9 – 17 May 2024
US$12,999 for double occupancy.
Inquiry for single occupancy.
Welcome to one of our Svalbard tours in early May, 2024. The early spring season is a truly unique month. The sky is bright and the landscape remains covered in snow and ice. Glaciers and mountains grace us with their beauty daily. Svalbard changes rapidly at this time of the year. The drift ice and fjord ice melts, forcing the wildlife to follow. We will also meet flocks of birds migrating northwards.
By May there is already constant light from the midnight sun, but the sun is lower in the sky during the night. Clouds will lower the impact from the sunlight and create different patterns and possibilities for pictures. Nights can still be very cold and it’s possible to see wildlife resting and hunting on the ice-covered fjords.
In this wintery environment, you can experience wildlife encounters in picture-perfect conditions by joining our Svalbard photo expedition. Our wildlife expeditions are the ultimate in polar exploration at any time of year, but in May the light conditions combined with snow- and ice-covered landscapes create some truly unique photo opportunities.
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Nature in the High Arctic constantly changes. On Svalbard, every day is different, and every year is different. The Norwegian-owned company Arctic Wildlife Tours leads this Svalbard tour, a remote area we know and love. That’s important, because this is a land where your guides must know how to handle the constantly-changing weather conditions, drift ice, and wildlife on the move 24 hours a day.
The expedition ship MS Virgo is a ship well-suited to polar explorations. Our Norwegian and Swedish guides that will lead the trip together with experienced crew members all speak excellent English and have long experience hiking and exploring Svalbard. In may we have shorter distances between the hotspots and during 9 days 8 nights you will experience the best from Svalbard.
You will almost not get a full night of sleep. The guides will work 20 hours a day and work hard to find the best situations you could imagine. In May we will find wildlife and landscapes only short distances from Longyearbyen and Isfjorden.
General information about Svalbard
The Svalbard Islands are located in the Arctic Ocean, halfway between Norway and the North Pole. Here, you will find untouched arctic wilderness and unique wildlife in a setting that is both rugged and fragile at the same time.
In addition to a few thousand polar bears, the islands are home to almost 3,000 human inhabitants, over 2,000 of which live in Longyearbyen, the administrative centre and largest settlement of the islands. This small and colourful community has gone from a typical village town to a modern community with different kinds of businesses and industries, and with a surprisingly wide range of cultural activities and opportunities, such as concerts, shows, festivals and exhibitions.
“Svalbard” means “cold coasts” and was first mentioned in Icelandic texts in the 12th century. However, the archipelago has a relatively mild climate compared to other areas at the same latitude. In Longyearbyen, the average temperature ranges from -14°C in winter to 6°C in summer. The lowest temperatures in winter can reach -30°C and in summer nearly 20°C.
What you can expect on this Svalbard tour
The trip will be flexible. Photographic opportunities are the most important issue but for those that only come for experiencing the wildlife and Svalbard nature this is a nice opportunity. During this photo and wildlife expedition we will eat when we have time and photograph when the light is the best, and when we have the good situations.
Svalbard is situated at 78-79 degrees north and you are in the High Arctic when you arrive there. The weather is constantly changing at these latitudes. Please study the information about clothing and travels to Svalbard. During our expedition you can expect to se wildlife as Polar Bears, Walruses, Seals, Whales, Arctic Foxes, Svalbard Reindeer and a variety of bird species that is common in these Arctic regions. Sometimes we do long transport legs of sailing and sometimes we stay in one spot experiencing and photographing the nature and wildlife.
Safety in the Arctic
Our safety will have top priority during the entire photo expedition and security will be provided by the Svalbard expedition leaders, guides and the crew. We adhere to all applicable safety regulations, especially with regards to polar bears.
This also pertains to use of the Zodiac boats (inflatable’s) in close proximity to icebergs and glacial edges where there may be elements of risk which are not apparent. The safer we feel, the easier it will be for all participants to concentrate on nature and photographic opportunities. The expeditions and the ships we use have all SAR insurances in case of emergency rescue situations.
Ethics for wildlife viewing
We shall not during this wildlife expedition contribute to existing negative impressions of nature photographers and travelers who visit Svalbard.
We will therefore be scheduling longer stops than usual when going ashore in order to provide participants with ample time needed to get excellent pictures without exposing the wildlife to unnecessary stress. Our strategy will be to await situations with wildlife and let the wildlife come to us and not opposite by chasing it. Often this gives us real interesting photographic opportunities and great wildlife experiences in the fragile refuges of the High Arctic Svalbard areas.
Zodiac boats in Arctic waters
We will use 2 Zodiacs when we cruise the Arctic waters of Svalbard searching for wildlife or going ashore for hiking. This will give all photographers great flexibility when taking pictures.
