Largest cruise ship to ever sail the Northwest Passage embarks on pioneering journey

It goes without saying that the last year has been an exciting year for the ultra-luxury cruise line, Crystal Cruises. Since being bought by Genting Hong Kong, in May 2015, the cruise line has introduced many new products to the line’s portfolio including yachts, river cruise vessels, expedition vessels, and a luxury airline. The line is seeking to dominate all fields of cruising within the ultra-luxury sector, delivering new and enhanced experiences to cruise passengers.

This month, Crystal Cruises made headlines once again, for offering passengers the opportunity to sail the Northwest Passage – an icy route around northern Alaska and Canada. For centuries, explorers tried to navigate this passage as a possible trade route that would link the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Routes were discovered throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, however, the Arctic pack ice made regular marine shipping almost impossible. It is only through climate change in recent years that this route has been opened up as a cruising option on board small vessels. The 1,070 passenger Crystal Serenity will become the largest vessel to navigate this controversial route.

Northwest Passage Route

Sailing out of Seward, Alaska, on 16th August, the Crystal Serenity embarked on a 32-day, 1,000-mile journey through the Northwest Passage, docking in various ports in Alaska, Canada, and Greenland before finally arriving in New York on 17th September. The summer season in 2016 has resulted in a larger-than-usual area of ice melting, thus making the route possible. Demand for tickets was so high, that there was a waiting list of 7,000 – prompting calls for Crystal Cruises to make a return trip in summer 2017.

The subject of climate change has led to many people debating whether any vessel should be sailing the route at all. A route that was previously impossible to traverse due to the vast amounts of Arctic pack ice – which has significantly melted. Safety is also a primary concern, with each passenger embarking on the voyage required to purchase 44,000 euros in emergency evacuation insurance.

Remote sections of the Northwest Passage are extremely isolated and have been historically poorly chartered. However, Director of Global Public Relations for Crystal Cruises, Paul Garcia, has urged cruisers that there is no need to panic. He has stated that Crystal Serenity will receive regular updates from the Canadian Ice Service and that the ship is fully equipped to sail the route. There are state-of-the-art features on board the vessel, including two ice searchlights, forward-looking sonar, a thermal imaging camera, and sonar facilities capable of picking up small amounts of ice.

Northwest Passage

Speaking to the BBC, Crystal Cruises CEO, Edie Rodriguez, told the Today Programme that the line had gone “above the call of duty” to ensure all safety requirements had been met. “From the low-sulphur marine gas oil that we are using to engaging the local community and involving them in our plan to ensure we don't disturb their environment, we have taken many, many precautions to ensure we don't disturb their environment,” she said.

Although she is the largest vessel to embark on this voyage, the 13-deck, and 820ft Crystal Serenity is not the first. The Linblad Explorer was the first passenger vessel to complete this route, back in 1984. Another vessel, The World, which is a cruise-size ship, completed the journey with 481 passengers.

Despite concerns over safety and the state of the climate, this itinerary marks an exciting era for the cruise industry – where passengers are able to visit an increasing number of regions and previously inaccessible areas. If you have fallen in love with the world of cruising and are interesting in a pursuing a career within the travel industry, why not consider becoming a GoCruise franchisee?

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