton
I have had the idea of a trip to the Arctic at the back of my mind for several years but my decision to go there this year was very much prompted by concerns of global warming and a realisation that if I didn't go soon it might be too late to see Polar Bears. I was aware that the ice-sheet had retreated and had a superficial knowledge of what this would actually mean for the landscape and wildlife. I was also aware that I would not be visiting a zoo, nothing was guaranteed. In fact I didn't have huge hopes of seeing a Polar Bear and while I would have been disappointed if I didn't see one I also knew that whatever I did or didn't see it would still be an enjoyable trip.
I chose the sailing ship because it would be a smaller group of fellow travellers, a smaller ship could more easily explore the fjords and I rather liked the idea of sailing. I have been on many diving trips on boats but only one of them had sails and they were never used during my trip.
She was an excellent choice and the trip didn't just live up to expectations, it exceeded them in many areas. The crew were friendly, cheerful, hard-working and efficient and the boat pretty well ran like clockwork. Routes were plotted, destinations reached and people were ferried twixt ship and shore safely and efficiently. With a crew of just 5 people every one of them mucked in at mealtimes, fetching, carrying, preparing the tables and clearing away the debris. Full marks to Andy the cook who produced copious quantities of food from a tiny kitchen, lots of variety and always tasty, and on many days a huge cake would miraculously appear mid afternoon. No attention was paid to the fact that I have spent 5 months this year trying to shift blubber from my waistline and but for the long walks that Phil (our expedition leader) took us on I would be starting my diet all over again! Andy's brawn also proved very useful when the sails needed to be hoisted, they fairly flew up the masts when he threw his full weight into hauling on the ropes, making my efforts look particularly feeble.
I chose the ship because I wanted to explore the area on foot and get up close to the wildlife and landscape. I especially wanted to see Little Auks and we clambered up really close to a colony at Magdaenefjord and had fantastic views of them. We visited other bird cliffs and had great views of Brünnich's Guillemot, Black Guillemot, Puffin and Kittiwakes, and we had close-up views of Reindeer and Walrus. We also saw a lone King Eider so my birding targets were all ticked, and I am really happy to have got good photos of each of the 26 species of bird that I saw. The flowers too were colourful and interesting and I have many photos of them too. And we saw two Polar Bears at Danskøya feeding on some old whale blubber!
What really made the trip extra-special though was our expedition leader's depth of knowledge and enthusiasm for the landscape, wildlife and history of the Arctic region. He took us on some wonderful walks and each was very different. Despite the fact that our group had people with mixed walking abilities we managed to cross some tricky terrain and scaled hills with fantastic views over glaciers. We visited historical sights and had the history explained to us, and we got up close and personal with glaciers and learned many things about their features and the processes. But it didn't stop there, we also had several presentations and films in the evenings. Sadly the Swiss cheese that resides where my brain once was will not retain all of the knowledge that he imparted but I still came away with a feeling that I had experienced the Arctic (its kindly, summer face), seen some of its wildlife and learned a lot about the history and the impact on the region of climate change.
I have been very fortunate, I have visited many different and interesting places, but I can happily say that this trip was right up there with the best of them.
Thank you for making my trip to the Arctic so special and for all of the arrangements that you made, which all ran smoothly, and for helping me choose the right trip.
Yes it was a great trip to the arctic; it easily exceeded my expectations. Apart from just being in the arctic which was very special; the highlight of the trip was seeing a large pod of beluga whales (probably about 250 whales ) going past the boat. Our expedition leader was very good at explaining all the flora and fauna that we saw as well as explaining all about glaciers and other geological features of the islands. My fellow travellers were all good fun and great company and the crew and ships cook were fantastic.
It was a very special trip and I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in looking at the arctic.
Just wanted to find the opportunity to thank you for the assistance and advice in booking the my sailing voyage in Svalbard.
The trip, the boat and the crew beyond exceeded my expectations. The mix of long shore walks and mountain climbs, sailing, historical sights, glaciers and of course wildlife sightings was excellent. And completely shadowed the fact that this was probably not a very good year for polar bear sightings and sea ice (although we did manage a couple).
I could not have better words for the guide and the crew. Who did everything they could to make sure everyone had a great experience.
One last note - the information, directions and advice provided before the trip and upon arrival were very helpful. So thank you once again.
I will definitely book future trip through your company
It's difficult to know where to begin. Firstly, a massive thank you to Holly for making the original booking so smooth, the choice of flights and hotel and for putting up with my endless questions.
