An Arctic adventure part one: Svalbard

ICFR’s executive editor Jon Ingleton finds it impossible to turn down an offer to join Cruise Norway’s Marit Vetaas Karlsen and Inge Tangerås on a FAM trip. Here he reports on the first port of call

An Arctic adventure part one: Svalbard
Jon Ingleton joins cruise line executives and others in Svalbard

There are two reasons why Longyearbyen on Spitsbergen Island in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago is a smash hit for cruise passengers: awe and wonder. Those who are familiar with the town know that it delivers on its big reputation – and there’s no doubt that it would be a global top five bucket list destination if more people knew about it.

There is a poetic rawness to Longyearbyen that enhances its appeal. I truly hope this isn’t diminished now that tourism is replacing mining as the island’s primary industry. The risk will be particularly acute in Pyramiden and Barentsburg where development projects must be carefully managed to make sure they don’t plaster over the cracked walls too much, for it is the cosmetic flaws that currently make them both so enchanting.

Costa Cruises’ destination management coordinator Serena Guglielmone accurately summed up the sentiments of everyone in our group when she called Longyearben “an amazing destination with lots of potential.”

Every first-class cruise destination must be supported by good people if it is to thrive. This is an understatement here in Svalbard, where the population comprises people who arrive for a few weeks or months, but end up staying for a lifetime. This was exemplified by our hosts Eva Britt Kornfeldt, Anika Paust and Kjetil Braten, whose infectious passion for their home further enhances an already appealing destination. I suspect that cruise passengers will also get a sense of this from their local guides because it’s in the community’s DNA.

According to Melanie Lewis Carsjens, product manager at Holland America Group, Svalbard’s local characters are the magic ingredient that will make shore excursions special for cruise guests. “The story of Robert Johannsen’s sheer determination at the Svalbard Brewery was inspirational,” she said. “Triggering emotions during a tour not only creates an enriching experience for our guests, but it also leaves a feeling of warmth and a long-lasting positive impression and something guests will share with others for years to come.” This box was ticked repeatedly during our stay in Svalbard.

Svalbard Cruise Network is currently promoting a relatively new slow cruising concept, where cruise ships make three stops in the archipelago and get a discount on port fees. Cruise guests can also fully immerse themselves in the destination via organised tours, and there is sufficient variety in the shore excursion product to cater for a wide demographic. These two factors combine to deliver a particularly profitable itinerary, and with sailing times to and from Svalbard requiring a day at sea either side, a three-day call will be appealing to cruise lines and their prospective guests.

Some of Svalbard’s highlights for cruise visitors include:

  • Funken Lodge: formerly lodgings for the miners, but now a very comfortable hotel 
  • Galleri Svalbard: house a permanent Kåre Tveter exhibition and serves as a space for selling local art 
  • Svalbard Museum: a very smart and polished exhibition about life in northern Norway Kunsthall Svalbard: showcases modern art collections 
  • North Pole Expedition Museum: charmingly rough around the edges, the museum recounts the efforts of explorers to reach the North Pole and the importance these expeditions have had in the Arctic 
  • Camp Barentz: just how you might imagine an arctic camp, complete with an armed guide 
  • Svalbard Husky: this is a standout husky facility that has few nice extra touches 
  • Svalbard Wildlife Expeditions: an amazing location for kayaking 
  • Svalbard Brewery: great storytelling, fabulous beers 
  • Restaurant Kroa: an ideal place for excellent food in a wonderfully historic building
  • Svalbardi: a company that bottles fresh water from glaciers – it really does taste fresher, but it comes at a high price! 
  • Port of Longyear: demonstrably efficient and welcoming service 
  • Isfjord Radio: a pleasant boat trip to a remote former radio outpost (now a hotel) that enables cruise visitors to see seabirds, puffins and, if they’re lucky, whales and walruses
  • Aurora Explorer: incredible trip to Nordenskiold Glacier, featuring two polar bears 
  • Pyramiden: spellbinding former Russian mining community, now a confirmed ghost town 
  • Barentsburg: an active Russian mine that is reinventing itself as a tourist destination 
  • Swim in the fjord: when in Svalbard...

Read Jon Ingleton’s review of the calls in Hammerfest and Harstad in part two of his event report and a roundup of his visits to Sortland, Vesterålen and Lofoten in part three. 

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Jon Ingleton
By Jon Ingleton
Wednesday, September 5, 2018