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  • Encounter polar bears in their natural habitat. read more

  • Explore the Arctic with the best ice team on earth from National Geographic. read more

  • Explore the Arctic up close on board zodiacs. read more

  • Greenland and the Arctic are the final frontier of expedition cruises. read more

Arctic

The Arctic is one of the most remote and fascinating regions of the world, and it comes alive for just a few short months each year. Arctic small ship cruises journey into spectacular fjords surrounded by towering mountains and glaciers illuminated by the 24-hour sun. Photograph walrus and polar bear; use Zodiac to discover historic sites of polar exploration; and call at lands rarely visited.

Arctic Small Ship Experts

We are award-winning small ship cruise and travel specialists with extensive knowledge of Arctic itineraries and ships. Spitsbergen, Greenland, Iceland, Norway and the North Pole are perfect for explorations by small ship cruise, and our selected itineraries get you up close to the abundant wildlife in this region: polar bears, musk ox, walrus, belugas, narwhal, killer whales, seabirds and more.

Personalized Service & Cruise Savings

Our experts will help you choose the right Arctic cruise for your interests, ability and budget. Our buying power means you pay less on Arctic small ship cruises.


Greenland Aurora Borealis Cruise
Special Offer Available
From $2250
8 days
Travel Season
Sep

Cruise

Greenland Aurora Borealis Cruise

Sail along the western coast of Greenland for prime aurora borealis viewing on board the intimate sailing vessel Rembrandt van Rijn. 8-day and 15-day expeditions available.
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East Greenland - Aurora Borealis
From $6495
14 days
Travel Season
Sep

Cruise

East Greenland - Aurora Borealis

If your bucket list includes seeing the sky dance of the Northern Lights - this is the tour for you. The autumn and winter skies above Greenland’s eastern coast are renowned for putting on some of the best Aurora displays in the world. If you consider yourself an active traveler, this tour provides lengthy shore excursions, which will have you walking and hiking across the pristine wilderness of Greenland.
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Spitsbergen Explorer
From $5795
11 days
Travel Season
JunJulAug

Cruise

Spitsbergen Explorer

On this 11-day active adventure that begins and ends in Longyearbyen, explore the coastline of Spitsbergen and discover magnificent fjords, cruise in Zodiacs past towering sea cliffs and encounter polar bears and walrus in their natural habitat.
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Realm of the Polar Bear
From $3599
8 days
Travel Season
JunJulAug

Cruise

Realm of the Polar Bear

From closeup encounters with huge icebergs and glaciers, to the variety of unique wildlife, this is a voyage of nonstop highlights. Roaming polar bears, lounging seals, grazing reindeer and colonies of birds all co-exist in this harsh land we dare only to explore a couple months of the year.
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Spitsbergen - Northeast Greenland
From $6000
13 days
Travel Season
AugSep

Cruise

Spitsbergen - Northeast Greenland

Sail from Spitsbergen along the northeast coast of Greenland over 13 days, ending in Akureyri, Iceland, aboard the 116-guest Ortelius. Experience the country's dramatic coastline, highlighted by Scoresby Sund in East Greenland.
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Exploring Greenland & the Canadian High Arctic
From $12990
13 days
Travel Season
JulAug

Cruise

Exploring Greenland & the Canadian High Arctic

On this expedition aboard the 148-guest National Geographic Explorer, you’ll venture deep into the far northern reaches of the Arctic. Your quest? Arctic wildlife and the magisterial scenery of the ice - occurring at an epic scale in Greenland.
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Around Spitsbergen
From $4900
10 days
Travel Season
JulAugSep

Cruise

Around Spitsbergen

Spitsbergen, with its deep fjords and towering glaciers that calve with a thundering noise, its sharp mountains in the north and the south and its lush tundra full of flowers has a lot to offer to wildlife lovers and hikers. Come see for your self, as we cruise around the largest Arctic Island in the Svalbard Archipelago.
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North Spitsbergen
From $3050
8 days
Travel Season
JunJulAug

