Secrets of the Russian Arctic

Franz Josef Land

July 18 - August 3, 2019
Leader: Ted Cheeseman + 13
Group Size: 100
Days: 17

Safari Overview

Found deep in the Russian Arctic, explore Franz Josef Land to find polar bears, whales, seals, walruses, and more surrounded by icy scenery. The archipelago was completely unknown to humanity until 1870, and since then has been obscured from the common traveler by veils of ice and politics. Travel when ice retreats enough to allow passage, taking advantage of this season’s window and a newly open political climate to explore the recently declared Russian Arctic National Park. Discover a dynamic environment of shifting sea ice and glaciated islands that create the perfect habitat for seals, polar bears, walrus, sea cliff breeding bird colonies, and the possible rare and elusive bowhead whale. The high Arctic is a polar desert, beautiful and stark, sometimes profoundly inhospitable, sometimes bountiful by turns. This exploratory voyage will take you from Longyearbyen on the west coast of Svalbard, east to Franz Josef Land, and back. Journey into waters where polar adventure and opportunity await!

• Spend eight landing days on one of the planet’s most hidden and seldom visited wildlife destinations, the northernmost archipelago in Eurasia.
• Discover some of the world’s most dense populations of polar bears and walruses.
• Ice, seascape, and landscape photography with dramatic lighting and arctic intensity.
• Participate in citizen science alongside a team of international marine scientists.
• Our 14 leaders are polar specialists, photographers, scientists, and naturalists who will provide lectures, workshops, and guided excursions.
• Optionally, go on guided kayaking excursions (costs extra).

• Begin your journey early on our Finland: Boreal Wilds safaris from July 5 to 17, 2019, where you’ll have exceptional opportunities to photograph wolverines, brown bears, and hopefully gray wolves prior to joining our expedition to Franz Josef Land. View full itineraries for Finland I and Finland II.

Itinerary Updated: April 2019

Ship Info FAQ Print Trip Safari Options
Date Description Lodge Meals
Jul 18 Travel to Norway from one of our Finland safaris - Finland I or Finland II - or from home.
Jul 19 Arrive in Longyearbyen, Svalbard. Hotel in Longyearbyen, Svalbard
Jul 20 Board the Sea Spirit. On board the Sea Spirit B, D
Jul 21 - 22 Sail across the Barents Sea to Franz Josef Land. On board the Sea Spirit B, L, D
Jul 23 - 30 Explore Franz Josef Land’s stark and beautiful polar environment with eight landing days. On board the Sea Spirit B, L, D
Jul 31 - Aug 1 Sail back across the Barents Sea to Svalbard. On board the Sea Spirit B, L, D
Aug 2 Disembark and fly homeward from Longyearbyen. B
Aug 3 Arrive home.

Our Trip Leaders

Detailed Itinerary

A glimpse into our journey

Travel to Norway

Jul 18

Cheesemans' Ecology Safaris supports World Cetacean Alliance

Travel to Norway from one of our Finland safaris - Finland I or Finland II - or from home.

Note: Cheesemans' are members of World Cetacean Alliance and abide by responsible whale watching practices.

Arrive in Longyearbyen, Svalbard

Jul 19

Svalbard Reindeer by Scott Davis

Relax in Longyearbyen for the night, preparing for your expedition.

Sail to Franz Josef Land

Jul 20

Board the Sea Spirit and travel east by northeast into the Barents Sea, hoping for good whale watching conditions.

Sail to Franz Josef Land

Jul 21 - 22

Arctic Fox by Scott Davis

Enjoy a lecture series about Franz Josef Land and the high Arctic environments you are traveling through. North of the Arctic Circle you travel through 24hrs of daylight, a wonderful novelty allowing the possibility of wildlife sightings at any hour. By afternoon of your second day you will be approaching the remote Franz Josef Land archipelago. Before you can land, your initial call is to the Russian polar station Nagurskoye in Cambridge Bay for customs and passport control.

Explore Franz Josef Land

Jul 23 - 30

Zodiac cruising for Polar Bears by Scott Davis

Due to the expeditionary nature of this voyage, specific stops cannot be guaranteed. Flexibility is paramount in expedition travel; the following itinerary depends on the conditions at the time of travel. We strive to land often and stay as long as possible, abiding by the guidelines of minimum impact travel set by AECO, the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators.

