After visiting Antarctica, it only seemed right to visit the other side and see the Arctic as well! Lately, I’ve been booking a few clients onto Atlas Ocean Voyages for Antarctica, so I decided to try them for myself to better help my current and future clients who want to book with them! This is my honest and fair review of my experience going to Norway and Svalbard with Atlas! They have lots of different itineraries, but the onboard experience should be the same regardless of destination.
Atlas Ocean Voyages Review of the Itinerary
The specific itinerary is going to depend on what tour you choose. Even if you get the same polar one, things can change because landings are based on weather and safety. So instead of doing a day-by-day, I’m going to be doing a more general breakdown.
This is the itinerary that I did which was Tromso to Longyearbyen. I went with a small group, and we made our way to Tromso a day early to experience the city and then we picked up the ship from there!
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Day 1 ~ Embarkation Day!
The time for getting on board is going to vary depending on the itinerary, but ours was mid-afternoon. Our ship was very easy to spot (we stayed at the hotel Atlas recommended, so it was about a 2-minute walk!), but that might not always be the case.
The luxury experience started as soon as we got on board! We were greeted with a ton of smiling faces and a glass of champagne! During check-in, we were able to relax in the lounge while the people came to us to get our information. We were escorted to our rooms for a mini-tour and found our luggage waiting for us in our rooms.
There was a brief safety drill which is standard for cruises. Just a few minutes to learn about the life jackets, lifeboats, and muster stations.
The rest of the afternoon and evening was mostly just spent checking out where everything was and seeing all of the amenities that the ship had to offer! Spoiler alert… it was a lot!
Day 2 -7
Again, it’s hard to describe exactly what we did each day because the itinerary and landing spots could be altered because of the weather. I know one day that we had to go to 3 different fjords looking for a calm area for us to go ashore! Here are some of the highlights of the trip though.
Bear Island (Bearnoya)
This was the first sight of land that we saw after we left Tromso because it’s the farthest south island of the Svalbard archipelago. That was actually our coldest day and so windy! Very happy to have our warm parka on that day!
Monacobreen is a giant glacier (breen is glacier), and it was so long! It’s about 25 miles long!! In certain fjords, we could see multiple glaciers (6!) We took a zodiac cruise around the area, and we were fortunate to see a few calvings! They were so loud, and you could see the waves swell which was really spectacular!
I’m not going to tell you which place this was because I want it to be a surprise! But there was one stop where we went around and turns out some Arctic Terns had some nests! They were swooping at us; it was a bit scary at first, but then I saw the expedition team laughing at me, so I knew I was safe, haha.
Here are some other beautiful pictures from some of the stops.
Disembarkation day, such a bummer to leave! I think this might vary depending on the port, but I will share my experience. The night before, we were given tags to put onto our bags, so we could put them out in the hallway. When it was time to leave, since our ship had to anchor offshore, we actually took the tender to shore! It was interesting being inside it because it actually looks pretty small on the outside, but on the inside, there was ample room.
We were then taken to the airport on a bus for our charter flight (included in price) from Longyearbyen to Oslo. I believe that the charter flights are only included on cruises to/from Ushuaia and Longyearbyen because there are fewer options from those locations.
Such a sad time to leave! We really felt welcomed on board the whole time.
Wow, I was blown away by the accommodations actually. It’s amazing how it’s still a small, intimate expedition ship, but still manages to have the beautiful staterooms that they have. I had the lowest cabin category (Veranda), and it was still stunning. The bed can be either one bed, or two separate beds (close together though). Here’s a shot of my room.
And the bathroom! Not pictured is the soft bathrobe that I wore out to the pool all the time!
Food and Drinks
There were several places to get food and drinks on the ship, but let’s break it down to the two main ones.
Oh boy, don’t even get me started on that because some nights I felt like you had to roll me out I was so full! Wherever your table is, you’ll have some servers that attend to you. We ended up staying in the same place the whole trip because we were a group of 6, so we were at the larger table. We had two servers the whole time (Ruben and Ramille!) but also had some others come and help out occasionally too.
You don’t have to stay at the same table every time, but some benefits to that because they really get to know your preferences! The food was amazing, and since I have some food allergies, they would show me the menu for me to select what I’d want later in the day so they could make sure it was made special for me.
They always had a set menu for the whole cruise to choose from, but each day also had a special menu. You could pick stuff from either side or both! And you could have as much as you want. Literal heaven.
Breakfast ~ I got room service for breakfast one morning by ordering it the night before. It was a SPREAD. The next time I ordered it, I made sure to only write the things I wanted because it was way too much food for me.