Cruise

North Spitsbergen

Come explore Northern Spitsbergen, with its rugged mountains, sweeping tundra, and ice-caps and glaciers, it is a true high-Arctic archipelago. Only 600 miles from the North Pole, Spitsbergen is still today a virtually unspoiled wilderness with abundant wildlife.
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Spitsbergen Circumnavigation
From $7295
13 days
Travel Season
JunJul

Cruise

Spitsbergen Circumnavigation

This extensive circuit of Spitsbergen is a in-depth expedition cruise to the Svalbard archipelago, where polar bear sightings are virtually guaranteed! Discover that Spitsbergen boasts a remarkably diverse landscape, offering you the chance to explore everything from jagged mountain peaks and colorful fields of vegetation to sweeping polar deserts.
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Land of the Ice Bears: Arctic Svalbard
From $8990
11 days
Travel Season
Jun

Cruise

Land of the Ice Bears: Arctic Svalbard

Just 600 miles from the North Pole, Svalbard is a place of deep fjords, mountains and massive sheets of ice. During summer, the tundra is carpeted with wildflowers. Ice-peppered fjords ring with the thunderous sound of glacial ice crashing to the sea. This is the land of walrus and polar bear. Experience nature in its purest form in the High Arctic.
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Scoresby Sund Aurora Borealis
From $3850
8 days
Travel Season
Sep

Cruise

Scoresby Sund Aurora Borealis

Experience the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, at a maximum intensity on this special voyage to the Scoresby Sund, East Greenland, the longest fjord in the world, where conditions will be optimal to experience this phenomenon.
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Norway's Fjords & Arctic Svalbard
From $13820
17 days
Travel Season
May

Cruise

Norway's Fjords & Arctic Svalbard

Few places remain in the world where you can be assured that nature will provide highlight after unexpected highlight. The majestic fjords of Norway and the stunning glaciers of Arctic Svalbard are just such a wilderness. Cruise on the National Geographic Explorer into fjordlands and Svalbard with its towering ice caps, deep fjords, mountains and massive sheets of ice.
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A Circumnavigation of Iceland
From $7990
10 days
Travel Season
Jul

Cruise

A Circumnavigation of Iceland

Iceland's world-class geology and its people's unique cultural heritage come alive in this 10-day circumnavigation aboard the National Geographic Explorer.
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The North Pole
Special Offer Available
From $24995
14 days
Travel Season
Jun

Cruise

The North Pole

Few places have stirred the hearts and minds of explorers more than the North Pole. On this historic voyage, our aim is to stand at 90° North. Cruise aboard the 50 Years of Victory, one of the world's most powerful icebreakers through dense pack ice searching for polar bear and walrus. Join us on this opportunity of a lifetime.
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The Arctic is one of the most remote and fascinating regions of the world, and an area that has only ever been accessible to the privileged few. Sail into spectacular fjords and glaciers illuminated by the 24-hour sun; photograph walrus and polar bear; use Zodiac to discover historic sites and call at lands rarely visited before. Wildlife is abundant here, with polar bears, musk ox, walrus, ringed seals, bearded seals, belugas, narwhal, killer whales, bowhead whales, wildfowl, waders and seabirds among the many species you'll find in the Arctic.

Everyone's first impression of the Arctic is that it is a cold, lifeless and empty place... an icy desert. However, it has a wealth of biological detail and is rich in wildlife and flora.

Arctic Environment

The Arctic is not an actual land mass; its a partially frozen ocean. The area along the ice edge expands and contracts with the changing seasons. Everyone's first impression of the Arctic is that it is a cold, lifeless and empty place... an icy desert. However, it has a wealth of biological detail and is rich in wildlife and flora. The Arctic Circle is located at 66"32' N. Arctic climate, even in the warmest months, does not exceed 50 F. The coldest place in the Arctic is not at the North Pole, but in Siberia.