Sailing into the waters of Franz Josef Land finds us in a rarified space. Curtained behind ice and political lines for most of human history, almost no compelling place on the planet has received less travelers. Yet you can expect to find iconic arctic wildlife including polar bears, walruses, bowhead whales, and enormous nesting colonies of seabirds. You will sail, Zodiac cruise, and hike around stunning, stark scenery filled with glowing glaciers and illuminated icebergs.

Zodiacs make the ideal platform for exploring cliff-nesting seabird colonies where you find large numbers of thick-billed murres (Brünnich’s guillemots) and black-legged kittiwakes flanked by black guillemots, dovekies, fulmars, and ivory gulls. The timing is perfect for the semi-annual event of every arctic sea cliff bird colony, when young guillemots leap seaward, attempting to evade glaucous gulls on their maiden glides into the sea.

Human exploration of the arctic was not friendly to wildlife. Svalbard was discovered in the 1600’s and immediately set upon by sealers and whalers. Walruses were eradicated and bowhead whales were hunted until they were extremely rare. But what the sealers and whalers did not know was that healthy populations were sheltered 300mi to the east, hidden for another 300 years in Franz Josef Land. Fortunately for us, these refuge populations are where today’s wildlife is now healthiest, repopulating waters that were hunted out. Around Franz Josef Land you can Zodiac cruise near important walrus haul-outs where large numbers of calves are born, and you can reasonably hope to find the elusive bowhead (Greenland) whale.

Potential Zodiac Cruising or Landing Sites:

Alger and Mathilda Island
Discover relics from many expeditions, including the huts of Camp Ziegler built by Baldwin in 1901. Zodiac cruise among illuminated icebergs. Ivory gulls are commonly found here.

Apollonoff and Stolichka Island
Zodiac cruise around the largest known walrus haul-out in the archipelago with up to 1,000 animals, dominated by females and calves, and keep your eyes out for polar bears looking for sick or helpless prey. Common eiders, arctic terns, and small colonies of little auks and glaucous gulls are found in this dramatic landscape they call home.

Bell Island
Walk amid the stacks and grottos of sandstone up to the bell-shaped hill for which the island was named. Travel back in time to Eira Lodge, built in 1881 by Leigh Smith and used as a refuge for several generations of explorers. While Smith was here, his vessel Eira was crushed by ice. We intend to avoid a similar fate. Walk amid three- to ten-thousand-year-old whale bones and see nesting glaucous gulls.

Champ Island
Known for its special geological phenomenon: perfectly round stone spheres from around 1cm to 2m in diameter scattered amid the highest mountains in the archipelago. Claimed to be one of the most beautiful islands, the red, yellow, and green mosses are juxtaposed against the dramatic snow-capped peaks and surrounding glaciers, providing stunning opportunities for photography. Zodiac around the cacophony of bird calls along the cliff known to house nesting black-legged kittiwakes, little auks, and black guillemots.

East of Champ Island, you’ll Zodiac cruise Pondorff’s narrows in an extreme geographic rarity, a narrow stretch of open water between two dramatic glacier fronts that face each other.

Hall Island
At Cape Tegetthoff, photograph the towering dorsal fin shaped cliffs amid seabird colonies.

Hooker Island
Surrounded by glaciers, lava solidified to form Rubini Rock in Tikhaya Bay, named after the opera singer Giovanni Battista Rubini reportedly because of the raucous calls of around 100,000 nesting seabirds along the cliffs, including thick-billed murres (Brünnich’s guillemots), little auks, black-legged kittiwakes, northern fulmars, glaucous gulls, and black guillemots. You may encounter bearded or harp seals, polar bears, and with luck walrus or a bowhead (Greenland) whale.

Tikhaya bay is also home to the first Soviet polar station, Bukhta Tikhaya in operation from 1928 to 1959. In this most sheltered part of Franz Josef Land you can discover 43 of the archipelago’s 55 flowering plant species alongside possible sightings of rock ptarmigan, purple sandpiper or arctic fox.

