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Top Antarctica & the Arctic Experiences

Taking a cruise along the Antarctic and Arctic region

Birdwatching for penguins

Sailing to the scenic Iceberg Graveyard

Whale watching for Humpback and Minke Whales

Viewing the breathtaking Northern Lights

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Top Antarctica & the Arctic Attractions

Antarctic Peninsula

Northern Lights

Terra Nova Bay

Blue Lagoon

Arctic Circle

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Antarctica & the Arctic Attractions And Landmarks Guide

The earth's Polar Regions -- Antarctica and the Arctic -- are among the last great frontiers for adventurous travelers. While they both have cold weather and ice in common, the northern and southern extremes of the world also have big differences. Antarctica, the White Continent, is under international jurisdiction and maintains strict guidelines on the numbers of ships and passengers that can land there each year. Penguins and marine mammals are huge draws. The Arctic ranges across a number of countries and has no penguins, but it does have polar bears and more marine mammals. Travel is restricted only by the laws of the various countries and the relative scarcity of transportation.

An ideal way to explore both is by expedition-style cruise vessels. In Antarctica, only vessels carrying fewer than 500 passengers can actually land on the continent itself, and no more than 100 passengers can go ashore in one place at any given time.

In the Arctic region, more routes are opening up to cruising, such as the Northeast Passage from northern Norway to Siberia and Alaska via the Russian Arctic.


The world’s southernmost continent is also the highest, driest, coldest, and by far the least populated. 

Besides several species of penguins and various marine mammals, the only residents are scientists and support staff who conduct research at the 20 or so national stations, and most of those are there only during the summer months. Few remain beyond one or two year stints there.

With tourism to Antarctica really only opening up in the 1970s, and with just 30,000 or so visitors there per year, it’s safe to say that fewer than one and a half million people have ever set foot on this remote continent. If you get to go, savor your good fortune.  

The Antarctic tourist season runs from late October or early November to March or early April, the summer months when the waters off Antarctica are comparatively ice free. The earlier months bring penguin and elephant seal courtship rituals, while the later months see the birth of penguin chicks and seal pups. By March the adult penguins are mostly headed out to sea, but whale and seal sightings increase. December and January bring the most daylight hours, prime time for photographers.

Where Can You Go?

While there are a number of approved landing sites for small vessels, only a relative few are commonly visited. Port Lockroy, site of the British Antarctic Survey, is the most visited site, drawing more than 10,000 visitors per year. Passengers board Zodiacs (rubberized rafts) to go ashore, with most ships making one to three landings per day on the Antarctic Peninsula or nearby islands.

One wild card factor to consider is the weather, which can be stormy and erratic and play havoc with the itineraries the cruise lines have planned. Ice is a constantly changing variable. Special icebreaker ships are required to go deep into Antarctic waters, though some “highest ice class” expedition-style cruise ships can cut through ice as much as a meter thick. A few icebreakers challenge the often frozen Weddell Sea in search of emperor penguins. 

Flexibility and the willingness to change course at a moment’s notice – on the part of both the ship’s captain and the passengers – is key to a successful Antarctic journey.

The Arctic

The Gulf Stream and generally warmer temperatures than in Antarctica help make Arctic exploration more accessible than in its southern counterpart, offering a number of choices for experiencing life above the Arctic Circle. 

Greenland is ground zero for climate change, as its glacial ice – representing about eight percent of the world’s supply – is rapidly melting, threatening to raise ocean levels and temperatures. But much of its interior remains a wonderland of white, and icebergs still fill its bays. Fascinating towns and small settlements dot both west and east coasts, which you can visit either by small cruise ship or via land and air transportation. 

Only a tiny fraction of Iceland lies above the Arctic Circle, but this volcanic land of black lava, geothermal pools, moon-like landscapes, and neat, brightly painted houses is one of the far-north’s most visited areas. Part of Europe but lying a third of the way toward the North American continent, Iceland boasts one of the world’s most literate populations and is easily accessible by air as well as sea. 

Small ships now make the journey to Spitsbergen (Svalbard), a Norwegian island archipelago hundreds of miles north of the top of continental Europe. Spitsbergen is home to some of the farthest north settlements in the world, as well as glaciers, icebergs, and an array of wildlife including polar bears, walruses, and flocks of seabirds. In northern continental Norway and Finland, you can ride in reindeer sleds and visit the Sami, the nomadic people who drive their reindeer herds through the frozen wilderness.

Be Among the First

Transiting the Northeast Passage – from Europe to Asia via the Russian Arctic – represents a new thrill in Arctic exploration, now available by expedition-style cruise ships with high ice-class ratings. Until recently, this area was off limits due to both political and climatological reasons. The cruises visit Murmansk, the largest city north of the Arctic Circle, and continue through the Barents Sea and Arctic Ocean to Russian Siberia until reaching Nome, Alaska. Expect to see polar bears, whales and seals along the way. 

