Realm of the Polar Bear

Svalbard Islands

July 2 - 15, 2017
Cost: $10,990
Leader: Scott Davis + 1
Group Size: 12
Days: 14

Safari Overview

Sail in the land of the midnight sun in search a most mythic and revered predator – the Polar Bear. This incredibly unique and exclusive polar adventure is to the famed Svalbard Archipelago of northern Norway, which includes Spitsbergen Island. Located between the North Pole and Norway, these islands are home to one of the greatest concentrations of Polar Bears on Earth, with approximately 3,000 bears. This region remains wild and pristine with its vast mountains, dramatic fjords, massive glaciers, and picturesque icebergs coupled with a myriad of arctic wildlife (Polar Bears, Walrus, Reindeer, Arctic Fox, various whale species, seals, puffins, fulmars, and a multitude of migratory bird species). The primary mission of our professional photographer leader, Scott Davis, is to provide you with skills and opportunities to produce quality images of unique arctic wildlife and beautiful landscapes.

  • Adventure north of the Arctic Circle to seek out Polar Bears in nearly 24 hours of daylight.
  • Seabird nesting colonies along striking cliffs in full swing.
  • Slip into Svalbard’s many inlets and straits on our small ship.
  • Search for Beluga Whales, Blue Whales, Humpback Whales and Walrus .

Itinerary Updated: January 2017



Ship Info FAQ Print Trip
Date Description Lodge Meals
Jul 2 Travel to Norway.
Jul 3 Arrive in Longyearbyen, Svalbard, Norway. Svalbard Hotell and Lodge, Longyearbyen
Jul 4 Embark on our ship in Longyearbyen. Aboard our ship B, D
Jul 5 - 13 Expedition travel throughout the Svalbard Archipelago, including many landings and Zodiac cruises for maximum time in the field for photography of arctic wildlife and landscapes. Aboard our ship B, L, D
Jul 14 Disembark in Longyearbyen for flights homeward. B
Jul 15 Arrive home, depending on flight schedules.

Our Trip Leaders

Scott Davis

Scott is a professional photographer specializing in wildlife, nature, and travel. Originally trained as a wildlife and marine biologist, his research and photo assignments took him to the far corners of the globe. National Geographic, BBC, Animal Planet, and renowned magazines used his photography. His patience for teaching and love of capturing the essence of his subjects make him one of our most popular tour leaders.

Agnès Breniere

Agnès is a dedicated naturalist with a degree in environmental law and management. Following her passion for nature and conservation, she worked in partnership with the League for the Protection of Birds in France, initiating and leading a project developing access to nature for disabled people. Agnès now specializes in guiding throughout the Polar Regions and the Russian Far East and sharing her extensive knowledge of these special habitats and wildlife. A keen and talented photographer, she is one of the authors of Journey to Antarctica, a photographic book published in 2012.

Detailed Itinerary

A glimpse into our journey

Travel to Norway

Jul 2

Depart home and travel through Oslo, Norway on your way to Longyearbyen, Svalbard, Norway.

Arrive in Longyearbyen

Jul 3

Svalbard Reindeer by Scott Davis

Arrive in Longyearbyen, Svalbard, Norway, today at the latest for an overnight.

Longyearbyen is a Scandinavian town, located on the island of Spitsbergen, the largest in the Svalbard Archipelago and the only island with permanent settlements. Its environs are surrounded by tiny wildflowers beginning to bloom and Svalbard Ptarmigan (a subspecies of the Rock Ptarmigan) and Snow Buntings nesting on the outskirts. Common Eiders, Parasitic Jaegers (Arctic Skuas) and Arctic Terns nest along the coastal flats adjoining the town. Please do not walk away from roads and developed areas in Longyearbyen as bears could be nearby. Longyearbyen is home to only 2,600 people and at 78°N, it is the northernmost town in the world. Three other small settlements on Spitsbergen include another 1,000 people, with most in the Russian settlement of Barentsburg. The rest of the 62,000 square kilometers of Spitsbergen, and the remainder of the archipelago, are largely pristine.

A few notes about Norwegian geography terms (as seen in many of the following place names): “bukta” means bay, “sund” means sound, “sundet” or “stretet” means channel or strait, “øy” or “øya” means island, “landet” means land or country, “breen” means glacier, and, of course, “fjord” or “fjorden” means fjord or inlet.

Embark on our ship

Jul 4

Zodiac cruising for Polar Bears by Scott Davis

Today we board our ship; we will arrange a meeting time and location in the small town of Longyearbyen where we will pick up and transfer the group to our ship at the dock just outside of town.