The boats will be used to get closer to photo subjects or having different angels to the subjects we will photograph. Getting closer also means greater wildlife experinces. It is a good idea to bring rubber boots due to certain wet conditions when exploring ashore. We will use life wests whilst in the zodiacs during normal summer expeditions by ships. If needed, extra clothing can be provided by the crew onboard the ship. Zodiac cruises can last from one hour to several hours depending on what we se of interest. Please ask the guides or crew about what clothing you need during the cruises.
Info concerning photography
Svalbard wildlife is restlessly moving around most of the time. During summer the lighting is good, also during night, because of midnight sun. A wildlife photographic expedition like this gives us some challenges about the photographic techniques.
The ship’s engine and movements in the sea may present problems when photographing polar bears, etc. A monopod, IS (VR) lenses or handheld photography may present a solution. This problem is minimal under lighting conditions that allow a min. 1/1600 sec shutter speed even with a 600mm lens mounted on a tripod. It is advisable to bring a laptop in order to transfer and review pictures as quickly as possible. You can easily surpass 10,000+ exposures during your expedition to Svalbard, so an external hard drive or lots of available space on your computer’s drive is the best way to go. There are 220V outlets in the ship for charging batteries, etc. There may be ocean fog and poor lighting conditions on Svalbard so fast optics are a definite advantage.
Why We Prefer Svalbard?
Dramatic landscapes: In April the landscapes are still lit by a low sun during evenings and mornings and mountain tops will be colored from the redish late evening light. The landscapes are still covered with snow and the glaziers are still frozen in the grip of the winter. Wildlife still rest and live on the ice covered fjords after a long winter.
Polar Bear viewings: After our opinion Svalbard is the best place in the world to find and experience Polar Bears. Its truly something unique to nature enthusiasts, photographers and modern explorers. In spring, like early May, Svalbard is still covered by snow and the fjords are frozen. This is great places to search for wildlife.
Other wildlife: We will see Walruses resting on ice or on land, Minky Whales playing around the ship, Bearded Seals and migrating birds from south is increasing day by day; there is an unbelievable amount of wildlife to encounter during an adventure around Svalbard.
Itinerary – Estimated travel route during this tour
This photo tour and itinerary will be planned in accordance with prevailing weather and ice conditions. In May it will still be lot of fjord ice and drifting ice, which limit the areas that is accessible, on the other hand the conditions with snow covered landscapes and frozen fjords will be great experiences this time of the year.
Day 0: We always recommend to arrive Longyearbyen at least one day and night in advance.
Day 1: Departure from Longyearbyen through Isfjorden. Heading north or south, depending on the drift ice situation, into the drifting ice. We also search in the fjords, which will still be frozen and give great opportunities for seeing wildlife.
Day 1-8: We set course for the areas where we know we will meet the drift ice. No matter if we sail north or south this will be the focus. Some of the fjords and islands will be interesting to visit and we will search systematically for wildlife wherever we go. The fjords will still be frozen in this time of the year.
The route is just an estimate for where we can sail. This can, and probably will, be changed as we know this from our earlier expeditions.
Day 9: Leaving the ship after breakfast and prepare the travel home.
MS Virgo is a newly introduced expedition ship to Svalbard waters. She was built in 1976 and has been working as a buoy-laying vessel for the Swedish maritime authorities before she was bought and rebuilt for Arctic photo expeditions in 2022. The rebuilt has been based on many years of experience running photography tours in Arctic waters, including adaptations to work in very low temperatures. Other important features are her strong hull and powerful engines that takes us where we want to go. MS Virgo is now perfectly suited to year round Svalbard expeditions from mid March to mid October.
Food service will be at designated times in our dinning room, but on all occasions we intend to be flexible should any photo opportunities arise. The chef has a varied and tasty menu, that can be adapted to special dietary needs. As part of the photography and wildlife experience we are offering a spacious lounge on deck 2 with good viewing opportunities and plenty of space for photo editing, charging batteries, listening to lectures or just hanging out with fellow travelers.
We are proud to be associated with MS Virgo alongside some of the most experienced captains in Svalbard, ensuring we offer a unique photography expedition.
Cabins on MS Virgo
MS Virgo is very spacious both on deck and interior , giving ample space for 12 guests, 1 travel leader and a guide team of two. The cabins are spacious and consist of 3 suites for 2 persons (#21, #22 and #23) and 6 Single cabins (#1, #2, #3, #4, #6 and #20). All suites/cabins have private facilities (WC/shower). The cabins are made ready and towels are provided. MS Virgo is built as a comfortable expedition vessel with a large observation lounge that will be our headquarter during expeditions. Find the deck plan and images below for more information.
