A voyage to the Arctic is a bucket-list opportunity, and chances are you have a question or two about your journey. We’ve compiled everything you need to know about our Arctic tours here. Please get in touch if you have any further queries.
Each of our Arctic tours includes the following:
- Comprehensive pre-departure preparation and information to ensure embarkation is effortless, such as preparing your luggage in your room before arrival.
- Comfortable accommodation, including turndown service twice a day.
- Onboard chefs who provide three meals each day, with tea and coffee available around the clock.
- Zodiac excursions providing the opportunity to step off the ship and explore on land.
- Hosts who are passionate naturalists and ornithologists, on hand to give lectures, help you spot wildlife and give you insights into the Arctic environment.
When booking your voyage, please enquire about international and domestic flights and transfers to and from your destination. These may or may not be included, depending on the trip you’ve selected. We can also arrange pre- and post-tour accommodation in Longyearbyen, Reykjavik, Ottawa, Yellowknife and Helsinki, but it is not included in your trip price. Optional activities such as sea kayaking and snowshoeing need to be booked prior to your journey.
- Expeditions through Svalbard or Spitsbergen usually depart from the main settlement of Longyearbyen, which can be reached by fight from Oslo or Tromso in mainland Norway.
- Most expeditions that include Greenland will start and/or end in either Longyearbyen or Reykjavik, Iceland. It’s easy to fly to Reykjavik from major European cities like London, even on budget airlines.
- North Pole cruising expeditions begin and end in Helsinki, Finland.
Check the Essential Trip Information section of your chosen itinerary for more specific details and contact your booking agent for more information about flights and transfers.
Each Arctic expedition includes daily excursions which vary depending on the weather and sea conditions. It might be a Zodiac excursion to explore the sea ice, a hike through the tundra to find wildlife or a visit to a former outpost to see how seal trappers once lived. Each excursion is led by an experienced guide.
Onboard you can expect educational seminars from your guides as well as access to a polar library and a gym.
Each trip also includes a variety of additional activities, which must be booked in advance and incur additional costs. These include:
- Kayaking (note that some kayaking experience is essential).
- Hot air ballooning (on North Pole trips only).
Spaces are limited so please enquire at the time of booking.
From October to March, large patches of the Arctic Ocean are frozen and almost impossible to navigate unless you’re a narwhal or a beluga whale. All expedition cruising takes places between April and September. This is the perfect time to explore, as the wildlife is out to play, and some areas experience 24 hours of daylight.
Arctic tours tend to book out quickly and further in advance than trips to other destinations. Our advice is to book as soon as you've made the decision to travel – you can find the departure dates and availability underneath the itinerary on the page of your chosen trip. Contact us to discuss your options.
The majority of our Arctic trips have a low physical rating of one or two, which means they are accessible to people of all levels of fitness with no major mobility issues and do not require any physical preparation. You can learn more about our physical rating system here.
So, what does a low physical rating mean in real terms? Activities onshore and excursions involve a bit of walking involved, but all are optional. You’ll be visiting sites where at times you may have to cross uneven ground and take on challenging conditions underfoot. You will have support when stepping on and off the Zodiac boats. If you have any concerns, please speak to your group leader before taking part in any activities. Please read the ‘Is this trip right for you?’ section of the trip you are interested in for an overview of its specific conditions.
An Arctic voyage can be as active or as low key as you want it to be. While a trip to the Arctic gives many opportunities to get off the ship, it’s up to you whether you want to venture further afield on a Zodiac boat or explore onshore. While we think you’ll get the most out of it by participating in excursions and landings, you are welcome to post up on deck or inside and admire the views and onboard lectures.
Please keep in mind that some optional activities need to be booked before departing.
All expeditions include onboard lectures from your crew of experts. These will prepare you for shore landings and give you further insights to the environment and wildlife you might encounter.
Other included activities are organised depending on conditions and opportunities as they present themselves. You might find yourself joining an organised birdwatching session on deck, watching a movie or playing trivia.
