It is a voyage explorers only dreamed of not so long ago but thanks to climate change, a luxury cruise ship is sailing through the once impassable Northwest Passage.
Crystal Serenity, which set off from Seward, Alaska on August 16 with nearly 1,000 passengers, is scheduled to dock in New York on September 17.
The pioneering month-long trip, which is bringing mass tourism to the remote Arctic regions for the first time, cost passengers up to $120,000 (£91,401). But while on board, everything is included and guests have the opportunity to take helicopter excursions and enjoy polar bear and whale watching.
Thanks to climate change, luxury cruise ship Crystal Serenity has undertaken a pioneering journey that will see it sail through the once impassable Northwest Passage
Passengers on the cruise will have a luxury all-inclusive experience. Above, the penthouse suite on Crystal Serenity
Above, one of the two swimming pools on board the vessel, pictured in warmer weather
FACILITIES ON BOARD
- Four restaurants
- Two swimming pools
- 13 lounges and bars
- Crystal spa
- Dolby surround sound cinema
- Sports area with golfing facilities
- Tennis courts
The ship made its last Alaska port call on Sunday, stopping in the remote town of Nome, before heading further north.
It’s accompanied on the journey by the RRS Ernest Shackleton, a British supply and icebreaking vessel.
The voyage marks the first time a passenger ship this size has sailed the storied Northwest Passage where warmer temperatures and melting ice are opening the Arctic, one of the most pristine places on Earth, for business.
Passengers on board the $350million (£266million) vessel paid between $22,000 (£16,757) and $120,000 (£91,401) for the journey, which took three years of planning and preparation to avoid any mishaps, including a repeat of the Titanic.
Guests were also required to purchase $50,000 (£38,084) in emergency evacuation insurance in order to cruise through the Northwest Passage, which was once an unnavigable shortcut between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
The ship made its last Alaska port call on Sunday. Above, the vessel arriving in Ulukhaktok
Passengers on board the $350million (£266million) vessel paid between $22,000 (£16,757) and $120,000 (£91,401) for the journey
The Crystal Serenity, which set off from Seward, Alaska on August 16, is scheduled to dock in New York on September 17. Above, the route it will take
The Crystal Serenity is expected to reach the northwest territories on Friday and complete the Arctic leg of its journey by September 4 before heading to Greenland and finally New York.
Crystal’s CEO and president, Edie Rodriguez, said in a statement: ‘Every aspect of this voyage is literally unparalleled in the luxury cruise industry, and nearly the entire travel industry as well.
‘It is a tremendous undertaking to embark on such a historic journey, but also an honor for us to be able to offer the world’s most discerning travellers the opportunity to experience a region of the world that so few others have or ever will.’
He said guests on the 820-ft (250-meter), 13-deck vessel can enjoy a slew of activities, including helicopter flights over glaciers as well as polar bear and other wildlife sightings.
As well as enjoying the dining and leisure options on board, the excursions include helicopter flights and wildlife watching
For those looking for a spot of relaxation, there’s also spa facilities on board the ship
Passengers also access a fitness centre, a spa, swimming pools, restaurants and luxury shops on board.
But not everyone is hailing the high-profile voyage, with critics lashing out at Crystal Cruises and accusing the company of capitalizing on the destruction of the planet.
An article in the online current affairs magazine Slate offered a scathing review, describing the cruise as yet another example of a consumption-driven society that will stop at nothing.
There are four restaurants on board – all of which are part of the all-inclusive offer. Pictured is the sushi bar
Above, the Tastes restaurant, which features four ‘living walls’ and serves a variety of cuisines
Elena Agarkova, senior program officer for the World Wildlife Fund, acknowledged that Crystal Cruises had taken measures to offset the environmental impact of the Serenity’s voyage, including not using heavy fuel oil and discharging waste water at least 12 nautical miles from shore.
But she said there were still concerns about safety and protecting wildlife as well as the region’s diverse indigenous communities.
Agarkova told AFP: ‘This voyage is symbolic of the rapid changes happening in the Arctic.
‘Today, we do not have the right rules in place needed to reduce risks to wildlife and people, nor the capacity needed to respond to accidents.’
The Northwest Passage had once been impassable due to the amount of ice in the area
She said that as climate change accelerates and Arctic shipping and leisure travel grows, governments individually and collectively must match that pace in managing the region.
Agarkova noted: ‘Cruise ships of the size of the Crystal Serenity are essentially huge cities.
‘They are going to have some 1,700 passengers, including crew, on board and they are going to be discharging thousands of gallons of sewage and graywater as they sail through the Arctic waters.’
Agarkova said although the waste will be dumped away from shore, it will still be going into the Arctic ecosystem on a daily basis.
She added: ‘And of course the more ships that we have, the more impact and the more waste will be in these right now relatively pristine areas.
‘I find it ironic that one of the biggest selling points of these voyages is to see Arctic wildlife and to see the last frontier.
‘And the more people show up to see the last frontier, (the more) the last frontier it will be.’