As for the trip itself - it's really tricky to put into words that does the whole thing justice but here goes.
To see this part of the planet and to share in the experience was an absolute privilege. It was more than just a great holiday, it had something that is really indescribable.
Of course, the scenery was breath-taking, the wildlife amazing and the Rembrandt fabulous but it was more than that. Maureen and I are both extremely lucky to have been to most places in the World but there was something about this trip that was extra special. I am not even sure what it was but if I had to put my finger on it, it was the knowledge that we were seeing the Earth stripped back to its core - no frills, no noise, no people, phones, internet or e mail.
I won't even begin to say what we enjoyed the most because I don't think that's important. It was the complete experience, a total package, that I have be honest has left us feeling a little flat since we got back to reality
Charlotte and Jordi were great guides and great fun. The success of these trips is always helped by the people running them and the two of them were just amazing - both together and apart
We thank you from the bottom of our hearts for making this expedition so memorable and rest assured we are already planning our Antarctica trip
We really hope to see you on another trip soon
Perry and Maureen Kurash
We are home after wonderful trip. We saw blue whales, walrus, Arctic fox and the great finale polar bear, a mother and two cubs, and numerous birds. We could not have wished for anymore, a trip of a lifetime. We loved the smaller sailing boat on the subsequent North Spitsbergen Sailing Voyage we did and will be booking it again. It was very personal, great guides and we fell in love with the whole trip. Lots of hiking trips in the snow, which were exhilarating. Once again thank you again for all your help and advice assisting us to plan this wonderful memory in our lives.
Maureen & Bruce Simons, Australia
Scotland to Spitsbergen Expedition Cruise & North Spitsbergen Sailing Voyage
The trip was absolutely brilliant.
We loved every minute as part of a harmonious group of like-minded people who all got on very well indeed.
The expedition leader, Andreas, was very enthusiastic, incredibly knowledgeable and especially good at getting us close to the wildlife without disturbing them.
A particularly memorable occasion, which was considered by the crew as a 'Highlight of the Season' was observing from the safety of the zodiac a polar bear,only about 30 metres away, pacing up and down the shoreline intently watching a group of seals who swam playfully in the sea just in front of him, as if almost taunting the bear.
On another occasion, whilst walking along a remote beach, we managed to get very close to a large group of walrus.
Other wildlife we observed included Arctic fox, reindeer, humpback whales and a wide variety of bird life - guillemots, snow bunting, gulls to name but a few.
Another big highlight for me was our two, sometimes three, daily landings, always different, always enjoyable from walking across glaciers, fording glacial streams, exploring long deserted whaling stations, listening to the crashing sounds of carving glaciers and experiencing the sheer vastness, stillness and remoteness that is the Arctic.
I would recommend the trip and Aqua-Firma to anyone.
Rachel Ormrod & Anthony Summers, Merseyside
It has taken us almost two weeks to shake off the residual tiredness from our 92 day non-stop megatrip of which the Aqua Firma expedition was virtually the climax. We were absolutely thrilled with the Spitsbergen adventure, it was a fantastic trip which we're telling everyone about!
Experiencing a near encounter with a polar bear, getting up close and personal with walruses, Arctic foxes, beluga whales and a wealth of birdlife, hearing ice cracking in the glaciers were just some of the many highlights on the ten night/nine day Aqua-Firma North Spitsbergen Wildlife & Marine Life Sailing voyage in June 2018. There was also the stunning scenery, the natural beauty and the sense of true wilderness which we could enjoy at any hour of the day or night as it was 24 hour daylight.
We are keen environmentalists so we specifically chose to go with Aqua-Firma as they are environmentally responsible, using a sailing ship to explore the Arctic, are owned and run by scientists with a passion for wildlife and specialising in small, expedition style cruises. For this trip, we were on a beautifully refurbished tall ship. Being part of a small group of 34 passengers meant there was a close, family atmosphere, you got to know everyone and everyone got a chance to get up close to the wilderness and the wildlife. As 60 somethings we weren't sure if we'd find it difficult getting in and out of zodiacs and coping with the land-based expeditions but the boat crew were so professional and expert in helping us and then once on land the two scientifically qualified guides offered a choice of easy or hard excursions every day. Their knowledge and expertise meant all the outings were incredibly informative, backed up by detailed briefings and talks on board. Seeing the Arctic before it changes forever was on my bucket list and the expedition was one of the most memorable and life changing holidays I have ever had. Thanks so much Aqua-Firma and our guides Jordi and Charlotte. We are already planning our next trip with Aqua-Firma for 2019.