You’ll also find an extensive onboard library where you can do your own polar research, plenty of board games and a bar area to mingle and chat with friends. Plus, you can always take in the views from the open deck.
Never fear, our packing guide is here. Once you’ve booked your trip, you’ll be sent a comprehensive packing guide as part of your pre-departure Essential Trip Information.
There is no upper age limit on our Arctic tours. We welcome travellers over the age of eight to join us on our Arctic expeditions, provided those under the age of 18 are accompanied by a legal guardian. Please note that height and weight restrictions apply for excursion by Zodiac and some optional activities have separate age limits. It’s best to contact us directly to discuss specifics.
Intrepid travellers are a diverse group of people with a few things in common – a curiosity about exploring the world in an authentic and sustainable way. While polar travel used to be out of reach to all but the wealthiest (and hardiest) of travellers, Intrepid’s range of Arctic adventures are more accessible than ever and increasingly attract younger passengers than you might expect.
While traditionally Arctic travellers have tended to skew slightly older, you will find a diverse group of ages and nationalities on board.
All programs are delivered in English.
Because of the nature of polar expeditions, our Arctic trips are only available to travellers over the age of eight. Please note that children under the age of 18 must be accompanied by a legal guardian and height and weight restrictions apply for excursion by Zodiac and some optional activities have separate age limits. It’s best to contact us directly to discuss specifics.
If you’re travelling alone, you’ll be paired with someone of the same gender to bunk with. If you don’t identify with the gender assigned on your passport, please let us know at time of booking and we’ll be happy to work with you to organise a rooming configuration that you feel comfortable with.
If you don’t want to share your space, mention it to our customer service team when booking and they may be able to organise your own room – we call this a single supplement – depending on availability. You may need to pay a single supplement charge.
If you're travelling solo and would prefer not to be paired up with a fellow traveller to share a room, ask your booking consultant if the tour you’re interested in offers a 'single supplement' so that you can be allocated a room alone – this is subject to availability and an additional charge.
If you are travelling with someone, please let us know what room setup you would prefer (twin or double, or in some cases triple rooms may be available).
Group sizes for Arctic voyages range from 83 to 200 people, depending on which tour you select. Depending on how many people are on your expedition, your group may be split for excursions, but all passengers will have a chance to take part in all planned activities.
Optional activities such as snowshoeing and kayaking need to be booked prior to departure and have limited availability per group.
Travel insurance is compulsory for all Intrepid travellers and should be taken out at the time of booking. You must provide proof of your travel insurance on the first day of your trip and you will not be able to join the trip without it.
Please make sure you know exactly what you are covered for and ensure that your policy covers you even when you have disembarked your expedition cruise ship for shore landings.
If you plan to take part in optional activities, like kayaking or snowshoeing, it is important to ensure that your policy covers you for them.
Recommended vaccinations for your journey will vary depending on your point of departure, potential landing sights and where you disembark at the end of your tour.
We strongly recommend you visit your doctor to discuss vaccination options for your trip. Some vaccines need to be administered a few weeks before departure, so allow plenty of time.
The waters of the Arctic Ocean can be rough. If you’re susceptible to seasickness (or you’re not sure because you’ve never been on a cruise), it is a good idea to see your doctor before departing. It's also recommended that you come equipped with motion sickness tablets or patches and avoid eating a lot of greasy foods or consuming lots of alcohol during your journey. There is a doctor on board to assist in severe cases.
There’s no one-size-fits-all treatment for seasickness, so if you’re concerned about it affecting your trip, check out this guide for some old sailor’s tricks plus scientifically tested treatment ideas.
Gratuities are generally not included in the cost of your Arctic expedition and are at your discretion.
If you want to leave tips for your onboard crew and hospitality staff, we suggest USD 13–15 per day. Gratuities can be added to your onboard account at the end of the voyage or paid in cash on board. For the expedition team, between USD 3–5 is appropriate. Full details on how to tip will be provided before you settle your onboard account.
Visas are the responsibility of the individual traveller, i.e. you. The visa requirements for your trip vary depending on where you are from and which country or countries your Arctic expedition begins and ends in.
