All Aboard: MS Spitsbergen

 

Following in the wake of classic Viking explorer ships, MS Spitsbergen takes guests to the most remote places to discover their inner explorer.

Hurtigruten’s newest ship, the MS Spitsbergen, is named after the island of Spitsbergen in the breathtaking Svalbard archipelago. She is the perfect size to manoeuvre through polar waters and bring guests up close and personal with beautiful landscapes like that of her namesake.

Write your own adventure saga

On MS Spitsbergen, there is an emphasis on learning and discovery beyond the ordinary. Crew are equipped with expert knowledge and there are daily lectures in geology, history and ornithology. The ship has a photo and optics test centre, a media program and many on board facilities to enable you to make the most of the unique regions of the world you will find yourself in while on the ship.

There are also many outdoor activities on offer for those ready to embrace their adventurous side with camping, hiking and kayaking programs. On various trips, guest expedition staff join the crew to treat our guests to a variety of activities and their wealth of knowledge so that you can write your own Viking saga.

What’s in a name?

Spitsbergen is the Arctic crown of Norway, a jewel in the beautiful Svalbard archipelago. Hurtigruten has a long history of travelling from the mainland to this remote area of Norway, where some of the world’s most unique cultures persist. In keeping with Hurtigruten’s important connection with the Norwegian community, this ship was named after a public competition with over 15,000 entries.

“We find MS Spitsbergen to be a very appropriate name as it ties together our history and present-day Hurtigruten,” says Hurtigruten CEO Daniel Skjeldam. “As early as 1896, Hurtigruten founder and tourism entrepreneur Richard With built a hotel in Spitsbergen and established “The Sports route” with sailings from Hammerfest to Spitsbergen, operated by steamship DS Lofoten. Having built on this heritage, today we are world leading operator of nature-based experiences along the Norwegian coast, in the waters around Antarctica and in the Arctic.”

Expedition cruise at your own pace

Unlike Hurtigruten’s other ships, MS Spitsbergen is not a working ship meaning she does not need to dock at port each night. As a result, guests can spend longer admiring the magnificent fjords and enjoying the daytime activities. From May 2017, guests can sail on MS Spitsbergen to Greenland, Iceland, the Faroe and Shetland Islands, as well as to Arctic Canada. In 2017/2018, MS Spitsbergen will operate expedition style coastal voyages, the ideal choice for those who want to explore the coast in an adventurous way.

spits-2_600x450There is a large observation deck from which guests can look out to the marine life below, including some seldom seen species of birds as well as polar bears and penguins, to name just a few. Deck 6 has a covered observation deck with panoramic windows so that guests can make the most of their gorgeous surrounds, even when relaxing inside. Both the restaurant and bistro also capitalise on the views, so that guests can enjoy beautiful local produce while admiring the environment from which the unique cuisine is derived.

Classic Scandinavian design

spits-1_600x450Although offering many activities for thrill-seeking guests, on the MS Spitsbergen comfort is never sacrificed for adventure. With newly updated interiors, as of 2016, the ship has a fresh colour palette that reflects the ocean surrounds. The design is classically Scandinavian, simple yet comfortable, designed by Tillberg Design of Sweden – the world leader in maritime architecture and interior design. The ship has a number of cabins on offer, catering for all guests, and all the public areas are comfortable and modern.

During her reconstruction in 2016, improvements were made to lower MS Spitsbergen‘s fuel consumption and reduce emissions, meaning she now has a strong environmental profile, in line with Hurtigruten’s ambition to be a world leader in sustainable travel.

 

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Origins of Dog Sledding

 

You’ve booked in your dog sled excursion and you turn up expecting to see a black and white husky with blue eyes and a pink tongue lolling out the side of its mouth, right? Hollywood has definitely trained us novices to think of these dogs, and these dogs only, as huskies.

In reality, the name ‘Alaskan husky’ refers to a mixed breed dog developed in the early 1900s as the ultimate sled dog. The idea that huskies solely have blue eyes and black and white fur is quite a myth – in fact, there is no predominate markings or colourings in the breed. While 20% of huskies eyes are blue, 60% have brown eyes while the last 20% have one blue and one brown.

