Few people in the world have the privilege of visiting the North Pole each year (less than 1,000). So why not be one of them? Pique Travel will be leading an expedition to 90° North in partnership with Jeff Prouty and his team at The Prouty Project (STRETCH 2019).
The voyage will take place in June 2019 aboard 50 Years of Victory, a nuclear-powered Russian ice breaking ship, in conjunction with Quark Expeditions. Here are some commonly asked questions about this epic journey:
What are the dates of the Expedition?
Participants must arrive into Helsinki, Finland on June 12, 2019, where you will spend one night in a hotel (unless you choose to arrive earlier to enjoy the area). The 50 Years of Victory ship (operated by Quark Expeditions) sets sail on June 13 from Murmansk, Russia, and will be at sea until June 24. That day your charter will fly you back to Helsinki, where you will stay one night. The core trip will be from June 12-25, 2019. Pre- and post options should be discussed on an individual basis, as options such as visiting St. Petersburg and staying in Helsinki longer are common extensions.
How do we get from Helsinki onto the ship?
All Quark guests will board a charter flight on June 13 from Helsinki to Murmansk. Once in Murmansk, their ground team will transfer guests directly to the ship. The same logistics apply to the return.
What is Quark Expeditions?
In 1991, Lars Wikander and Mike McDowell were two adventurers with a desire to visit the North Pole. At the time, it was one of the few places they had never been. Once there, they were awestruck by the beauty and majesty of one of the last unspoiled places on earth.
Since that pioneering North Pole voyage in 1991, Quark has taken thousands of curious travelers to corners of the world that earlier generations could only dream of visiting. Along the way, they have become known as leaders in polar exploration, making the Arctic and Antarctica accessible to travelers from 50 countries around the world.
What is the story behind the 50 Years of Victory?
Twenty years in the making, 50 Years of Victory is the first Arktika-class icebreaker to have a spoon-shaped bow, capable of breaking through ice up to 9.2 feet thick! This is the world’s largest, most-powerful nuclear icebreaker. Complete with a helicopter for shore excursions, Victory is a ship unlike any other, with the ability to go where other ships cannot.
The ship is registered to Russia and is operated by a primarily Russian crew (140 crew and staff total; with a maximum of 128 guests). When the ship is not being used by Quark for expeditions to the North Pole, it is often used to break the ice for merchant ship routes.
50 Years of Victory is powered by two nuclear reactors providing 74,000 horsepower. It is able to reach 18 knots in open water. The ship is 150.7 meters long, with a breadth of 30 meters. It has achieved the highest rating possible of an LL1 Ice Class.
What is the ship like on board?
The ship’s cabins are comfortable, but modest. Each cabin has an exterior view and private en-suite bathroom facilities. TVs and DVD players are available in each cabin.
Common areas on board include the Victory Bar, a dining room (all chef-prepared meals are included in the price of the expedition), a room for presentations/lectures and socializing, the Polar Library, a gym, two saunas, a small swimming pool and a clinic for the onboard licensed doctor.
What does the day-by-day itinerary look like?
Quark Expeditions and the crew of the 50 Years of Victory always set a planned itinerary. However, please know that when traveling in extremely remote regions, the expedition staff must allow the sea, the ice and the weather to guide route and itinerary details. This itinerary is a tentative outline of what you’ll experience on this voyage; please be aware that no specific itinerary can be guaranteed.
Day 1 — Helsinki, Finland
Your adventure begins with a one-night stay in Helsinki, Finland’s capital.
Day 2 — Embarkation Day in Murmansk
From Helsinki, you’ll join your fellow passengers on the charter flight to Murmansk, Russia, where you’ll embark on your voyage to the North Pole and get acquainted with 50 Years of Victory, the world’s largest and most powerful icebreaker.
Days 3 to 6 — Northbound in the Arctic Ocean
Being on board Victory and feeling the icebreaker as it crushes through the Arctic pack ice is an experience you’ll never forget. Just as memorable, is boarding the ship’s helicopter for a thrilling aerial view over the ship and the expansive Arctic Ocean. You can expect variable sailing conditions this far north. The crossing from Murmansk to the North Pole can take us anywhere from four to six days depending on the ice conditions. This means you’ll have plenty of time to get to know your shipmates and be treated to lectures and discussions by our Expedition Team while looking out for birdlife. There are also many wonderful amenities on board, such as the ship’s lap pool or basketball court.
