An arctic expedition is no normal vacation. It is an adventure spent exploring, learning, and seeing things you may have never expected to see with your own eyes. This complete guide to embarking on an arctic expedition will tell you everything to expect on an adventure like this, including where you will go, who to travel with, what you might see, what you might do, and what to pack.
What is an Arctic Expedition?
An arctic expedition is unlike any travel experience you have ever had before. Even if you are the most avid and experienced of travelers, there is no doubt that your mind will be completely blown by the things you get to see, do and learn on an arctic expedition.
There are often different types of arctic expeditions: cruise and land. The type of expedition you will choose depends on what you are looking for in an experience like that. An arctic cruise will take you across various vantage points through different waters and terrain. You can spend anywhere from one week to 3 weeks aboard a ship with little to no contact with the outside world, traveling from place to place and exploring different cultures, seeing different arctic animals, and enjoying some relaxation aboard the ship.
An arctic land expedition is a single expedition. You will travel to one locale and explore that area in depth. This a great opportunity to see distinctive wildlife and learn about a particular place, culture, and eco-system.
There is one well-established and highly-rated travel program that does both arctic cruises and land expeditions, and that is Adventure Canada. Read below to find out why they should be your travel program of choice when you are making plans to “vacation” in the freezing cold.
Why Adventure Canada?
Adventure Canada is the leading arctic expedition travel program. Established in 1987 by two friends who found that there were no real travel programs for this amazing part of our world, Adventure Canada has since grown into an expansive travel company that not only explores the icy waters and terrain of the arctic but also parts of Europe and even Central America.
An arctic cruise or land expedition on Adventure Canada is not your typical vacation. You will be actively learning, exploring, and completely immersing yourself in the adventure that awaits. You will feel like a real arctic explorer rather than just a “visitor.” Your downtime will be filled with delicious food and relaxation opportunities, but also seminars and discussions about the arctic terrain, the animals of the area, the indigenous people of the land, and the culture of the people who call these places home.
The staff and crew of Adventure Canada are professional, knowledgeable, and kind. Since Adventure Canada has been passed down to family over the generations, many of the crew members today have quite literally grown up exploring the areas you are seeing for the first time. They can answer any of your questions and will treat you with the utmost courtesy during your time with them. Their ultimate goal is for this adventure to influence you so much that it changes the way you travel and the way you see the world around you.
What to Expect on an Arctic Expedition
It is hard to nail down exactly what to expect on a given arctic expedition because every adventure is different from the last one. One thing that stays the same is that, inevitably, things will change. You may have to change your course because of icy waters. You may have to skip certain areas because of the terrain, the weather, or other factors beyond the control of your crew leaders.
Another thing you can expect is that you will have the adventure of a lifetime. You will see and do things that you only were thought possible by living vicariously through the explorers within the pages of National Geographic. You will eat foods you didn’t even know people ate. You will meet people you didn’t even know existed. You will learn about the history of the arctic land, finding out that it is anything but just a frozen tundra with polar bears, narwhals, and beluga whales.
The best advice anyone can give you when you are starting your arctic expedition is to be flexible. Things will change. Your course will probably be different than it says on the website. You might not see everything you hoped to see, but you will also see things you never expected to see. You will do things you never expected to do, like take an 8-mile hike up a frozen mountain or jump into the icy waters of the arctic on a polar plunge. No matter what, your arctic expedition will be something you will never forget.
Who You Will Meet
People from all walks of life will be on the same adventure with you during your arctic expedition. You may have wealthy business people or travelers who are constantly trying to one-up their travel game. You may have people on your trip who never thought that they would be doing something like this and are totally out of their comfort zone. You will have experienced travelers who are on their 5th Arctic expedition. Or two girlfriends who decided to try something new. Those that take an arctic expedition tend to be a little more adventurous than the average person. However, don’t let your age slow you down. People of all ages are able to experience the arctic with Adventure Canada.
One thing is definite: you will have the most fascinating dinner conversations you have ever had, stories from all over the world and all walks of life, people of all ages coming together for this once in a lifetime (or 5th time in a lifetime for some) opportunity to walk where few have gone before.
The crew and the staff of your arctic expedition with Adventure Canada will become like family. Their goal is to make your trip both adventurous and comfortable. Their knowledge level of all things arctic will utterly astound you. They are professionals in their field, whether that be the culture of the people in the arctic, the animals you might see, or navigating the territory and the waters. Your safety is their priority, and they will do everything they can to ensure that your time with them is amazing and a life-changing learning experience.
