Few places remain in the world where you can be assured that nature will provide highlight after unexpected highlight. The majestic fjords of Norway and the stunning glaciers of Arctic Svalbard are just such a wilderness. As your ship sails north among the thousands of islands and skerries of Norway, the scenery suddenly becomes overpoweringly dramatic. 350 miles north of Norway's North Cape lies the archipelago of Svalbard, a wilderness region that few travelers know: towering ice caps, deep fjord mountains and massive sheets of ice and the masters of the Arctic, polar bears. A record 117 bears sighted last season alone ensures that you will "catch" a glimpse of several as well.
Day 1: USA / Bergen, Norway
Fly overnight from Newark to Bergen, Norway (via Copenhagen) aboard SAS Scandinavian Airlines.
Day 2: Bergen, Norway / Embark Ship
Arrive this morning in Bergen, the gateway to the fjordlands, and embark the ship, the National Geographic Explorer. Beautiful Bergen is set on a fjord and known as the city of seven hills. Once an important Hanseatic town, its maritime history is still evident at the exceptional Bryggens Wharf, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. After lunch, enjoy a guided walk of Bryggen before embarking the ship.
Day 3: Nordfjord
Today, enter lovely Nordfjord, included on the itinerary since it is less touristed. Spend the morning at the end of the fjord, where you are transported up the Loen Valley via coach through some incredibly beautiful scenes: a turquoise-colored lake on one side and breathtaking mountains all around. A number of relatively flat trails lead along valleys shaped by massive glaciers (more strenuous hikes are also an option). And, walk to a tongue of the large Briksdal Glacier. This afternoon, be on deck as the ship sails back out of the fjord amid high peaks.
Days 4-5: Exploring the Fjords of Norway
The coast of Central Norway is rugged with mountainous islands and steep-walled fjords. The Expedition Leader and Captain will discuss with the local Norwegian pilots the many landing possibilities where options are many: Zodiac along vertical rock faces, paddle serenely in a deep fjord surrounded by cascading waterfalls, or venture ashore for a hike with the naturalist staff. You can discover a number of special places, including Melfjord. This narrow channel is surrounded by high granite cliffs polished smooth by massive glaciers, and is one of the most spectacular spots on the voyage.
Day 6: Lofoten Islands
The Lofoten Archipelago is an enchanting area of picturesque villages by the sea backed with jagged peaks. By Zodiac, view nesting seabirds: Atlantic puffins, razorbills and guillemots. Later, go ashore on the island of Aa, where cod fishing is still a major part of the economy, and stop at two unusual cod museums. Be on deck to cruise into one of the most famous fjords in Norway, the short yet dramatic Trollfjord, and search the cliffs for Norway's mythical beings: trolls.
Day 7: Tysfjorden
Today you enter Tysfjorden, a long fjord indenting the mainland of Norway so deeply it stretches inland almost to Sweden. This is an area devoid of roads where a few small villages cling along the shore. Explore splendid Hellemobotn by Zodiac, kayak or on foot. The Tysfjord area has numerous side channels, which you can explore later.
Day 8: Tromso
Tromso, the capital of northern Norway, is known as the "Gateway to the Arctic" since so many arctic expeditions originated here. Visit the Arctic Cathedral, whose unique architecture is evocative of snow and icebergs. Its stained glass windows are among the largest in Europe. And visit the Polar Museum, with excellent exhibits on arctic nature and environment.
Day 9: Exploring
Having spent a full week in coastal Norway, you'll now set your sights toward the High Arctic. You'll leave this day open to take advantage of weather conditions or wildlife opportunities, before heading for Bear Island, or maybe venturing immediately north to what wildlife awaits.
Day 10: Bear Island
Zodiac cruises take you around mist-shrouded Bear Island, populated by thousands of fulmars, kittiwakes, guillemost and gulls; this is a birdwatcher's paradise.
Days 11-14: Exploring Svalbard
Svalbard is an archipelago of deep fjords, mountains and massive ice sheets. The focus during your days here is the search for walruses, seals, reindeer, arctic foxes and, of course, polar bears. Shore walks, Zodiac and kayaking adventures bring you up close to mystical landscapes and passing icebergs.
Day 15: Longyearbyen / Disembark / Oslo
Disembark the ship in Longyearbyen and explore the Svalbard Art Gallery and Museum. Then proceed to the airport for a charter flight to Oslo. Check in to the SAS Radisson Airport Hotel for overnight.
Day 16: Oslo / Home
After breakfast, proceed to the airport for a flight to Newark aboard SAS Scandinavian Airlines, or on to other adventures.