Jackson Island
Travel back in time to Cape Norvegia to see the remains of Fridtjof Nansen and Hjalmar Johansen’s 1895–1896 wintering site, after their attempt to reach the North Pole. Walk among poppies, saxifrages, buttercups, willows, and beautiful carpets of red moss and watch black-legged kittiwakes flitting around their colony. Polar bears often roam nearby, and you may encounter narwhals and beluga whales near the coast.

Northbrook Island
Cape Flora is home to a few polar expedition bases amid thick carpets of colorful mosses. Leigh Smith spent ten months here after ice crushed and sank his ship in 1880 and where a chance encounter occurred between Frederick George Jackson and Fidtjof Nansen. You’ll visit remnants of the largely intact settlement from the Jackson expedition. You may witness young thick-billed murres (Brünnich’s guillemots) aloft and arctic foxes foraging. You’ll also zodiac cruise in Günther Bay near an important walrus haul-out.

Prince Rudolf Island
If Franz Josef Land is unusually ice free, you will take the opportunity to navigate to Eurasia’s northernmost point, Cape Fligely, a site where the presence of polar bears can make it a challenge to set foot on this unique spot.

Wilczek Island
Discover the remains of the stations of early polar explorers like the Austrians, Weyprecht and Payer, who first discovered Franz Joseph Land in the 19th century.

Sail back to Svalbard

Jul 31 - Aug 1

Atlantic Puffins by Scott Davis

Before you depart Franz Josef Land, you’ll have your final call at the Russian polar station Nagurskoye in Cambridge Bay. Sail westward to Svalbard.

Disembark and fly homeward

Aug 2

Disembark the Sea Spirit in Longyearbyen to catch your flights homeward.

Arrive home

Aug 3

Franz Josef Land

Found deep in the Russian Arctic, explore Franz Josef Land to find polar bears, whales, walruses, and more.

80.799898, 55.247818

Ship Information

Sea Spirit

The Sea Spirit is an “all-suite” luxury vessel built for sailing in ice with an ice-strengthened hull and retractable fin stabilizers. All the cabins have a private, en-suite bathroom, a lounge area, ample storage, and a television with DVD player, plus unobstructed exterior views via portholes, picture windows, or a private balcony. The ship is outfitted with a presentation room for onboard lectures, Internet access, a gym, library, game room, lounge, bar with bartender, and dining lounge with chef-prepared meals.The Sea Spirit carries a fleet of ten Zodiacs for your excursions, driven by our own experienced leaders. Located at the rear of the ship, the Zodiac loading area provides a safe and relatively sheltered place from which to embark on your adventures. The Sea Spirit also carries a fleet of sea kayaks for excursions, weather permitting.

More Information
Sea Spirit with Cheesemans’ Ecology Safaris

Cost & Payments

Costs (in US$)

Type Description Cost Per Person
Triple Triple occupancy, one king-sized or two twin-sized beds plus one twin-sized sofa bed, picture window. On Ocean Deck 3. $9,990
Main Deck Double occupancy, one king-sized or two twin-sized beds, two portholes. On Main Deck 2. $13,550
Classic Double occupancy, one king-sized or two twin-sized beds, picture window. On Ocean Deck 3. $14,550
Superior Double occupancy, one king-sized or two twin-sized beds, picture window. On Club Deck 4. $14,950
Deluxe Double occupancy, one king-sized or two twin-sized beds, private balcony. On Sports Deck 5. $16,850
Premium Double occupancy, one king-sized or two twin-sized beds, private balcony. On Sun Deck 6. $18,550
Owner’s Double occupancy, one king-sized bed plus sofa bed, private deck, living room, game/meeting area, jetted bathtub, BOSE stereo system. On Sun Deck 6. $23,950

Costs are per person depending on cabin type, double occupancy, not including airfare, singles extra. See Included and Not Included sections for more details.