Soon we will be sailing out of Isfjorden. The waters are very calm compared to the Antarctic and due to the shallow seas and the northward flow of the Gulf Stream, the climate is much milder than one would expect so far north. The Arctic summertime will be in full swing, so bring plenty of sunscreen, as well as the other polar essentials like warm clothes! The heart of the summer season is brilliant for the density and vibrancy of bird colonies. As this is an in-depth voyage dedicated to exploration of the unique and beautiful Arctic environment of Svalbard, each day will be filled with landings, Zodiac cruising, and ship-based wildlife viewing.

Note: Flexibility is paramount in expedition travel. June and July are the perfect time to visit Svalbard as ice still abounds while passages in the west and northeast are navigable. However, the following itinerary depends on the conditions at the time of travel.

Expedition travel through the Svalbard Archipelago!

Jul 5 - 13

Polar Bear by Scott Davis

Our privately chartered ship gives us an incredible amount of freedom to explore the Svalbard archipelago, allowing us a to keep a flexible itinerary. In the land of 24-hour daylight, we will search for arctic wildlife of all shapes and sizes. Of course, a primary goal will be to seek out opportunities to photograph Polar Bears, but the region also hosts a myriad of other arctic wildlife species to focus on as well.

We’ll visit some of the fantastic bird cliffs where Black-legged Kittiwakes, Northern Fulmars, and several species of alcids breed, including Dovekie, Black Guillemot, Thick-billed Murre (Brünnich's Guillemot), and Atlantic Puffin. We’ll keep our eyes out for Narwhal, which on rare occasions pass through these northern waters this time of year. We'll seek out Polar Bears, seals, and Ivory Gulls where ice abounds. We'll get inland a bit to see goose colonies – Pink-footed and Barnacle – along with Common Eider, King Eider, Long-tailed Duck (Oldsquaw), and Svalbard Rock Ptarmigan.

Unlike Antarctica, Svalbard has terrestrial predators – the Arctic Fox and Polar Bear – so almost all of the birds nest on cliffs inaccessible to these hungry prowlers. The wildlife is not quite as approachable as in Antarctica, but because Svalbard never had an indigenous population, its wildlife is less afraid of people than in any other Arctic region. Reindeer, Arctic Fox, and Walrus can at times be approached within 20 feet. Polar Bear, when encountered, will occasionally also allow such proximity, but we will keep some distance!

While walking, we will stay alert for nesting shorebirds, such as Red Phalaropes, terns, and skuas. Arctic Terns and Parasitic Jaegars (Arctic Skuas) are quick to dive bomb if they are disturbed. We’ll look for Ivory Gulls foraging along the sea ice. Also on land, we'll search for Arctic Fox and Svalbard Reindeer (an endemic subspecies with very short legs). Our group will have the time, flexibility, and freedom to cruise around the shores, and while on shore, to hike, view bird colonies, explore, and photograph. However, we must follow Polar Bear protection procedures, which involve staying in groups and keeping within sight of guides who are prepared to deal with Polar Bear encounters.

Possible landing sites as we explore Svalbard:

Liefdefjorden ~ If conditions permit, we may sail to the mouth of Liefdefjorden and go ashore for a walk on the tundra of Andøya. Many Common Eiders and Pink-footed Geese nest here and we may also see the less common King Eider. Monacobreen, with its five-kilometer-long face, is an impressive glacier at the end of this large fjord. Polar Bears have been seen on the glacier, and the waters from its front are a favorite feeding spot for thousands of kittiwakes.

Raudfjorden ~ Further west along the north coast of Spitsbergen, Raudfjorden is a beautiful fjord with spectacular glaciers. It is home to Ringed and Bearded seals, seabird colonies, and surprisingly rich vegetation.

Ytre Norskøya ~ The small island of Ytre Norskøya, on the northwest coast of Spitsbergen, has an accessible breeding ground of Dovekies, Black Guillemots, Thick-billed Murres, Atlantic Puffins, and Parasitic Jaegars.

Krossfjorden and Kongsfjorden ~ On the west side of Spitsbergen, Krossfjorden and Kongsfjorden are good places for a Zodiac cruise along the famed 14th of July Glacier or Fjortende Julibreen and other beautiful glaciers. Large numbers of kittiwakes and Thick-billed Murres nest on the nearby cliffs. We also have a good chance of spotting Arctic Foxes below the cliffs as well as Bearded Seals in the fjord.

Alkhornet ~ At the mouth of Isfjorden, the largest of all Spitsbergen’s fjords, we may land at Alkhornet where seabirds nest on the cliffs and Arctic Foxes search the cliff base for fallen eggs and chicks. Also at the base of the cliffs, Svalbard Reindeer graze the relatively luxuriant vegetation.

Disembark and fights homeward

Jul 14

After breakfast aboard our ship, we will all disembark as a group and be transferred to the airport, or into town for those departing later in the day. If you wish to extend your stay, we are happy to book a hotel in Longyearbyen for you (not included, subject to availability). Depending on your flight schedule, you may have an overnight in Oslo tonight on your way home. Information about transfers and hotels in Longyearbyen and Oslo will be provided in your trip materials.

