Skip to content

Cruises are restarting in the oddest of places, including (today) the Arctic Circle

July 16, 2020
6 min read
Cruises are restarting in the oddest of places, including (today) the Arctic Circle
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

If you asked us a few months ago where we thought cruising would come back first, we're pretty sure we wouldn't have said the Arctic Circle.

But starting today, that's exactly where some of the first cruises since the start of the coronavirus-caused cruising shutdown will take place.

Norwegian cruise expedition company Hurtigruten today is resuming trips to the Arctic's wildlife-filled Svalbard archipelago with two ships: the 335-passenger Spitsbergen and the 530-passenger Roald Amundsen. Both vessels will operate at a sharply reduced capacity of 120 and 250 passengers, respectively, to ensure social distancing.

For more cruise news, reviews and tips, sign up for TPG's new cruise newsletter

Spitsbergen will operate four- to five-day Svalbard sailings out of Longyearbyen, a small town in the archipelago. Roald Amundsen will operate seven- to 15-day expedition cruises to the archipelago from Tromso, Norway.

The Spitsbergen trips will begin today for passengers with flights to Longyearbyen and an overnight in a local hotel. The ship will depart from Longyearbyen on Friday.

The Roald Amundsen trips will begin on Friday.

Related: How to book a cruise with points and miles

Hurtigruten's Roald Amudsen is an expedition cruise ship with a strengthened hull capable of driving into ice in the Arctic. (Photo courtesy of Hurtigruten)
Named after a famous Arctic explorer, Hurtigruten's Roald Amundsen is a tough-built expedition cruise ship with a strengthened hull capable of driving into ice in the Arctic. (Photo courtesy of Hurtigruten)

"We a thrilled to mark the restart of Arctic cruises," Hurtigruten spokesperson Rune Thomas Ege told TPG. "Svalbard is the spectacular and remote corner of our own front yard, and we can’t wait to take our guests back exploring one of our favorite parts of the planet."

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Both Spitsbergen and Roald Amundsen have been custom-built to operate in polar regions. Spitsbergen is named after an island in the Svalbard archipelago. Roald Amundsen is named after the famous polar explorer.

All of the Svalbard trips will include Zodiac landings for wildlife sightseeing as well as kayaking and other expedition-related activities.

The trips are starting up just three weeks after Hurtigruten began cruises to Norway out of Hamburg, Germany -- the first ocean cruises offered by any line since the cruising shutdown began.

Related: Hit hard by the pandemic, this storied cruise line will lose 29% of its ships

The cruises out of Hamburg were notable in that they didn't include a single port stop -- a novel approach to resuming voyages in an era when many ports are restricting cruise ship visits. The voyages, on the company’s new, 530-passenger Fridtjof Nansen, offered passengers the opportunity to see Norway‘s famous coastal fjords, glaciers and mountains as the ship traveled all the way up the coast to North Cape — one of the northernmost points in Europe.

Designed as an expedition ship, Fridtjof Nansen carries small Zodiac boats for exploring as well as kayaks and paddleboards. A Hurtigruten spokesperson told TPG they all have been put to use for adventures during the sailings.

While the new Svalbard sailings are Hurtigruten's first Arctic-focused trips since the cruising shutdown began, the Fridtjof Nansen trips along the Norway coast also have included some time above the Arctic Circle.

Ege suggested that passengers on the new Svalbard sailings were in for a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," given how devoid of tourists the destination will be this summer.

"The Arctic is always remote," he noted. "But for the first time in 125 years, we will more or less have the entire area all by ourselves – only sharing the vast beauty of the Arctic with polar bears and other wildlife."

Hurtigruten pioneered cruises to Svalbard in 1896.

Cruises to Svalbard and other parts of the Arctic are somewhat simpler to run in an era of coronavirus as they don't involve much passenger interaction with other humans. The typical Arctic voyage is an expedition-style sailing that involves landings and Zodiac excursions to see wildlife, glaciers and floating ice formations.

Related: Cruise lines struggle to make a comeback in North America

Hurtigruten has been at the forefront of a growing movement among cruise companies to bring back cruising in Europe, which -- unlike the United States -- has seen coronavirus case counts plunge to low levels in recent months. Germany this week has been recording fewer than 400 new cases a day. The United States, by contrast, has been recording more than 60,000 new cases a day.

In addition to Hurtigruten, several other small lines -- mostly river cruise lines -- have restarted operations in Europe in the past few weeks.

All have instituted new health and safety measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus on ships. The measures vary from line to line but often include health screenings for passengers before boarding, onboard temperature checks and requirements for mask wearing and social distancing. Some lines also have closed the pools, spas and fitness areas on their ships.

For now, the cruises that are resuming in Europe only are open to Europeans. Due to the high coronavirus case counts in the United States, Europe has banned the arrival of American tourists.

The new Hurtigruten trips to Svalbard initially only were marketed to Norwegians, but Hurtigruten is now allowing travelers from a wide range of European countries to book the sailings.

Related: Is cruising done until 2021? This cruise line thinks so

Known for its expedition cruises in polar regions such as Antarctica and a regular coastal cruise-and-ferry service along the Norwegian coast, Hurtigruten often draws American cruisers as well as large numbers of Germans and Norwegians.

In recent weeks, Hurtigruten also has restarted its Norwegian coastal service, which often draws traditional cruisers as well as locals traveling between Norwegian towns.

The company's new Svalbard trips start around $2,100 per person for seven nights.

Additional resources for cruisers during the coronavirus outbreak:

Featured image by Photographer Karsten Bidstrup

Top offers from our partners

How we chose these cards

Our points-obsessed staff uses a plethora of credit cards on a daily basis. If anyone on our team wouldn’t recommend it to a friend or a family member, we wouldn’t recommend it on The Points Guy either. Our opinions are our own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our advertising partners.
See all best card offers

TPG featured card

Best premium travel card for value
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

1 - 10X points
10xEarn 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
5xEarn 5x total points on flights through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
3xEarn 3x points on other travel and dining.
1xEarn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases

Intro offer

80,000 bonus points
Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

Annual Fee

$550

Recommended Credit

740-850
Excellent
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

If you are looking to take your premium rewards to the highest level, this card is really a no brainer in our eyes. Chase's Ultimate Rewards make points easy to redeem, with a wide range of 10 airline and three hotel transfer partners and a friendly user interface. Despite the high annual fee, Chase is consistently adding new benefits to keep the card competitive in a fierce premium rewards field.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • Access to Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel and airline travel partners
  • Unlimited 3x points on the broad category of travel and dining
  • 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more
Best premium travel card for value
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10xEarn 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
5xEarn 5x total points on flights through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
3xEarn 3x points on other travel and dining.
1xEarn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

    80,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $550
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

If you are looking to take your premium rewards to the highest level, this card is really a no brainer in our eyes. Chase's Ultimate Rewards make points easy to redeem, with a wide range of 10 airline and three hotel transfer partners and a friendly user interface. Despite the high annual fee, Chase is consistently adding new benefits to keep the card competitive in a fierce premium rewards field.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • Access to Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel and airline travel partners
  • Unlimited 3x points on the broad category of travel and dining
  • 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more