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Fair Isle, Faroes, and Spitsbergen: Birds and Bears

Arctic Cruise Information

Summary : Towering fjords, massive glaciers, soaring sea stacks and coastal cliffs teeming with thousands of unique seabirds, like the amazing Atlantic puffin, will simply take your breath away. So too will the diverse wildlife of this far-flung region, from the iconic polar bear and Svalbard reindeer to dolphins, seals and a variety of whales (including minke, fin and humpback). And having continuous daylight for part of the voyage means that you may spot these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat at any time of day… or night!

Activities : Birding, Hiking, Kayaking, Triple/Quad Cabins

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Itinerary
Day 1
Aberdeen, Scotland

The gateway for your Arctic adventure, the Scottish city of Aberdeen has many monikers, but its most famous is Granite City—it was once the granite capital of the world. Wandering the streets, you’ll soon see why, as the Victorian buildings sparkle in the sun, courtesy of the high mica content of the granite. A bustling cultural hub, Aberdeen also offers a range of museums, galleries, theaters, shops, cafes, and restaurants to explore. Be sure to be out on deck, camera in hand, as your ship sets sail this afternoon. The area’s coastal waters offer excellent possibilities for spotting bottlenose and white-beaked dolphins, harbor porpoises, and minke whales.

Day 2
Fair Isle

The U.K.’s most remote inhabited island, the extraordinary Fair Isle is located halfway between the Shetland and Orkney Islands. Boasting a rugged beauty, Fair Isle’s landscape is diverse, with fields and moors dominated by seaside cliffs and an astounding amount of sea stacks, natural arches, and caves.

Despite its small size (and lack of a pub or restaurant), the island offers activities for history, nature, and photography buffs alike. Visit the museum to immerse yourself in local artifacts, photos, knitwear, and other historic memorabilia. Or climb up the 106 steps and two ladders to the top of the south lighthouse, to take in incredible vistas of the dramatic peninsula. At 85 feet, the 1891 Stevenson structure is the tallest lighthouse in the Shetlands and was one of the last in Britain to be manned. Don’t forget to snap a shot of the circa 1935 classic red phone booth by the post office!

In terms of wildlife, orcas are native to the waters around Fair Isle, and they sometimes come close in pursuit of seals. But the island is best known for its bird observatory and offers an exciting vantage point for viewing migrating birds, with coastal cliffs teeming with seabirds in spring and summer. The star attraction is the Atlantic puffin, a clown-like bird that clings to the steep slopes. Photographers will surely want to capture pictures of their bemused expressions, and Fair Isle’s easily accessible grassy banks make it one of the best places in the Shetlands to get close to these colorful creatures. Northern fulmars, kittiwakes, storm petrels, razorbills and guillemots are also likely to be spotted, soaring over the open waters.

Another must for visitors to this community of artisans and artists—a traditional Fair Isle sweater will keep you warm during the rest of your Arctic voyage.

Day 3
Torshavn, Faroe Islands

Known for its beautiful, unspoiled landscape with verdant pastures giving way to rugged steep cliffs, the Faroe Islands have a storied past—though the details of the archipelago’s early history are a bit hazy. The first settlers may have been seventh-century Irish monks seeking solitude on these islands far removed from any continent. Their isolation ended in 800 AD, with the arrival of Norse farmers, and Norwegian colonization continued throughout the Viking Age. Today, many of the inhabitants of the Faroe Islands, now a self-governing country within the Kingdom of Denmark, are descendants of Norwegian Vikings. Exploring Tórshavn, where the Vikings established their government in 825 AD, you can travel back in time and enjoy a soothing solitude similar to those early days.

