It is a voyage explorers only dreamed of not so long ago.
But thanks to climate change, a luxury cruise ship has undertaken a pioneering journey that will see it sail through the once impassable Northwest Passage during a month-long trip that is drawing much excitement but also criticism from environmentalists.
The Crystal Serenity, which set off from Seward, Alaska on August 16 with nearly 1,000 passengers, is scheduled to dock in New York onSeptember 17.
The ship made its last Alaska port call on Sunday, stopping in the remote town of Nome before heading farther north, accompanied by the RRS Ernest Shackleton, a British supply and icebreaking vessel.
The voyage marks the first time a passenger ship this size sails 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 USD 350 million vessel paid between USD 22,000 and USD 120,000 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 USD 50,000 in emergency evacuation insurance in order to cruise through the Northwest Passage — a once unnavigable shortcut between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans that is increasingly becoming a popular route for shipping.
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.
“Every aspect of this voyage is literally unparalleled in the luxury cruise industry, and nearly the entire travel industry as well,” Crystal’s CEO and president, Edie Rodriguez, said in a statement.
“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 travelers the opportunity to experience a region of the world that so few others have or ever will.”
He said guests on the 820-foot (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.
Passengers also have at their disposal on board a fitness center, a spa, swimming pools, restaurants and luxury shops.
But not everyone is hailing the high-profile voyage, with critics lashing out at Crystal Cruises and accusing the company of capitalising on the destruction of the planet.