Massive cruise ship brings new era of Arctic tourism to Cambridge Bay

CBC News – by Chris Brown

Not an ice floe was in sight as a warming climate and a huge cruise ship combined to usher in a new era of mass tourism in Canada’s Arctic.

After a stop at the community of Ulukhaktok, N.W.T., the 280-metre long Crystal Serenity entered the fabled but dangerous Northwest Passage Sunday and arrived at the hamlet of Cambridge Bay, Nunavut on Monday morning.  

Crystal Serenity at Cambridge Bay

It is the largest vessel to ever attempt to go through the passage, the cruise ship company says.

Cambridge Bay

(Chris Corday/CBC)

Cambridge Bay is home to about 1,300 people, with an average daily high temperature in August of about 10 C.

On board are six hundred crew members and 1,000 passengers, each of whom paid between $30,000 and $120,000 for the trip.

Taking the first steps onto land

Cyrstal Serenity passengers at Cambridge Bay

(Chris Corday/CBC)

Passengers came ashore on zodiacs, 150 people at a time so as to not overwhelm the community.

In Cambridge Bay, planning to host so many visitors at once has taken almost 2½ years.

Vicki Aitoak

(Chris Corday/CBC)

Cambridge Bay welcoming committee organizer Vicki Aitaok says the Crystal Serenity is 10 times larger than any other ship that has ever visited the Arctic hamlet.

Time for a snapshot on the beach

Passengers on beach

(Chris Corday/CBC)

The passengers posed for pictures on the beach, the second time they’ve landed in Canada on their month-long voyage through the Arctic.

The visit was encouraged by local artisans who stand to make thousands of dollars in sales in a single day. The Nunavut Arts Festival also held its annual meeting in the community to coincide with the ship’s arrival.

Opportunity for artisans

Roy Klengenberg

(Chris Corday/CBC)

Inuit carver Roy Klengenberg created and hoped to sell about 10 pieces of art for between $200 and $300 each to Crystal Serenity passengers.

Roy Klengenberg

(Chris Corday/CBC)

On Monday, he sold a number of his stone carvings to the cruise ship passengers from around the world.

Navalik Tologanak

(Chris Corday/CBC)

Cambridge Bay resident Navalik Tologanak hoped the big ship would bring money to local artists, but worries mass tourism in the Arctic could mean big risks for the environment.

Passengers in Cambridge Bay

(Chris Corday/CBC)

Many tourists spent time speaking to and buying artwork and clothing from Inuit artists who’ve come to Cambridge Bay from all over Canada’s North.

Streaming down the streets

Passengers on street in Cambridge Bay

(Chris Corday/CBC)

Passengers streamed down the streets of Cambridge Bay on foot, purchasing artwork at a special festival and food at local stores.

Smaller cruise ships are not uncommon in Cambridge Bay — the community usually gets about six a year, mostly with Canadians as passengers. The Crystal Serenity’s passengers are 80 per cent American and local organizers say they expected they would be far less familiar with the Arctic way of life.

Doug Stern

(Chris Corday/CBC)

Trapper Doug Stern set up a display of dozens of caribou and muskox antlers on the roof of his home across from where the passengers arrived.

Arctic char

(Chris Corday/CBC)

There are few tourist attractions in Cambridge Bay but visitors got an unfiltered chance to witness traditional practices, including Arctic char left to dry on the side of homes.

Crystal Cruises says interest in the voyage was immense and the trip sold out in half a day.

The trip has been criticized by some environmentalists, such as the World Wildlife Fund, for exploiting the impact of global warming.

They also fear having so many tourists in such a delicate area is bound to lead to environmental damage.

Realities of northern life

Realities of Cambridge Bay life

(Chris Corday/CBC)

Residents hope the cruise ship’s visit will allow more tourists than ever to experience the realities of life in one of Canada’s harshest climate.

Cambridge Bay landscape

(Chris Corday/CBC)

The landscape around Cambridge Bay is mainly flat and pocketed by ponds that are only ice-free for a few weeks a year.


(Chris Corday/CBC)

The Crystal Serenity has not encountered any ice so far in the Northwest Passage.

Crystal Cruises has already announced it will return to the Northwest Passage next season and other cruise lines are planning similar trips.

Aitaok says the climate and the economy of the North are changing but it’s too soon to know the impact mass tourism will have the Arctic’s remote communities — and how much of it people will find acceptable.

Crystal Serenity at Cambridge Bay

(Chris Corday/CBC)


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