Pancrazio joined Secret Atlas on an Expedition Micro Cruise to circumnavigate Svalbard. He kindly took the time after the voyage to share his experience with us.
‘Hi, I’m Pancrazio! Originally I’m from Italy. I currently work as a business executive in sunny California, USA.
I had always dreamed about visiting the Arctic since I was a child watching polar bears, seals and endless ice on TV. I wanted to travel to a place that is very different from what I’ve seen before and experience twenty-four hours of daylight. Svalbard seemed like the perfect place as it ticked all my boxes.
I didn’t want to visit a sensitive place in the Arctic with a large group of tourists as I felt this would distract from the experience. I did some research and came across Secret Atlas. Their Expedition Micro Cruises looked like the perfect way to see Svalbard in an intimate way without the diluted experience of a larger ship.
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I hadn’t been on an expedition cruise before so the experience was totally new to me. Every evening the expedition leader would do a briefing about the places we could visit the next day. Everything in the Arctic is geared around the weather conditions which can change quite quickly so all plans are kept flexible. We were given a good understanding of what we would see and the expected effort and length of the shore visit. Having an expedition leader and a guide onboard is perfect as you get to learn so much about the places you are visiting.
I travelled on an expedition vessel called MV Togo which I found to be very comfortable and robust. The lounge at the front was awesome as it has wide windows with unobstructed views. You can sit in the warm on a comfy chair and enjoy the view sheltered from the cold outside which is a must have for Arctic travel.
The experience onboard is very sociable as there are only 12 of you in the group plus 2 leaders. I found I had a sense of affinity with everyone in the group as there was a strong common interest in exploring Svalbard which really made the trip for me. I myself travelled solo and others travelled as couples and on their own. Everyone is made to feel welcome. We bonded so well that since the trip I’ve stayed in touch with everyone.
Another great thing with a small group is that we got to experience everything together. There was no waiting to go ashore or first or second turns. The Captain was very welcoming and allowed us to stay on the bridge which really made us feel a part of the expedition and I learnt so much.
So why visit Svalbard? It’s a great question and one a lot of people ask. For me there are 2 main reasons:
The first is to witness the ice. Getting up close to glacier fronts and the awe you feel just being there is impossible to sum up in images and words. We were also fortunate that we made it up to the edge of the sea ice which is a truly magical experience.
The second reason is to see the wildlife and experience the Arctic wilderness. In Svalbard it is a true wilderness and you sense that when you are there. Unlike national parks I had visited before where humans are in control, Svalbard felt very different. For the first time in my life I felt like I was in the wilderness and that we were the real guests not in control of anything. When you visit ashore you see the traces of human artifacts and you see the impermanence of humans.
One of the highlights for me was seeing a polar bear in the wild on the east side of Spitsbergen. An arctic fox was following the polar bear and seeing this interaction was amazing – just like in a nature documentary.
Another exciting moment was when we saw the tracks of a polar bear on a piece of floating ice that passed the starboard side of the ship. Then after a few hours, we found more tracks on the ice.
One of the great aspects of this trip for me was a shared feeling that we weren’t on a commercial tour. There was no imposed routine or itinerary which meant the expedition leader could take us to as many places as possible. The feeling was that we were really getting the best we could with the weather and ice conditions. It felt like a real expedition while on a commercial tour you feel like everything is predefined.
Based on my expectations and on other trips I have done in Africa and India, this voyage really stood above the others in terms of exceeding expectations.’
All the images on this page are supplied courtesy of Pancrazio.