We have written this detailed page to give passengers the best information possible to make their Northwest Passage cruise the best it can be.
If you're reading this page then you may be planning this ultimate cruise. If so, please read all the information to get a solid sense of what is on offer.
Although there is only one Northwest Passage, there are loads of itineraries, operators and destinations that vary from one cruise to another. Therefore, understanding all your options is critical to enjoying your cruise.
We can absolutely guarantee that you will love the Northwest Passage cruise - it is truly one of the greatest sea voyages in the world.
Below we have provided all the information we think you'll need to make a start on your epic journey.
Ever since John Cabot first sought the passage in 1497, countless politicians, kings and explorers have attempted to find the fabled Northwest Passage, many with disastrous outcomes!
Most notable among these was Sir John Franklin who attempted the Passage in 1845. Sir John and his crew were never to be seen again. It was only in 1906 that the first successful passage was made by the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen and his men. The Passage took them 3 years, a far cry from the cruises these days that can take less than a week if necessary!
Due largely to receding ice, the Northwest Passage is no longer the perilous passage it once was and many cruise ships now navigate the Passage during the summer months. During winter the Passage is still impassable and even the toughest ice-strengthened vessels cannot make it through.
The Northwest Passage is now one of the greatest cruise expeditions on earth and many people pay good money each year to make the Passage. Although 20 or more cruise ships make the Passage each summer, much of the area is still unknown and only 10 percent of the labyrinth of possible waterways have been charted still. There is no defined route and your ship will sail to the ice conditions, making this a truly expedition style cruise!
For history lovers, the Northwest Passage cruise is a true delight. By visiting hip graveyards, expeditions sites and ceremonial grounds, passengers are transported back in time to when the Passage was one of the most dangerous areas in the Arctic.
It's not only history that makes this cruise fantastic, but also the wildlife. Bird lovers will witness over 25 species of seabirds whilst cruising and polar bears are also a common sight.
We understand there is a whole host of Northwest Passage cruise itineraries and activity options, so we have done our best to answer these questions below.
When visiting local villages and towns, please follow the guidelines set out by AECO and your guides.
Below is a typical itinerary for the Northwest Passage. Please note that there are a number of different routes and this itinerary is simply one of the most popular. There are also shorter and longer versions available. Also note that not all Northwest Passage cruises depart from the same port or country.
After taking a charter flight from Montreal, you'll arrive in Kangerlussuaq. The region was a stronghold during WWII. You'll have time to explore the area before embarking upon your ship.
You follow in the footsteps of polar explorer Roald Amundsen and begin in the same place he did - West Greenland.
For six days you explore the West coast of this beautiful country, taking in magnificent sites such as Sisimiut, Disko Bay, Ilulissat, the Uummannaq Fjords, and Upernavik.
Witness amazing marine life, visit the remains of the Thule culture (ancestors of the Inuit) that existed some 500 to 1,000 years ago. Explore ancient huts and visit outstanding museums as you make your day along the rugged coastline.
The Ilulissat Icefjord, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a particular highlight. Witness epic icebergs and take incredible photos as you hike the surrounding area.
After exploring the amazing coastline of West Greenland you now cruise west across Baffin Bay and into the Canadian Arctic Archipelago of Nunavut. This area is teeming with wildlife and history and you won't want to miss a single moment.
Particular sites of interest include Somerset Island, Baffin Island, Beechey Island, Pond Inlet, Gjoa Haven, and Victoria Island. All the islands and passages provide something compelling and unique.
See the wooden grave markers for three of Franklin’s men on Beechey Island and witness the majesty of the polar bear on Baffin Island. Visit local Inuit villagers and even take part in their craft making culture.
In the Northwest Territories at Franklin Bay wine the spectacular 'Smoking Hills'. These cliffs are made up of bituminous shale that continuously combusts and burns!
This incredible and rare geological phenomenon occurs because of the layers of the relatively unstable mineral jarosite that covers these hills. This is a very rare site and looks similar to the smoke billowing up from a volcano.
Franklin was the first European to set eyes on this island and would have been amazed at what he saw. Named Herschel Island by franklin, the wild and bleak landscape is a haven for wildlife.
The island is one of the few places on earth where you can witness polar bears, grizzly bears and black bears in one place. On top of this you'll find musk ox, Arctic foxes and millions of seabirds nesting in the high cliffs.
This is a narrow passage between North America and the ever-changing Arctic ice cap. Enjoy your time aboard the ship and look out for whales. Pods of beluga are seen here frequently and make substantial noise including trills, clicks, and squeals.