Andrew & Kerrie Waterworth
We had a fabulous time. Thank you for all the arrangements which all went very smoothly. It was a unique experience. We loved the boss (Charlotte) and she looked after us very well. We enjoyed her company and her great expertise. I hope we will see you all sometime in Cornwall. We were fortunate with the wildlife watching although shame not to see a few birds like phalaropes, long tailed duck. The Rembrandt was great. All the staff were delightful and the food fantastic. We loved the combination of sailing and gentle hikes ashore.
Matthew & Christian Dryden
Geoff and I would like to say a big 'thank you' to everyone at Aqua-Firma for making our Spitsbergen Sailing Voyage a wonderful experience. The organisation and implementation of the trip was just perfect. Flights, hotels etc., all worked to plan. The sailing vessel along with her crew provided the perfect setting for our Arctic experience. Good, hearty food, relaxed atmosphere and fun people made this a wonder trip. The hotel you recommended in longyearbyen was great fun too.
A big plus for us was the fact that Charlotte was on this trip, providing us with her excellent knowledge and experience of Svalbard, along with her wonderful sense of humour and personality.
Jenny & Geoff Trickett, Hampshire, UK
For once there is nothing we would change about this trip! It was truly brilliant.
A perfect sized boat for getting into the out of the way fjords and not too many people on the zodiacs and walking around. Felt like family. Very friendly crew and international guests. Didn't matter that we had no sailing experience. Itinerary great…We saw a polar bear very close and all to ourselves as the big cruise ships had left. Plus another at moderate distance and one at far distance. For me the blue whales were more moving! We saw/encountered 4 of them, including one only 10m away! Was overawed by the beauty and untouched peacefulness of Svalbard. I got most excited about all the tiny flowers. The rest of the group did not realise we had walked through a forest until I pointed out the trees - only 2cm tall!! Lots of walruses including our private beach of walruses in the midnight sun!
The crew were most accommodating for whatever the group wanted ........ It is obvious they care about the environment and try to reduce our footprint. And now I have 5500 photos to sort!!
Jim and Sarah, UK
Outstanding!! Totally worthwhile, inspiring and invigorating!
We enjoyed a well-executed and organised trip, with awesome crew and guides who had the ability to improvise with such deep knowledge of the area. Amazing wildlife interactions including Polar bears and blue whales and a fantastic level of (optional) physical activity! Our top highlight was on 24th June: amazing weather and view of the 3 crowns, a close encounter with a fox family, 4 blue whales and watching a glacier calving. Holy cow - the best holiday I have ever been on!!
Sanders Family, Canada
My highlights were the king eiders, blue whales, walrus teens, watching the fox kits (cubs), polar bears, little auks, puffins, skua and guillemots and the ship, crew and of course Charlotte-did I mention (again) that I beat her at cards!
Eamon Sanders (11)
I enjoyed every aspect of the trip including wildlife, landscape and the phenomenon that is ICE (glaciers etc). Highlights were blue whales (unexpected), close encounters with polar bears and walrus in their natural setting and the opportunity to walk in wonderful places and cruise from place to place on a beautiful sailing ship. Compliments on a well run programme!
Noel Mulligan, Ireland
The trip exceeded all my expectations! It was all I imagined and much more… every day was different and special in its own way. A happy trip - staff, leaders and fellow travellers were friendly and positive. My highlights were sitting below the little auk colony and watching a polar bear scrambling on the cliffs looking for eggs.
Dr Bob Watson, UK
Without a doubt a fantastic experience! Stunning scenery, wonderful wildlife, great company and an excellent ship. My personal highlights were sitting in the midst of a little auk colony of half a million birds, watching a polar bear swim up to resting walrus and seeing a mother Arctic fox with her cubs.
Nigel Cotton, UK
The Spitsbergen voyage was wholly wonderful, one of the most memorable holidays we've had (and that's saying quite a lot.) I'm now enjoying all the photos and working on paintings from the sketches. I'm also doing some writing based on the trip, relating to literature and place, as part of my MA study. I think Kim's photos capture beautifully the spirit of the trip.
I also appreciate all the care in planning, follow-up and further contact that you offer.
Linda & Scott Moss, Derbyshire, UK
The voyage was superb and absolutely wonderful. We encountered 8 polar bears, lots of walrus, reindeer and 6 types of whale. We managed to raise the sails on 6 occasions.
