Arctic Cruises

Written by Patricia Tunstall
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Arctic cruises sail within the Arctic Circle, and offer passengers the thrilling sights and sounds of spectacular coastlines and bountiful wildlife. The Arctic Ocean may be frozen, but that does not mean this region is barren. Extraordinary numbers of birds line the shores and cliffs of the many small and large islands visited by Arctic cruises. Marine animals blanket entire sections of coastlines in full view of passengers on the ships.

The Arctic Circle is an imaginary line that encompasses an enormous territory at the northern end of the earth's axis. Some islands, such as Greenland, are familiar names, but others within the circle are less well-known: Baffin Island, Franz Joseph Land, and the archipelago Spitsbergen, to name a few. Conventional Arctic travel takes in the natural treasures and the prehistoric and historic sites of these remote lands.

Arctic Cruises to Spitsbergen

Although probably unknown to most Americans, Spitsbergen (called Svalbard by the Norwegians) is a series of islands north of Scandanavia that cover an area almost as large as the Republic of Ireland. With a population of about 3,500 in five settlements, these islands are pristine and undeveloped. Lying 600 miles from the North Pole, Spitsbergen displays its rugged mountains, vast tundra, ice caps, and glaciers to passengers on Arctic cruises.

The archipelago has only one entirely land-based mammal, reindeer. Some mammals live on both the land and sea, such as the Arctic fox and polar bear. The remainder depend entirely on the sea: walrus and the bearded, harp, and ringed seals. In summer, the warming influence of the Gulf Stream brings out the typical tundra vegetation of mosses and lichens, but also 250 species of fungi, seven species of ferns, and 164 types of flowering plants.

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