When planning your trip to the Arctic a choice you will have to make is between a small expedition vessel or a larger cruise ship (if you would like to compare the two you can find out more in our guide here).
We get asked a lot of questions about visiting the Arctic on a small expedition vessel. Here are 5 common myths we often encounter.
1. Myth – Visiting the Arctic is exceptionally cold
While the Arctic has a cold climate, it’s not as cold as people would imagine and it depends on the month you visit. Temperatures vary each month, but as a guide, Svalbard has average highs of -9°C in April, -3 °C in May, +3°C June, + 7°C in July, +6°C in August. During the summer months of July and August, the temperature feels no colder than a brisk day of a northern European winter.
During the summer months, it is possible to be hiking in Svalbard in regular winter outdoor clothing
2. Myth – It’s safer to go on a larger ship
All vessels that operate in the Arctic are subject to the same strict safety regulations – regardless of size or capacity. Our vessels are ice-strengthened and designed for exploring polar regions and are equipped with all the safety equipment to ensure they meet the standards laid out in maritime law. We work with a highly experienced team including Captains and expedition leaders with decades of polar experience.
Of course, safety is our top priority on land as well as at sea. Shore landings are led by two expert guides who are armed and trained in polar bear protection, and we follow strict guidelines set out by the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO) to minimise the impact on wildlife as well as keeping our guests safe.
Expedition vessel Togo collecting passengers from a shore landing
3. Myth – I will get seasick on a small ship
Seasickness is a very individual occurrence that affects different people in different ways. Smaller vessels do have more movement than larger vessels. We plan our routes, voyage dates and destinations for the best possible conditions. Many areas we visit in Svalbard are in protected waters, and the weather is often quite calm and tranquil during the summer months.
It’s worth noting that smaller vessels are more flexible than larger vessels, which means we can adapt our course depending on the conditions. Our captain and expedition leader will plan the voyage around the weather to take advantage of the best conditions. The Captain will make every effort to move the vessel away from exposed seas in the event of bad weather and seek shelter. But if you are prone to seasickness, or have concerns you might, that can affect you on any vessel, we recommend taking seasickness medication before and during your expedition.
A Guest and expedition leaders enjoying the view from the deck of Togo as she sails along a fjord in Svalbard
4. Myth – A smaller vessel is uncomfortable
The vessels we use on our voyages are designed to take a group of 12 on an expedition comfortably. Onboard you will find a passenger lounge with comfortable sofas and seating with large windows to enjoy the view from the warmth, a separate dining area with open plan kitchen where a chef will freshly prepare three meals a day for you. The vessel has large open deck spaces to enjoy the view. A smaller vessel also means much smaller groups. Our voyages take just 12 guests and avoid any crowding you may encounter on larger ships.
The accommodation is warm and roomy and there isn’t a bunk bed in sight. Accommodation is available as either twin or double cabins with en-suite bathrooms – each with space to store clothing and gear with bed storage.
Togo has a warm comfortable interior with passenger lounge and comfortable well appointed ensuite cabins
5. Myth – I will see less on a small ship
Far from it. Here at Secret Atlas we go that extra mile to ensure our guests get to see as much as possible. While every voyage varies, our expeditions usually cover the same distance as larger expedition ships. What is really great about a small group is that you spend a lot more time exploring and less time waiting to go ashore. Our onboard Zodiac landing craft can fit everyone in one go. During the days we prioritize shore landings and your expedition leader will work tirelessly to ensure you see the most that Svalbard has to offer.
Smaller ships also often have one big advantage. They’re more flexible – meaning it’s easier to change course, and they can reach remote and lesser-known places that larger ships can’t travel too, such as waters with shallow anchorages and the fjords.
Exactly what you’ll get to see also depends on the dates and lengths of your chosen Arctic micro cruise. If you’re looking to see more, we recommend our in-depth Svalbard Pioneer tour, a circumnavigation of Spitsbergen in 15 days. It’s one of the longest, most in-depth trips available – and all with just 12 guests.
Guests exploring the sea ice by Zodiac