As a rule of thumb, most countries expect that you will have at least 6 months’ validity on your passport. On arrival visitors may be asked to present return tickets and evidence of means to cover your intended stay.
We keep the visa information for specific trips in the Essential Trip Information section of the trip page. While we update this regularly, rules can and do change quickly – it's important that you check for yourself which can usually be done by contacting the consulate or embassy of the country you are visiting.
Embracing the unexpected and going with the (ice) flow are part of every Arctic adventure. You’ll find that many of the itineraries for our Arctic expeditions list potential landings sites as opposed to a fixed schedule. When travelling in remote regions, your expedition staff must allow the sea, ice and weather to guide the route and itinerary details. This may require changes to our itinerary and shore excursions.
Due to the nature of polar expeditions, cancellation conditions are different to other trips. We recommend familiarising yourself with the change and cancellation conditions for the Arctic even if you have travelled with Intrepid before on another tour.
Cancellation conditions are laid out in the 'important notes’ section of the web page for the trip you are interested in. We will endeavour to allow changes to your booking, but please note that fees will apply depending on when the changes are made.
- For most Arctic voyages, if a booking is cancelled 120 days or more before departure the cancellation fee is the total deposit paid.
- For most Arctic voyages, if a booking is cancelled 119 days or less before departure the cancellation fee is 100% of the total price of the voyage.
Generally, it’s not possible to join an Arctic tour after it has departed, or to leave early. As our destinations are extremely remote and itineraries can vary to suit the conditions, there are minimal opportunities to meet the ship at another point.
Our Arctic expeditions take place on a number of state-of-the-art vessels designed specifically for polar voyages, operated by our partners Chimu Adventures and Quark Expeditions. Both offer unrivalled expertise, state-of-the-art ships and the highest safety standards. Find more information on our polar partners here.
Intrepid takes the health and safety of its travellers seriously, and takes every measure to ensure that trips are safe, fun and enjoyable for everyone. We recommend that all travellers check with their government or national travel advisory organisation for the latest information before departure:
Go to smarttraveller.gov.au
Go to travel.gc.ca
From the UK?
Go to fco.gov.uk
From New Zealand?
Go to safetravel.govt.nz
From the USA?
Go to travel.state.gov
From South Africa?
Go to gov.za
Go to 12301.cn
The World Health Organization also provides useful health information. Go to who.int for more details.
For inspiring stories to prepare you for your Arctic adventure, check out these books:
- Last Night in Nuuk – Niviaq Korneliussen
- Arctic Dreams – Barry Lopez
- Sanaaq: An Inuit Novel – Mitiarjuk Nappaaluk
- The Ice Museum: In Search of the Lost Land of Thule – Joanna Kavenna
- Cold: Adventures in the World’s Frozen Places – Bill Streever
- The Solitude of Thomas Cave – Georgina Harding
- An African in Greenland – Tete-Michel Kpomassie
The food served on our cruise ships is prepared by a team of professional chefs. Breakfasts and lunches tend to be buffet style, with dinners generally served at your table and usually featuring three courses. A vegetarian choice is always offered, but please let us know at the time of booking if you have any other dietary requirements.
If you have any dietary requirements or food allergies, please let us know before the trip starts. If you have a more restrictive dietary requirement (such as vegan, gluten intolerance or fructose intolerance) it is likely you can be catered for. Unfortunately, we are unable to cater for a traditional kosher diet.
Afternoon tea, featuring baked goods, is served daily. Coffee, tea and cocoa are available round the clock.
Tourism and cruise activities in the Arctic operate within a comprehensive framework of international and national laws and regulations to ensure safety and preservation of the environment. You will be briefed before and during your trip on how to be respectful, environmentally friendly and stay safe during the expedition. Below are a few things you can do to limit your impact and protect the polar environment.
Top responsible travel tips for the Arctic:
- Don’t use aircraft, vessels, small boats or other means of transport in ways that disturb wildlife, either at sea or on land.