History of Sled Dogs

Despite the presence of people in the Arctic region for centuries, competitive dog sledding is a relatively new concept. The Sami people and Inuits of the Arctic had a number of dogs that they bred for different purposes and while these Lapphunds were sometimes used for sledding, they were generally more bred to be stocky guard dogs and reindeer herders.

Siberian Huskies today are not only extremely active, energetic and resilient dogs, but they are loving and friendly.

siberianhusky-1_600pxThe Siberian Husky is one of the oldest breeds in the world, part of a family of dogs directly descended from wolves. Used for hunting and reindeer herding, the Chukchi tribe selectively bred these dogs to be agile and strong, and they were attached to a sled side by side in pairs. These dogs were loved and respected by the Chukchi people, sleeping in shelters with families and being fed even in times of famine. They would accompany adults on hunting trips; obey voice commands; or even stay at home to look after young children.

The Alaskan Husky is a cross breed that finds its roots in the Canadian Eskimo Dog, the Alaskan Interior Village Dog, the Siberian Husky and many European hound breeds. In the early 1900s during the Alaskan goldrush, the demand for sled dogs was enormous to carry mail, freight and for recreational racing. Pioneering Europeans had noticed the Mahlemut Eskimos’ large, kind and almost inexhaustible dogs, now known as Alaskan Malamutes. However when Europeans tried to purchase these dogs they invariably failed because of their beloved position in Mahlemut communities.

greenlandhusky-1_600pxThe Greenland husky is a dog bred by Inuits for transportation and hunting in Greenland in the wintertime. During the wintertime, Inuits would rope up 10 to 14 dogs in a fan formation with a clear leader in front of a sledge. As the dogs were often left on isolated islands in summer months to fend for themselves, survival of the fittest ruled and they are now quite difficult to train and aggressive, particularly to other dogs.

Instead, Europeans began to breed their own variation of sled dogs to their purpose. It was this selective breeding that produced the Alaskan Husky, a wiry, less stocky animal that is nevertheless quite strong and resilient to running long distances.

Husky heroes

The Seppala Siberian Sled dogs were developed and then trained by Leonhard Seppala, a Norwegian-American trainer, for the first Roald Amundsen polar expedition and this strain of the breed is still around today. He was also one of the mushers in the famous 1925 serum run to Nome, also known as the Great Race of Mercy, transporting diptheria antitoxin 1085km in 5.5 days – a journey that usually took 25 days. 20 mushers and 150 sled dogs raced through blizzards, suffering from frostbite in the icy winds. This incredible feat is commemorated each year with the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, along the same route of the serum run.

Dogs have also been a huge part of many famous explorations and pioneering expeditions in the Arctic (they have been banned in Antarctica since 1993), acting as the only reliable means of transportation.

Sled Dogs Today

With all of this variation in breeding, the type of dog that will be pulling your sled depends on what country you are in. These are working dogs who are trained from four month old puppies to pull sledges and not a pet or lap dog. Having said that, some of the dogs will love petting and a cuddle – but always remember to check first!

“I highly recommend this to everyone, especially to dog lovers as you get to visit doggy heaven before you go riding!”

The huskies used on Svalbard are friendly and love cuddles, as they are a mix breed of the hardy Greenland dog with the more social Siberian husky. However, the huskies used in Greenland, although often mixed breed, are more independent and less friendly and do not want to be petted by strangers. In Alaska and Russia, Alaskan Malamutes are commonly used in sled dog formations and are kind-natured dogs.

Responsible Mushing

Mush with P.R.I.D.E. (Providing Responsible Information on a Dog’s Environment) is an organisation offering the only internationally recognised industry standard to ensure that Mushing Kennels keep their dogs in a safe and happy environment. Specifically bred to run, these huskies love regular exercise and stick to a strict training schedule and diet. The voluntary standards also include inspection of dog’s living spaces, diet and access to water; their demeanour in the pack and around humans indicating their general well-being and happiness; and responsible breeding programs. Most owners absolutely love and respect their dogs, working everyday to make sure their dogs are well cared for and integrating pups into the pack with light sledges and wheeled carts in the summer months.

Where you can dog sled

Dog sled safaris can range from two hours to five days and are available through Bentours in Finland, Northern Norway, Svalbard and Sweden. An exhilarating experience, a dog sled safari is also a magical way to enjoy the Northern Lights. A dog sled safari excursion can easily be integrated into a Hurtigruten voyage and many of our package holidays feature such safaris. With the assistance of our on ground team we are also able to tailor-make a dog sled safari just for you!