Lunch/Dinner ~ I also ordered once for lunch/dinner because I wanted to see how it compared. The sit-down restaurant is obviously going to be more formal, and the foods listed on the room service menu are different. I opted for a really good waygu burger one lazy afternoon, and it was nice to be able to chill in the room and have it brought to me. I ordered this over the phone, and it came in about 20 minutes!
After hours ~ In order to do more “research” for this blog post, I also wanted to order a snacky-snack at night. You’re able to order anything off the menu or really anything else, but one night I just ordered some french fries and ice cream. It came within 10 minutes!
What’s There to Do on an Arctic Cruise?
I always get this question a lot, so here you go!
Wildlife won’t be on the ship, so you have to look outside for them! Generally, the staff is always on the lookout for something to see, so I always had my camera with me in case there was an announcement. A few whales were spotted, but we had a lot of fun watching the birds and seals chillin’ on the ice as they drifted by (often from the balcony!).
Lectures always sound so intense and boring, so I guess they’re more like informational “meetings”? In the evening there was always a breakdown of what we saw that day and what we might do the next day. During the day there were speakers (they’d be announced on the schedule), and you could choose to go and listen or not.
It was nice to learn about different aspects of the Arctic (whether that was wildlife, weather, history, adventure, etc) from the experts. We also had an explorer on board who would regale us with his adventurous tales.
In case you don’t find lectures entertaining, there were actual entertainers on board as well! We had a professional violinist, piano player, and singer on board. One night there was also a staff talent show where the workers on the kitchen, hotel, and maintenance staff would dazzle us with their secret talents!
There were also some activities on board like once there was a “cocktail off” where 3 bartenders showcased their mixology skills with different drinks that we got to see and try.
And if you wanted to do something cozier, there was a full entertainment system available in the room. They had so many movies on there that I wanted to see, but of course, it’s hard to stay in the room when there was so much to see outside! I ended up watching a few though, and it was nice to have for winding down.
There are a few bars located on the ship, and of course, there is always room service. The liquors were high-quality and unlimited. They had some specialty wines and liquors that you could pay extra for if you wanted, but I was perfectly happy with the included options.
The bartenders were amazing because by the end they remembered all of our special orders and often would start making it as soon as we walked in. What service! My favorite cocktail ended up being vodka mixed with pineapple juice with a splash of cranberry. Here it is served with ice taken from a glacier!
There is in fact a gym! I really had planned on going every day, but there always ended up so much to do, so I only went in twice. It has some cardio equipment and a weight training machine.
Of course, for “research,” I also had to try the spa! My parents actually own a spa back at home, so I get massages pretty frequently. I’m not sure if I just really needed it or what, but it was an amazing massage!
Afterward, I got to sit on a nice lounge chair with relaxing music and an epic view of the glaciers passing by. Then I went into the…
It’s located next to the spa, and it looks out to the outside which was a new experience!
Snack Time and Happy Hour
There was a daily teatime/happy hour. It was up in our favorite lounge (The Dome) with a spread of snacks and teas, but as always, regular drinks were also available. Very chill!
It’s like cloud watching except with ice! Lots of fun shapes floating around. They weren’t as large as they were in Antarctica, but it might have been because I went later in the season.
Those beds are so comfortable that it was hard not to want to take a nap every day!
There was a pool on board, but it wasn’t available since we were on the expedition part of the world, but the hot tubs were open! I honestly never saw anyone else in the hot tubs except for me and my group, but I don’t know why! The water was nice and hot, the area was protected by the glass so you didn’t feel the wind, and it was a special experience! We generally just wore our robes out there and back.
Zodiacs are the inflatable boats that we used to get to shore. Sometimes we would go on a zodiac cruise around the area if we weren’t able to land (like near some glaciers), or they were used as the ferry to take us to shore.
Apparently in Antarctica, you just jump right off the ship into the water, but since we were in the north with polar bears, they didn’t want us to do that. They actually ended up filling up the swimming pool with the cold arctic water, and we jumped in there. Afterward, it was a 4-foot walk over to the hot tubs and a cocktail! Not bad at all!
Each stop is different, but many shore excursions had areas to hike. The expedition team spreads out to the high ground with their rifles for our safety, and it also acts as the perimeter for us to wander.
Wildlife on an Arctic Cruise
It depends on lots of factors, but these are the types of animals you could see!
Polar Bears are of course what everyone wants to see when they come up to the Arctic. Sadly, we were not lucky enough to see any, but the group after us ended up seeing about 7.
Arctic Foxes are also super cute. I heard some saw one on our trip, but it was gone by the time I went over there. That was the only one that was seen. Alas. I heard the group after ours also got some better sightings.
