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Scuba diving is not just about exploring tropical dive sites where the water is warm and wearing thin exposure suits is always an option. Diving is also about exploring the polar regions like the Arctic and Antarctic. If you can embrace the cold, you’ll discover sights unseen and an underwater world that dazzles like nowhere else.
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Diving in the Arctic vs. Antarctic
Located in the frigid zones of the north and south pole, the polar region is best represented by the Arctic and the Antarctic. Although predominantly having very cold weather and located in the same region, there is a big difference between the Arctic and the Antarctic.
The Arctic is an ocean that is surrounded by land while the Antarctic is a frigid landmass surrounded by water. You also have to take note that the Antarctic, ranging from -12 to -62°C (10 to -80°F), is colder than the Arctic which only ranges from 13°C to -43°C (55 to -45°F). With this, it is not just recommended, but you are required to wear a drysuit to keep you warm and prevent body heat loss which can lead to hypothermia. Despite exposing yourself in chilling cold waters, diving in the Arctic and the Antarctic will reward you by interacting with a different set of marine life that only thrives in this part of the world. Just don’t expect to see vibrant coral reefs.
Booking with a liveaboard vessel is the only way to go diving in the Arctic and the Antarctic. There are no hotels or any sort of land-based accommodation in the polar region and take note that the nearest landmass that has basic facilities is 700 kilometers (430 miles) away.
If you want to explore these remote corners of the world, these liveaboard trips offer scuba diving adventures, snorkeling trips or nature cruise.
The Best Arctic and Antarctic Liveaboard Trips: At a Glance
Year of Commission: 1976 (renovated 2009) Capacity: 116 guests Area of Operation: Arctic, Antarctic, Iceland, Norway, and Argentina
Formerly named Hr. Ms. Tydeman, the Plancius is an 89 meter (292 feet) long former oceanographic research vessel for the Royal Dutch Navy that has been fully refurbished to become a liveaboard vessel that has the capability to navigate in waters filled with loose ice pack. It has 53 cabins that can accommodate up to 116 guests where your room choices includes the Quadruple porthole cabins, the Triple porthole cabins, the Twin porthole cabins, the Twin cabins with windows, the Twin Deluxe cabins, and the Twin Superior cabins. It has onboard amenities like the main saloon, a restaurant, lecture room, observation lounge and an open deck space with full walk-around capabilities giving you a panoramic view of the surrounding frigid seas.
On top of sailing the North and South Poles, the Plancius also drops by in Iceland, Norway and Argentina. The itinerary usually involves a 9 to 12-day journey towards the polar region where you can do an average of 10 dives during the trip and see fur seals, leopard seals and penguins. When not diving, you can spend time at the viewing deck spotting for whales and polar bears walking on thick ice.
Year of Commission: 1989 Capacity: 116 guests Area of Operation: Arctic, Antarctic, Iceland, Norway and Argentina
Built in Poland and formerly named Marina Svetaeva, the Ortelius was a Special Purpose Vessel for the Russian Academy of Science. Considered as an ice-strengthened vessel, the Ortelius is now a 91 meter (299 feet) long rugged liveaboard vessel that can able to navigate in the frigid conditions of the Arctic and the Antarctic. It has 53 cabins that can accommodate up to 116 guests where your room choices includes the Quadruple cabins with Bunk beds, the Triple Porthole cabins with Bunk beds, the Twin Porthole cabins with 2 single lower berths, the Twin cabins with Windows and 2 single lower berths, the Twin Deluxe cabins with Windows and 2 single lower berths and the Superior cabins with double beds. Its onboard amenities includes the main saloon, 2 restaurants, a bar, a lecture room and a large viewing deck which is considered to be the perfect spot to see whales and polar bears in their hunting mode.
The itinerary of the Ortelius usually involves a 7 to 14-day journey dropping by in Iceland, Norway and Argentina en route towards the Arctic and the Antarctic. Your entire polar region journey will take you to do 10 to 17 shallow dives ranging from 10 to 20 meters (33 to 66 feet) deep and is often located next or under an ice flow.
Year of Commission: 1991 Capacity: 12 guests Area of Operation: Arctic and Norway
Sula is a former 27 meter (89 feet) long fishing boat that is fully refurbished to become a liveaboard vessel. It has 6 cabins that can accommodate up to 12 guests where all their rooms are classified as twin cabins. It has onboard amenities like the main saloon, a viewing deck and a dining area that serves freshly cooked food prepared by their in-house chef.
