Northern Lights Cruise: Reasons to Experience the Breathtaking Northern Lights and Arctic Adventures

Northern Lights Cruise: Most people associate sunshine and poolside cocktails with tiny umbrellas when they think of winter cruises. Additionally, a winter cruise gives many individuals the chance to travel to a warmer destination for some sun-soaked relaxation in the absence of the bitter cold and snow of the winter months.

But a Northern Lights cruise isn’t like the others; instead of sunny beaches and poolside cocktails, it sails straight into the bitter cold of northern Norway, where parkas and hot toddies are the norm.

While lines such as Hurtigruten have long provided winter cruises along Norway’s untamed coast, many cruisers may argue that Viking is mostly responsible for popularizing the Northern Lights sailing experience. Viking has committed one ship per year to the run, taking an exciting route from January to March between Tilbury, England, and Bergen, Norway.

Cruise Critic reserved a trip aboard Viking Venus to learn more about what makes these cold-weather cruises unique and why travellers keep returning to this kind of pseudo-expedition cruise experience.

An Expedition Cruise is What a Winter Cruise to Norway is

Winter Cruise to Norway

Our early February sailing down the Norwegian coast may not have qualified as an expedition event, but it certainly attracted the hearty adventure set. Travelers wore expedition jackets, with patches and emblems from trips to Antarctica and the Far North, from companies like Viking, Silversea, Seabourn, and Lindblad Expeditions. They carried the bulky winter equipment of seasoned contemporary polar explorers together with hiking boots, Nordic walking sticks, crampons, and other accessories.

It makes sense—a winter voyage up the choppy Norwegian coast is not for the timid. Due to severe weather, we had to drastically alter our plan and spend two days sailing via five Viking-arranged charter aircraft, arriving in Tromso instead of Tilbury. Heavy snowfall was observed off the Lofoten Islands, while record-low temperatures in Alta that exceeded -30 degrees Celsius were observed.

These sailings demand a certain level of adventure, which is precisely why people love these quasi-expedition cruises so much. Because most trips take place in the late evening, travellers often rise late, have leisurely breakfasts and afternoons, and then depart again as the sun sets.

Of course, the main draw for the 930 guests who reserved a spot on our Viking Venus cruise through Norway was the possibility of seeing the Northern Lights.

When the weather gets colder and the skies are bright in the winter, one can frequently see the Aurora Borealis, sometimes even vividly. And throughout the entire journey, people felt that electrifying thrill of expectation.

Every facet of travelers’ opportunity to view the Aurora Borealis has been manipulated. Their phones are equipped with apps that notify them when the Northern Lights are expected to show. Other applications monitor a wide range of topics, including the local weather and the frequently choppy North Sea that Viking Venus had to sail through to arrive at both our scheduled and unscheduled stops.

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Viking acknowledges the fascination with the Northern Lights and takes it a step further. An interactive message that appears on passengers’ televisions in their staterooms gives them the option to accept or reject notifications from the navigation bridge when “The Lights,” as they are swiftly dubbed onboard, appear.

That means that if the Aurora Borealis appears, Viking will notify you at any time of day, including in the middle of the night.

Aurora Borealis

Aurora Borealis

Naturally, the possibility of witnessing the Aurora Borealis is hindered by another unpredictably changing factor: the Norwegian winter. However, the winter also develops into a character as strong as the Aurora Borealis, which gives travelers even more incentive to embark on these daring journeys.

We sailed through blizzards, explored in the snow, hid from the rain, warmed up near fires in remote locations to avoid the wind chill, and embraced the polar darkness that is practically omnipresent during our 12-day “In Search of the Northern Lights” itinerary aboard Viking Venus.

For example, the forecast for Alta was for no wind or snow, but on our first evening, we had up to three hours of heavy snowfall, followed by winds of up to forty kilometers per hour, which put the windchill factor through the roof.

When you schedule your trips to see the Northern Lights, dogsledding, snowmobiling, or sailing on a smaller boat, you never know what the weather will hold. Furthermore, these outings will typically run rain or shine, overcast or not.

It could be easy to complain about the price of the trips or the absence of “The Lights” on overcast evenings. However, we found the experience of being outside in the far corners of Arctic Norway during a snowstorm to be just as enjoyable.