We were even lucky enough to witness a polar bear mother and her cub posing for us.
We got very close to the ice and glaciers.
The expedition leader Robin was an absolutely brilliant character to be with and our fellow passengers were from 6 different countries, between whom we had visited every country in the world. We would next love to travel with Aqua-Firma to Greenland.
Graeme Berry, UK
Our trip was absolutely incredible!! Best trip of our lives so far and we both totally loved it! We wish we didn't have to come back...
The ship was beautiful and looks brilliant in our photos (we took over 4000 photos). The whole crew were amazing - everyone was super friendly & helpful. Food was great and the chef did an amazing job to feed us all. He was also brilliant as spotting wildlife - he spotted 3 polar bears whilst cooking!! Our guides were super knowledgeable & fun, and all the landings were really incredible - we experienced and learned so much! The weather was perfect too - sunny and very calm pretty much for the whole time.
We saw 4 polar bears - one male (he was asleep), and then few days later we saw female with 2 cubs (spotted by chef from the kitchen)!. We also saw lots of seals, walruses, arctic fox and reindeers!!! The guides made sure that we can come close to the animals, and take really good photos, but they also made sure everyone (us and the animals) were safe at the same time.
The views and surroundings were so incredible our photos don't look real! It was great to have a professional photographer on board as I didn't know anything about photography (besides for the fact that I like taking pictures), and I learnt a lot from him.
The captain's dinner was great, and we had a lot of fun!
Everything was perfectly organised and went very smoothly and thank you so much for all your help before the trip! It also inspired us to plan trip to Antarctica for 2015 :) Thanks a million for everything. I would definitely recommend this trip to everyone!
Nina Szewczak & John Murray, Dorset
The arctic sailing voyage was just amazing and I would encourage anybody with any interest to do it. It was one of those 'trips of a lifetime' for me and I will cherish the memories for the rest of my years! I would sooooooooooo love to do it again. It was a truly special place and I think we were all privileged to be there and to explore it in such a small group. It made it far more personal and was a real pleasure to get to know the varied mix of people on the ship and share those experiences with them.
Charlotte and Jonas were fantastic. Behind their amiable facades, they were both serious and professional in their roles as guides and we would not have managed without them! Everything seemed to run smoothly and the passengers were well-catered for. They were a wealth of information and fun and I loved the interesting talks after dinner. The ship's crew were highly professional and accommodating and helped make the trip not only safe and comfortable but also highly enjoyable for all of us. Logistically, the trip felt very well planned and executed!
Sincere thanks to all those involved in making the voyage so interesting and pleasurable and for bringing us all back safely from our Arctic adventure!
Michelle Paspa, Australia
The main highlight of our cruise was of course the Polar Bears! We watched one for an hour at close range from the ship as he climbed a cliff looking for birds' eggs and chicks in a nesting colony. We saw a second bear two days later walking along a route we ourselves had walked the evening before. Good that we didn't meet him while on land! As we reached the northern shores of Spitsbergen, we encountered brisk northerly winds and these blew all the pack ice down close to shore. Unfortunately, we couldn't get to Woodfjord, the furthest destination on the cruise because the ship wasn't strong enough to break through the pack ice. But it was an amazing experience to see it - something many people won't have experienced, I imagine. We had to get help from a bigger cruise ship to break a channel through the ice so that we could return to ice free waters further south. Quite an adventure!
Another highlight was an Arctic Fox that came towards us through the snow while we were ashore. Robin, our guide, instructed us to keep very still, and the fox actually came within a few feet of us. We also enjoyed watching walruses on the first full day of the cruise, and we saw three kinds of seal and quite a few reindeer. The bird life was wonderful too with vast nesting colonies of Little Auks and Guillemots. From a distance, the thousands of birds looked like swarms of flies.
It was being in such a wild empty place, unlike anywhere I'd ever been before, that made the whole thing such a special experience. I really enjoyed the amazing scenery and the vast glaciers with all the small icebergs in the water around them. Some of the ice really is blue.
Christine Johnson, Wiltshire
I had a great time in the Arctic. The views were phenomenal. Sailing was a fantastic way to go.
The crew were very professional, helpful and great to be with.
Thanks for an enjoyable trip.
