Wildlife Group Tour

Arctic - Spitsbergen Expedition Cruise with Monty Halls and Sue Flood

Travel to the Kingdom of the Polar Bear

12 days

from £5,995pp
  • Our experienced crew know the best spots to see polar bears which are at their most active in July
  • A comprehensive 12 day itinerary pushing into the Arctic Circle, only 600 miles from the North Pole
  • Travel in the company of marine biologist, Monty Halls and wildlife photographer Sue Flood
  • Sail onboard the Akademik Sergey Vavilov and access Svalbard's most spectacular sites

The wild and dramatic landscape of Spitsbergen provides the perfect backdrop for photographing polar bears and with Sue Flood and Monty Halls at your side, you are guaranteed expert advice to ensure you make the most of every opportunity.

To see a polar bear in its natural environment is a privilege we should never take for granted. Steppes is committed to giving its clients memorable and authentic sightings but is equally determined to play its part in protecting polar bears and their Arctic habitat. On our up and coming cruise to Spitsbergen, clients can get involved in citizen science projects such as beach plastic clean-ups and water sampling to test for plastic pollutants. The issue of plastic pollution in our seas has reached a critical level and along with climate change, poses a serious threat to the future of polar bears. To give clients insight into the subject of plastic pollution, the producer of Plastic Oceans, Jo Ruxton will be on board to give lectures and oversee the water sampling. The results of the water sampling will be given to Vancouver Aquarium for further analysis as part of their Ocean Pollution Research Program. 


Days spent exploring Spitsbergen's untamed landscapes are made all the more poignant by the knowledge that the Arctic and its resident wildlife are overshadowed by the threats associated with climate change. There will be lectures on board that address this issue and you can be sure that our voyage will adhere to strict guidelines of sustainability and be conducted in a manner that is sympathetic to the environment and the wildlife.

While viewing wildlife from the ship can be exhilarating, this voyage is more about time spent off the ship, exploring the Arctic landscape on foot and by zodiac. Daily guided excursions by zodiac cruise along glacier fronts, cliffs and shoreline, searching for polar bear, walrus and beautiful photographic opportunities. There will be plenty of opportunities to feel the Arctic tundra under your feet with guided walks on offer to see bird colonies, glaciers, historic sites and spectacular views.


The Vavilov's team of Arctic cruise specialists provide a fascinating insight into polar history and the natural world but on our exclusive charter, we felt compelled to augment their knowledge with a few of our own experts.

Monty Halls is a marine biologist, photographer and explorer whom alongside the ships’ resident experts will give lectures on board and join clients on all excursions.

Sue Flood is not only an exceptional photographer, at home in Arctic conditions, she is also an accomplished teacher and will be on hand to help clients take memorable photographs of Svalbard’s wildlife and landscapes.

Marine conservationist and producer of the documentary A Plastic Ocean, Jo Ruxton will also be onboard for the duration of the trip. She will be on hand to offer an insight into the damage being done to our oceans and how we can help mitigate this.

“Sue and Monty were excellent and kept us amused and occupied with improving our photography.  They were always available and ready to help.” Eryl Holt, Antarctica 2017

“Jo Ruxton was amazing at communicating. Her passion for her subject and really getting home to us the impact of the single-use plastics that pervade every aspect of our life. Who knew that teabags contain plastic?” Cairstine Findlay, Baja 2018

What is the accommodation in spitsbergen like?

Stability, speed, manoeuvrability and a lack of ambient engine noise make the Akademik Sergey Vavilov an exceptional ice-strengthened expedition vessel. The Vavilov may not be the most luxurious ship on the Arctic seas but she is perfectly designed for a voyage of this nature and ideally capped at a maximum of 96 passengers. She has  a range of cabins, from those with shared facilities through to spacious suites while social areas include a dedicated lecture room, lounge, bar and library. The bridge is open to passengers and a great place to watch for wildlife as are the multi-level outside deck areas. A fleet of 10 zodiacs are used for off-ship excursions.

Why a 12-day voyage?