- Don’t feed, touch, or handle animals, and don’t approach or photograph them in ways that can cause them to alter their behaviour. Special care is needed when animals are breeding or moulting.
- Don’t damage plants – for example, by walking, driving, or landing on extensive moss beds or lichen-covered scree slopes.
- Don’t take ‘souvenirs’ of natural materials like rocks.
- Keep noise to a minimum to avoid frightening wildlife.
- Don’t damage, remove, or destroy historic sites or monuments or any artefacts associated with them.
- Don’t interfere with scientific research facilities or equipment.
- Avoid smoking anywhere but the designated smoking section of your expedition vessel.
We’re the world’s largest carbon neutral travel company and since 2010 we have offset the emissions generated by all of our trips, including our Arctic expeditions.
Intrepid and our partners Chimu Adventures and Quark Expeditions are committed to offering travellers safe, responsible and environmentally conscious cruising expeditions in the Arctic.
Intrepid and our partners operate in accordance with national and international laws and regulations and in addition follow an extensive set of guidelines; both general operational guidelines and site-specific ones.
Geography and wildlife
The Arctic starts from the North Pole – the literal ‘top’ of the world – and extends out in all directions to the edges of the Arctic Circle, encompassing the Arctic ocean and other seas plus territory plus territory that belongs to Canada, Russia, the USA, Denmark (Greenland), Norway, Finland, Sweden and Iceland.
The Arctic Circle covers parts of eight countries: Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Greenland (Kingdom of Denmark), Russia, Canada and the United States. Greenland has the most land mass within the Arctic Circle and Iceland has the least, with only a small portion of tiny islets falling within the line.
All of the summer months (usually the only time expedition cruising is possible in the Arctic) have their benefits. You can find our full guide to choosing when to travel in the Arctic here, but below we’ve compiled a basic guide to what to expect.
- June to mid-July: This is the best time to see ice and snow coverage before it recedes in the relative heat of summer. Polar bears and walruses are likely to be hunting on the ice edge. Birds are returning to breed.
- Mid-July to mid-August: Tundra flowers are blooming. Wildlife is abundant. Most expedition departures set off during this time.
- Mid-August to September: Ice is at its lowest point, opening up remote areas for exploration. The days are shortening, and skies are darker, but the Northern Lights come out to play.
It varies depending on where you are, but generally temperatures during the summer expedition cruising season of June to September sit between 3 and 12°C (37 and 54°C). During winter, the temperatures plummets to between 0 and -34°C (32 and -29°F).
You can find a more comprehensive guide to weather in the Arctic here, including breakdowns for key destinations.
The Arctic is home to some of the planet’s most fascinating and beautiful creatures. During your expedition you might spot walruses, thousands of nesting birds, musk oxen and caribou, humpback and minke whales and, of course, the mighty polar bear.
Listed as a vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), polar bears face an uncertain future. Our expeditions operate within the natural environment and therefore a sighting of a polar bear cannot be guaranteed – a large part of the excitement of being on one of these trips.
Travelling to Greenland (Phippsoya and Isbukta), Spitsbergen, Franz Josef Land and around the Kara Sea during June or July will maximise your chances of spotting these glorious creatures.
If you see a polar bear, it will most likely be from a safe distance on the boat. Trust us, that’s the way you want it!
In areas where polar bears are active, the bears can be encountered anywhere, anytime. Although polar bears will normally try to avoid encounters with humans, they have the potential to be extremely dangerous to us. But they are also vulnerable. Your guide and support team will make every effort to ensure the safety of both you and the animal, so it’s imperative to follow safety rules, including:
- Never stray from your group and the leaders carrying equipment to protect you.
- If you catch sight of polar bears, stay calm and immediately inform your guide.
- Never approach a polar bear.
- Never leave food anywhere in an attempt to lure polar bears.
- Follow the instruction of your expedition guides.
The Aurora Borealis occurs throughout the year in the Arctic, but the light summer months renders the phenomenon invisible to the eye.