Arctic Culture

The people native to the coastal regions of Labrador, Greenland, the Northwest Territories, Alaska and Siberia, have many cultural traits in common. The word "Eskimo" comes from eskipot, an Algonquian word meaning "an eater of raw flesh." Another widely used term is Inuit, which really refers specifically to the Eskimos of the eastern Canadian Arctic. In the Bering Sea region, Eskimos prefer to be called "Yup'ik," while the North Slope Alaska Eskimos prefer "Inupiat."  Each have different languages and dialects. Below is an outline of the cultural history.

Paleoeskimos

About 4,000 years ago, the earliest inhabitants of the Arctic entered the coasts of Alaska. They had Siberian origins.

The Independence I, Pre-Dorset & Dorset Cultures

The "Independence I" people lived in small isolated bands and hunted musk ox. Pre-Dorset people were sedentary, deriving their food from seal, walrus and caribou. Around A.D. 1000 the Dorset population occupied a huge geographic triangle bounded by Victoria Island, Ellesmere Is., Greenland and Newfoundland.

The Denbigh and Ipiutak Cultures

The Denbigh culture, fished and hunted caribou. The Ipiutak culture had a settlement of 600 houses at Point Hope. They buried their dead in a large cemetery along with elaborately carved facemasks. Meanwhile, the inhabitants of the islands in the Bering Strait were perfecting techniques of open-sea hunting for walrus and whale.

The Thule Culture

By 1000 AD, Thule people spread over all the coasts from Alaska to Canada. They used umiaks to take bowhead whales. Their houses, clustered in groups of 6-30, were heated with lamp bowls filled with whale oil. The Thules were also remarkably gadget-oriented, creating clever tools and devices of bone, antler, ivory and stone.

The "Little Ice Age"

The end of the 18th century brought the intense cold of the "Little Ice Age." Norse settlers of Greenland, no longer able to farm, died out. In eastern Arctic, with a diminished dependence on whaling, the Thule people left their permanent houses for temporary villages on the sea ice. They concentrated on breathing-hole hunting and developed an emphasis on locally available animals such as walrus, beluga, narwhal and caribou, that ultimately led to the "tribes" of the modern Inuit.

European Contact

In the late 19th century, whalers came to the Arctic. The Inuit learned how to hunt with guns, knit and dance Scottish reels. The whalers also introduced them to liquor and European diseases, and with no immunity, natives died by the hundreds. The whaling industry disappeared, and fur became the new draw. Permanent trading posts and towns were established. Catholic missionaries arrived and replaced many of the Inuit's traditional rituals and beliefs with those dictated by the church.

Arctic People Today

As Canadian, European and American exploration and whaling increased, the traditional Inuit way of life diminished to the point that very little was left by 1960. Wooden boats and outboard motors replaced the kayak and umiak. Rifles, replaced harpoons, skidoos replaced dog sleds and prefab houses replaced snow houses. Today, most of the Inuit, Inupiat, Yupik and Greenlanders live in villages or towns.

Arctic Explorer History

Over 15,000 years ago, peoples migrated over land bridges into what is today Siberia.  From the late 16th to the late 18th centuries came whaling and explorers such as Willem Barents, Henry Hudson, Peter the Great and Captain James Cook. Adolf Nordenskjold and Roald Amundsen were pioneers of the exploration of the Northwest Passage. In the late 19th century, Fridtjof Nansen's ship, the Fram, came close to reaching the North Pole. It wasn't until 1968 that an American team led by Ralph Plaisted reached the North Pole.

The Arctic, where cold and warm water masses intermingle, has some of the world's best fishing grounds.

