If you are looking for the adventure of a lifetime, perhaps you should consider a Northwest Passage cruise. A journey through one of the world’s most pristine areas provides a unique opportunity to experience the region’s history, ecosystem, wildlife, and culture.
What is the Northwest Passage?
The Northwest Passage is the sea route connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. It runs through the underdeveloped northern territories of Canada where less than 120,000 people live in an area roughly the size of India. This makes it one of the least populated regions on the planet with only .05 people per square mile.
The climate is frigid, with average temperatures of 3 degrees Fahrenheit year round and just 35 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer. Until recently, the Northwest Passage was virtually impassible due to year round sea ice, but climate change has opened up a shipping route through the Canadian Arctic Sea.
History of Explorations of the Northwest Passage
Exploration of the Northwest Passage began in the 1500s. Several unsuccessful journeys over the years have led to the loss of many lives, including those of Sir John Franklin and his crew in 1834. Norwegian Roald Amundsen and his crew finally crossed the Northwest Passage in 1906 after three years, and Henry Larson led the first single season trip in 1944.
Different Cruise Lines and What They Offer
Several cruise lines now provide trips across the Northwest Passage catering to adventure-seeking tourists. Here are a few of the options to choose from.
The largest passenger ship to navigate the Northwest Passage is the Crystal Serenity, which accommodates 1000 passengers. This 900-mile journey lasts for thirty-two days, crossing the Bering Strait, north of the Arctic Circle, and through polar bear territory. It travels from Seward, Alaska to Kodiak, Dutch Harbor, and Nome, cruising through the beautiful Arctic Ocean and Beaufort Sea. A highlight of the trip is a visit to the tiny Inuit community of Ulukhaktok.
Ponant, a French cruise ship operator, offers a cruise through the Northwest Passage on a luxurious yacht. The twenty-three day expedition from Kangerlussuaq to Nome sails along the west coast of Greenland and includes visits to Inuit villages and some of the Arctic’s largest icebergs. Sailing across Baffin Bay to Beechey Island, you will retrace the steps of the ill-fated Franklin expedition. Highlights of this trip include crossing the legendary Northwest Passage in the wake of past explorers and shore visits in Zodiac inflatables with naturalist guides.
Several smaller cruise ships offer more casual settings for exploring the Northwest Passage. Polar Cruises accommodate fifty to 200 passengers and last from thirteen to seventeen days. They let passengers get close to the natural beauty of the Arctic with minimal impact on the local environment and are equipped with Zodiac landing craft staffed by qualified leaders, naturalists, and lecturers.
One Ocean Expeditions, a Canadian travel company, offers Northwest Passage cruises on the Ocean Endeavor, a vessel outfitted with Zodiacs, advanced navigation equipment, lounges, observations rooms, saunas, and a hot tub. The seventeen-day “Out of the Northwest Passage” cruise explores Inuit communities and historic graves of the Franklin expedition and includes daily trips to the shore in rubber skiffs.
Quark expeditions provides the most ambitious and comprehensive cruise, lasting seventy-five days and limited to just eighteen passengers. Other options from Quark include “Epic High Arctic,” a seventeen-day voyage departing from Resolut and traveling along the coast of Ellesmere Island and “In the Footsteps of Franklin,” also seventeen days, departing from Kangerlussuaq and following along the east coast of Baffin Island.
Each Northwest Passage cruise provides unique opportunities to discover and explore an unfamiliar world. Whether your interests lie in retracing the routes of earlier explorers, witnessing extraordinary scenery and wildlife, or meeting people from different cultures, a cruise to one of the world’s remotest and least populated regions will be an enriching experience.