I would always recommend Svalbard (in the high Norwegian Arctic) for first-time expeditioners who are keen to see polar bear and classic Arctic landscapes adorned with snowy mountain peaks, thundering glaciers & glistening icebergs. Svalbard is known as the realm of the polar bear, so sightings are common (although please note this can never be guaranteed). There is also potential to also see walrus, seals, whales, incredible bird cliffs arctic fox & reindeer.
Greenland is always very popular, however it’s important to stress the focus on this destination is on the incredible vast Arctic landscapes, as wildlife interactions are much rarer (polar bears are seen much less frequently than in Svalbard due to the sheer scale of Greenland). Musk ox, reindeer, Arctic hare & fox are more commonly spotted. Greenland is the ideal destination for those who have been to the Arctic before (and ticked polar bear & walrus off the list previously, if it’s important to them).
Greenland is home to the world’s largest fjord systems, giant glaciers calving enormous icebergs & wildly remote Inuit communities. For guests who really love natural rugged beauty, culture & history, Greenland really ticks the boxes.
The Northwest Passage is a real bucket list destination for many – wildly remote, and seldom explored. Very few operators offer the full transit through the passage (taking around 25-30 days), so I would advise guests need to flexible on the size of the ship & their needs (for example, Hurtigruten’s new hybrid vessel, the Roald Amundsen does this incredible itinerary, but is a larger expedition ship with 500 capacity). Silverseas do occasionally offer the transit as well on the Silver Explorer. Note the voyages take place in August only, when sea ice theoretically opens enough to allow for ships to pass through the channels.
For guests short on time, many operators offer shorter itineraries which focus on the highlights of the NW passage, including Baffin Island / Lancaster Sound (One Ocean Expeditions), following in the footsteps of great explorers such as Franklin (typically 11 - 14 day voyages, plus flights & pre/post stays). Hurtigruten, Adventure Canada & Quark Expeditions all offer various options.
In terms of wildlife, the NW Passage offers opportunity to spot the ‘Arctic Big Five’: Polar bear, musk ox, walrus, beluga & with fortune, the rarely seen beautiful narwhal. Seal, reindeer, arctic fox various species of birdlife are also in abundance.
The Russian Far East is a destination for those that really have done it all – perfect for guests who have been to the classic Arctic & Antarctic destinations. The Russian Far East is one of the least visited regions on earth - offering rich wildlife interactions & breath-taking scenery with snow-capped peaks, smoking volcanos & hot springs. The Kamchatka Peninsula is a highlight for many guests, famed for having one of the highest populations of brown bear in the world. Many of the surrounding islands are highly regarded for millions of seabirds, with waters rich in marine wildlife (sea otters, seals, walrus, humpback, orca & sperm whales).
Silversea & Heritage offer itineraries in this stunning region (from 16 – 30 days departing June / July).