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If you are planning a cruise to see the Northern Lights, you may be wondering what you need to bring. It definitely isn’t an easy trip to pack for and preparation is key.
I’ve just disembarked a 9 nine-night cruise from the UK where we sailed into the arctic circle. In this post, I will share what I packed, including what I wish I had bought and what I recommend.
The above photo was taken at our first stop in Alesund, Norway.
Northern Lights sightings can not be guaranteed at any time of the year – the cruise will be a great adventure though, whether you see them or not!
You Need to be Prepared
You won’t have much chance of seeing the Northern Lights without the proper clothing. You need to be comfortable standing or sitting on the top deck for hours.
The Northern Lights come and go so quickly, you need to be outside as much as you are able so that you don’t miss them if they do appear.
When packing for a Northern Lights or cold weather cruise in general, your clothing needs to be warm and comfortable.
Northern Lights Essentials:
Warm Waterproof Clothing:
- A BIG coat, with pockets for your hands. Something like this.
- A neck warmer – here’s mine.
- Gloves, hats and a spare of both – my hat, my gloves.
It is essential to bring warm clothing as the temperature up in the Arctic Circle was -12C(Celsius) or 10F (Fahrenheit) when I travelled in March 2023.
Whilst many countries do regularly have these sorts of temperatures in the winter, in Great Britain, particularly in the South of England where I am from, we do not! It was quite a shock to the system!
Pack thermal underwear, jumpers (or sweaters, if you are not from the UK) and a warm jacket to keep you warm.
Gloves, a hat, and a scarf are essential to protect your head, neck and hands from the cold. These were the parts that felt the cold the most.
My Neck Warmer Was The Best Thing I Bought
I had a fleece-lined “neck warmer.” This is a tube-shaped piece of knitwear with a fleece lining that I put on over my head. It was so much better than a scarf that has to be wound round and round your neck.
I was able to pull it right up over my nose and it kept my nose and mouth warm.
This was by far the best thing I bought for the trip, and you can find them here.
It’s probably worth bringing a spare set of gloves and a hat, in case one set gets wet or you lose a glove. It really is FAR too cold to be out without your hands and head covered!
- Waterproof thermal trousers – I wore these on port days and standing on the top deck. You can find them here.
As well as my waterproof coat, I had waterproof trousers with a fleece lining. My boots were also waterproof and they protected me from the rain, snow, and slush.
With hindsight though, the boots weren’t actually very warm! If I was to take this trip again I’d definitely invest in some waterproof ski boots.
When choosing boots for your trip, bear in mind that you will be walking and standing for long periods of time on very cold surfaces. Even with multiple pairs of thermal socks, my feet were still frozen like ice blocks.
It is a good idea to check the weather forecast before you go out on excursions and pack a bag with things you might need to take with you.
Comfortable shoes are a must for any cruise! I packed three pairs for my nine-day holiday.
- A pair of trainers (sneakers or sports shoes) for wearing on the ship.
- A pair of sandals for wearing to dinner in the evenings.
- Waterproof boots with grippy soles for when I got off the ship to explore.
I also took a pair of snow/ice grips for my shoes. These are made of rubber with steel coils and they fit snuggly over your shoes or boots. They stop you from slipping on ice or compacted snow.
They are a relatively cheap way of making your most comfortable shoes or boots even better in the cold weather.
The ones I have can be found on Amazon here. There are some others that have even more spikes on the bottom, but for regular walking around towns and cities, the ones I had were perfect. I didn’t always wear them, but I’d recommend you always have them.
Bring extra thermal socks to keep your feet warm and dry! These are the brand I would wear under my other thermal socks. They’re on Amazon here.
Clothing for Outside Wear
I packed cold-weather clothes for when I was leaving the ship, or going up to the top deck to watch for the Northern Lights. In addition to the things mentioned above I packed:
- 3x Thermal long-sleeved T-shirts – Available here.
- 5x Thermal socks (in addition to regular socks for everyday). They’re on Amazon here.
- 3x Fleeces
- 1x Hoodie (without hood so I could wear a coat over the top)
- 2 Warm coats – a large red coat with fur trimmed hood and another yellow coat for around the ship. Something like this.
- 1x Waterproof trousers that were fleece lined. You can find them here.
- 2x Thermal leggings to wear under trousers – I had the pink ones you’ll find here, but you don’t have to get them in bright pink if you don’t want!
- 1x Trousers, big enough to wear thermal leggings underneath.
- 2x Woolly hat – My hat.
- 2x Thermal gloves – My gloves.
- 1x A woollen neck warmer, with fleece lining – This was the best thing I bought.
CONSIDER PACKING SUNGLASSES! The snow is bright and dazzling, and I found it far more comfortable to wear sunglasses! Mine can be found here.