Arrive home

Jul 15

Arrive home today, depending on your flight schedule.

Svalbard

Sail in the land of the midnight sun in search of a most mythic and revered predator: the Polar Bear.

78.246084, 15.465563

Ship Information

Svalbard Ship

We chose the most well-equipped and comfortable ship that sails the Svalbard archipelago in the small ship category. The ship is 34 m (112 ft) with an ice-strengthened hull and shallow draft that enables us to explore shallow inlets that where other ships cannot go. The cabins for 12 passengers are cozy and comfortable, and each person has his/her own private cabin (if you choose) and each cabin has its own private bathroom facilities.


More Information
Svaldbard ship photo by Cheesemans’ Ecology Safaris

Cost & Payments

Costs (in US$)

Type Cost Per Person
Trip Cost, single occupancy $10,990

We reserve the right to charge for cost increases that occur between when we set tour prices and the date of travel, for example, changes due to the cost of lodging and transportation. If you are a single traveler and you desire, we will find a roommate for you. If we cannot find you a roommate, we may charge you a single supplement fee on land-based tours but not on ship-based tours. Single rooms are subject to availability.

Please note that we cannot guarantee a specific cabin number. If changes occur, we will do everything in our power to assign a cabin of equal or greater value as the cabin type specified in your reservation. Deck plan, cabin arrangements, and cabin amenities are subject to change by ship operator. Cost is Single occupancy aboard the ship, but double occupancy at the hotel in Longyearbyen. Cabin sizes vary slightly and we will assign the smaller cabins last as incentive to sign up early.


Payment Schedule

Payment Due Date Amount Per Person
Deposit Due now to reserve your space $500
Second August 15, 2016 $1,000
Final January 15, 2017 Remaining balance

Payments will be due based on the following schedule. All reservations require a deposit to confirm reservation of your space. For reservations made after a due date, all past payments will be due with registration.


Cancellations

Refunds are given depending on the time left before departure according to the following table. The cancellation fee of $300 per person can be applied toward another tour if reserved within six months of the cancelled trip’s departure date. Consider purchasing trip cancellation insurance that could reimburse your trip costs in the event of your cancellation.

Dates Forfeited Amount per Person
On or before December 6, 2016 $300
December 7, 2016 to January 5, 2017 10% of tour cost
January 6 to February 4, 2017 40% of tour cost
On or after February 5, 2017 100% of tour cost

Included

  • All leaders, transport, park entry fees, and photography instruction for all activities described in the detailed itinerary.
  • Meals aboard our ship from dinner on July 5 through breakfast on July 14. Breakfast on July 4 is also included at the hotel.
  • Ten nights aboard our ship.
  • Lodging the night of July 3 in Longyearbyen.
  • A group transfer from the Svalbard Hotell and Lodge in Longyearbyen to the ship on embarkation day and a group transfer from the ship to the airport or into town upon disembarkation.
  • Trip Materials – information about flights, packing, entry and departure requirements, airport transfers, gratuities, etc.

Not Included

  • Airfare, airport arrival/departure taxes, excess baggage fees. Round-trip airfare is approximately $1,600 to $2,900 from the USA to Longyearbyen, Svalbard, Norway depending on departure point (estimated July 2015).
  • Passport and visa fees.
  • Extra overnights and meals in Longyearbyen, but we will be happy to book extra nights in Longyearbyen.
  • Gratuities: tipping is, of course, discretionary, however we suggest budgeting about $15 to $20 per participant per day for July 4 to July 13 (about $150 to $200 total per participant) to be distributed among the ship’s crew and assistant guide.
  • Emergency medical and evacuation insurance, but it is required for you to purchase. Read more about travel insurance.
  • Trip cancellation insurance. Read more about travel insurance.
  • Items of a personal nature such as laundry, telephone calls, medical costs or hospitalization, room service, soft drinks and alcoholic bottled beverages, and items not on the regular menu, etc. (If you have special dietary needs, please indicate them on your Reservation/Release Form.)

Climate

We will be visiting the arctic during its summer, so 24 hours of sunlight help keep the temperatures at a relatively comfortable level. Expect temperatures in the 30’s and 40’s °F (0–9°C), sometimes in the 50’s and low 60’s °F (10–17°C), but weather fronts can cause temperatures to drop further. Weather patterns are highly variable in the arctic so one day can be sunny and bright and the next foggy and rainy or possibly light snow, so bring appropriate attire to handle a mix of weather conditions. From a photography perspective, variable weather patterns bring dramatic skies and dramatic images. Keep in mind that we can only relay weather trends and, in general, climate change has created less reliable weather and more extreme weather conditions everywhere, so be prepared for changing conditions.