Arctic Flora & Fauna

At first glance, the Arctic landscape appears desolate and lifeless. However, there is a surprising richness in vegetation: lichens, mosses, grasses and flowering plants cover the ground. This plant life has overcome the extreme harsh conditions of cold, sterile soil, abrasively high winds and frequent freeze-thaw fluctuations. Arctic seas, partially frozen so much of the time, would also seem to be too inhospitable for large concentrations of life. Yet, Arctic waters teem with marine life on a prodigious scale that vastly out produces more benign tropical seas. Nutrients form diatoms and other single-celled life, which is the base of the marine food chain. These in turn feed zooplankton, shrimp-like krill and squid. The Arctic, where cold and warm water masses intermingle, has some of the world's best fishing grounds. Of 100 different fish species, cod and herring are among the most important.  So, both land and sea forms have adapted to sustain themselves. But since the environment is relatively young and because there is a limited selection of habitats, the numbers of species is limited.

The most abundant woody plants are several species of willow and birch. To overcome the harsh conditions prevailing about ten months of the year, their growth is very slow. For example, a willow root only one inch in diameter may be several centuries old. Preparation for propogation may stretch over years, with energy being collected and stored until the bud is formed before the flower is eventually ready to open. In considering this prolonged struggle against extremely difficult conditions, one is obliged to think carefully before collecting or damaging an Arctic plant.

Arctic Birds

The most common Arctic birds are the Murre and the Dovekie (both are Auks). Dovekie nest in huge colonies among the rocks. There are also three species of puffin: the Atlantic, Horned, and Tufted Birds. Only a few species: the Ptarmigan, Raven, Ivory and Ross Gulls, and Snowy Owl, spend the winter in the north. Many types of gulls are present: Glaucous Gull, Iceland Gull, Sabine\'s Gull, Thayer\'s Gull, Herring Gull and Ivory Gull. By far the most abundant gull of the Arctic is the Kittiwake, which nest in teeming colonies on the sea cliffs. The Arctic Tern has a circumpolar distribution. Some individuals migrate all the way from their breeding sites in the Arctic to spend several months in Antarctica, an extraordinary 22,000 mile round trip in the course of a year.  Closely related to the gulls and terns are three skuas (also known as jaegers): the Pomarine, Parasitic, and Long-tailed.  During the prolific summer, shorebirds such as plovers and sandpipers can be found as well as many species of ducks, geese, Loons and Red-breasted Merganser.

Arctic Land Mammals

Several species of lemming, small rodents, occur in the tundra and are the vital link in the Arctic food chain. The Arctic fox is largely a scavenger, often following polar bears in winter and eating the leftover scraps. Also found are: Arctic hare, shorttail weasel, wolverine and the gray, or timber wolf.  The largest predator the polar bear. This symbol of the Arctic has suffered greatly from hunting, but there is now hope that the partial protection it is receiving will bring it back from the endangered list. It is solitary except during the mating season or when the mother is tending cubs. It is a powerful swimmer, and feeds mainly on seals, which it usually stalks on the ice floes. The two large land herbivores are the caribou and muskox. Many Inuit communities are dependent on the caribou for meat for themselves and their dogs, and the skins for bedding, clothing, and tents. Caribou travel in large herds that are always on the move, migrating as much as 1,000 kilometers. 

Arctic Marine Mammals

Many species of cetaceans (dolphins and whales) occur in Arctic seas but most of them have been so drastically reduced in numbers by over-exploitation they are now usually encountered singly or in very small groups. The narwhal and beluga whale both occur in shallow coastal waters in the summer, when they are most likely to be hunted. The male narwhal has a counter-clockwise spirally twisted tusk reaching a maximum length of eight feet. Since this is a valued by tourists as a curio, the animal is being greatly over-hunted. The bowhead whale is found only in Arctic seas, close to the ice edges. Its enormous head is more than one-half the animal\'s total length. It is hunted by the Inuit on a limited basis. Of the seven species of seals occurring in the Arctic, the harbor, ringed, harp, and bearded are the only ones of current interest to Inuit hunters. The rest, ribbon, gray and hooded, are so rare they are not often encountered. The ringed, the smallest Arctic seal, is of considerable economic importance as a food source for the coastal people and their dogs. Both the ringed and the bearded seal spend much of their time on the pack ice. The walrus is also of great importance; its hide can be used for thongs and skins for boats, and its meat was once prized by the Inuit, but is not an important food source anymore. The tusks are of considerable value for ivory carvings. Walrus generally gather in groups; they feed on the bottom in fairly shallow water on clams and other mollusks. One can read more about the Flora and Fauna of the High Arctic by Dennis Puleston.