One of the world’s smallest capitals, the picturesque Tórshavn has a relaxed vibe and a number of historic and cultural sites. Meander the maze of narrow laneways of the old town, admiring the quaint wooden houses with traditional sod roofs and white-paned windows. Learn about the history of the islands, from the days of the Vikings until the 19th century, at the National Museum of the Faroe Islands (be sure to check out the carved church pew ends), explore the botanical gardens at the national history museum, or visit the art museum to see vibrant works by Faroese artists. If you’re looking for more action, hike up to the historic fort, built in 1580 to guard against pirate raids. Here you can enjoy stunning views of the port below. Or perhaps you prefer to wander the charming harbor, filled with cafes, pubs, and old warehouses, and simply gaze out at the sea while sipping a latte.

Day 4
At Sea

Say goodbye to the Faroes and cruise toward the world’s most northerly volcanic island, Jan Mayen. There are several activities to keep you engaged while at sea: learn to identify seabirds gliding alongside your ship, attend dynamic presentations by your Expedition Team, relax in the polar library, or simply spend some time on deck admiring the sea. With your binoculars and camera at the ready, keep your eyes peeled for the blow of a humpback, blue, or fin whale. Encounters with minke whales or orcas are also possible, since their curiosity often brings them near the ship. If you’re lucky, you may even see harp seals.

Day 5 – 6
Jan Mayen Island

North of the Arctic Circle, about 280 miles east of Greenland and 340 miles north of Iceland, lies the mysterious Jan Mayen, deep in the North Atlantic Ocean. Often shrouded in thick fog, the small mountainous island was declared a nature reserve in 2010 and is rarely visited, save for the 18 rotating personnel of the Norwegian military and Norwegian Meteorological Institute, who are the only inhabitants.

Landing here will be dictated by the weather and sea. If conditions allow, keep watch on deck as the spoon-shaped island’s highest summit emerges. A 7,470-foot high volcano, the breathtaking Beerenberg features a symmetrical cone shape and impressive glaciers that spill into the sea. During the summer months, the island’s lower landscape is covered with grass, moss, and a smattering of hardy flowers that add a cheery pop of color to the otherwise barren black lava terrain.

One site you might visit is Olonkinbyen and the surrounding area. Named after Russian-Norwegian polar explorer Gennady Olonkin, it’s the island’s only settlement and the location of the meteorological station, where you may have the chance to learn about polar research while seeing how weather is monitored at the top of the world. Another option might be the black sand beach at Kvalrossbukta, where the remnants of a 17th-century Dutch whaling station and a large fulmar colony can be found.

If fortunate, you may get a close-up view of the volcano and the stratified cliffs of the spectacular north coast on a Zodiac cruise around the island. Designated an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International for the large numbers of breeding seabirds, Jan Mayen supports colonies of northern fulmars, little auks, glaucous gulls, kittiwakes, and black and Brünnich’s guillemots. Birders will also delight at the sight of Atlantic puffins, the "parrots of the sea.” The waters here are rich feeding grounds for marine life, so you may even spot orcas and minke, fin, blue, and/or humpback whales, too.

Day 7
At Sea

As the ship sails farther north, spend some time with your shipmates in the lounge, swapping stories and photos, or pause for a moment on the bridge, joining in as your Expedition Team looks out for whales, dolphins, seals, and a variety of seabirds.

Day 8 – 10
Spitsbergen, Svalbard

Rugged, wild, unspoiled, and situated entirely within the Arctic Circle—the largest island of the Svalbard archipelago is utterly unforgettable. From immense glaciers to polar deserts, the landscape here is as varied as the wildlife.

As you explore the fjords of the southwestern edge of this magical island, it won’t take long for you to see firsthand why Spitsbergen is the “wildlife capital of the Arctic.” Some of the preferred destinations, chosen for optimum wildlife viewing as well as an appreciation of the island’s history and geology, include Hornsund, Bellsund, Samarinvågin and Lilliehöök Glacier.

The possible landing sites at Hornsund, the island’s most southerly fjord, have rich histories. En route to Gåshamna, a bay at the southern end, the hope is to explore the former science station, you may have the opportunity to discover old whale bones or hike the spectacular glacier. At Isbjornhamna, the location of the Polish research station, perhaps you may spot Svalbard reindeer and colonies of delightful little auks. Cruising by Brepollen, meanwhile, might reward with the sight of polar bears, which are known to hunt in Hornsund.

