I could not have been more wrong! Just six hours after waving goodbye to London, I emerged into the midnight sun to be greeted by a pod of Beluga whales happily playing in the Arctic waters of Spitsbergen.
No jetlag, no hanging onto your bunk across the Drake Passage, just pure, wild, intoxicating beauty.
Courtesy of One Ocean Expeditions, my home for the next eight days was the comfortable and reassuringly sturdy Akademik Ioffe. I lost count of the crew members aboard the ship ready to attend to my every need, while a highly energetic team of experts stirred an interest in geology I never knew I had and willingly answered all my questions about the turbulent love lives of polar bears.
Just a short passage north of Longyearbyen and we were truly immersed in the majesty of the Arctic. Calving glaciers, icebergs and snow-capped mountains surrounded us on all sides and were the theater for a wildlife show that was spectacular and enchanting in equal measure.
The birders among us were in ornithological heaven from touchdown, but those with more obvious interests did not have to wait to long for the first polar bear to take to the stage. Although our guide ordered a calm but rapid retreat once this magnificent creature started to pad down the beach towards us sniffing the air as he went, we were able to spend the next few hours observing his daily routine from the safety of the zodiacs.
A similar experience with a mother and her two cubs a few days later was animal therapy at its very finest and my own particular highlight of the week, but many an enjoyable hour was spent socialising with the walruses, whale spotting and bird watching - surprising how it caught on even with those who claimed little interest! And what a joy to forget about mobile phones and emails.
A rare phenomenon today, but it was simply not an option until we returned to Longyearbyen for the flight home and the Arctic's majestic silence was sadly shattered by an orchestra of ringtones!
When to go?
The Arctic season is short, from June through September. Although expeditions do not attract quite the same demand as those to Antarctica, the choices are limited so it is still important to plan well ahead. Pack ice can be a problem in early June, so July and August are by far the most popular months. The midnight sun remains until August 20th at the earliest.
The Arctic can be broadly divided into two distinct areas - the Canadian Arctic to the west coast of Greenland and the Scandanavian Arctic to the east coast of Greenland. One Ocean’s sister ships, Akademiks Ioffe and Sergey Vavilov, winter in Antarctica but move up to the Arctic for the summer and share a variety of expeditions that range from an introductory 8-day circumnavigation of Spitsbergen to a more exhaustive 17-day exploration of Greenland and the Canadian Arctic.
Read more about vacations to the Arctic and Antarctica.