The Spirit of Svalbard

From humble beginnings as a passenger ferry in Portugal, the MS Spitsbergen is now a pioneer of the polar regions.

LEAH GLYNN

5 min read

A second chance

Things could have turned out very differently for the MS Spitsbergen. Originally constructed in 2009 at Estaleiro Navais de Viana do Castelo – a medium-sized shipyard in Portugal – it was destined for a life ferrying passengers between islands in the Azores. However, after financial difficulties halted this process, it was given a second chance and purchased by Hurtigruten Expeditions as a replacement for the MS Midnatsol.

With Captain Oddleif Engvik and Captain Ole Johan Andreassen at the helm, the as-yet-unnamed ship sailed from Portugal to Landskrona in Sweden, and then onto Fosen Yard in Norway, where it underwent a complete reconstruction and refurbishment to become the MS Spitsbergen – a ship that is beloved by all who travel aboard it.

The MS Spitsbergen cuts through ice at the Monaco glacier on Svalbard. Photo: Genna Roland.

Svalbard's finest

Named in honour of the Svalbard archipelago and its largest island, the MS Spitsbergen was christened with its moniker following a worldwide competition that saw 15,000 suggestions submitted.

Spitsbergen is a destination that has long been connected with Hurtigruten Expeditions, with voyages to the isolated isle taking place as far back as 1896. At that time, Hurtigruten founder Richard With had just ventured into Arctic tourism and built a hotel on this far-north Norwegian outpost, and the Hammerfest to Spitsbergen voyage soon came to be known as the ‘Sports Route’. It was serviced by the mighty DS Lofoten steamship.

Close up of the MS Spitsbergen in Burgerbukta, Svalbard. Photo: Stefan Dall.

Close up of the MS Spitsbergen in Burgerbukta, Svalbard. Photo: Stefan Dall.

A shore excursion in Blomsterbukta, Greenland allows guests to admire the MS Spitsbergen from afar. Photo: Chelsea Claus.

A shore excursion in Blomsterbukta, Greenland allows guests to admire the MS Spitsbergen from afar. Photo: Chelsea Claus.

The MS Spitsbergen officially joined the Hurtigruten Expeditions fleet in the summer of 2016, operating along the Norwegian coastline from September to May, and exploring further polar waters – like Greenland, Iceland and Canada – during the rest of the year. The ship’s manoeuvrability and optimal size (the MS Spitsbergen is just 101 metres in length) makes it the ideal craft for navigating the narrow fjords of these Arctic regions, and it allows guests to get even closer to nature and the wildlife.

Like all Hurtigruten Expeditions ships, the MS Spitsbergen is a modern, environmentally progressive vessel, but there are plans to keep making improvements in an effort to reduce emissions and fuel consumption.

MS Spitsbergen in Svalbard
Life on the water

Boasting a fresh, Scandi-esque vibe (think lots of blonde wood detailing, clean lines and a sea-inspired colour palette) the interior of the MS Spitsbergen has been designed by renowned marine architecture firm, Tillberg of Sweden, and offers a sense of contemporary luxury to guests from the moment they step aboard.

With just 90 cabins spread across three decks, there's a true small ship feeling aboard the MS Spitsbergen. The Expedition Suite is the most opulent option available, and comes complete with complimentary bathrobes and slippers, while the budget-friendly Polar Inside rooms are equipped with private bathrooms and cosy beds.

Relax by the fireplace in the Explorer Bar of MS Spitsbergen. Photo: Madis Särglepp

Relax by the fireplace in the Explorer Bar of MS Spitsbergen. Photo: Madis Särglepp

On Board

When it comes to dining, there are two eateries to choose from: Torget, the main space for breakfast, lunch and a buffet-style dinner, and Byrgga, a more relaxed, informal bistro serving snacks and small meals throughout the day. Guests will eat like true Norwegian locals aboard the MS Spitsbergen, with fresh produce (usually sourced from the port that was just visited) a highlight of the ever-changing menu.

There is also a fitness room, sauna and hot tub, while the panoramic observation deck is the place to be for 270-degree views of the passing landscape. And, of course, there are daily lectures and presentations by an impressive team of onboard experts, including naturalists, geologists and scientists, plus an exciting schedule of shore and Zodiac excursions.

The main aim of the MS Spitsbergen is a simple one: to ensure every guest experience is a memorable one. And when up-close animal encounters, night-time astronomy discussions, exploring small communities and feasting on world-class produce are part of the daily itinerary, delivering on that promise is all but guaranteed.

Discover a voyage beyond the ordinary.