Specializing in wildlife encounters, Sula is popular with their Orca Expedition. From October to February, it will set sail on a 3 to 5-day journey at the Fjords of Norway en route to the Arctic Sea just in time for the arrival of killer whales that has been attracted to a large shoal of herring which will become their main diet for the season. Aside from orcas, you will be exploring kelp forests, shipwrecks and offshore sites where you can see and interact with belugas and the largest living animal on the planet – the blue whales.
Booking with Sula will not just take you to go diving in the polar region, but will also have the chance to sign-up for the Under Sea Soft Encounter Alliance Certification Course.
Year of Commission: 2019 Capacity: 176 guests Area of Operation: Arctic, Norway and Greenland
The Hondius is a 108 meter (354 feet) long cruise ship that offers liveaboard expedition in the Polar regions. It has 83 cabins that can accommodate up to 176 guests where your room choices includes the Quadrupole Porthole Cabins, the Triple Porthole Cabins, the Twin Porthole Cabins, the Twin Deluxe Cabins, the Superior Cabins, the Junior Suite and the Grand Suite with a private balcony. Its onboard amenities includes the spacious saloon, a library, a fully stocked bar, a lecture room and a dining area that serves freshly cooked foods.
The itinerary of this cruise ship includes an 8 to 10-day journey towards Svalbard in Norway, Greenland and around the Arctic circle. Take note that the Hondius only caters to wildlife tours and snorkeling trips in the Arctic. Nonetheless, this trip will allow you to see the beauty of the Arctic like the iconic glaciers of Greenland and the polar bears hunting along Svalbard shore in Norway.
Year of Commission: 2009 Capacity: 134 guests Area of Operation: Arctic and Norway
The Expedition is a 104 meter (341 feet) long liveaboard vessel that offers wildlife and snorkeling trips to Norway and the rest of the Arctic Circle. It has 59 cabins that can accommodate up to 134 guests where your room choices includes the Quad Cabins, the Triple Cabins, the Twin Cabins and the Suite Cabins. It has customized onboard amenities like a library that is called Lonely Planet, a gym, a sauna, a bar that is named the Polar Bear Pub and a dining area that is called the Albatross Dining Room where it serves a diverse array of gourmet dishes.
From June to September, the Expedition will set sail on an 8 to 17-day journey towards the Norwegian Fjords en route to the Arctic Circle. Coined as the “Realm of the Polar Bear” trip, you will explore massive ice sheets and search for polar bears. You can also go snorkeling with whales under the midnight sun.
Year of Commission: 1994 (renovated 2011) Capacity: 33 guests Area of Operation: Arctic and Norway
The Rembrandt van Rijn is a century-old 3-masted ship that previously serves as a herring lugger. After a complete refurbishment and serving tourists in the Netherlands and the Galapagos, she is now a 56 meter (184 feet) long liveaboard vessel that specializes in sailing the Arctic Ocean. It has 16 cabins that can accommodate up to 33 guests where your room choices includes the Triple Cabins and the Twin Cabins. It has onboard amenities like a bar, a reading area, a viewing deck and a spacious dining area that serves freshly cooked foods served in buffet style.
Its itinerary includes a 4 to 12-day journey towards Spitsbergen in Norway en route to the Arctic Circle. This is a non-diving trip, and instead, it specializes in wildlife and guided snorkeling trips. They also offer land-based activities like snowshoeing, ice hiking or ski-mountaineering. Watching the Aurora Borealis on the view deck of the vessel is often what you will do once you get back onboard.
Year of Commission: 1910 (renovated 1991) Capacity: 20 guests Area of Operation: Arctic and Norway
The Noorderlicht is a 46 meter (151 feet) 2-masted schooner that offers adventure cruises in Norway and the Arctic. It has 10 bunk bed cabins that can accommodate up to 20 guests with onboard amenities like an indoor bar, a lounge, a viewing deck where it has an unobstructed view of the northern lights of Aurora Borealis and a dining area that serves freshly-cooked foods.
Its itinerary involves an 8 or 16-day journey towards the northern shores of Norway and go whale watching or set foot at Spitsbergen and go snowshoeing. It also features polar wildlife interaction where you can see polar bears, reindeer, seals, walrus and the Arctic tern.
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