There are no regular whatsoever public traffic routes to Franz-Josef-Land, neither by aircraft nor by supply vessel or ferry. Same on shore: no touristic special infrastructure. The two operational stations are supplied directly by the state institutions in charge. The Russian authorities are extremely restrictive regarding permissions for visits, even for scientists and media representatives. Since the end of the Soviet Union, only very few private expeditions managed after often years of striving and with good contacts, to be allowed to visit the islands.
Today, the only touristic option is to visit the archipelago on an expedition cruise. There, routes and land excursions are highly dependent on the actual ice and weather conditions - requiring a high degree of flexibility from everybody involved.
Very limited choice: The North Pole cruises on nuclear icebreakers often touch Franz-Josef-Land briefly on the route up and/or down to avoid 13 days of water, ice, ice and water only.
Apart from this, expedition cruises which spend several days in the remote archipelago are offered occasionally, but not every year. In 2007 and 2009 there were no such cruises at all. In 2008, two cruises were offered, which also were carried through successfully. Of the voyages offered in 2005 and 2006, some of the offered voyages had to be cancelled due to insufficient bookings, others could be done. This overview over the last year shows that Franz-Josef-Land definitely is quite an unusual destination, even compared to other arctic regions.
Furthermore, normally only russian vessels and companies get permission to arrange tours to Franz-Josef-Land, who then cooperate with international partners in marketing.
Start and end: Kirkenes/Murmansk or Spitsbergen. Ideal in most cases would be a start and end in Longyearbyen/Spitsbergen with its good flight connections, because from there, Franz-Josef-Land can be reached under favourable ice and weather conditions without a single pure sea day. However, this version is often hindered by Russian border transit formalities, which cause a start from Kirkenes/Murmansk to allow Russian passport and visa control.
Considerable price differences: Franz-Josef-Land voyages are much more expensive than cruises for instance in Spitsbergen with similarly big vessels - for several reasons. First of all, long distances have to be covered, partly with ice, requiring several days of extra charter costs and higher fuel consumption. Furthermore, all basic costs of a season have to be covered by only 1-3 voyages, against a long season with many cruise departures for instance in Spitsbergen or Greenland.
Also between Franz-Josef-Land cruises, there can be obvious price differences. One aspect are the different potentials of the vessel itself: A powerful big icebreaker is considerably more expensive in operation than a ship with lower ice class, but has also more possibilities - limited, though, still by the additional time needed for icebreaking, which may reduce speed dramatically. A further key reason is the availability or absence of helicopters on board, which are a clear extra cost factor, but at the same time increase the efficiency and potential of a voyage considerably: they allow ice reconnaissance flights to choose routes with minimal ice breaking - thus avoiding waste of time and fuel. Furthermore, the helicopter can replace the zodiac for landings in places, which are inaccessible by boat, for instance due to dense drift ice off the beach or too difficult terrain on shore. Without helicopter, the possibilities of a cruise in these waters are more limited, but prices are also lower.
Icebreaking: When booking a voyage on an icebreaker, a number of participants assumes that this automatically includes extensive ice breaking. This can turn out to be a misconception. Icebreakers are used on such voyages to be able to break ice where necessary, but not as a purpose in itself - for this, longer breaking of heavy ice costs much too much time and fuel: in heavy ice, the speed can go down to as little as 1 kilometre per hour inspite the full power of all engines. Apart from lots of extra fuel, the time spent on ice breaking is lacking for example for landings. Though icebreaking is an interesting experience in itself, too, most travellers agree that the time of such an expensive voyage should be used rather on experiencing the destination maximally with as much as possible landings, than spending it on avoidable time in the ice. But where and when necessary, it is highly useful to have a ship with good ice capabilities. In an ice-rich summer, ice navigation will be certainly be repeatedly part of a voyage - in a year with little ice, it may not be necessary. However, even then, the captain and the expedition leader will look out for opportunities fitting into the program without too much deviations to give a demonstration of ice navigation.
If the experience of icebreaking is your main objective, this is possible considerably cheaper for instance on programs offered for this purpose in winter in Finland on the Baltic Sea. There, heavy ice is almost guaranteed, and thereby also lots of icebreaking experience.