Clothing for Onboard the Ship
Around the ship, I wore my normal everyday clothing. This included:
- 2x Jeans
- 7x normal T-shirts
- 2x Jumpers or sweaters
- 10x Normal socks and underwear
- 5x Smarter clothing to wear for dinner – dresses, sandals etc. Check your cruise line’s dress code and find out whether you need to “dress up” when onboard.
- 1x Trainers/sneakers
I came home with this cruise with most of the regular t-shirts unworn. If I was to take this cruise again I definitely wouldn’t pack as many. I usually wore the thermal ones when out and dresses when I was on the ship.
I Also Packed:
- Toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste etc)
- Seasickness tablets
- Medicines – pain killers, stomach & headache pills, plasters – normal first aid equipment.
- Adapters – I like to use these worldwide adapters.
I was quite seasick during this cruise. Sailing in the North Sea during the winter months can be rough! Pack whichever seasickness remedies work for you! My favourite brand at the moment is one called Kwells.
Don’t Forget Your Travel Documents
As with any cruise, make sure you bring all necessary travel documents such as your passport, boarding pass, and travel insurance information.
You may also want to bring a copy of your itinerary and any important phone numbers – such as those of the ship or the cruise line.
When taking travel documents off of the ship, it is sensible to keep them in a waterproof pouch or bag to protect them from the weather.
I use this Amazon basics document holder seen below to keep all of my documents together.
A Camera with a Tripod is Very Helpful
Many people take a DSLR camera for taking photos of the Northern Lights. If you are planning to use a DSLR camera, make sure you pack a tripod.
It is impossible to hold your DSLR camera still for long periods of time for long exposures – and the fact that the ship may be moving makes it all the more tricky!
Experts recommend a camera with manual controls for taking Northern Lights photos. This will allow you to adjust the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO to get the perfect shot.
If you use a wide-angle lens with a low aperture you can capture as much of the sky as possible and let in enough light. A lens with image stabilization can also help reduce blur in your photos.
Below is the tech that I brought on the cruise.
- Canon EOS RP Mirrorless Camera Body
- Canon 17-40mm F/4L Lens
- Canon EF to R Mount Adapter
- Canon LP-E17 Battery
- 1TB SanDisk Extreme Pro Portable SSD
- SanDisk 128GB Extreme SD Card
- Apple SD to Lightning Adapter
- Peak Design Camera Wrist Cuff
Having said all that – I took my best photos with my iPhone! You can still get great images without all the expensive camera equipment, you just need to be patient.
Bring Extra Batteries and Battery Packs
Bring extra camera batteries on your northern lights cruise because cold temperatures can drain your battery faster than usual.
Keep these extra batteries in a warm place, like an inside pocket. This will help preserve their charge and you hopefully will never miss any great photo opportunity
If you plan on taking photos on your phone, maybe invest in a battery pack that you can charge in your cabin – and then just plug it into your phone if needed.
Don’t Forget Memory Cards
Make sure you have plenty of memory cards to store all of your photos. You might want to bring smaller capacity cards instead of one large one, in case it gets damaged or corrupted.
I made sure I backed up my photos as soon as I had seen the Northern Lights. I was concerned I might drop or damage my phone and lose everything – it was so cold and my fingers were often completely numb!
I personally don’t pack binoculars but my parents always do when they cruise. Sometimes they just use them to look at the shore and the towns as we sail by, but mostly they use them for cruise ship spotting!
Some cruise lines actually provide binoculars – usually in their suite cabins.
I usually bring some sort reading material for when I am relaxing in the cabin.
On my Northern Lights cruise, I was lucky enough to meet a guest speaker onboard David Nikel.
He is an expert on Norway and the Northern Lights and we became good friends during the cruise. You can buy his book here, and it would make perfect reading material for a cruise such as this.
While it may seem odd to bring swimwear on a northern lights cruise, it can be a good idea!
Many cruise ships have heated pools and hot tubs, which can be a great way to relax and unwind after a day of exploring.
Bolette had a covered swimming pool – and an uncovered aft pool that was also heated. I wasn’t brave enough to use this one though, as there was often snow and Ice on the decks all around!
I Often Bring Snacks
While meals are provided on the cruise, you may want to bring some of your own snacks.
I brought some chocolate, which was handy when I was feeling a little delicate from my seasickness! I certainly didn’t feel well enough to go for a proper, sit-down meal.
I bought some Norwegian versions of “Kit-Kats” in port! (A Kit-Kat bar is a British favourite – a Chocolate and wafer biscuit made up of four “finger” pieces)
It is important to prepare well for a Northern Lights, or any cold weather cruise. With careful planning and packing you can make sure you have everything you need to get the most out of your trip!
We were very lucky and did get to see the northern lights, I hope you do too!
To find out more about this wonderful adventure, watch the video below:
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