Day 7 — 90° North
The anticipation reaches a climax as you arrive at the North Pole! Many travelers find themselves overcome with emotion, while others are in a festive and celebratory mood. Take photos, call your family, wave a flag— just be sure you enjoy your moment at the top! Later, everyone will celebrate with a champagne toast and a barbecue on the ice. If the opportunity allows, you have the option of taking a polar plunge into the icy waters around the North Pole. We’ll also attempt to launch passengers high above the Pole in our hot air balloon to commemorate this great moment (this is highly weather dependent).
Day 8 — Southbound in the Arctic Ocean
On our return voyage, you can sit back and relax. As you head farther south you may get lucky and spot polar bears hunting for seals.
Days 9 and 10 — Franz Josef Land and the Arctic Ocean
This group of 191 islands forms the most northerly archipelago in Eurasia and lies entirely within the Arctic Circle. Here, you’ll explore Cape Flora and discover historic remains from three ill-fated Arctic expeditions. When conditions permit, we’ll launch the Zodiacs and cruise beneath towering cliffs to explore remote seabird colonies. The 50 Years of Victory helicopter will provide aerial sightseeing, and our Zodiacs will transfer you to seldom-visited landing sites.
Days 11 and 12 — Southbound at Sea
Enjoy your time on deck or reminisce with your shipmates and new friends as you cross the Arctic Ocean back to Murmansk. Expedition staff will be on hand to answer any remaining questions and point out wildlife during the return journey.
Day 13 — Disembarkation in Murmansk
Returning to Russia’s most northerly city, it will be time to bid farewell to the 50 Years of Victory. You’ll be transferred to the airport for your charter flight to Helsinki for one final night.
Day 14 — Helsinki, Finland
After breakfast, your official Quark Expeditions journey comes to an end. You can either fly home, or if time allows we do encourage you to spend some extra time exploring Helsinki, Tallinn (the capital of Estonia) and Saint Petersburg.
Are we able to get off the ship during the journey?
There will be designated times where disembarking will be possible. Obviously, once we reach the North Pole we will be out on the ice and off the ship. In addition, the sightseeing helicopter on board will provide an opportunity to get aerial views of the ice breaking activity. There will be planned excursions during the days in the Franz Josef Land archipelago. Weather permitting, you will have the chance to go on Zodiac excursions exploring the waters up close and hopefully do a landing or two to get onto land.
What is there to do on the ship during the days at sea? How can I stay active?
There are many things to do on the ship in addition to the scheduled lectures and activities that will be planned by the staff (and are optional). The library is often a popular place to explore photo books and materials about the exploration and surrounding area.
For those who want activity, there is a gym on board. Volleyball, basketball and ping pong are a few of the options for pick-up games with friends old and new.
As part of STRETCH 2019, there will also be a few planned group activities.
Do guests get to ride the onboard helicopter? And if so, how much does it cost?
Yes, the helicopter is there for guests to enjoy. Sightseeing flights are taken on days out at sea, as weather permits. Seeing the ship break through the ice is a spectacular sight from the air. On average, guests typically enjoy 1-2 flights during the voyage (approximately 15-20 minutes long). The cost to enjoy the helicopter is included in the expedition pricing and are arranged as groups. Private helicopter excursions are available for an additional charge.
I’ve heard there’s a hot air balloon at the site of the North Pole. Are guests allowed to ride in it and is there a cost associated with it?
Yes, and yes. There is a tethered hot air balloon at the site. Guests are allowed to sign up for a ride and are encouraged to do so early in the booking process as they will get priority. However, know that rides are extremely dependent on weather. The cost is approximately $500 per person.
Will we see polar bears?
While seeing bears is not a guarantee, the likelihood is in your favor.
Does the crew/expedition team speak English and other languages?
The entire expedition team will speak English (and some speak a few other languages as well). The crew primarily speaks Russian, but some may speak English as well.
Are there age/mobility/accessibility limitations to the north pole expedition?
The minimum age is required to join the expedition is eight.
As far as accessibility limitations, passengers should be advised that dining room, lecture facilities and the bar are all on different levels of the ship. While there is an elevator on board, it is turned off when at sea. The gangway is long and quite steep. Overall, passengers should be comfortable navigating stairs several times a day.
Are tips and gratuities included?
Yes. All tips for all staff and crew are included in the price of the voyage. If there are individuals you feel went above/beyond, it is your discretion to tip them extra.
Are alcoholic drinks included with dinner?
Yes, non-premium beverages. If you prefer premium beverages, a cost may be associated. You can ask your wait staff during service.
Are soft drinks included, as well as coffee, tea and hot chocolate?
Yes. These refreshments are included during the entire voyage at no additional cost.
What is the weather and temperature like in June?
