Why you must cruise the Arctic Circle

Northern Lights - Alta - Norway

Northern lights, delicious food, and breathtaking scenery. Go on a cruise with a difference and experience the Arctic Circle with P&O Cruises.

I first cruised the Arctic Circle in March of 2015. That cruise remains one of my favourites. It was the first time that I’d really experienced the idea of adventure cruising, although it was still far from what you would call a real expedition cruise. It was filled with superb scenery to view while cruising and non-stop activities to enjoy ashore – exactly what you’d expect from something a little more destination focussed.

This time I sailed aboard P&O Cruises’ Oriana on a 12-night cruise from Southampton that included the Norwegian ports of Bergen, Tromso, Alta and Stavanger. We didn’t make it to Bergen because of bad weather, but the stops in Stavanger and Tromso were exciting. Ultimately, however, Alta – a town that sits at the head of the Altafjord and is known for its incredible views of the Northern Lights – was the highlight of the cruise. We docked here for two days – two days packed full of adrenalin-pumping activities.

Our first stop in Alta was at the Northern Lights Husky Centre, where the dogs, though a little on the smelly side, were very sweet and playful. A woman at the centre gave an interesting talk on all things husky and sledding during our visit. The dogs, we heard, spend most of their lives outside, two to a hut, and an incredible amount of time, effort and money goes into the well-being and training of each animal. She also mentioned that they breed brains over beauty, so most of the huskies in Norway are Siberian and not Alaskan – I guessed that means the Siberian dogs are more intelligent.

Frozen lake - Alta - Norway
Frozen Alta Lake

We also visited the Sami camp of Maselt during our time in Alta, where we enjoyed a short reindeer ride across the frozen Alta Lake; that was a wonderful experience and the reindeer seemed quite happy to be stretching their legs and getting some exercise. There was, however, one baby that was separated from the rest. Apparently, he had been a very naughty boy and needed a time out.

The Sami people at Maselt told us all about Sami culture and how they raise their reindeer; they now take mobile phones with them on long treks in case there is an emergency. They also gave us more of an insight into their general way of life, most notably how they eat and share the space in which they live. They offered us traditional reindeer stew while they told us about the Lavvu and how the space between the fire and the back of the Lavvu was sacred and should never be crossed; this is because it is the kitchen area. You’d never walk across your kitchen benches at home, so I suppose this was the same principle. They also mentioned that parents and younger children sit to the left of the tent, while the older children and servants sit to the right. Guests sit at the door.

Husky
Sled Husky dog

Our second husky encounter was at Holmen Husky – and this time we got to experience the thrill of a sled ride! The ride only lasted for around 25 minutes, but it was one of the best things that I have ever experienced. The sled was pulled by six dogs, one of which was a puppy in training, and they loved it. When we set off, the sun was starting to set and halfway through the ride we stopped to simply admire the beauty of the sky turning pink above a frozen lake. There was snow all around us; it was a beautiful sight. Meanwhile the dogs were barking and crying to get running again. It really was a moment of absolute bliss.

Of course, no visit this far north would be complete without a viewing of the Northern Lights – and I can tell you that this was ticked off my bucket list. I found myself standing in a golf course in the middle of the night, being hit in the face by sleet. Great, I thought; just wonderful.

But then everything changed. The sleet stopped, the sky cleared and the stars became visible once again. Within an hour, the sky started to change again and a thin white cloud, moving quite swiftly across the sky, could be seen with the naked eye. This was it. I looked through the lens of my camera and the sky was glowing green. It was breathtaking.

The colours aren’t as visible to the naked eye. To truly appreciate the intensity of the lights you need to look at them through a camera lens. And, with that in mind, here’s another tip: do not leave home on a trip this far north without a tripod AND a camera that allows you to change the shutter speed and exposure.