We reserve the right to charge for cost increases that occur between when we set tour prices and the date of travel, for example, changes due to the cost of lodging and transportation. If you are a single traveler and you desire, we will find a roommate for you. If we cannot find you a roommate, we will not charge you a single supplement. If space is available, some cabins can be booked for a single occupant by adding 70% over the listed cabin cost for Main Deck, Classic, and Superior cabins or adding 100% over the listed cabin cost for Deluxe, Premium, and Owner’s cabins. Single rooms are subject to availability.

Please note that we cannot guarantee a specific cabin number. If changes occur, we will do everything in our power to assign a cabin of equal or greater value as the cabin type specified in your reservation. Deck plan, cabin arrangements, and cabin amenities are subject to change by ship operator.

Payment Schedule

Payment Due Date Amount Per Person
Deposit Due now to reserve your space $500
Second May 1, 2018 $4,000
Third November 1, 2018 $4,000
Final February 15, 2019 Remaining balance

Payments will be due based on the schedule above. All reservations require a deposit to confirm reservation of your space. For reservations made after a due date, all past payments will be due with registration. By sending your initial deposit, you agree to accept our payment schedule and cancellation policy as a contract. If payments are still outstanding two weeks after the due date, your space may be forfeited.


Refunds are given depending on the time left before departure according to the following table. The cancellation fee of $300 per person can be applied toward another tour if reserved within six months of the cancelled trip’s departure date. Cancellations are non-transferrable. Consider purchasing trip cancellation insurance that could reimburse your trip costs in the event of your cancellation.

Dates Forfeited Amount per Person
On or before December 14, 2018 $300
December 15, 2018 to January 14, 2019 10% of tour cost
January 15 to February 14, 2019 40% of tour cost
On or after February 15, 2019 100% of tour cost


  • All leaders, transport, park entry fees, landing fees, and permits for all activities unlessdescribed as optional.
  • Accommodations for the nights of July 19 through August 1.
  • Meals from breakfast on July 20 through breakfast on August 2, except meals listed in Not Included section.
  • Transfers from the airport to the hotel on July 19, from the hotel to the ship on July 20, and from the ship to the hotel/airport on August 2.
  • Thirteen nights on board the Sea Spirit.
  • Service taxes and port charges.
  • Coffee and tea throughout the voyage.
  • Trip Materials – information about flights, packing, entry and departure requirements, airport transfers, gratuities, etc.
  • Water-resistant parka – yours to keep.
  • Rubber boots on loan for duration of tour.

Not Included

  • All airfare, airport and departure taxes, and excess baggage fees. Airfare is approximately $1,600 to $2,900 from the USA to Longyearbyen, Svalbard, Norway depending on origin.
  • Guided kayaking, which must be arranged before the expedition (costs $655 per person).
  • Passport and visa fees.
  • Lunch on July 20.
  • We can arrange extra hotel nights for an extra cost.
  • Gratuities – tipping is, of course, discretionary, however we suggest budgeting about $22 to $25 per participant per day for July 20 to August 2 aboard the Sea Spirit (about $308 to $350 total per participant).
  • Emergency medical and evacuation insurance, but you are required to purchase a minimum $150,000 emergency evacuation and repatriation policy. For more information see www.cheesemans.com/travel-insurance
  • Trip cancellation insurance. For more information see www.cheesemans.com/travel-insurance
  • Items of a personal nature such as laundry, telephone calls, medical costs or hospitalization, room service, alcoholic and other beverages, items not on the regular menu, etc. If you have special dietary needs, please indicate them on your Reservation/Release Form.


Franz Josef Land is locked in ice most of the year, but in late summer sees enough open water from the last influence of the Gulf Stream. The climate, consequently, will hover around freezing, sometimes well above on calm, windless days but generally in the range of 25 to 40°F (-5 to 5°C). Penetrating cold is not usually a problem, though be prepared for wind chill and potential wetness from splash while riding in Zodiacs. It is also possible to get wet weather, but often it is with wind, so an umbrella is not usually practical. Waterproof gloves, warm cap, layers of light, loose, warm clothing, and water-repellent outer garments are necessary. Sunscreen is critical. The temperature on the ship is comfortably warm, but you may still wish to dress in layers and keep a warm layer handy in case there is exciting wildlife (such as a polar bear or bowhead whale!) to watch from the ship’s deck.

