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Istill hold onto a gauzy, little-boy memory of the evening when my mother beckoned me onto the front steps of our home in Northern New Jersey. "You'll want to see this," she said in a half-whisper. I stepped outside and there, swirling in the night sky, was a dance of green lights unlike anything I had ever seen.
We stood there, in total peace, watching the lights shimmer for a few minutes. I was about 8, and I remember thinking, "The sky is definitely not supposed to look like this."
That was my first and last encounter with the Northern Lights, or aurora borealis. But now, it's on my bucket list, thanks to a number of affordable cruises to points north, where your chances of encountering the Lights are much greater than lazing away on the front steps of your house in Bergen County, NJ.
Certainly, it's possible to see the Lights on a cruise to Alaska with Celebrity, Holland America, Silversea or Princess, or on a trip to Quebec. But if you're after the perfect aurora borealis, take a look at the visual list above and let me introduce you to a great group of folks at a cruise line with a fun-to-pronounce name: Hurtigruten.
The Northern Lights — caused by the interaction between a stream of charged particles escaping the sun and our planet's magnetic field, if you like science with your visual poetry — can be seen from mid-September to mid-March each year. These cruise excursions book up fast, so your best bet is spring, fall or winter of 2016. Alas, the aurora borealis doesn't do its dance during the summer.
You'll need to be a have a bit of an intrepid streak, since this would be an adventure cruise to arctic climes. Most likely Norway, or possibly Iceland or Greenland.
If you choose a Hurtigruten sailing, “We do excursions by snowmobile and park in the middle of a beautiful field at night and take a look,” Gordon Dirker, the company's new managing director-North America, tells me. If the Lights appear late at night when you’re on the ship, the captain will make an announcement to those who want to be alerted.
Eleven Hurtigruten ships — Nordlys, Lofoten, Midnatsol, Richard With, Trollfjord, Finnmarken, Kong Harald, Nordkapp, Polarlys, Nordnorge and Vesteralen — all ply the coast of Norway, and all have had numerous aurora sightings. The far northern parts of Norway, from Tromsø (setting for the TV documentary "In the Land of the Northern Lights") to Honningsvag to Kirkenes, offer your best bets to catch the Lights, not to mention Norway's scenic ports and spectacular fjords during the daytime.
Call or email a Cruiseable travel professional and we'll set you up.
If you go, drop me a line and tell me if it's as otherwordly as my boyhood memory suggests. If you've seen the Lights, share a photo, I'd love to see!