People may be surprised to hear that the average temperature in June is 30 degrees F. It is among the warmest months of the year (July and August being the others).
Will we have 24-hour daylight?
Yes. The North Pole stays in full sunlight all day long throughout the entire summer (unless there are clouds), which is why the Arctic is called the land of the "Midnight Sun.” In summertime, the sun is always above the horizon at the North Pole, circling the Pole once every day. After the Summer Solstice, the sun starts to sink towards the horizon.
Who owns the North Pole?
Under international law, no country owns the North Pole or the region of the Arctic Ocean surrounding it. The five surrounding Arctic countries, Russian Federation, Canada, Norway, Denmark (via Greenland), and the United States, are limited to a 200-nautical-mile (230 miles) exclusive economic zone around their coasts, and the area beyond that is administered by the International Seabed Authority.
Will a passport be required to travel there? Any special requirements for the passport?
Because you will be traveling internationally to both Finland and Russia, a valid passport is required.
In fact, you will want to be sure your passport is valid for at least six months after your travel date, which means it should not expire before January 11, 2020. If it does, be sure to renew your passport well in advance.
Also, be sure your passport has at least 2 consecutive blank pages in it. This will be used for the visa (see below) and other requirements.
Will a visa be required and if so, how do I obtain one? Russian visas are required for tourists from most countries. This voyage requires double-entry Russian visas. Pique Travel can help you with the process and/or help connect you with the Russian consulate or embassy for details. They do not issue entry visas upon arrival, so you must apply for one well in advance of the departure.
The visa can take up to 30 days to obtain and you will be required to send your passport in with the application. So, be sure to plan ahead if you have other international travel plans. You can also ask Pique Travel about requesting a second passport, which allows you to hold on to one and have one to send in with the application.
The cost for a double-entry visa into Russia will be approximately $150-200.
If I decide to join the STRETCH Expedition 2019 group, how much does it cost and what is the payment requirements?
See the pricing sheet provided specifically for the Prouty Project group. Rates depend on cabin selection and whether or not you will room with another traveler, or prefer to be in your cabin as a solo. Pique Travel and Quark Expeditions have gifted several perks to the group, including a complimentary “transfer package,” which consists of pre- and post hotel stays, charter flights to the ship location and ground transportation to/from the ship. This is valued at $1,895. You will also receive a $150 onboard credit to the Polar Boutique. Your international airfare to/from the US to Helsinki is an additional cost.
As for the payment structure, 20 percent is due at the time of securing your place within the group, which will need to happen by Feb. 2, 2018. The balance is due 120 days prior to departure.
Why is traveling to the North Pole more expensive than other expeditions?
This expedition is certainly one of the most exclusive travel experiences one could ever choose. What makes it unique (and therefore more expensive) is the remote and inaccessible nature of the destination. The 50 Years of Victory is one of the only ships in the world that will be making a few passenger trips to this North Pole in the summer of 2019 and is a costly ship to run. The expedition delivers incredible value with food, service and memories that last a lifetime.
Overall Pricing Considerations
The pricing below includes a complimentary “transfer package” for each person. It is a gift to each participant compliments of Pique Travel and Quark Expeditions! That package, valued at $1,895 per person, includes:
Two nights (pre- and post-expedition) hotel accommodations in Helsinki (by the airport)
Round-trip charter flights from Helsinki to Murmansk
Transfers to and from the ship
It also includes a special gift from Pique Travel of $150 onboard credit to the “Polar Boutique.”
Not included in the pricing is the roundtrip airfare to Helsinki from the US. Budgeting between $1,000-$1,500 for Economy air per person and $3,800-$4,400 for First Class per person should be a reasonable estimation (of course flight rates vary frequently, but Pique Travel can help you navigate the right routing and pricing that fits for you). Flight options and pricing are issued approximately one year before travel date.
Standard Twin Cabin
Standard twin cabins have one lower berth with a curtain and a sofa that is converted to a bed each night. The private facilities are en-suite, with a shower. The exterior window opens. The TV is connected to CCTV system. The DVD player is attached to the TV. You may borrow CDs from the ship’s library.
Double Occupancy (two to a room): $28,695 per person
Single Occupancy (one to a room): $48,782 for the one person
Each Mini Suite has a sitting area with a sofa bed and a bed separated from the sitting area. The private facilities have a shower. The window opens. Amenities include and a TV to a CCTV system and a DVD player.
Double Occupancy (two to a room): $32,795 per person
Single Occupancy (one to a room): $65,590 for the one person
Have more questions?
Linda Bendt, Pique Travel: LindaB@PiqueTravel.com