5 Myths About Visiting the Polar Regions on a Small Ship

When planning your trip to the polar regions 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 polar regions small expedition vessels. Here are 5 common myths we often encounter.

1. Myth – Visiting the polar regions is exceptionally cold

While the Arctic and Antartica 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.

The Antarctic Peninsula has a milder climate than most people anticipate during the summer months. If you travel in January, which is summertime, you can expect an average temperature of 1 to 2 degrees Celsius.

Antarctica photo tour

In the summer it’s always warm enough to go exploring by Zodiac

2. Myth – It’s safer to go on a larger ship

All vessels that operate in the polar regions are subject to the same strict safety regulations – regardless of size or capacity.

Our vessels are built for purpose ice-strengthened ships designed for safe navigation in the polar regions. They 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. During shore landings are guests are accompanied by guides who are armed and trained in polar bear protection (in Svalbard). 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.

polar pioneer svalbard

Polar Pioneer is a rugged vessel built for the polar regions and takes just 48 guests to Antarctica and South Georgia.

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3. Myth – I will get seasick on a small ship

Seasickness is a very individual occurrence that affects different people in different ways. 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.

For Antarctica and South Georgia we use Polar Pioneer, a larger ship built for navigating the southern ocean.

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.

The weather in Svalbard is often calm during the summer months

4. Myth – A smaller vessel is more uncomfortable  

The vessels we use on our voyages are designed to take small groups of 12 or 48 comfortably on an expedition in the polar regions.  

Whilst many of the vessels started life as an expedition or research vessel, they have been retrofitted to provide comfortable accommodation for our guests. They all have large deck spaces and are more roomy than you would imagine for such a small group size. They may not have all the bells and whistles of a modern cruise ship, but then you get the the real luxury of exploring in a small group. 

Each vessel we work with has different facilities and cabin arrangements. To see the vessels please visit our vessels page. All our vessels have a chef onboard who will prepare 3 tasty meals per day.

zodia cruising in a small group

Exploring the sea ice to the north of Svalbard

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. We can fit all our guests in the Zodiacs at the same time on all our voyages.

During the days we prioritise shore landings and your expedition leader will work tirelessly to ensure you see the most that your destination 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. 

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