Fitness Level

You must be fit enough to get into and out of Zodiacs from the rear loading platform on the Sea Spirit. Once ashore, you must be able to get in and out of the Zodiacs including, occasionally, on a rocky coastline. You’ll have opportunities for optional short, relaxed hikes, varying by interest and ability from less than a mile over varied terrain (tundra, flat areas, hilly and grassy areas, or rocky slopes) to longer and more challenging hikes, depending on local conditions. Please contact us if you have any health concerns that may make this trip challenging. Landing details will be given in advance of each landing and you will always have complete freedom to participate or not participate in the landings and nature hikes.


Airfare, except flights listed as included, is not included in trip costs. Detailed logistical information and the contact information for our recommended flight-ticketing agent are included in the Trip Materials we will send you. Please let us know if you are arriving earlier or staying later as we are happy to assist you with any extra overnights that you might want to arrange.

Flights you (or a travel agent) book: Arrive in Longyearbyen, Svalbard (LYR) on July 19 (for most, this means departing home on July 17 or 18). If you are arriving from our Finland safari, see Flights section in that itinerary for arrival information. Depart Longyearbyen, Svalbard (LYR) after 8:00am on August 2.


How can I participate in SCIENCE on board?

In collaboration with the Russian Academy of Sciences Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution, we are very excited to offer an active science program aboard your voyage. Scientists at the Russian Academy of Science recognize that ships are very rare in these waters, and are eager to join us as a ‘platform of opportunity’. Expedition staff scientist Dr. Olga Shpak will direct activities on board, including visual wildlife surveys and wildlife photo identification. We want your participation to contribute to helping the world understand this seldom visited, yet rapidly changing Arctic environment. Of particular interest are sightings of bowhead whales, because no credible population estimate exists for the Franz Josef Land population. Biopsy sampling and individual photo identification may be attempted if conditions are favorable. For walrus – the Franz Josef Land population is very important for repopulating the North Atlantic – you will use the opportunity to document distribution, numbers, sex and age structure of groups on haul-outs, and change of haul-out locations. For polar bears, you may collect sighting information, and biological material may be collected if found on landings.



Don’t let a fear of seasickness scare you away! For all but the most sensitive, seasickness is rarely a problem in this region. Svalbard and Franz Josef Land are on the European continental shelf, limiting the scale of open ocean swell (this is NOT the Drake Passage). The majority of the voyage will be within the sheltered waters of the Franz Josef Land archipelago, but swells are possible during the crossings to and from Franz Josef Land. It’s a good idea to bring medication if you get seasick or are unsure, but you may find that you do not need it after a couple days once you have your “sea legs.” Even those who have experienced seasickness reported that the incredible wildlife and overall experience were well worth the temporary discomfort. Read our suggestions for coping with seasickness and contact us if you have any concerns.



  • Non-smoking policy: We have a strict non-smoking policy. Smoking is not permitted at any time or any place during our tours.
  • Maximum time in nature: We try to spend as much time in nature as possible, sometimes resulting in long days, but giving you a more in-depth experience.
  • Itinerary route: The itinerary route, stops, and plans are subject to change by unforeseen circumstances beyond our control, such as weather or road conditions.
  • Additional forms: For some of our tours, you may be asked to fill out additional forms (e.g., medical questionnaire).
  • Medical conditions and travel risks: Travel to remote places is exciting, but it is important to understand and accept the risks, both medical and logistical. Minor medical problems can usually be treated, but because you are often far from medical facilities, there can be no expectation for immediate medical treatment or evacuation, even in cases of trauma. Anyone with health problems needing close medical supervision should not consider going on this tour. Bring enough medication for the duration of the trip for any chronic medical needs since pharmacies are usually not available. When you send your deposit and signed Reservation/Release Form, you certify to us that you do not knowingly have any physical or other conditions that would create a risk for yourself or for other trip participants.
  • Use of drones/UAVs on tours: Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), AKA drones, are not suitable for use on most Cheesemans’ Ecology expeditions due to logistical constraints and in many cases, local and national laws or regulations. In some cases, such as on our polar voyages, we operate under environmental regulations that ban the use of recreational drones. Do not bring a drone on safari without contacting us first.