Quite simply because you can see more. There are shorter (and therefore cheaper) voyages to Spitsbergen but these trips do not give the same level of exposure to the wildlife found in the High Arctic. This region is renowned for unpredictable weather and ice conditions so an extended voyage means you are more likely to have days when the weather and ice are favourable to seeing polar bears, whales, walrus and the other wildlife that has adapted to the Arctic conditions. On a 12 day voyage, there is also the chance of doing a complete circumnavigation of the Svalbard archipelago – something that is not possible on the shorter voyages.

When is the best time to visit Spitsbergen

With almost 24 hours of daylight, July is the best time to visit Spitsbergen. As the ice subsides, polar bears take refuge on land and on the edge of large ice floes, where they hunt for seals. Small tundra flowers are in bloom and the abundant birdlife creates a cacophony of noise with chicks keeping parents well occupied.  The Arctic is teeming with wildlife at this time of year – expect to see species such as seals, arctic fox, reindeer, polar bears and whales.

For a detailed itinerary or to book your place on this tour, please contact us.

  Click here to see what is included/excluded

what is included

  • All excursions and landings
  • All zodiac cruises and landings
  • Loan of wellington boots, expedition jacket & over trousers
  • Post voyage photographic expedition log
  • Recycling bins in the bar and restaurant areas
  • Refillable soap dispensers
  • Services of expedition staff onboard
  • Services of special guests Monty Halls & Sue Flood
  • Stainless steel water bottles for each passenger and re-fill stations on board the ship.
  • Voyage on a full board basis

what is excluded

  • Drinks, laundry and items of a personal nature
  • Flights to and from Longyearbyen (to be discussed)
  • Pre/post voyage accommodation
  • There are no plastic bags on board; passengers should use their own bags for gift shop purchases
  • Tips and gratuities


Itinerary at a glance

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Day 1

Longyearbyen embarkation
Embark your expedition ship, Akademik Sergey Vavilov in Longyearbyen and sail through Adventfjorden and into Isfjorden then out into the Greenland Sea. So begins your Arctic cruise, 24 hours of daylight and hopefully some great photographic opportunites and memories.

The former mining town of Longyearbyen offers the Svalbard Museum and the North Pole Expedition Museum, both located close to The University Centre. The nearby Svalbard Gallery houses an interesting collection of artwork, maps, books and notes. Keen birders can make their way to the bay, a wonderful place to look for waders. A short stroll away is the infamous polar bear warning sign, while the tiny Svalbard Church is located on the far side of the valley.

You will be staying at Akademik Sergey Vavilov, Full board

Day 2

Arrive at Bourbonhamna, known for the beluga whales that transit the narrow sound. Head out in zodiacs for the first time in search of belugas.

Adult belugas are pure white and the younger calves a mottled grey colour. It is estimated there are approximately five to ten thousand belugas in the Svalbard population. The beluga has no dorsal fin - a diagnostic feature of whale species that live in the high Arctic such as the narwhal and bowhead - and it has been postulated the lack of dorsal fin is an adaptation to living in waters that are frequently covered by ice.

At Bourbonhamna hike to Ingebrigstenbukta stopping to view the old hunting cabin and other artefacts along with piles of beluga whalebones, a reminder of Svalbard's hunting past. It is also a great place to see reindeer.

You will be staying at Akademik Sergey Vavilov, Full board

Day 3

Coming around the most southerly point of Spitsbergen, push into the broad expanse of Storfjorden. Exploring Dolerittneset near Kapp Lee, the lush vegetation of this region is remarkable given the latitude - 70° North.

This area has a large scattering of reindeer antlers, however, it is the plethora of ancient whalebones that makes the excursion so memorable. Some 400 years ago, whales were hunted almost to extinction in the waters surrounding Svalbard. Now nature has turned the decaying old bones into items of beauty. Time and the elements have altered their original shape and sculpted them into works of art. They are covered in blankets of green mosses and grasses, spattered with blotches of black and orange lichen, and framed with purple saxifrage, yellow cinquefoil and white sandwort flowers. They are fascinating photographic subjects. Now, even after death, the noble whale supports life by robustly protecting the delicate flora from the harsh winds and providing nutrients to ensure their survival.