What You Will Get to See
Each arctic expedition is different, and the type of adventure you decide to embark upon will determine what things you might get to see. But here is a list of some of the possibilities during your adventures with Adventure Canada:
- Polar bears
- Beluga whales
- Different species of arctic birds
- Gigantic icebergs
- Astounding glaciers
- Indigenous people of the arctic
- Amazing cultures
- Musk Ox
- Delicious foods and delicacies
- Beautiful towns
- Actual sled dogs
- Gorgeous landscapes
Where You Will Get to Go
The itinerary for your arctic expedition is just a blueprint of the places you will get to explore during your trip. There are several different options with Adventure Canada including:
Arctic Land Expeditions
- Baffin Island Walrus and Bowhead Whales
- Baffin Islan Floe Edge
- Birding in the High Arctic and Northwest Territories
- Keele River by Canoe
- Bears of Churchill Town and Tundra Enthusiast
- Belugas, Bears, and Blooms
Arctic Cruise Expeditions
- Heart of the Arctic
- Northwest Passage
- High Arctic Explorer
- Pacific Northwest Expedition Cruises
- Atlantic Canada Expedition Cruises
Click here to read a more in-depth article about an arctic cruise experience of the Northwest Passage to learn exactly where an arctic expedition might take you.
An arctic adventure with Adventure Canada is nothing like a typical vacation. Tropical sand, bikinis, and fruity drinks are replaced with icy tundras, gigantic coats, and hot cocoa. But as with all vacations, you can make your expedition with Adventure Canada as relaxing or as adventurous as you would like.
If you are taking an arctic cruise, your daily schedule will vary depending on whether it is a sail day or an exploration day. You always have the option to stay on ship while a Zodiac (a small boat that takes you from your ship) goes out to the towns, glaciers, and icebergs.
However, most people will take full-advantage of the expedition. An arctic expedition isn’t meant to be relaxing – you will be active every single day, waking up early and going out into the icy terrain, hiking, walking, moving, and exploring. Even on days you are at sea you will have learning opportunities with seminars and discussions, as well as opportunities to take the Zodiacs to see any wildlife that might appear along the way.
Arctic Cruise: On-Board Activities
If you decide to take an arctic cruise, you will have both time on the ship during sea days as well as days where you spend the day exploring the frozen world around you. There are several on-board activities available to you throughout your days at sea including:
- Yoga classes
- Educational seminars
- Several lounges for relaxation
- Arctic arts & crafts
- Restaurants for dining
- Viewing decks
- Spa and sauna
- Live nightly entertainment
Educational seminars and lectures
There are a ton of things to learn on board the ship. Every day the staff holds educational lectures on various topics surrounding the environment that you’re sailing in, from wildlife photography to Inuit history to the flora and fauna of the Arctic or stories of dog sledding through the Arctic. There are 30+ experts on board, all in their respective fields with decades of experience. These are the people you get to learn from and hear their personal experiences, as well as the research they are doing. Just this one aspect of the expedition is worth the entire trip. For those who are feeling lazy, all the seminars and lectures are broadcast through the TVs in cabin, so you can still listen in while relaxing in your stateroom after a long day of hiking.
A huge part of the cruise is familiarizing yourself with the living and survival situation of the natives of the Arctic. Throughout the voyages Adventure Canada shows movies explaining the life of the Inuit, their reliance on seal hunting, the struggle of living in such a tough environment, as well as the misguided government attempt to ban seal hunting which is the only source of sustenance for the natives in these areas.
Adventure Canada staff also knows how to have fun. There are a few parties planned throughout the journey. Whether it’s the staff vocal and musical performance or a sing along or a talent show, or our favorite – viking party, Adventure Canada provides props (and you’re welcome to bring your own) and you provide the story of your “raping and pillaging” and hope to win in the costume contest.
Bridge Tours are fascinating as the bridge crew explains what they look for, the technology and the precautions they take while sailing in this environment. Someone on the bridge watches for icebergs 24/7 despite the advanced tech that is available. I guess nothing is as effective as a good old spotter.
Local Food tasting
This experience is not for everyone, but everyone should at least try it. Local food is brought onto the ship, fresh but raw. Everything is surprisingly tasty. The two items might have to be a local acquired taste (as we witnessed by watching the locals chow down on it) are the seal blubber and narwhal. Arctic Char was phenomenal and definitely worth a try.
This is a must do experience! People of all ages have done it and had a great story to tell. The less you think about it, the better it is. This experience is invigorating and empowering and you will have photos to remember it forever. The first feeling after the jump is a feeling of all the air being sucked out of your lungs and tiny sharp needles piercing your body. But a second later, you feel like you’re flying. You can always do the shot of vodka offered upon return and go directly to the sauna. Or you could try it again like we did 🙂
Live Music and Staff Performances
There is a professional singer/songwriter on board to perform songs every night. There are also sing-a-longs, talent shows, and storytelling around the microphone. It’s the perfect entertainment after a long day of exploring, and have a drink with friends.