Travel period: For most interests in Franz-Josef-Land, departures in August are preferrable: on average less sea ice, and also on shore, snow of last winter has melted away more, making the ground, rocks, vegetation and historic remains visible. Especially the northernmost islands are usually most likely accessible in the later season, but with big variations from year to year. Compared to Spitsbergen, many processes in nature are a bit later in Franz-Josef-Land due to its higher arctic conditions - for instance flowering and breeding.
Early departures by Franz-Josef-Land standards (July) can be more interesting for bird watchers and for those who do want to have more ice, accepting that this might limit the accessibility of parts of the archipelago.
Very early departures, as offered in Spitsbergen (June, early July) are normally not offered for Franz-Josef-Land because of the above mentioned reasons.
Midnightsun is normally inclusive in all Franz-Josef-Land cruises (though possibly obscured by clouds), as its period lasts in high arctic Franz Josef Land almost to the end of August. Still, there are differences: in July, it is still very high in the sky even at midnight, providing full daylight, which is good for instance for telelens shots at any daytime. In August, the sun will be increasingly lower above the horizon in the middle of the night with accordingly less light intensity, but creating the phantastic evening light atmospheres of the high north.
Minimum numbers participants: On all tours, minimum numbers of participants have to be reached - otherwise the tour operators reserve the right of cancelling the arrangement due to insufficient request. In such a case, normally payments done so far by customers will be refunded completely (see details in the booking conditions of the relevant tour operator).
The following offers are sorted by departure date - their order does not imply any ranking or recommendation.
Dates: (from Helsinki, boarding in Murmansk, return vice versa)
19. June - 02. July 2013 (English)
30. June - 13. July 2013 (English)
14. July - 27. July 2013 (English/German)
25. July - 07. August 2013 (English)
Prices: from ca. 24000 USD per person from/to Helsinki (depending on date, included services, agency). Plus USD 1690 for needed charter flights Helsinki - Murmansk - Helsinki.
Participants, languages: International. Languages at least English and partly German. Needed minimum number participants: 75. Maximum: 128 passengers.
Kind of travel: Touristic icebreaker cruise to the North Pole, which may, sufficient time provided (depending on ice conditions in Arctic Ocean) pay a short visit to Franz-Josef-Land on the way up and/or down, with in total maybe 1-3 landings and a total of maybe max. 1.5 days within the archipelago. The remaining 10-11 das on open sea and in the polar ice with lecturing and short celebration at the North Pole.
On these voyages, the focus is clearly on the experience of the powerful icebreaker forcing its way through the ice and on the North Pole, with the short visit to Franz Josef Land as an additional aspect.
Ship: The "50 LET POBEDY" ("50. ANNIVERSARY OF VICTORY") is the newest (commissioned 2007) and strongest vessel in the fleet of Russian nuclear icebreakers, which again has the strongest icebreakers worldwide. In addition on board: 1 big Mi-8 helicopter, 4 Zodiacs (rarely used).
Touristic companies, supporting this website and offering this arrangement for booking: none so far, please send us a
request for newest status.
Dates: possibly 1-2 departures, intended period August to early September 2013. First departure possibly a bit more suited for ice and wildlife, second departure for getting further around and excursions.
Prices: not fixed yet, probably starting from about € 7500 per person.
Participants, languages: Main language English, at least one staff member speaks also German. Required minimum number of participants: 50. Maximum: 100 passengers.
Route: Touristic expedition cruise starting in Longyearbyen (Spitsbergen), landings in southern Spitsbergen and on very rarely visited remote Bear Island, Murmansk (immigration procedures), crossing of the Barents Sea (possibly whales), ca. 1-2 days Novaya Zemlya, 5-6 days Franz Josef Land, end in Murmansk. A second cruise would begin in Murmansk, reversed program, end in Longyearbyen.
Ship: not officially announced, yet. Size in the range of 50-110 passengers, good ice class, sufficient zodiac capacity for simultaneous excursions of all participants. Functional style, like a research vessel, good cabin standard. Focus on many excursions, not on dining and luxury.
Tour operator: N.N. - booking via terra polaris.Booking: get in > contact with terra polaris !
You fly to Spitsbergen, anyway - so this pre-program to the cruise gives you the chance to experience more of Spitsbergen as part of your travel and familiarize with the Arctic before boarding the ship. Having our sister company Spitsbergen Tours as the first travel company registered in Spitsbergen, we can offer you a range of add-on programs, also specially curtailed for your interests.