Then, some trips are always enjoyable. For example, we were able to take the Arctic Train from Narvik, Norway to the Swedish border, and we participated in a traditional Lavvu tent cultural event.

Cruise Ship Is Exceptionally Cozy

Cruise Ship Is Exceptionally Cozy

There’s nothing like coming back to your ship’s cozy interior after you’ve been outside and chilled to death. Viking Venus gleamed at every port like a lighthouse in the night. Before the passengers even reboard, the crew lit a path to the ship with electric lights to create the cozy atmosphere known as “hygge” in Scandinavia.

Viking’s crew was waiting with hot cocoa and hot toddies to warm passengers up when they braved the frigid winds that swirled around the steel gangway and finally entered the ship’s interior.

This trip has a distinct vibe than others because most of the exterior decks are still blanketed in snow and empty, with guests choosing the ship’s warmth over the allure of the open decks. A popular spot to warm up after a chilly day on land is the Thermal Suite and Hydrotherapy Pool at the LivNordic Spa on Deck 1, which is free of charge for all travellers.

And as people move away from the coolness that permeates The Living Room atrium on Deck 1 due to the open shell door to the outside world, the Explorers’ Lounge, with its two floors of glass facing the ship’s bow, becomes the de-facto spot to mingle.

Like other ships visiting Norway’s most remote regions in the winter, Viking Venus’s life has a distinct feel about it. By day, people read and unwind. Pre-dinner hours are when bars are busiest as patrons try to ward off the chill with a belt of scotch or, in Viking’s case, perhaps some Norwegian aquavit. In dining rooms, coats, hats, gloves, and cameras become standard equipment.

Passengers are prepared to welcome “The Lights,” which could materialize at any moment.

Best routes to show the wonders of winter

Best routes to show the wonders of winter in Northern Lights Cruise

Of course, it’s often easy to forget that this is, at its core, a trip to Norway because there is so much attention focused on the Aurora Borealis. Norway, known for its summertime splendor, is also stunning in the winter, with snow-covered fjords and gentle, diffused sunlight during the few hours the sun shines.

Norway’s ports are frequently enveloped in a blue-tinged state known as “civil twilight,” which is a blend of daylight and darkness. Towns are illuminated by streetlamps, floodlights, and the warm, inviting lights of residences and businesses as the sun sets and darkness finally sets.

If green is Norway’s predominant summer color, then white, grey, and blue make up the country’s winter environment, which is reminiscent of a storybook landscape rather than the untamed arctic regions.

excursions under the Northern Lights provide an amazing contrast to summertime Norway excursions. Even though it’s the same nation, what you can do on land is very different. Prepare to celebrate the season by heading into the backcountry on a snowmobile ride, snuggling up to a dogsled, or staying in Sami tents in the forest. You can glamp in an ice hotel or spend the night in a tent; both are very unique experiences that must be had.

There’s Always an Adventure for you in Northern Lights Cruise

There's Always an Adventure for you

The North Sea is dangerous during the winter, so forget about the Drake Passage. For the majority of their open-water voyage, which occurs outside of Norway’s protected inlets and passageways, passengers may anticipate, at the very least, 10-foot seas and nearly gale winds.

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The oceans can often be considerably more dangerous, with waves ranging from 20 to 30 feet and winds from a gale to a hurricane. When conditions worsen, ships begin to seek shelter. This is precisely what happened to Viking Venus on the voyage that preceded ours, when the ship sought refuge in Tromso for six straight days in order to escape waves that surged to over 60 feet and winds that nearly reached hurricane strength during the worst winter storm to hit Norway in thirty years.

Northern Lights Cruise

Naturally, the stated schedule then becomes, in the words of an expedition leader I once met, “The Plan from Which to Deviate.” Every port of stop on your schedule for the Northern Lights should have an asterisk next to it. If you plan your own separate tours, proceed with caution since arrival and departure dates are subject to vary according on the weather, and your ports of call may be moved, switched, or canceled completely.

Due to the delays on the previous journey, the timetable for our own trip was completely rearranged, and new stops were added in Alesund, Norway, and Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England. We were supposed to arrive in Alta at noon, but we arrived at 7:30 a.m. Part of the adventure is not knowing how the weather will affect the timetable; you never know what will happen.

Ultimately, a wintertime Northern Lights cruise in Norway is exactly that—an unforgettable experience.

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