Nancy Connor, Florida
On the North Spitsbergen Sailing Voyage we managed to get the vessel to the pack ice at 80 North which was also pretty exciting. We had many wildlife sightings including 6 polar bears, around 80 walrus in the sea and on the land, a school of belugas who 'played' for us at close quarters in the sunshine for ages with a magnificent glacier as a back drop. We also had a magic close encounter with an Arctic fox who ignoring us proceeded to steal 3 eggs from a goose nest! And of course - thousands of seabirds and geese. The guide was excellent and we were very privileged to have a man with such a long and intimate knowledge of the Spitsbergen wildlife and habitats. The skipper and crew were also great and fun to be with.
I'd happily recommend both trips to anyone. Thanks to you and all at Aqua-Firma for helping us put this trip together. Your service is second to none.
Bill Richie & Mandy Haggith, Scotland
Scotland to Spitsbergen Voyage & North Spitsbergen Sailing Voyage
We had such an amazing time and experienced so much. Life on board was an experience in itself, but to add to that the wildlife we encountered, where do I start to tell you about the highlights.
Our first sighting of polar bears - a mother and her cub, has to be top of the list. It was also amazing to watch four polar bears (two males and a mother and cub) take it in turns feeding on a dead walrus carcass. Sitting on a beach metres away from a herd of Walruses, some resting on land whilst others played around in the water. Sailing around a fjord under sail amongst a pod of belugas was really quite special. Climbing up into the cliffs and sitting amongst a colony of little auks in a snow storm is something you don't experience every day. Being feet away from a family of arctic foxes and watching the cubs play whilst the mother kept a sleepy eye on us was also a special moment. And the scenery, it was just nonstop!
The guides were both so enthusiastic and their eagle eyes ensured that we saw an amazing variety on birds and plants which we would otherwise have missed.
I would just like to say a final thank you and your team for putting together such an unforgettable holiday for us.
Margaret & Andrew Elworthy, Devon
It was an extraordinary experience - gliding silently up deep fjords under sail so that the animals accepted us as part of their world. The skill of our skipper showed us a polar bear taking her cub for a swim and challenging two male bears for a share of their kill. We saw nine bears, a bearded seal sunning itself on an iceflow, arctic fox cubs playing outside their den, a pile of walruses and several pods of creamy white beluga whales. And the ice. We drifted close to massive glaciers to hear the creaks and groans as they calved icebergs into the sea.
Many thanks to Aqua Firma for giving us this experience.
Linda Crammond & Malcolm Severs, Kent
The trip was amazing thanks. We saw walrus, three Arctic foxes and quite a few reindeer. The landscapes, the Northern Lights and the experience of seeing it all in such a beautiful, old sailing vessel made it an absolute once-in-a-lifetime experience. The guide, crew and food were exceptional and it surpassed our expectations in every way. It's the only way to see the arctic as far as I'm concerned. We will definitely recommend to others. Thanks so much
What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?
Definitely seeing the northern lights, but just the whole experience of travelling in a 100 year-old sailing vessel felt really authentic.
What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?
Don't look anywhere else, this is the best way to see the Arctic!
Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?
Yes. Our guide kept bringing up issues around conservation and I think the awareness and perspective alone gained from those discussion will have a positive impact on the environment. I think people definitely went away more aware and inspired to make changes in their own lives.
How would you rate your holiday overall?
Absolutely outstanding, a once in a lifetime experience that surpassed all my expectations. I am reborn! Simply the best holiday I have ever been on.
Joshua Cox, South Africa
Great trip. The scenery and wildlife were far more spectacular than I ever imagined. And we are seriously indebted to the captain Jo, for giving us the most amazing photo opportunities by manoeuvring the ship into the best possible position to view mammals and birds. He spent literally hours stealthily following their movements by drifting or using minimal engine noise - or under sail - all with great skill. He also picked his way through floating ice to approach glacier faces so we could watch them calve.
As a result we notched up an impressive list of sightings; no less than 9 polar bears, a large number of walrus on land and in the sea, pods of Beluga and Minke whales, bearded seals and huge bird cliffs. Our land-based exploration yielded lots of reindeer, the cutest family of Arctic foxes, huskies and masses of birds including puffins, grey phaleropes, little auks, king eiders, arctic terns and guillemots.
The crew and our two guides, Jonas and Jelle could not have been more helpful. Ralf the chef did a brilliant job and we were able to avail ourselves of what must be the best value bar in the whole of Scandinavia! Not forgetting the daily 4pm tea and cake of course.