Iridium Satellite Phone: Ask for the number before the expedition
Communication: There is no regular Internet access on board. Please note that you will have no reception on your mobile phone during the expedition.
Electricity: The electrical supply aboard the ship is 220 volts using Scandinavian two-prong plugs. We recommend that you bring an international adapter if needed.
Bridge Visits: There is an open bridge policy on board and passengers are welcome to visit the bridge at all times. Please respect the Captain’s orders, especially during difficult ice navigation.
Bar Service: The bar is located in the dining room on the upper deck and carries a selection of alcoholic beverages and soft drinks. Your bar bill will be payable at the end of the expedition.
Laundry: Please note that there are no laundry facilities on board.
Meals: The dining room located on the upper deck seats all passengers in one single sitting. Our chef will serve you three meals a day. Breakfast is buffet style and lunch and dinner will be a combination of buffet style and waiter service. If you have special dietary needs, these must be clearly indicated prior to your departure.
Coffee and tea is available around the clock in the ”Saloon”.
Medical: There is not a doctor on board. Passengers under regular treatment or requiring special medication should bring sufficient quantities to last the duration of the expedition. The ship is always reachable by helicopter from Longyearbyen, where there is a smaller hospital.
Money Matters: The standard currency on board the ship is the Norwegian Kroner (NOK), but we also accept EURO and US Dollar. A tab of your expenses in the bar and shop will be kept throughout the expedition. Your account will be payable at the end of the expedition by cash or credit card (Visa, MasterCard and AmEx). Debit cards are not accepted.
Tipping is discretionary, although a rough guideline is $15 US Dollars per passenger per day.
Shop: The shop offers a limited selection of clothes, postcards, books and souvenirs.
Smoking: A non-smoking policy applies inside the ship. Smoking is only allowed outside on the aft deck in the designated area due to safety reasons. Please note that it is strictly forbidden to throw cigarettes over board.
Water: The water on board is safe to drink. Be aware of limited amount of water. When showering please use as little as possible. We recommend not to have a shower more often than every second day keeping the duration to a minimum.
Because of sudden interesting wildlife viewings during the Svalbard wildlife expedition we will adapt the meals to this.
Normally times for meals will be:
The time for the meals can be changed according to ongoing activity and interesting wildlife or other happenings in the field.
US$12,999 for double occupancy.
Inquiry for single occupancy.
Maximum 12 people. 3 twin cabins and 6 single cabins, all with private bathrooms, for 12 participants.
Very easy, mostly zodiac boat tours
9 months prior to the workshop starting date.
After you signup, we’ll send you a recommended camera gear and packing list. Please pay special attention to things that we say are absolutely required.
- Guided expedition onboard the ship around Svalbard
- All meals onboard the vessel
- Drinks like coffee and tea
- Search & Rescue insurances covering evacuation in case emergency situations
- Guarantees to the Svalbard authorities (Sysselmesteren)
- Polar bear security/safety in zodiacs and on land
- Permits and requirements from the authorities
- Fuel up to daily cost of US$2000 (If the costs exceeds this the customer need to pay the extra cost. If the costs become less than estimated daily fuel costs this will be refunded) – the chance of going more than US$2000 per day is very low.
- Flights to/from Longyearbyen, Svalbard
- Sodas, beer, alcoholic beverages and liquor onboard the ship
- Accommodation/hotel before/after the expedition
- All meals/drinks and other costs before/after the expedition
- Personal warranties in connection with personal travel and medical insurances
- Ny-Ålesund or Pyramiden harbor fees (Ca NOK 4000 pr harbor) – if we decided to go inland in Ny-Ålesund, most probably not.
- Local transportation in Longyearbyen
- Gratuity to the crew on the ship (Around US$15 pr day pr person).
The responsibility of customers
- Personal travel insurance, including medical evacuation for all participants.
- Cancellation insurance for the customer and the participants in the group.
- Insurance for all photographic equipment and other personal equipment (AWT do not hold any responsibility for personal equipment damage during the expedition).
- Personal waterproof clothing/rubber boots/hiking boots.
- Shoes for indoor use onboard the vessel.
We have no control over the nature, thus there is no guarantee that any wildlife will appear on a given day. There is however always plenty to see and do if conditions do not favor any part of our original plan.
Cancellation and Refund Policy
By signing up the tour, you agree to our cancellation policy. If you cancel and the workshop greater than 8 months from the start date of the tour, we will refund you the full amount you have paid, minus a $300 service charge. If you cancel and the workshop within 8 months from the start date of the workshop, and the seats does not fill, the fee is non-refundable.