A 12-mile long sound, Bellsund lured miners a century ago for its natural resources. Today, visitors come to Bourbanhamna and Calypsobyen to see historic mining and trapper sites and marvel at the magnificent vistas. It may also be possible to hike along the colorful tundra, dotted with flowers bursting for a taste of sunshine. Viewing reindeer here is likely, as they frequent the area. Nearly 60 percent of glaciers cover Svalbard, and two of our favorites are Samarin and Lilliehöök, for their sheer beauty and size. Samarin Glacier dominates the landscape surrounding Samarinvågin, while the calving Lilliehöök Glacier stretches about four miles across and 260 feet high. As you Zodiac cruise along the face of these glaciers, appreciate their splendor.

There is no shortage of natural beauty in Spitsbergen. Each day, you’ll see something new, whether it is a rare bird species or an abandoned site from centuries ago.

Day 11
Longyearbyen, Norway

Disembark the vessel after breakfast. If you have flights booked for the day of disembarkation, departure transfers are provided to either a downtown location or directly to the airport. Your luggage can be stored in a luggage truck if your flight is scheduled for later in the day.

If you are spending extra time in Longyearbyen after your expedition, a transfer will be provided to your hotel. You will need to arrange your own transfer to the airport if you are flying out after the disembarkation day.

Notes

Read this itinerary as a guide only; the exact route and program varies according to ice and weather conditions—and the wildlife you encounter. Flexibility is the key to the success of this expedition.

Mandatory Travel Insurance:
Due to the remoteness of the areas in this itinerary, travelers are to carry a minimum of $50,000 of emergency medical coverage. Proof of coverage is required prior to embarkation. All guests are strongly recommended to have comprehensive travel insurance coverage. The shipping company will not be held responsible for delays due to force majeure. Any additional costs accrued will be the responsibility of the traveler. ExpeditionTrips strongly recommends that the travel insurance policy covers trip cancellation insurance, trip delay (interruption or after departure coverage), baggage and repatriation. ExpeditionTrips can assist U.S. residents with travel protection options. Other conditions may apply based on pre-existing conditions.

Kayaking Option:
Not included in cruise rate. This is a pre-booked option for kayakers with some experience. Places are strictly limited so please advise at time of booking. Please contact ExpeditionTrips for additional details.

Included:
Group transfer from the ship to Longyearbyen airport or a designated drop-off location downtown on disembarkation day; shipboard accommodation with daily housekeeping; meals on board throughout your voyage; shore landings per the daily program; Zodiac transfers and cruising per the daily program; photographic journal documenting the voyage; a pair of waterproof expedition boots on loan for shore landings; an expedition parka – yours to keep; coffee, tea, cocoa available around the clock; hair dryer and bathrobe in every cabin; miscellaneous service taxes and port charges; luggage handling aboard ship; emergency evacuation insurance to a maximum benefit of $500,000 per person*. Subject to change without notice.

Not Included:
Airfare; passport and visa expenses; government arrival and departure taxes; meals ashore; baggage, cancellation and medical travel insurance; excess baggage charges; mandatory waterproof pants for Zodiac cruising; laundry, bar, beverage and other personal charges; phone and internet charges; the customary gratuity at the end of the voyage for ship’s crew and staff; additional overnight accommodation; optional kayaking; fuel surcharge may apply.

*Emergency Evacuation Insurance:
Emergency evacuation coverage to a maximum benefit per paying passenger of $500,000 is included in the cost of this expedition. Included coverage is applicable only while traveling with the shipping company between the first and last day of the expedition. Additional days of travel prior to the expedition and/or after the expedition, including pre- and post-packages/hotels/flights, purchased from the shipping company or from suppliers other than the shipping company, are not covered by the included emergency evacuation insurance. We strongly advise all passengers to purchase medical, cancellation and baggage insurance, and additional emergency evacuation coverage.

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