Arctic Cruise: Off-Board Activities
You will have an opportunity to get off the ship almost every single day, whether that is venturing onto dry land to visit a local town and community, exploring abandoned areas, or taking a Zodiac to get an up-close look at gigantic glaciers and wildlife.
Each time there’s a land expedition you’ll be presented with several options of activity and difficulty. This ensures you can always pick something that is right for you and the most enjoyable:
- Zodiac Ride – simply ride around the waters in the Zodiac and explore the shoreline without actually touching it.
- Beach Combing – walk around the landing site near shore on your own.
- Leisure Hike – take a hike in a recommended safe area on your own close to the landing site.
- Intermediate Hike – a guided tour that will typically be only about an hour of walking in easy to navigate areas.
- Advanced Hike – a guided tour that will last about 2-3 hours over a little more difficult terrain.
- Extreme Hike – a guided tour 4+ hours, over difficult terrain, and at a constant high speed pace in order to cover the most ground possible. (This offers the best possibility of seeing wildlife and hidden treasures.)
Zodiac embarking process
The Zodiac embarking process was done by color groups. When your color is called, you would make your way down to the mud room, change into your winter gear and your rubber boots (that they provide for wet landings, which are very helpful) and walk over to the Zodiac. Once everyone from the color group has been taken to the landing, they call the next group number. When the excursions are sectioned off by difficulty, it is important to come down to the mud room when that difficulty is called, otherwise you can miss the hike.
When an area is chosen to be explored, the ship will first position itself a safe distance away from land and the flowing ice. Bear Guards will be dispatched in a Zodiac, armed with shotguns containing both bean bag projectiles and live ammunition. It is their job to create a safe perimeter around the landing zone and radio back to the ship that there is no threat of dangerous wildlife in the area, mainly polar bears. They are the first to make land and the last to leave. There have been no incidents of polar bears attacking the landing zone, but it’s a much welcome element of safety for piece of mind.
As mentioned previously, your trip may not go exactly as planned due to weather or icy conditions, but one thing is under your control. The things you do both on- and off-board the ship will make your trip as fun and adventurous as you want it to be.
Sample Daily Schedule
Each day will look a bit differently depending on the type of arctic expedition you decide to take and the conditions of the environment around you, but if you’re wondering what might happen on a typical day of your arctic adventure, check out a sample of a daily schedule below:
- 0630: Energizing Yoga
- 0730: Breakfast
- 0800: Wake-Up Call
- 0900: Expedition Briefing
- 0930: Boot Distribution by color group
- 1030: Tunngasugitsui! Welcome to the Innuit Lands!
- 1130: “Staking Claim: The History of Canadian Sovereignty in the Arctic” seminar
- 1230: Lunch
- 1400: Expedition Briefing
- 1430: Disembark via Zodiac Cruise by color group
- 1445: “Ancient and Contemporary Peoples of the Arctic” seminar for group remaining on ship
- 1600: Disembark via Zodiac Cruise for other color groups
- 1615: “Ancient and Contemporary Peoples of the Arctic” seminar for group remaining on ship
- 1700: Stretch Yoga
- 1800: Recap
- 1900: Dinner
- 2100: Evening Zodiac Cruise or “Vanishing Point” seminar
*Various pool, spa, and sauna hours by gender and weather conditions*
About the ship
Your arctic expedition travels with Adventure Canada will all be aboard the Ocean Endeavor. This passenger cruise ship can hold 198 people. It was built in 1982 and is just over 450 feet long, 69 feet wide, and sits about 19 feet over the sea. There are 10 different cabin types including suites or shared rooms for up to four people. Each room has a private bath, a flat screen television, telephone, and intercom. There is a spa, gym, sauna, several lounges, and amazing views of the arctic that surrounds you.
- Spa – Two massage therapists available for the entire trip.
- Gym – State of the art gym with pneumatic resistance training machines.
- Sauna – Two saunas, one women’s and one co-ed.
- Lounges – Coffee, tea, cookies, snacks, books, games, bar.
There is a restaurant on board the ship that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The Polaris Restaurant offers a buffet-style breakfast with the early bird starting at 6 A.M. and the main breakfast at 8 A.M. Your wake-up call starts at 7:30 A.M. to give you plenty of time to refuel yourself before your excursions for the day begin.
The ship also offers unique amenities like an outdoor barbecue, television broadcasted lectures for you to watch in the comfort of your room about your upcoming adventures, and movies for you to enjoy during your downtime.