Dark vs. Light: cruising in Northern Norway

 

Norway is beautiful all year round, but there are some especially magical and unique moments that are all down to weather. Or more precisely, the light, or as is this case in November to February in northern Norway, the lack thereof.

Deciding when to go on your epic Arctic adventure is a tough one, so we have composed an easy list of some of the highlights of not each season, but the Arctic phenomena of eternal day or eternal night.

Seeing in the Dark

The Polar Night usually spans from November until February up in Spitsbergen while in Tromsø it lasts for about six weeks over the New Year. The Polar Night comes about because of the inclination of the Earth – when Winter comes around, the Northern Hemisphere is the furthest from the sun and so right up at the Earth’s most northerly tip, the light is very limited.

In truth, not all towns are thrown into complete darkness and the further from the North Pole you are, the more the darkness is that of a Polar Twilight. Instead of complete darkness, places like Tromsø have gorgeous sunset-like colours smeared across the sky for hours on end to the south, while to the north, they sky is a deep ocean blue. In Svalbard there is a period of ‘true’ polar night around Christmas, with the islands thrown into complete darkness for a few weeks.

Highlights of the Polar Night:

  • The Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, are the biggest drawcard of choosing to travel during the Polar Night period – beautiful waves of green, reds and pink light up the sky in nature’s ethereal light show! And with Hurtigruten’s Northern Lights Promise, you are guaranteed to see them from onboard.
  • Experience cultural life with an abundance of events and festivals – there are many festivals on in the winter months such as the Northern Lights Festival in Tromsø in the last week of January; the Tromsø International Film Festival; and for the really active, the Polar Night Half marathon (spikes essential!).
  • Taste delicious and warming local produce – the spawning cod swim in close to shore and feature in many local delicacies, as well as in Hurtigruten’s onboard menus.
  • An abundance of snow adventures – excursions such as dog sledding safaris, snow scooter trips, snow-shoeing, sleigh rides, and the list goes on!
  • All things Christmas – visit one of the many Christmas markets and enjoy classical Norwegian Christmas traditions.

Bath in the Light

In May to August in some parts of Norway, there is very little to no darkness. This is known as the time of the Midnight Sun and presents many wonderful opportunities to travellers. There is no longer enough ice and snow for skiing or sledging up north but instead other wonderful activities are available – without your thick winter jacket on!

Similar to the Polar Night, in the bridging days leading up to complete lightness, the sky is awash with streaks of reds, blues, purples, oranges and it is truly the day that never ends. It is an equally enchanting phenomenon and has inspired artists for years.

“Night was coming on again; the sun just dipped into the sea and rose again, red, refreshed, as if it had been down to drink. I could feel more strangely on those nights than anyone would believe…”

Knut Hamsuns in Pan (1894).

Highlights under the Midnight Sun

  • See wildlife in a different light – the Spring to Summer months are the perfect time to see amazing wildlife, from polar bears in Svalbard, to puffins at the Vesterålen archipelago, to sperm whales all along the Norwegian coast.
  • Cruise into Lofoten – and just try to stop your jaw dropping as you behold the world’s most beautiful archipelago. Photography opportunities abound!
  • Take a midnight hike across a glacier – in Svalbard, where the sun doesn’t set from April until late August, there is an abundance of once-in-a-lifetime excursions to experience. If you’re not afraid of a little cold, you can even take a dip in the ocean.
  • Admire wildflowers blossoming as the tundra comes alive – get out amongst nature on a trekking excursion and marvel at the beautiful colours of summer blooms.
  • Feel the rhythm at one of Norway’s many music festivals – from pop to folk to rock to metal to jazz there are many festivals and cultural events to enjoy. The Olsokdagene is one particularly charming cultural festival. In 1030 C.E., Norway’s first Christian king, St Olav, was killed in battle and so every year on 29 July (and the six days prior) many historical pageants and plays are held.

Embrace your inner explorer all year round

No matter what time of year you visit Norway, onboard a Hurtigruten voyage, you’re guaranteed the chance to embrace your inner explorer!