It's hard to pick out any particular 'highlight'.. but I suppose mine would have to be the first sight of a polar bear in the wild. Then watching from a sunny deck - with a cup of tea and a piece of cherry cake - as she padded along the shoreline just a couple of hundred meters away with her cub. Also the amazing sight of glaciers as they meet the sea and calve (both from ship and zodiac) and seeing a family or Arctic foxes at close hand. And the fabulous scenery which just went on and on...
All in all a truly memorable experience. Can't wait for the next one...
Thanks to all of you at Aqua-Firma.
Ingrid Morris, Surrey
From the first night in Oslo meeting up with our guide and other members of the team. it all sent so well. Then it was up to Longyearbyen and the excitement of boarding our sailing ship.....Small and intimate with a good group of people on board.
The dog sledding was brilliant. Want to go back now and try it in the snow. You can recommend it with confidence to future clients.
I could go on and on so maybe you are getting the impression that we enjoyed the trip so very much. Our thanks to you for all the work you did to help us feel special, not just a couple booking a holiday! Our thanks also to Charlotte for helping to make the trip such fun. Will most certainly use Aqua-Firma again if there is a holiday we would like to take.
Brenda & Alan Beck, Cumbria
North Spitsbergen Sailing Voyage & Dog Sledding on Wheels
This was one of the best trips I have ever done.
We had a fantastic holiday - it was a great experience and the boat and crew were all first-rate and worked hard to ensure we all enjoyed ourselves.
I think that everyday on the Noorderlicht has been a memorable one! We saw such wonderful landscapes and animals. In particular I remember our 2 landings in the Recherchefjord. The night before it snowed and the scenery was just breathtaking. We walked for about 20 minutes to reach the glacier that was lying in front of us and behind some low hills we suddenly discovered a huge lagoon that was collecting some incredible pieces of ice from the glacier. And then our 4th (yes 4th) polar bear appeared. She lazily walked along the shore, looked at us and then elegantly went into the water to swim towards the glacier. An experience to recommend and to re-experience.
I have to say we had a fantastic time. In total, we saw 17 polar bears. There were males and females, plus two small cubs born this year and two more from last year. This was a truly awe-inspiring sight. We saw several others during the trip including one swimming between two islands, looking for food. We encountered two colonies of Walrus, one on land and one at sea where about 15 of these magnificent creatures surrounded the boat - they were really playing to the audience ! We also saw Arctic Foxes, some just loosing their with winter coats as well as bearded seals.
The birdlife here was also very spectacular at this time of year with hundreds of pairs of Guillemots, Kittiwakes, Fulmars, Puffins and little Auks lining the cliffs. We also saw Eider, King Eider, Red Throated Divers, Gray Phalerope, Snow Bunting and Ringed Plover to name a few.
The skipper was very good at taking us where the larger cruise ships could not go - this meant we had a unique experience with a small group of like minded people. He was particularly good at manoeuvring the boat into tight spots where we were able to get great views of the wildlife and awesome glaciers. An essential element of any trip like this is to have expert guidance to enable you to get the most from the experience. Our guide, Robin was excellent and his knowledge of the wildlife and history is extensive.
The food was outstanding, from the comprehensive breakfast choices to lunches of soup and a hot dish to the 3 course evening meal - all served with a smile by chef!
S & Y Ward
Too many WOW! factors to mention - seeing a mother polar bear and her two cubs being pursued by a male and watching her outwit him by leaving the cubs on a snow patch, doubling back, retracing her steps to collect the cubs and then swimming near the boat with them. He tracked her every step but she did escape to safety! Seeing fin whales and, later on, a humpback whale (not often seen near Svalbard) who entertained us with about ten minutes of tail splashing! Totally unexpected. Watching guillemot chicks launch themselves from the cliffs and gliding to the sea - and the gulls and foxes waiting for the unfortunate ones who don't make it. Seeing fresh bear tracks! The last night dinner and celebration - what a surprise.
It far exceeded our expectations. All information provided re the holiday was clear and answers promptly given to any queries raised. There was something for everyone in this holiday. A mixed bunch of people who became friends by sharing our knowledge and experiences re sailing, photography, plants, birds, animals - we all learnt so much. Dan, our guide, knew the answers to all our questions (or had a book on him to refer to!), he gave us detailed insights to the history and geology of the area and lots more. The crew of the Noorderlicht were helpful, friendly and totally competent with regard to the sailing of the ship and dealing with us. Anna, the cook, was excellent! Being vegetarian, I was amazed at the variety of delicious meals she produced for me - just how did she do it? We wanted to bring her home with us. Fantastic! Brilliant!