Much of the world’s icebound territory can only be reached by ship. Last year saw the first mainstream cruise ship enter the Inside Passage: the cruise, offered by Crystal, sold out within weeks of its launch. If wildlife is high on the agenda cruises to Spitsbergen, only 600 miles from the North Pole, are synonymous with polar bears (expect to see walrus here, too) and Alaska with the brown variety. Here is our pick of some of the best cruises around the polar regions.
The history of polar exploration is being updated following the recent discovery of two ships that set out from Britain in the 1840s, under the command of Sir John Franklin, in search of the Northwest Passage and were lost for 170 years. There’s a chance to join in the revision – and see polar bears – on a Pathways to Franklin cruise through the Canadian Arctic with One Ocean Expeditions, which helped to find one of Franklin’s ships. The nine-day trip on the 92-passenger Akademik Sergey Vavilov starts and finishes at Resolute.
From £5,300 per person including charter flights from Edmonton, departing on August 14 2017 (00351 962 721836; oneoceanexpeditions.com).
Until August 2016, Northwest Passage tourism was the province of small ice-breaking or ice-class ships. Then Crystal Cruises took advantage of melting sea ice to send the 68,000-ton Crystal Serenity, which carries 1,070 passengers and 655 crew, north from Anchorage, Alaska, to New York. It was a controversial trip that came under fire from environmentalists, but a commercial success, selling out in three weeks. This year, Crystal is aiming to repeat it, calling at ports including Ulukhaktok, Cambridge Bay and Pond Inlet, and Ilulissat, Sisimiut and Nuuk, Greenland.
Prices for the 32-night trip, departing on August 15 2017 start at £15,591 per person, excluding flights (020 7399 7601; crystalcruises.co.uk).
If you are seriously north-minded, consider a cruise offered by the Australia-based Aurora Expeditions: a combination of two of its popular itineraries (Spitsbergen Odyssey and Jewels of the Arctic), to make a 24-day Complete Arctic trip. The hardiest can add polar snorkelling to glimpse seals beneath the surface.
Leaving Spitsbergen, the 54-passenger Polar Pioneer will cross the Greenland Sea, sail along the east coast of Greenland and finish in Iceland. The trip will be repeated in July 2018.
From £8,850 per person, cruise only, departing on July 26 2017 (020 7978 4543; auroraexpeditions.co.uk).