Fitness Level

You must be fit enough to get from the ship into the Zodiacs via a 6-foot rope ladder with sturdy wood rungs with staff assisting you above and below. Once ashore, you must be able to get into and out of the Zodiacs occasionally on a rocky coastline. There will be opportunities for short, relaxed hikes, usually of less than a mile over varied terrain (tundra, flat areas, hilly and grassy areas, or rocky slopes) depending on our location. Our longest walks will be about one mile (1.6 km) and, at times, uphill for about 20–30 minutes. Remember you will be carrying all of your camera gear, so we suggest that you practice carrying your equipment for the amount of time and distances that you may encounter during this trip so you are well prepared! Landing details will be given in advance of each landing and you will always have complete freedom to participate or not participate in the landings and nature hikes.

Flights

Airfare is not included in trip costs. Detailed flight information and the contact information for our excellent flight ticketing agent is included in the trip materials we will send after you sign up; if you need help, she can help you arrange your flights. Please let us know if you would like us to book overnights in Oslo or extra nights in Longyearbyen.

Flights you (or a travel agent) book: Arrive in Longyearbyen, Svalbard, Norway (LYR) on July 3. For most, this means departing home on July 2. Depart Longyearbyen, Svalbard (LYR) on July 14 late in the morning, as we debark from the ship about 9 am and recommend one hour to check-in before departure. Most flight routes will travel through Oslo, Norway and may require an overnight.

FAQ

Why is this a photography safari in Svalbard?

Scott and Sam know this arctic wilderness well and are eager to show you techniques for optimal photography in the arctic. We emphasize photography and wildlife behavior watching of Polar Bears and other arctic wildlife among the unique and beautiful landscapes of Svalbard. Our small group size gives us the flexibility to stay at a perfect photographic moment to capture world-class images or if not photographing, lose ourselves in watching wildlife behavior. If we discover an exceptionally rich photo subject or area, such as a Polar Bear with cubs, a Polar Bear hunting, a pod of Belugas, an exquisitely lit landscape, or any other interesting subject matter that intrigues us, we have the freedom to work that subject for two minutes, two hours, or two days, however long we like.

Will I enjoy this trip if I am not a photographer?

Yes! While the emphasis is on photographing Arctic scenery and wildlife, maximum time in the field (we take full advantage of the long daylight hours in the Arctic summer!) on shore and Zodiac cruising also offers plenty of opportunities to simply observe wildlife and their behaviors. Our two leaders have backgrounds in biology paired with lots of experience in Polar Regions so have the knowledge to enhance your experience in Svalbard.

Why sail in June and July?

There is still a good amount of sea ice during early summer. Sea ice provides a good platform to walk onto the shore; when this “ice platform” melts it is almost impossible to climb onto the shore over the shoreline banks, decreasing the number of landing possibilities. Also, we will find more Polar Bears since they stay with the sea ice pack actively looking for and hunting seals. We will also find very large aggregations of nesting sea birds along the cliffs during this time of year.

Why is our ship the best for this type of trip?

With only twelve passenger cabins, our ship is smaller than most ships in Svalbard, allowing us to poke into more and smaller inlets than other cruise ships. This means that we are able to see things other ships miss. With two leaders and only twelve passengers on our ship, you will receive plenty of individual attention.

What is the food like aboard the ship?

The food is top-notch! Our past travelmates rave about the chef and the excellent French cuisine.

Accommodations

Seasickness

Don’t let a fear of seasickness scare you away! The great majority of our voyage will be cruising in the protected waters of the various islands and inlets, where the seas are often calm and lake-like, even mirror-like with reflections. Very rarely will we be in rough sea conditions. Even those prone to seasickness will typically not experience it for the entire voyage – soon you will acquire your “sea-legs” or sea conditions will improve and you will feel better. Read our suggestions for coping with seasickness.

Transportation

Conditions

  • Non-smoking policy: We have a strict non-smoking policy. Smoking is not permitted at any time or any place during our tours.
  • Maximum time in the field: We try to spend as much time in the field as possible to observe wildlife behavior, sometimes resulting in long days but giving you a more in-depth experience.
  • Itinerary route: The itinerary route, stops and plans are subject to change by unforeseen circumstances beyond our control, such as weather or road conditions.
  • Additional forms: For some of our tours, you may be asked to fill out additional forms (e.g., medical questionnaire).
  • Travel to remote places is exciting, but it is important to understand and accept the risks, both medical and logistical. Minor medical problems can usually be treated, but because we are often far from medical facilities, there can be no expectation for immediate medical treatment or evacuation, even in cases of trauma. Anyone with health problems needing close medical supervision should not consider going on this tour. Bring enough medication for the duration of the trip for any chronic medical needs, since pharmacies are usually not available. When you send your deposit and signed Reservation/Release Form, you certify to us that you do not knowingly have any physical or other conditions that would create a risk for yourself or for other trip participants.