Guide to Cruising the Northwest Passage

The most elusive Arctic adventure of all: tackle the Northwest Passage and retrace the steps of some of history’s most intrepid explorers.

The elusive search for the fabled Northwest Passage claimed the lives of many adventurous explorers in times gone by, yet the increase in temperatures on our planet has now ensured that, for just a few weeks every year, this becomes the most coveted Arctic expedition of all.

From the beginning of July, each year, a select number of polar expedition vessels line up to tackle what still is, despite all this time, one of the most exhilarating prospects in the cruising world: crossing the sensational Canadian Arctic from the Pacific to the Atlantic through the Arctic Ocean by ice-strengthened ship. This new and exciting frontier tackled by thousands of old-age adventurers during the age of polar exploration in the 16th century and, right up until Norwegian Roal Amundsen who finally successes in 1906, all of them failed.

Northwest Passage

Explorer Roal Amundsen, the first to navigate Roal Amundsen. Photo credit: Wikipedia

What is there to see and do on a Northwest Passage expedition?

Of course, a Northwest Passage expedition isn’t only about historic challenges: this is the world’s frozen northern frontier, home to a spectacular array of hardy wildlife and even hardier humans. The waters of the Arctic may appear dark, ominous and deadly, yet behind the façade hides an entire ecosystem of nutrient-rich minerals, attracting a gamma of wildlife that is unrivalled. Krill feeding on algae is the favoured meal for seals who, in turn, attract the glorious polar bears, the true kings of the North Pole.

On Northwest Passage expeditions you do, essentially, retrace the wake of past explorers, those like legendary Sir John Franklin, who ventured forth with more than 100 men in 1845, never to be seen again. His ship was eventually located at the bottom of the sea here in 2014, marking one of the most pivotal discoveries of the present day.

Northwest Passage

Watch the sunset on your cruise ship. How lovely! Photo credit: n/a

How do you join a Northwest Passage expedition?

Most cruises depart from the northern coast of Canada and Alaska, and all include itineraries which offer plenty of chances for on land and on sea explorations on zodiacs and on foot. Hiking vertiginous glaciers, kayaking protected coves and exploring the deep fjords of this breathtaking part of Greenland is one of the most memorable experiences you’ll ever have. This is still very much a harsh world, even at the height of summer, and all excursions, are weather dependent. Explore enticing archipelagos aboard your ship and discover mesmerizing icy islands in the high Arctic region of Canada, all the while keeping your eyes peeled for wildlife, especially the 20-odd species of migratory birds who converge here every summer.

What’s it like aboard a Northwest Passage expedition ship?

What makes Northwest Passage expeditions so special is that, modernity notwithstanding, only few vessels can attempt to navigate these icy waters every year, in July and August. Strengthened former research ships are formidable to say the least although you shouldn’t expect the kind of comfort and luxury normally associated with ‘cruising’. Here, man-made comforts take second place to the spectacular wonders of nature.

And we know you’ll be all the more delighted about that.

Northwest Passage

Always dreamed of seeing Polar bears in the wild life? What are you waiting for! Book your cruise to the Arctic right now!! Photo credit: Shutterstock

The Akademik Ioffe is the most famous and popular ship that tackles the traverse and this former Russian research ship hosts under 100 pax, making the trip a very intimate and cosy affair. The gastronomic delights are plentiful and varied and the ship offers lovely extras like sauna and plunge pool, massage room and gym, alongside presentation rooms where you’ll learn all about the landscape, history and animals of the Arctic. Expect lots of presentations during your cruising and preparation for landing, as well as jovial recaps of the days’ events at dinner time. There’s a range of cabin comfort levels (and price) and as this is one truly mighty ship, you can expect high stability, comfort and safety.

Fun, social, enlightening and unforgettable: that’s the best way to describe a Northwest Passage in a nutshell.

Northwest Passage

See and watch the wildlife of the Arctic. Photo credit: Shutterstock

Chimu Adventure’s Northwest Passage cruises:

17-day Into the Northwest Passage – This is one of the world’s most epic Arctic journeys and will take you through fjords, icebergs, glaciers and historic sites. Look out for the wildlife which calls this route home: polar bears, seabirds and marine mammals. You will sail aboard the spacious Ocean Endeavour for 17 days which allows plenty of time to relax into life at sea.

25 day – Ponant: The Northwest Passage – Follow in the wake of the Arctic explorers to cross the legendary Northwest Passage on this epic 25-day luxury expedition aboard L’Austral. Discover the incredible landscapes of the Far North as you sail past vast ice floes, clear blue glaciers, fjords, snow capped mountains, a myriad of jagged islands, wild tundra and steep cliffs, past immense icebergs and alongside whales.

Our comprehensive collection of Arctic Cruises cover the varying regions of the Arctic: from Spitzbergen to Russia, Canada, Greenland and, of course, the North Pole. For more info and detailed advice about which cruise, ship and itinerary best suits your travel plans – from Europe, South or Central America, and beyond –contact us today.

Author: Laura Pattara

“Laura Pattara is a modern nomad who’s been vagabonding around the world, non-stop, for the past 15 years. She’s tour-guided overland trips through South America and Africa, travelled independently through the Middle East and has completed a 6-year motorbike trip from Europe to Australia. What ticks her fancy most? Animal encounters in remote wilderness, authentic experiences off the beaten trail and spectacular Autumn colours in Patagonia.”