An eye-opening expedition to the Arctic

Arctic zodiac view

Penny Worthy sets sail with AE Expeditions to explore the Arctic, a trip filled with unforgettable moments and ever-changing landscapes.

Arctic cruising is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that allows travellers to explore the stunning landscapes and unique wildlife of the polar region. With its icy fjords, towering glaciers, and abundant marine life, the Arctic offers a truly unforgettable adventure for those seeking to explore the world’s most remote and pristine wilderness. Located at the northernmost part of the globe, this vast region encompasses the Arctic Ocean and parts of the USA, Canada, Greenland, Russia, Norway and Finland. It is a place of incredible beauty and natural wonders. And I’m about to embark on my first expedition cruise, hoping to unleash the explorer in me.

All aboard

Before setting sail on our AE Expeditions ‘Follow The Adventure’ cruise, I had the opportunity to spend the day in Iceland, undertaking the popular Golden Circle tour. Visiting Thingvellir National Park situated on the tectonic plate crossing Europe and North America, Gullfloss a stunning waterfall, and Geysir which is one of only three places in the world with a spouting hot spring.

After the tour I headed straight to the ship and experienced a stress-free embarkation. A novel initiative by AE Expeditions is to take your photograph when boarding and then display this so everyone can get to know each other easily. My balcony stateroom featured a heated bathroom floor, double shower, the stateroom was spacious with a lovey sitting area and balcony.

Passengers on an Arctic cruise can expect to see an ever-changing landscape, with the shifting ice creating a dynamic and mesmerizing environment, my fellow guests and I were told we would be part of the decision-making process on where we go and why, we’d need to be flexible in order to see more and all of this would be based around the weather and sea ice conditions. 

First wildlife sightings

The extraordinarily talented expedition team onboard included geologists, historians and an expert on Greenland and ice! Our first day would be a full day at sea whilst we crossed the Arctic Circle. With mandatory briefings including zodiac and polar bear safety briefings, we also learned vitally important information about how to respect and treat your surroundings. At all times I felt in safe hands and well informed. I intended to visit the first afternoon lecture, however a tannoy announcement had the entire ship running to deck to view both orca and humpback whales! The ship turns and stops in order for us to get a good view, who said a sea day would be dull?

Food, so often a feature in ocean cruising is not overlooked, with a good selection for buffet breakfast and lunch, it’s silver service dinner with five choices for both starter and main and a couple of desert choices.

Ice, ice, everywhere

And as we push further to Kong Oscar Fjord due to favourable weather conditions, I see my first sighting of sea ice floating by outside my stateroom, it’s bizarrely exhilarating, against the backdrop of the early morning sky…well it’s spectacular.

My fellow guests and I attend a lecture on the impact of ice reduction in the Arctic and what we can do, and later that evening during a delicious dinner we hear the captain announce “Ladies and Gentlemen, I advise you to go to deck 8 as we have a polar bear”! Unbelievable. This magnificent animal swims and plays on the ice right by us. He is curious but not remotely bothered by us. An incredible sight and one I will remember forever.

With a dip in the hot tub to end the day, I reflect on what I have experienced already on this trip… it’s only day two of the cruise and I’ve not even stepped off of the ship yet!

From ship to shore

Our first landing the following day is at DØdemandsbugten (Dead Man’s Bay), and we are plunged in to stunning scenery. Our first hike offers a choice from short, medium, or longer, with our guides making it very clear it is not a competition; it is about enjoyment and safety. Our hikes take us from mountains, rocks formations, and tundra, to streams and stunning beaches. Beautiful flowers including the striking moss campion along with rocks that are over a billion years old, my photos cannot capture just how incredible this is.

We spot polar bear, muskox, arctic hare and arctic fox prints in the sand. To see ice in the water by a beautiful beach was really unexpected and quite strange under intense blue skies.

The next day we venture to Sabine Island – this is to be the furthest north we will reach. We embark upon a zodiac cruise in the morning – exploring the glaciers and wildlife on the south side of the island. The colours of the icebergs are something special, some a mixture of white and bright blue. We spot eider duckling, seals, arctic terns and sandpipers on our afternoon hike.

Special moments captured

One of the highlights of an Arctic cruise is the opportunity to witness the midnight sun. During the summer months, the sun never sets in the Arctic Circle, providing 24 hours of daylight. With the at times moody lighting this place is a photographer’s dream.

There are so many highlights of the trip; however, I didn’t think I plunging my body into the Arctic Ocean waters at 2 degrees Celsius would be one! It was an offer I couldn’t refuse, the anticipation, waiting for my turn, was petrifying! Watching my fellow plungers take steps along the platform over the ocean, my nerves were off the scale. This was a ‘what on earth am doing’ moment. My turn came… ironically playing ‘ice, ice baby’ at the time! To shouts of encouragement from all of the guests and a little hesitation on my part, I took off! Greeted with cheers and applause, along with a towel and a welcome shot of vodka to warm up, I was elated and now part of the polar plunger’s alumni.

Every moment spent in the Arctic is a truly unforgettable experience. Whether it’s witnessing a polar bear in its natural habitat or marvelling at the midnight sun, taking a zodiac cruise to the Waltershausen Glacier some 40 meters high, being greeted by seals, watching sea terns under take their migration from the Arctic to Antarctica, hiking under pink skies, visiting the most isolated town of Ittoqqortoormiit, home to just 320 people where the supermarket is re-stocked twice a year, or having a polar BBQ and disco, a surreal experience, this area has to be seen to be believed.

It was a privilege, our small ship became a family with shared memories to last a lifetime. This really was a life changing trip for which I have AE Expeditions to thank.

Next steps

To find out more about AE Expeditions visit AE Expeditions and to plan and book an Arctic cruise speak to our Silver Travel Advisors on 0800 412 5678.


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