What to pack for an Arctic cruise
Working out what to pack for an Arctic cruise is tricky, since you will usually have quite limited space in your cabin, and given the long distances often involved in reaching the starting point, bringing several bags can be costly and impractical. Plus, once you set off, if you do find out you’ve forgotten something important, it’s not like you can easily replace it – your nearest shopping center is now hundreds of miles away. So while your cruise operator will no doubt provide you with a list of what you need to bring, it’s definitely not something to leave until the day before departure to start organising.
The majority of Arctic cruises take place in the summer months between late May and early September, when there’s more daylight, the weather is better, the ice is melting and it’s easier to get around. It can certainly get chilly out on the observation decks, but it’s not going to be ‘ice crystals in the beard, Ranulph Fiennes eat your heart out’ cold. Instead, think of an Easter ski trip: wear layered thermal clothing from the time you get up to avoid sweating too much, as dampness and cold is not a good combination at the top of the world and typically a polar bear will show up right when you duck back to your cabin to get a pullover.
The essentialsFirst and foremost, if you require any prescription medicines then you must ensure you have an adequate supply with you. You’ll also need sun protection, as the glare from the ice and snow can be very strong. Pack UV-blocking sunglasses and high factor suncream, as well as chapstick and moisturiser. Ski goggles are recommended for contact lens wearers to prevent the lenses from drying out in the wind. Also, even if you don’t tend to suffer from seasickness, it’s still worth bringing along some medication, because the last thing you want is to be confined to your cabin for hours at a time.
Waterproof trousers, and a pair of knee-high, waterproof boots with good grip that you can comfortably walk some distance in, are also essential. At the start of land excursions you’ll be climbing out of the Zodiac boats into cold water. Bring plenty of thick woollen socks too – assume you’ll get through a few pairs a day. High-quality thick gloves, too, are vital. We suggest bringing along a thinner pair as well so that you can still operate your camera while wearing them.
During the Arctic summer there is 24-hour daylight. That can naturally have an effect on sleeping patterns, exacerbating any other difficulties you may have in dropping off. So a sleeping mask is likely to prove as useful as it is lightweight, and if you’re sharing a cabin with strangers then you might well be grateful you brought a set of ear plugs.
Your vacation operator should give you a comprehensive list of clothing that you’ll need to bring, as well as items that they will provide – conveniently saving you a great deal of space. These may well include: insulated boots, towels, water and windproof jackets.
Given that you’ll be spending long periods outdoors, either on the observation deck or on land, you will want a beanie-style hat that fits close to your head (anything more elaborate is at risk of being blown away. A snood and/or earmuffs are also a good idea. For land excursions, you will also require a daypack. Try to get one that’s waterproof, as the Zodiac rides can get a little splashy.
As they take up very little space, throw in a swimsuit. Some ships have wellness facilities, and a popular activity in the Arctic is the ‘Polar Plunge’ – a quick dip into the chilly waters either from the beach or with a daring leap from the boat. You don’t need a wetsuit, but you will definitely need a bit of nerve.
For getting around the ship, a pair of comfortable trainers or walking shoes will be perfectly adequate – Arctic cruises are very casual affairs. Do aim for footwear that you can slip on quickly though. You never know when you’ll be summoned up on deck at short notice to see an amazing iceberg or breaching humpback.
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This is one vacation where you can be forgiven for spending it glued to your camera lens. In fact, even amateur photographers often return home from an Arctic cruise vacation with thousands of photos – imagine how many hours you can keep your friends entertained! For that reason, packing a spare battery to use while another charges (the cold means the charge doesn’t last as long) and memory cards is highly advisable and you may also want to bring along a laptop/tablet/portable hard drive so that you can transfer images every evening to make space. If you have one or can borrow one, bring a wide-angle lens to capture landscapes and a telephoto or standard zoom for your wildlife shots, and if you have the space, perhaps a tripod. You might also consider a small point ‘n’ shoot to keep in your pocket just in case.
Other practicalities include a reusable water bottle, and collapsible walking poles, for hiking. A pack of cards, a few travel board games to share with you fellow travelers, and some good books will also come in handy for the evenings.
More about Arctic cruising
The best time to go on an Arctic cruise is during the summer months, when the sea ice melts enough to let ships pass, and the midnight sun bathes these northern lands - find out more with our month by month guide.
Our Arctic cruises travel guide reveals why the best way to explore is a small ship expedition cruise, and compares the different Arctic areas - with Northern Lights, Inuit art, dog sledding,and - of course - polar bears.
There are several Arctic cruise itineraries available, focusing on different regions and activities - wildlife features on any Arctic cruise, but use our interactive map to find out which species you are likely to see and where.
On a typical Arctic cruise the amenities are quite basic as the aim is to spend a lot of time on land - optional activities in the Arctic range from nature hikes to kayaking and even the chilling ‘Polar Plunge’!
Arctic wildlife cruises, with superb biologists and wildlife guides accompanying them, will help you spot polar bears, enormous walrus, fluffy Arctic foxes and several species of whales, plus birds, seals and orca.
The big ticket attraction on Arctic cruises is the chance to see polar bears and while sightings can never be guaranteed certain locations are more likely than others - read on to find out where to see polar bears on an Arctic cruise.
With at least 17 species seen in Arctic waters at different times of year, responsible whale watching in the Arctic has immense potential, and onboard experts are always at hand to explain what species and behaviours you’re witnessing.
An Arctic cruise is likely to be one of the most memorable vacations of your life, so it’s important to get it right - here's our advice on choosing a ship for an Arctic cruise so you have all you need to know before making a decision.
What will the sleeping and eating arrangements be, how many fellow passengers can you expect, but most importantly, what will you be doing each day - read on to find out what life onboard ship on a typical Arctic cruise vacation involves.
Deciding whether you ought to save or splurge on an Arctic cruise vacation is likely to be one of the biggest issues you face during the planning process - here are some of the ways you can either cut costs or supersize your trip.
Read on for the best Arctic cruises travel advice offered up by our vacation experts who have spent years working in the far north, with tips on which regions to visit, recommendations for twitchers and health and safety advice.
Responsible tourism in the Arctic is a thorny issue but taking a responsible Arctic cruise can help strengthen this region, its communities and wildlife against exploitation, climate change and land grabs - find out more below.