Northern Canada is a far cry from the urbanity of the cities lying near the U.S. border that harbor most of this huge country’s population. The town of Churchill in northern Manitoba is the place to see polar bears and Beluga whales, while the vast, remote province of Nunavut beckons adventurous travelers to encounter Inuit villages that include the northernmost permanent settlement in the world. 

Most visitors to Alaska confine themselves to cruises along its southeast coast or inland trips to Denali National Park, but the state’s remote Aleutian Islands and far northern tundra area stretching north to Nome offer adventurous travelers an entirely different experience in the “Last Frontier.” You can go dog sledding in Arctic Alaska, fish for salmon in far northern waters, watch for bears and birds, and get around by small plane (or properly equipped vehicles along rough roads).

Related Guides


 Greenland, Antarctica, Arctic, Iceland, Norway & Scandinivia


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Top Activities: 

 Small-Ship Expedition Cruise, Snowmobiling, Dog sledding, Watching Aurora Borealis and Many More


Antarctica & the Arctic Tour Reviews - Summary
99% Recommend

4.8 out of 5
Excellent 49 Great 12 Average 0 Disappointing 0 Terrible 1
4.8 Guide
4.8 Activities
4.8 Lodging
4.8 Transportation
4.8 Meals



Exercise and education. November 2017


Walking Wild Greenland

Walking in such a remote place was a priveldge. We were so lucky with the
weather and able to enjoy stunning views and experience the wonder of
icebergs and a glacier calving. 2 Husky puppies accompanied us on one of our
walks, bringing added fun. Wading across chilly (very) waters of a river on
our 25k walk was an experience and accomplished safely. The group got on so
well and we had great fun at "happy hour" and impromptu games. We visited
the museum and reconstructed dwelling in Tasiilaq and learnt much of the
history of the original settlers from the Danish school teacher, who was
volunteering there. A real eye opener. The helicopter transfer was very good,
but on the way back to Kulusuk the pilot was ill and we came by boat. We
enjoyed the trip, seeing icebergs and lots of humpback whales! We had 3 extra
nights in Reykjavik on the way back and really enjoyed this time.
A real adventure!
Seeing and hearing the glacier calving.

Kristján is an exceptionally good guide. Calm, knowledgeable, with good
communication skills and a really nice bloke!

Make sure you have a head net! Our thoughtful guide brought some for all of
us and although there were few biting insects, there were flies and the nets
were brilliant. Make sure you are fit enough to enjoy the walking, it was
strenuous at times!

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Operator Exodus Travels



Spectacular Spitsbergen July 2016 November 2017


Spitsbergen Explorer

A very, very special trip that kept on delivering five-star sightings right
to the very last moment.
Too many to choose from… the polar bear right under the bow? The Mexican
stand off between two bears on ice right beside us? The bloodied bear
feasting on seal surrounded by ivory gulls? Getting up close and personal
with walrus around the zodiac? Three-day old Arctic fox cubs? Stunning light
in the pack ice that turned our photographs into artwork? And I haven’t
even mentioned the whales – bowhead, beluga, fin, minke and blue. Just

Paul Goldstein is all about delivery, and that’s why he has such repeat
business – close encounters with wildlife are just addictive. Very sadly
his wing-man on this trip, Mark Carwardine, was taken ill and had to fly home
before the trip left Longyearben so the burden was all on Paul to deliver
good cop AND bad cop tactics on the photography front, as well as liaise with
the expedition staff to ensure that we maximized our opportunities to see the
manifold delights of this incredible archipelago. He did a fantastic job.
This was a photographic charter and Paul’s determination for us to fill our
memory cards with nothing but the best wildlife viewings – taking into
account the major melt this year that required us to go beyond 81 degrees
north into the pack ice – paid off handsomely. Nate was a great Expedition
Team leader, and kudos to the team members who worked tirelessly to bring us
the best wildlife encounters. Particular mention to the Captain of the
Vavilov, who seemed able to turn that wonderful ship on a 10p piece when
required to manoeuvre closer to a feasting polar bear.

Take the best camera and lens that you can afford, and don’t forget a
wide-angle lens as the wildlife can be close and the scenery is stunning.
Take a lap-top so you can back up and review your photos to release your
memory cards – you’ll need all the space you can get, and delete as you
go. I found handwarmers very useful to slip into my gloves before an
excursion or if we had wildlife close to the ship and were outside for hours
at a time. Inside the ship it can be very warm, so bring layers rather than
heavy jumpers; and soft trainer style shoes for the ship is fine; it’s very
casual on board so leave your finery at home. Don’t get stressed by the
photography aspect and remember to just watch sometimes. The Arctic is a
very special place, so if you are still hesitating, then do take the plunge
(but not literally!); it’s not just the wildlife and scenery, the trip is
also great fun and generally full of like-minded people who enjoy a drink and
a laugh in the bar after a fabulous excursion.

