Crystal Cruises' 1,070-guest Crystal Serenity is gearing up for the line's second Northwest Passage cruise in August, but there's a big change in the works. An expedition team of Arctic experts from Canada-based Arctic Kingdom will join the 32-day cruise to share knowledge of the region's culture, wildlife and geography, and to lead shore excursions.
The group, based in Iqaluit, in the Canadian territory of Nunavut, consists of local Inuit guides, marine biologists, archaeologists, expert divers, conservationists, photographers and wildlife experts.
“Partnering with Arctic Kingdom, the leading travel operator in this unique region, further raises the bar on the experience for our guests by offering them expertise from local adventurers,” said Crystal chairman, CEO and president Edie Rodriguez. “Planning and collaboration with top experts and authorities is a must to ensure the safety of our guests and crew. We continue to work closely with the United States and Canadian Coast Guards, Transport Canada, and a myriad of federal, state, provincial, territorial and local government agencies.”
The cruise travels from Anchorage to New York, sailing the Bering Sea, the Beaufort Sea, the Victoria Strait, the fjords of Baffin Island, among other water bodies, and calling at three Greenland ports before heading south in the Atlantic to visit Bar Harbor, Maine, Boston, and Newport, RI.
Like in 2016, when Crystal Serenity became the largest cruise ship to traverse the passage, the ship will be accompanied through the Canadian Arctic by an escort vessel carrying safety and environmental protection equipment, as well as personnel trained in its use. The escort also will serve as a platform for two helicopters for ice reconnaissance and flight seeing, and will store zodiacs for landings in areas without a port facility.
“The Arctic is like nowhere else on the planet,” said Graham Dickson, Arctic Kingdom president and CEO. “As the top land-based operator in the Arctic, we are excited to be providing exceptional opportunities for Crystal Serenity guests to authentically experience the Arctic – unlike ever before.”
CruisePlanners' agent Michael Graham, a polar specialist based in Murrells Inlet, SC, called Crystal's trip “a remarkable itinerary” that's on many clients' bucket lists.
While other cruise lines are likely to follow Crystal's lead in the Northwest Passage, Graham said he hopes the itinerary is kept limited to just a few ships.
“It's an untouched area that does not have a treaty, such as Antarctica,” he said, noting that there are many environmental concerns. In Antarctica, he said, there are rules governing how many people can go ashore, and requiring the use of special biofuels, for instance.
Crystal Serenity will use low-sulphur marine gas oil fuel, which the line said exceeds environmental regulations.
“In most polar areas, the cruise lines taking guest to see these pristine and remote locations are keenly aware of the need to keep them pristine both for the sake of the environment and its inhabitants, and for future guests,” Graham said.
All-inclusive fares on Crystal's Northwest Passage cruise start at $21,855 per person. This year will be the last time that a “classic” Crystal ocean going ship will sail the route; going forward, Crystal is planning to sail the Northwest Passage under the Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises umbrella featuring its polar class mega yachts, with the first slated to launch in 2019.
Here are some other options for Arctic cruising:
- One Ocean Expeditions offers an 11-night Spitsbergen Explorer voyage, departing June 26 and exploring the Norwegian Arctic. “Spitsbergen is for many of our repeat customers the destination that hooked them onto polar expedition cruising,” said managing director Andrew Prossin. The route takes cruisers to within 500 miles of the North Pole. It's priced from $5,895 per person, triple share. From early July through September, One Ocean also operates several 12-night Classic Northwest Passage voyages emphasizing early Arctic exploration. Along with the sailing's historical focus, guests can expect to view polar bears, whales and myriad bird species. Departing from Cambridge Bay, in Nunavut, Canada, the cruise makes several calls at Baffin Island. Rates are from $9,595 per person.
- The new frontier in polar expedition cruising is the High Arctic region known as the Franz Josef Land Archipelago, according to operator Poseidon Expeditions. Few visitors have ventured to the region, and because of multi-year sea ice, access by ship is possible only a few weeks each summer. According to the company's web site, the cruise is roundtrip from Murmansk, Russia, to the archipelago of the 191 uninhabited, volcanic, mostly glaciated islands that since 2012 are part of the Russian Arctic National Park. A 14-day trip starts at $28,000 per person.