You will be staying at Akademik Sergey Vavilov, Full board

Day 4

Returning to the west coast, explore the glacier-filled bay leading into Hornsund. The entire archipelago of Svalbard is a lesson in glaciology and our on-board guides will explain the formation of this fantastic landscape during hikes and zodiac excursions.

Hornsund is home to the Polish Polar research station and a good place to see reindeer and arctic foxes.

You will be staying at Akademik Sergey Vavilov, Full board

Day 5

14th July Glacier and Krossfjorden
The rocky shores of Krossfjorden are home to numerous bird colonies and a range of species. The ship will anchor in a protected harbour, launch the zodiacs and cruise along the bird cliffs near the 14th of July Glacier. Bearded and ringed seals are known to frequent the waters here and we watch out for them in the dark waters of the fjord.

Lilliehook Glacier, at the northwestern head of Krossfjorden, is an incredible sight. The glacier face stretches just over four miles and has a height of around 80 metres - viewed from the zodiac cruise you come to appreciate the enormous scale of your surroundings.

Large colonies of birds and often large flocks of kittiwakes and ivory gulls can be seen diving at the front of the glacier when chunks calve off stirring up the nutrients in the water. Polar Bears can often be seen patrolling here because of the number of seals on ice.

You will be staying at Akademik Sergey Vavilov, Full board

Day 6

Krossfjorden and Smeerenburgfjorden
Sailing out of Krossfjorden and Kongsfjorden, you may be fortunate enough to see the historic airship anchor pylon near the scientific community of Ny Ålesund.

This remote outpost earned its place in aviation pioneering history as a starting point for North Pole aviation exploration. Notable pioneer aviators including Zeppelin, Amundsen, Ellsworth, Byrd and Nobile all passed through Ny Ålesund.

Nearby, Smeerenburgfjorden has a four hundred year history of whaling and is a favorite spot as we round the northwestern tip of Spitsbergen. A wander along the beach looking at the blubber cookers, or an hour behind a tripod shooting landscapes on your camera might be on the schedule, all the while looking for wildlife that can appear anywhere in Svalbard.

You will be staying at Akademik Sergey Vavilov, Full board

Day 7

Exploration of the Ice Edge
Continue north and east up into the ice, hoping to cross the 80° north parallel. Approaching the ice-edge the ship slows down and all hands are either on the bridge or out on the outer decks scanning for wildlife.

Bearded seals, ringed seals and walrus may be found hauled out on the edges of the ice. Harp seals swim in herds of 10 to 20 through the open water channels in the ice. A buttery coloured lump miles away on the ice metamorphoses into a polar bear as we slowly work our way through the ice toward it. The Vavilov is perfectly designed for near silent approach and the Captain takes great pride in bringing you in as close as possible to the wildlife without disturbing it for some great photographic opportunities.

You will be staying at Akademik Sergey Vavilov, Full board

Day 8

At 81° degrees north latitude, Phippsoya - one of the Seven Islands - is only 540 nautical miles from the North Pole. Because of its proximity to the permanent pack ice, Phippsoya offers the potential for great polar bear viewings. Be sure to get up to the bridge and take a picture of the ship's GPS showing this incredibly high polar latitude near the top of the world.

Trivia: The archipelago of seven islands is the northernmost land in Svalbard. Named in 1780s by an English sailing party. The smallest and least significant island being named Nelsonøya, after the lowly midshipman, who was promoted over the years to the rank and title of Vice Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson.

You will be staying at Akademik Sergey Vavilov, Full board

Day 9

Nordaustlandet and Hinlopen Strait
From the ice edge, turn south into the main strait separating Svalbard's two main islands: Spitsbergen and Nordaustlandet.