Arctic Conservation Guidelines

Avoid disturbing wildlife and their habitats. One of the most popular activities for travelers is viewing wildlife, but life in the North is harsh. The brief summer is the only time animals and plants have to reproduce and prepare for the long winter. Consequently, they have few energy reserves to waste on recovery from human impact.

  • Avoid trampling plants. 
  • View wildlife in natural habitats, don't force close encounters.
  • Watch your step. Keep to established paths when possible.
  • View animals from a distance of at least 15 feet.
  • Approach wildlife slowly when taking photographs. Do not cause distress. Never harass wildlife for the sake of photography.
  • Take care not to startle or chase any bird from its nest.
  • If an animal shows signs of distress or avoidance, move away.
  • Look but do not touch. Observe natural behavior in its natural state.
  • Avoid disturbing marine mammal haulouts, wolf and fox dens, seabird colonies, and goose molting areas.

Wilderness Etiquette 

  • Do not collect natural "souvenirs" such as shells, rocks and feathers.
  • Do not litter!
  • Do not transport any seeds, insects, spores or live material to or from islands.  Do not take food ashore, clean sand and mud from  shoes before returning to the ship, and check clothing for seeds.
  • Keep noise levels to a minimum.

Respect Archaeological & Historical Remains

Many of the areas we visit have been occupied for millennia by people. They have left many signs of their passing and sites of previous occupation are often easily accessible and unprotected. Do not disturb archeological or historic sites or collect souvenirs. This is imperative! Even moving objects can destroy their contextual information, erasing much of their scientific significance.

Respect Local Peoples

Tourists are guests in other peoples' countries. Treat locals as you wish to be treated  in your home. Gifts and barter items can be a wonderful means of appreciation and payment; they can also be patronizing and overbearing if selected or offered poorly. Useful or beautiful items are generally best, especially if they represent the crafts of your region. Ask before you take photographs of people, their dwellings or an activity. Avoid giving gifts like candy or pencils to individual children. Do not buy ivory, whalebone and sealskin products in foreign countries. Transporting marine mammal parts or products across international boundaries is illegal.

The Arctic climate, classified as polar, is found in countries around the Arctic Ocean. This includes north Alaska, north Canada, coastal areas of Greenland, northern Scandinavia (Norway, Sweden and Finland) and Siberia in northern Russia. The main features of this climate are low amounts of precipitation, mild summers and very cold winters. This extreme climate produces the type of scenery known as the tundra. Winters in the tundra are very cold and very dark; north of the Arctic Circle there are days when the sun does not rise. Precipitation is very low during this season as the cold temperatures reduce evaporation and the air can only hold very low amounts of water vapor. What little snow that falls does not melt, so the land is covered in snow and ice all winter.

When is the best time to visit Svalbard to view polar bears? From a wildlife, travel and comfort perspective, June, July and August are the ideal months when it is light and not as cold.

The short summers see the land covered in heather, moss and arctic flowers. The land is waterlogged, as the ground will remain frozen and so impermeable with only the top meter or so melting. The frozen ground is known as permafrost, and the section that melts is known as the active layer. Plants do not grow high due to the strong winds and the permafrost preventing deep roots. Great seasonal changes in the length of days and nights are experienced north of the Arctic Circle, with variations that range from 24 hours of constant daylight (“midnight sun”) or darkness at the Arctic Circle to six months of daylight or darkness at the North Pole. However, because of the low angle of the sun above the horizon, insolation is minimal throughout the regions, even during the prolonged daylight period.