Every afternoon, after a successful landing or a hike, everyone would pile into the Meridian Club for much needed snacks and hot soup. Feeling cold and often wet, we loved sitting down with a steaming bowl of vegetable soup and a sandwich in our hands. There was soup, hot tea, coffee, cookies, sandwiches, egg rolls, pastries, build your own short cake with whip cream and berries.
Packing for an Arctic Expedition
Packing for an arctic expedition is nothing like what you normally pack for a vacation (although you may still want to bring your bathing suits!). The goal is both comfort and functionality. You will be walking, hiking, and moving quite a bit in very cold weather climates, so you will need things that you are not only comfortable in for long periods of time, but that also protect you from the elements. There are also some things you will need outside of clothing that will make your trip a little more enjoyable.
Here are some required and recommended items that you should take with you on your adventure:
- Comfortable walking and hiking winter shoes
- Indoor socks
- Warm winter socks (several pairs to layer)
- Long underwear/thermals
- Light sweaters
- A thicker sweater or fleece
- Waterproof rain paints
- Waterproof winter coat
- Warm base layers (we had to layer 2-3 pants under rain pants to stay warm in some locations)
- Ear plugs
- Electric converter
- European plug adapter
- Insect repellent
- Sun Hat
- Bathing suit
- Workout clothes and shoes
- Ship shoes (if you don’t bring work out shoes)
- USB key
- Waterproof bag
- Telephoto lens (the longer the better, most wildlife sightings are quite far)
- Note* Adventure Canada will provide you with waterproof, knee-high, boots for expedition landings. They are not walking boots but can be worn just for the landing and then taken off and stored by the zodiacs for the duration of the hike. We found it very useful and would recommend for every wet landing.
Layering is key in these kind of conditions since things can change in an instant. Having a water proof layer over several inner layers will keep you dry on the Zodiac ride as well as warm. This will be the coldest part of each day since you aren’t moving yet. Once you get to shore you can shed a layer and start your hike.
Regulating your body temperature is important. You don’t want to be freezing, but you also don’t want to overheat and sweat through your clothes. Once this happens you could freeze up and have no way of warming back up until you’re back on the ship and can dry off. A good way to know if you’re warm, but not sweating is to take your gloves off for a period. If your hands stay warm for a prolonged period you may need to lose a layer because your activity level is high and a lot of blood is circulating. The higher your activity level the less clothing you’ll need.
Best Arctic Expedition Clothes
You have your packing list, but where exactly should you get high-quality adventure gear? Fjallraven creates clothing centered around travelers who love to be outside and those who have exploration in their hearts. Their clothing and gear are functional, comfortable, and long-lasting.
Arctic Expedition Clothes for Men
Here is a list of items that are useful for men for their arctic expedition:
- Abisko Trail Tights
- Keb Wool T-Shirt
- Abisko Shade T-Shirt
- Vidda Pro Trousers
- Skogso Jacket
- Abisko Trail Fleece
- Greenland Sweatshirt
- Expedition Vest
- Arktis Parka (Adventure Canada supplies you with your own Adventure Canada waterproof expedition jacket, but other expeditions companies may not).
- Nordic Heater Hat
- Byron Hat
Arctic Expedition Clothes for Women
Here is a list of items that are useful for women for their arctic expedition:
- High Coast Tights
- Abisko Trail Tights
- Keb Wool Long Sleeve
- Greenland T-Shirt
- Nikka Trousers
- Greenland Winter Jacket
- Stina Fleece
- Greenland Zip Hoodie
- Abisko Padded Vest
- Nuuk Parka (Adventure Canada supplies you with your own Adventure Canada expedition jacket, but other expeditions companies may not).
- Nordic Heater Hat
- Braided Knit Hat
Arctic Expedition Gear
Here is a list of suggested gear such as bags, backpacks, and accessories you will want to take with you:
- Kanken 15” Laptop Bag
- Abisko Hike Day Pack
- Kajika Technical Pack (for those doing land expeditions)
- Ulvo Hip Pack
- Greenland Wax (for additional support from the wind and cold)
- Travel Wallet
- Waterproofing Spray (enhances your clothing’s waterproof)
An arctic expedition is the adventure of a lifetime. Even for the most experienced travelers and adventurers, a trip like this will be something you have never experienced before. Adventure Canada makes the trip not only memorable and fun, but also educational and eye opening. Their expert staff is professional and knowledgeable, and they help to bring your arctic expedition to the next level. You will absolutely leave the Arctic a changed person with a better understanding of such a hostile, yet fragile place and its friendly and kind inhabitants.
No matter which arctic expedition you decide to embark upon, one thing is true: You will see and do things you never thought you would do in your lifetime over the course of just a few weeks.
If you’re looking for more information on what to expect on an arctic expedition with Adventure Canada, check out Arctic Cruise Experience with Adventure Canada.