I have had the pleasure to experience my first ever Expedition Cruise with Hurtigruten last month and I must say it was mind-blowing, truly magical and one of the best things I have ever experienced in my life!
Seeing Spitsbergen and the archipelago of Svalbard, with all the wildlife, scenery and culture was fantastic.
However, the Arctic is harsh, cold and especially windy. Therefore, to be able to stay warm and enjoy your trip, it is paramount that you have the correct clothing with you. You need to be prepared.
Here are some tips that I learned and found out the hard way during my cruise, as I was not fully prepared for my trip.
1. COMFORTABLE CLOTHING
You are on an Expedition Cruise and therefore you are going to go for walks, hikes and ice cruises. You are going to be out and about sometimes for several hours, hence you need to make sure that you were something comfortable.
2. WIND AND WATERPROOF CLOTHING
This is so, so, so important and maybe the most important aspect when it comes to what you should pack. You can wear several layers of clothes, but if they do not protect you from the wind and water, they are useless.
Make sure you have a wind and waterproof jacket and trousers. Some cruise lines such as Hurtigruten will provide you with a jacket, but they do not hand out trousers. Make sure you do not forget those as they can be a lifesaver.
3. WARM CLOTHING OR LAYERING
This is a no brainer, but then again this means something different to everyone. Lots of people during my cruise wore thermal clothes and this is great. It keeps you warm and cozy.
I did not have any, so my survival trick in the Arctic was layering and wearing my wind and waterproof trousers all the time.
I wore sometimes one pair of tights, a pair of socks, my jeans and my wind and waterproof trousers on top of each other, and of course my winter jacket.
During my kayaking tour I even wore three pairs of tights, leggings and a pair of socks. This kept me just warm enough. Although this trick sounds great and like an affordable version, layering is not ideal and therefore I would always recommend to buy thermal clothes. In the end, I was not as mobile as I would have liked to be and I felt like the Michelin tyre mascot. 🙂
4. PROPER HATS AND GLOVES
Forget the cheap gloves and hats that you can buy at Primark when you go to the Arctic. You might not be wearing any if you bring those!
You need hats and gloves that have lining in them to protect you from the icy winds.
5. AN EXTRA SMALL BAG FOR THE SHIP
An Expedition Cruise is unpredictable. One second you are having dinner and the next you are running outside as there is a dolphin sighting.
I always carry a small bag with me that contains my camera, binoculars and a hat. This way I am always prepared for sightings and do not have to run back to my cabin to grab my stuff. Otherwise you might miss the sighting and that would be very frustrating.
6. THREE PAIRS OF SHOES ARE ENOUGH
When you go to the polar regions in general, you will often have limited space in your luggage. Boots, thick woolen jumpers and big winter jackets will take a lot of space in your luggage. For that reason you need to pack wisely to be able to take everything you need and want with you.
Three pairs of shoes will be enough. Take a pair that you can wear on the ship all the time such as trainers, one pair of slippers for the sauna, swimming pool or jacuzzi, and the other pair can be your boots.
However, some cruise lines such as Hurtigruten provide you even with boots during your trip that you can and often must wear during landings. So technically you do not even have to bring your own boots!
If you still choose to bring your own boots make sure they are up to your knees (as per the picture) as you might have wet landings. Meaning you have to jump into water.
7. ENOUGH BATTERIES, SD CARDS, CHARGER AND A USB STICK
The Arctic offers an amazing backdrop and every glacier looks beautiful, every mountain different and you are going to take loads of pictures of everything. Hence, do not forget your camera, those charging cables, extra batteries and SD cards to be able to catch those memorable moments and save all of them.
Especially enough batteries are important. I have experienced myself that batteries do not last long when the temperatures are very low. They tend to “shut down” although they are not depleted or give you error messages on your camera. When this happens you just need to, for that moment, use a different battery. Once back in the warmth the battery will recover, hopefully.
Also, bring a USB stick. You might want to swap some lovely pictures, videos or even ebooks etc with some of your fellow passengers.
8. WATERPROOF CAMERA
This is not a necessity, but if you have a waterproof camera I would recommend to bring it along. You never know what you need it for.
I decided last minute to join a kayaking excursion and the waterproof camera came in handy.
Wildlife such as polar bears, Arctic foxes and whales can be spotted during the cruise, but they might be far away and not that easy for the naked eye to see. Also, you need to keep a safe distance between you or the vessel and the wildlife in order not to disturb them. Hence, binoculars come in handy to still spot and see them even when they are far away and most importantly from a safe distance.
The waters can be rocky and ships can creak. If you are sensitive to noise and really need quietness in order to sleep, take some earplug with you. Those can also be a lifesaver as there is nothing worse than not being able to rest and sleep well.
11. MEDICINE, LIP BALM AND LOTS OF CREAMS
The icy winds and cold weather can be harsh and if you have sensitive skin then you need to moisturise a lot during your trip.
Especially the lips are subject to cracking and drying out. Always keep a lip balm (oil, not water based) and some cream with you.
In addition, it is advisable to pack some medicine such as coughing syrup, some tissues and so on in case you catch a cold.
12. SEASICKNESS MEDICATION
Last but not least, seasickness pills or patches can be a good addition to your medicine case if you have a light stomach and are prone to seasickness.