Svalbard is the northern most point of Europe, sitting between Norway and the North Pole, and literally translated means "cold edge." It is one of the best places in the world to see polar bears, the Aurora Borealis and the midnight sun - a full four months a year when the sun doesn’t once dip below the horizon. The capital city of Longyearbyen has a small community of around 2,000 people, offering a peaceful stay no matter what the time of year. When is the best time to visit Svalbard to view polar bears? From a wildlife, travel and comfort perspective, June, July and August are the ideal months when it is light and not as cold. If you want lots of light and snow, go between March and May.

Arctic Average Temperatures

Longyearbyen

Month

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Average (F)

25.8

21.9

22.5

21.6

29.1

40.7

44.5

44.4

39.9

27.3

21.2

20.1

 

Oslo

Month

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Avg. High (F)

28.8

30.4

38.3

48.4

60.4

68.7

70.7

68.2

59.2

48.7

37.8

31.1

Avg. Low (F)

19.1

19.8

26.1

33.4

43.7

51.1

54

52.3

45.5

38.8

29.3

21.9

 

Nuuk, Greenland

Month

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Avg. High (F)

23.7

25.5

22.8

29.8

37.6

44.6

49.8

48.7

42.8

34.5

29.7

25.7

Avg. Low (F)

14.1

12.7

12.7

20.7

28.9

34

38.3

38.3

34.5

27.1

21.4

16.5

 

 

Expedition

Expedition

The 132-passenger M/S Expedition is a top-of-the-line polar vessel at an affordable price. Unlike many expedition ships, where public space is at a premium, there are multiple large public areas aboard to enjoy.
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Fifty Years of Victory

Fifty Years of Victory

Cruise to the Arctic frontiers and North Pole on the 128-guest 50 Years of Victory, the largest, most sophisticated and powerful icebreaker ever constructed, with onboard helicopters and a pool.
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National Geographic Explorer

National Geographic Explorer

The National Geographic Explorer is a state-of-the-art expedition ship accommodating 148 guests in 81 outside cabins. It is fully stabilized, enabling it to navigate polar passages while providing comfort.
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Noorderlicht

Noorderlicht

The 20-guest Noorderlicht is well suited for sailing the small islands of Spitsbergen and Lofoten and offers good open deck viewing areas, also when under sail. This is a ship for the avid sailor.
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Ocean Nova: Quark

Ocean Nova: Quark

The Ocean Nova is the 78-guest, ice-stengthened small ship known for its clean Scandinavian styling, charterd by Quark Expeditions for its Arctic voyages.
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Ortelius

Ortelius

The 116-guest M/V Ortelius is an ice-strengthened small ship designed for polar expedition cruises in the Arctic and Antarctica. She offers passengers a quality exploratory wildlife program to spend as much time ashore as possible.
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Plancius

Plancius

The Plancius is a 114-passenger small ship designed and built exclusively for polar cruises. A wide variety of cabins and ample space on five decks make the Plancius a great option for expedition cruises.
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Rembrandt van Rijn

Rembrandt van Rijn

The intimate 16-guest three-mast schooner S/V Rembrandt van Rijn is well suited for expedition cruising among the fjords of Greenland, and for a Northern Lights itinerary in the Arctic.
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Sea Adventurer

Sea Adventurer

A handsome expedition ship, the Sea Adventurer, formerly Clipper Adventurer, combines travel to the polar regions with superior on-board comfort for its 117 passengers.
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Sea Explorer

Sea Explorer

The 111–passenger (71-passengers for Air Cruises) Sea Explorer is an ice-strengthened, small luxury expedition ship featuring an all-inclusive bar and optional kayaking. Several suites include private balconies.
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Sea Spirit

Sea Spirit

Sail aboard the luxurious all-suite Sea Spirit to experience the Arctic and Antarctica in grand style with all the amenities of a fine hotel. Carrying just 114 passengers, this outstanding vessel is the perfect home away from home.
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