The best time to travel the Arctic if you want to try and catch the Northern Lights is September, as the sky is getting darker, but the sea is still navigable before winter fully sets in.
Intrepid works in partnership with Chimu Aventures and Quark Expeditions to operate polar trips. Both offer unrivalled expertise, state-of-the-art ships and the highest safety standards.
All our expedition vessels have ice-strengthened hulls, so they are perfectly suited to travel in this icy environment. As well as being tough expedition vessels, all our ships are built for passenger comfort. All cabins have an ensuite and the majority of cabins are external with either a window or a porthole. The ships’ restaurants, lecture theatres and lounges are warm and cosy.
A Zodiac is a small, inflatable vessel used to transfer passengers from ship to shore. All ships are outfitted with a fleet of these sturdy boats, which fit 10–12 people and are also used to navigate closer to the ice to observe marine life.
An ice-strengthened ship is made of and reinforced by steel and used to navigate waters dotted with ice. Most of the ships that cruise to Antarctica and the Arctic are ice-strengthened ships.
Icebreakers are used if there is a reason to break ice free, such as for trade routes and patrols. They have higher fuel consumption and are run by gas turbines or a nuclear generator.
Cabins vary in size and in what storage space is available. There are wardrobes and drawers to allow you to unpack completely and some ships have a mud room so that you don’t need to store wet gear in your cabin. It is recommended that you travel with soft luggage so that once emptied, it can go under your bunk or at the bottom of a wardrobe.
Basic toiletries such as soap, shower gel and shampoo are provided in the ensuite of your room.
Yes, hair dryers are available in all rooms on all polar trips.
Yes. A licensed emergency doctor is assigned to every ship.
Unfortunately, there is no wheelchair access on our ships. Some ships have lifts, but these may not provide access to all decks on the ship. There are often narrow stairways between decks and passengers need to be mobile enough to keep themselves steady without being assisted. We can help you to further clarify whether this trip is right for you.
There is a designated outdoor space for smoking on each ship.
Wi-fi is available on most ships at a cost, but coverage is intermittent and not to be relied on. Take the opportunity to switch off and upload your photos when you get home.
Your mobile phone will not work get coverage while at sea but may get coverage in certain Arctic territories. There is a satellite phone available in the case of an emergency.
Yes, all cabins have power outlets. Refer to your pre-departure information for what type of adaptor is needed. Hot tip: take a powerboard so you can plug in everything you need to.
Yes. There is a laundry service on every ship.
Yes. There is a number to call the ship’s satellite phone, though calls and messages may not come through immediately.
You can purchase data on most voyages for onboard wi-fi, although the connection is intermittent and not to be relied on.
The currency varies from USD to EUR, depending on the ship and disembarkation destination. Major credit cards are accepted on all ships, but it is recommended that you also pack a small amount of cash in case you wish to purchase anything at settlements. Refer to your pre-departure information for details specific to your trip.
No. You will need to come prepared with local currency for any purchases made off the ship. Refer to your pre-departure information for details specific to your trip.
Major credit cards are accepted on all ships. Refer to your pre-departure information for details of currencies that are accepted on board during your specific tour.
Yes, all ships are equipped with life jackets. You will wear a life jacket every time you step off the ship and into a Zodiac boat, or if you choose to go kayaking.
All announcements made on board are in English. At times there may be groups of non-English speakers travelling with a translator. Although the crew will be from various countries and speak multiple languages, the only individual translation services (in Mandarin) are offered on voyages operated by our partner company Quark.
New Arctic tours in 2020
Embark on an Arctic expedition to Scotland, Denmark and Spitsbergen.
Our tours in the Arctic
See all the highlights of the east, south and west coasts on this Arctic voyage around...
Take a voyage across the Arctic Circle via the Svalbard Archipelago and north-east...
Departing from Helsinki, explore incredible Spitsbergen in search of polar bears,...
An Arctic expedition through East Greenland and Iceland is the perfect opportunity to...
Embark on an Arctic expedition to Scotland, Denmark and Spitsbergen.