Reindeer aren’t just for pulling sleds! We saw a few reindeer, although they were too far away to get a really good picture. There was another time they were much closer, but it was in the opposite direction of where I was, and I didn’t think I’d have time to see them and get back to the ship on time, so I didn’t try.
Walruses are HUGE! I’m not really sure how big I thought they’d be, but they were massive. We saw a few groups of them, and one set we got pretty close to via zodiac!
Seals have a few species representing the Arctic. We saw quite a few either lounging on ice or swimming around. Super cute either way! One even graced us with getting to see him getting up onto the ice! It’s crazy because their heads are so small and then all of a sudden a giant body oozes onto the ice!
Puffins were my favorite to see! I saw some when I was in Scotland, but it was exciting to see them again!
Arctic Terns were quite plentiful and beautiful, although definitely nicer to watch when they aren’t dive-bombing your head!
Kittiwake is a fun name, which makes sense because they were fun to watch.
Black Guillemot was a new kind of bird for me, but look at his little feetsies.
Skuas were in Antarctica too!
Gulls were there but not your normal sea gulls, but they were very similar!
Staff and Crew
Different from other tours that I go on where there is one guide for the group, and they take us around… this trip was set up a bit differently! This was an expedition, so we had a whole expedition team to take care of us! Their job was to scout areas to keep up safe from polar bears, tell us about what we see, and take us on little zodiac rides.
I can’t say enough good things about the hotel team because as you might have seen above, we didn’t see as much wildlife as I was hoping for but because of their amazing service, we still had a great time. Literally, *everyone* on the ship knows your name, and they had an amazing memory for preferences.
We didn’t interact with them too much because they’re usually on decks that we aren’t allowed to be on, but they always smiled when we did see them. They also helped us on and off the zodiacs.
The level of service has to be the best. Just everything was so good from the minute you get on board to when you have to leave. The best thing that happened on board I suppose when we crossed the 80th parallel! Thus representing the farthest north I’ve ever been. Only 600 miles from the North Pole! This picture was taken when I was taking a selfie of the achievement (complete with a champagne toast) and someone said something funny (which made me laugh). I ended up loving this pic, and it fully exemplifies the feeling!
The worst thing was outside of Atlas’s control as I was lowkey super sad about not seeing polar bears, but I understand that’s not in their control. I know they did their best and were always on the lookout.
The worst thing about the trip other than that was some communication issues before cruising. I think they’re working on that, but since most of this season, these places were the first time they’d gone places so there wasn’t as much information. If you know me at all, you know I’m super type A about wanting to know information (which is why I write these super detailed reviews!), so that was stressful for me. But now I have a lot of the answers myself, so can help you if you decide to book with me 🙂
Compare to Other Companies
My comparison is going to be with other polar companies as that’s my main specialty. The main companies I book for are G Adventures, Atlas, Quark, and Oceanwide. While Atlas does have solo rooms, I generally steer solo travelers to G and Quark if they want to share with a stranger. If it’s a couple, I usually recommend Atlas or G Adventures depending on their budget and level of luxury they’re after.
I think Atlas, G Adventures, and Quark all offer amazing expedition experiences, but Atlas would have a more luxurious onboard experience. All have the smaller capacity that I recommend, so it comes down to dates and prices (which always fluctuate). Atlas definitely has my seal of approval though, if that means anything haha.
How to Book
How to Book
1. You should definitely consider using me as your travel agent! It’s no extra cost, I know of the best deals, and I put together a folder to make sure you have everything you need to have a smooth trip!
2. You can book directly with Atlas yourself, but as mentioned earlier, sometimes their communication is sketchy, so it’s definitely in your interest to have an agent like me to hunt down extra information for you.
- How is money handled on the ship?
You actually get an account, and they just put it on your account, and you can pay all in one go at the end. And good news if you’re using a travel card; it’s billed as “travel” category. I got 3 points per dollar with my Chase Sapphire!
- How cold was it? Did you have to buy any special gear?
I actually probably went way overboard (another nautical pun!) with the amount of stuff I purchased because once I got home I realized it was actually just as cold in Atlanta in winter as it was in Antarctica in Summer lol. Stay tuned for a special packing post! But they provide the parka (that you get to keep) and access to boots to use while on board.
- What if you get hurt on the tour?
There is a doctor on board who is available for anyone. He also came with us to the Polar Plunge in case there were any problems (there weren’t!) and on one landing that had a steep climb. He even helped me when I broke a nail 🙂
- What about the ice? Can the ship make it through?
Of course! They aren’t going to send us out in an unsafe ship! Where we were didn’t really have too much ice, so it was easy enough to avoid.
- How is money handled on the ship?