In Hinlopen Strait, the bird cliffs at Alkefjellet are home to more than a hundred thousand breeding Brunnich's guillemots, as well as thousands of kittiwakes and black guillemots. The huge basalt cliffs and skies are thick with birds as they hurl themselves off the rockface. Polar bears are common in the Hinlopen area and there are a few different walrus haulouts

Nearby Murchison Fjord is a wonderful place to kayak or cruise as the ship navigates the waterways between the islands. There are some excellent hiking routes here up to high points with spectacular views and further opportunities to encounter Arctic wildlife.

You will be staying at Akademik Sergey Vavilov, Full board

Day 10

Enter Leifdefjorden and slowly cruise towards the Monaco Glacier. This vast sweep of ice more than four miles wide provides a fabulous backdrop for a zodiac cruise. Ice caves and tumbling seracs are an impressive sight as are the thousands of black-legged kittiwakes feeding on the upwelling of rich nutrients found near the sub-glacial outflow.

A morning of cruising in the ice is best followed by a hike on the tundra. Red phalaropes, purple sandpipers and vibrant tundra provide plenty of viewing and photography opportunities. The geology is fascinating and it is a great chance to see reindeer and arctic foxes.

You will be staying at Akademik Sergey Vavilov, Full board

Day 11

Alkehornet, at the mouth of Isfjord, offers breath-taking views and an incredible tundra walk. Arctic fox can often be seen here, as well as reindeer. Towering above the site is a horn-shaped mount covered in guillemots and kittiwakes.

This evening, celebrate the journey with a special dinner attended by the ship's Captain. It's a great time to reflect on a wonderful voyage in this wild and remote place

Polar Exploration
Polar exploration can be unpredictable. Specific sites visited will depend on prevailing weather and ice conditions at the time of sailing. The above itinerary should be read as a 'guide only' and may change. The ship's captain in conjunction with the expedition leader continually review the sailing plan throughout the voyage, making adjustments to the itinerary along the way to take advantage of optimal weather and ice conditions or to maximise encounters with wildlife.

You will be staying at Akademik Sergey Vavilov, Full board

Day 12

Longyearbyen disembarkation
Arrive back into Longyearbyen this morning and disembark after breakfast.

Transfer back into town with a chance to visit the museums and buy a few last-minute souvenirs before transferring to the airport for your return flights.


Below you can see some of the wonderful places we recommend you stay on your journey.

Akademik Sergey Vavilov

Akademik Sergey Vavilov

The Akademik Sergey Vavilov was built in Finland for the Russian Academy of Science in 1989 and was designed to be exceptionally stable, manoeuvrable, fast, quiet and functional like her sister ship the Akademik Ioffe....

View Accommodation

For a detailed itinerary or to book your place on this tour, please contact us.

Destination Experts

Our experts have unrivalled firsthand knowledge of Spitsbergen

Roxy Dukes, Travel Expert

"Roxy filled us with enthusiasm and came up with some great ideas for a trip. We liked the idea of a slightly 'off the beaten track experience' and some private bespoke activities and that's exactly what we've had. Thank you!"

"Roxy created a wonderfully interesting route which was the basis for a super trip. She also chose lovely places for us to stay and interesting activities for us to participate in, introducing us to the idea of private guided experiences which we thoroughly enjoyed."

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Sue Grimwood, Travel Expert

"It was tremendously helpful to be able to speak to someone who had been to Antarctica before - Sue had been on the ship we had booked, so was able to give us some very useful information. We felt that at every stage of the booking process that we were in safe hands. "

""I was uncharacteristically worried about this trip - neurotic some might say - and I was given 110% support and help with everything. I had been disappointed by not being able to get a space on the 2014 trip and so Sue was stuck with me for 2 years - a testament to her patience and professionalism. I was confident in Sue - she knows Antarctica and speaks from experience, that is worth a huge amount. Emails, which I would send were responded to almost immediately.""

Read More

For a more detailed itinerary with great ideas on what to do and where to stay, please get in touch with our experts.

Enquire about this Wildlife tour:

Group Size:

Min 60 / Max 98

  1. Moderate Activity - The tour may occasionally involve slightly longer walks, but nothing over 4 hours. The tour will involve visits to a variety of sites throughout the duration of the itinerary and be at a moderate pace.

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