Above: Polar bears off Svalbard, Norway

Top of the World: Luxury Arctic Cruises

Although cruises to Antarctica remain popular, in the past few years, the Arctic has become the hot spot of expedition cruising. This remote region has recently been in the news for some unfortunate reasons, notably shrinking ice coverage and threatened populations of polar bears. Understandably, people wish to see these pristine environments and impressive animals while they still can, and if there is any upside to the Arctic’s environmental changes, it is that the reduction in sea ice has allowed expedition vessels to explore the region in unprecedented fashion.

Of course, there is more to an Arctic cruise than icebergs and polar bears. The little-known fjords and archipelagoes of the far north have breathtaking scenery enhanced by the unique quality of the polar light. And the rich cultures of indigenous peoples still remain intact. A range of wildlife inhabits this region, including walruses, seals, various species of whales and prolific birdlife. These creatures thrive in places that were once inaccessible to all but the most intrepid travelers, who were willing to endure great discomfort. But an acceptance of discomfort is no longer a prerequisite for an Arctic trip.

Musk ox on Wrangel Island, Russia - Galen Rowell / Corbis Documentery / Getty Images
Walruses near Baffin Island, Canada - Richard McManus / Moment / Getty Images

Already, several leading cruise companies offer itineraries in the region, and other major lines have plush expedition ships in the works, set to start sailing within the next year or two. (I have every intention of reviewing one or more of these cruises myself.)

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Above: Polar bears off Svalbard, Norway