You might think that this is a once in a lifetime trip. It’s not. You’ll
be hooked.

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Operator Exodus Travels



Spitsbergen July 2016 with Paul Goldstein November 2017


Spitsbergen Explorer

I've always judged an adventure by the moments that take my breath away and
this Polar Expedition presented these in abundance. To be able to share
wildlife moments of such rarity with passionate expert staff on board was a
true privilege. It is impossible to explain these events as even the many
photos will not do them justice. There is no fixed itinerary and any
photographic opportunity is maximised by the 24hr daylight.
'Ships in harbour are safe but that's not what ships are built for' and that
is certainly not what the Akademik Sergey Vavilov for. If you are looking for
adventure, safety, silence and exceptional manoeuvring skills there cannot be
a better ship. The captain and expedition leader were always mindful to
position us in the best possible location for photographic opportunities, all
the while being mindful and respectful of the wildlife environment.
Magnificent glaciers, bowhead whales, polar bears, walrus, arctic foxes,
reindeer, you name it, we had it. Travelling with like minded wildlife
enthusiasts and photographers alike created new friendships and wonderful
Inspirational is a good choice of adjective for this trip as a whole. Not a
moment went by when I was not aware of the environment I was in. Every Polar
Bear encounter superseded the next but a truly special experience was being
woken at 6am to share our early hours with the majestic bowhead whales. The
One Ocean crew were also each inspirational in their own right. It was a
privilege to be led by them.

Paul is exceptional at what he does. As with all trips with him, he works
tirelessly to deliver. Top wildlife encounters are few and far between but it
seems that most of the ones I've had have been on his trips. You can see why
he has so many repeat clients. His charismatic daily nautical views
eloquently summarised our moment in time, which most of us could not put into
words. He gave many presentations on photography for all levels and sessions
in the bar to review our photos, all adding to the benefit of a photographic

Life is short. If you can, do it.

Expect to be woken at all hours, better yet, don't sleep! The trip notes are
detailed and pretty much tell you all you need to know. Bring hand warmers
for those long days scoping for bears (highly recommended). Layers are key
and take Paul's advice on how balmy it is with a pinch of salt! Always pack
extra in your rucksack for the zodiac trips, just in case. You never know
when a 2 hour planned ride can become a 4 hour one.

Most of all, put the camera down from time to time and take it all in.

Thank you to Exodus team for a well organised trip, Kim Christie who was very
helpful with information pre-departure and Andrea who was on hand during the

Double check any items to take with them, as this can change year on year
(i.e Binoculars & dry bags were provided for us in our cabins this year)

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Operator Exodus Travels



Spitsbergen Explorer - Polar Bears and More! November 2017


Spitsbergen Explorer

A fantastic, amazing journey up to 81 degrees north (and a bit more!) with
Exodus and Paul Goldstein and lots of new friends. The notes tell you what to
expect (early morning calls, delayed meals, cold zodiac rides) and believe it
for you get it all - and more. Polar bears so close they looked like they
wanted to get on board the ship, walrus in the water so close you could
almost touch them from the zodiac, Arctic Fox cubs playing in the sunshine,
fabulous seas and skies, wonderful staff to help, inspire and support,
excellent food (well done chefs!) and a fog bow! (I didn't know there was
such a thing!). Reindeer with young in the tundra and - more polar bears.
Blue whale, bowhead whale (so rare they were not even on the "tick off" list
of sightings), minke whales and birds, birds, birds. Fabulous!
My first polar bear on ice. Simply stunning.

Excellent. All the "blue shirts", led by Nate, were first class,
experienced, confident, helpful and friendly. Could not have asked for more.

Be prepared for anything, from flight delays with SAS to sudden changes in
the weather. Take plenty of memory cards for your camera and a tripod for the
deck as you watch the bears amble closer (don;t really need a monopod) and
your sense of humour. Above all, remember it is an Adventure of a Lifetime!

Enjoy, don't get competitive about your photos and remember they are your
memories, even if not competition standard they are yours.

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Operator Exodus Travels



Baffin Island & Greenland November 2017


Exodus Company Reviews

An incredible journey through lesser travelled regions in the Arctic
Hard to pin down just one. Losing count of the number of Bowhead whales
surrounding our zodiacs, breath taking displays of Aurora Borealis, polar
bears elegantly traversing virtually vertical rock faces and of course the
incomparable ice of Greenland

Wonderfully laid back and effortlessly professional, no mean feat in such a

More memory for your camera than you think you'll need. Layer up and don't
forget the waterproof trousers. Be flexible and open to itinerary changes,
it's part of the experience, embrace it

Just Go!

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Operator Exodus Travels

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