June 29, 2017
How north do you want to go? More and more, we're seeing cruise itineraries that originally meant to focus solely on Norway's fjords, which typically are located on its more southern coasts, expanding to include the Arctic Circle in summer, too.
No longer relegated to expedition-minded voyages, travelers have more choice than ever before. Lines such as Azamara, Viking, MSC, Holland America, Norwegian, Seabourn and Royal Caribbean, and of course Norway's own Hurtigruten, are all venturing into the Arctic Circle.
And while the sun sure does shine for long hours anywhere in northern Europe between early June and mid-to-late July, up here in the Arctic, where we're traveling aboard Viking Ocean Cruises' Viking Sky, it doesn't set at all. Nada. 4 a.m. is as bright and cheery as 4 p.m. (Interestingly, Viking plans to offer winter-time "Northern Lights" cruises in 2019, using a variation of the Midnight Sun itinerary, which means no daylight at all).
But this you need to know: Despite the abundant daylight, an Arctic Circle itinerary is not your usual fun-in-the-sun cruise. It's a very different cruise, and not just because the temps in high summer were lucky to get to 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Our trip aboard Viking Cruises' Viking Sky, which started in Bergen, trawled up the northwest coast until the terminus of Honnigsvag, one of the northernmost places on the European continent. Now we're heading our way back to the "south" -- on our way to Edinburgh and London (where we'll get some dark, brief but dark, nights).
Scenically speaking, it's been absolutely the most beautiful itinerary I've ever experienced. There literally is a new wow moment every time you look outside. What you see off the ship's starboard side could be completely different – but equally craggy and mountainous, than what's on portside. There's so much more green lushness – flora and fauna – than I expected (though less and less as you travel north of the Arctic Circle city of Tromso). And the sight of a fjord – deep, tall mountains reaching into a canyon of pure water is something that's hard to get blasé about.
This being a very much more exotic style of cruise than most in Europe, we thought we'd share some lessons we've learned along the way. Got some of your own to contribute? Please comment below.
You'll hear a lot of banalities about "liquid sunshine" and "there's no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing." And while these are cheery terms optimists use on frigid and/or rainy days, the weather on our trip has run the gamut of four seasons (no snow, but winter temperatures occasionally). We've biked up a mountain in a steady pouring rain, hiked in an almost impenetrable mist, and set out on a speedboat ride when the temperatures were in the 40s. The good news? Though temperatures tend to remain consistent, wild weather can turn pleasant on a dime. Other good news? We generally packed well.
Even though it's a summer trip, make sure to include a range of outer garments. Winter coats – particularly down jackets – were abundantly worn on our trip. A rugged rain jacket, for days when it's wet but warm, is also critical. Make sure to bring at least two pairs of hiking/walking shoes, so if one gets wet you've got another. We tossed in one wool sweater at the last minute – and wore it for the first seven days of our two-week cruise. And there's this, too: Bergen and Tromso, both cosmopolitan cities that were part of our itineraries, have some really good rugged weather clothing shops so you can always stock up.
Jet Lag is Your Friend.
I've long noticed that, flying from the U.S. east coast to Europe in summer months, when days are brighter, longer, jet lag is less intrusive than in winter months. There's always that first day or two when you're up all night and sleeping all day until your body clock gets tuned, right? Not so on this trip. We never had those dramatic falling-off-a-cliff kinds of sleep patterns. But we did wake up a lot in the middle of the night and each time we ran to the balcony to snap photos of gorgeous scenery in full daylight. And then went back to bed.
Listen to Your Body.
All this interrupted sleep means you'll need to take a short nap now and again. Whether it's a quick nip while reading your book by the fireplace in the Explorers' Lounge or a short retreat to your cabin (with the reluctant closing of the black-out curtains – who knows what visionary marvel you'll miss?) don't be embarrassed. We're all doing it.
Alleviate Culinary Guilt.
If the food onboard is just too, too good, and it has been here (oh, the Norwegian waffles, the evening sushi at the World Café, and the decadent jalapeno cheddar cheese fries on the room service menu have all played a part in revealing this insight), there's good news. So many of the tours in our ports of call have been active ones. We rode bikes 1,500 feet up the winding, narrow lanes of Geiranger – thankfully, the bikes were electric ones so while we got a good workout there was some extra torque provided). In Leknes, a six-mile hike was on tap. In other ports you could opt for sea kayaking, deep sea fishing (which is an exercise all its own) or, onboard, simply taking ambitious strolls outside around deck two, which belts its way around Viking Sky).
Don't Sweat the Late Nights.
It's really hard to feel like sleep when bedtime looks like the time you normally wake up. Embrace it. We found that the top-of-ship Explorers Lounge was much more lively, later, than usual. Passengers didn't want to miss out on the scenery. And one ritual we found unforgettable was the occasional midnight sun swim – yes, swim – out in the aft deck's Infinity Pool, fortunately tucked alongside a more temperate hot tub. Treading water while looking out at the wake, beyond which were ranges of snow-capped jagged mountains in all directions, was unforgettable.
--By Carolyn Spencer Brown, Chief Content Strategist