As you continue your journey you come to the island of Little Diomede. Take a zodiac ashore and witness the Ingalikmiut people. Here the old ways remain with traditional hunting, fishing, and egg gathering.
Inline with tradition an necessity, the Ingalikmiut people still use seal and polar bear hides to remain warm during the long and harsh winters.
Sadly this is the day when your cruise comes to an end. Disembark in Nome, Alaska. Here you will have the chance to witness a dog sled race and pan for gold in the nearby gold mines. Before you depart for the airport you'll have time to explore the town and get one final lunch with your fellow passengers.
Although there is only one Northwest Passage, there are countess routes to take through the region.
Saying that, almost all cruises visit the main sites such as Ilulissat and Beechey Island.
The main difference between itineraries is cruise duration and departure/disembarkment points.
For example, the longer itineraries tend to leave from Anchorage or Nome and finish in New York or Kangerlussuaq. This is often the other way around for west-bound options. For shorter itineraries you may leave from Resolute and finish in Kangerlussuaq. The longer itineraries tend to be around three weeks (give or take several days). Whereas, the shorter itineraries can be as little as 13 days.
Obviously, the longer itineraries give passengers the chance to see more wildlife and visit more historical and cultural sights. However, for people on a budget or a tighter schedule thanks to work or family commitments, the two week itineraries may be more appropriate. Whichever you choose, you'll have a wonderful and completely unforgettable cruise!
In terms of activities such as kayaking, shore excursions and hiking, most Northwest Passage cruise itineraries offer very similar options. However, you may want to consider what size ship you want.
There are now huge luxury cruise ships that make the passage each year and smaller Expedition size ships.
In our opinion, the smaller expedition-style cruises are far more rewarding as your ship will be able to reach smaller inlets and make far more shore landings.
There will also be less queuing and you'll feel much more like a proper expedition than you would on an enormous luxury vessel.
Saying that, the luxury ships will make your time aboard more comfortable and enjoyable.
Saying that, larger ships offer you the comforts of home and remain more motion free than smaller ships do.
Luckily, there are only a handful of ships that sail the Northwest passage itinerary. Your budget will be the main consideration factor, however there are several options in similar price brackets.
Seasickness is generally not a major problem on the Northwest Passage as the protected seas are calm and peaceful, but storms can bring significant motion.
Below are the eight ships that sail the Northwest Passage. Please see the button above for more details on each ship.
Because the Northwest Passage covers such a large area, you'll get the chance to see many species of incredible wildlife.
Very few Arctic cruise itineraries offer you the chance to see the Big Arctic 5 - polar bear, narwhal, musk ox, walrus, and beluga whales.
Although you're never guaranteed to see these creatures, the longer length of the journey certainly gives you the best chance.
Below we've listed just some of the species you could encounter on your Northwest Passage cruise.
There are numerous location along this cruise where you're more than likely to spot these grand creatures.
If you're lucky enough to see a carcass then you might find yourself looking at a group of polar bears!
The Arctic fox is a favourite of many passengers.
Its endearing face, beautiful coat and inquisitive nature make watching this small creature a real joy. Can be seen anywhere along the cruise.
These charismatic creatures are fantastic to watch. See them lounging around on ice floes or hauling up onto icebergs.
The males can weigh three times as much as a Polar bear!
Whales are one of the most frequent sighting along the Northwest Passage. The most iconic of these are the narwhal and the beluga whale.
Both are frequently seen in inlets and you may even be lucky enough to kayak with some!
The Northwest Passage is without doubt a bird watchers paradise. Millions of migratory birds land in the region during spring and make their nest high on the sea cliffs. Prince Leopold Island alone gets over 400,000 birds during he summer months! Expect to see a wide variety of species including puffins, kittiwakes, guillemots, and fulmars. Also look out for little auks, ivory gulls and skuas.
Like the musk oxen, grey wolves are most commonly seen in the Canadian Arctic and you'll visit several locations where you might spot them.
Be warned though, wolves are shy and rarely come forth.
These huge creatures are quite a sight, standing firm against the tundra elements.
Most commonly seen in the Canadian Arctic which means you'll get several excellent opportunities.
During your epic cruise you'll make numerous wet landings aboard your zodiacs.
Once ashore you'll have time to go for hikes and explore the wonderful landscapes that you visit.
Most excursions last several hours, if not more. This will give you time to visit the local people, take pictures and witness magnificent wildlife.
Just make sure to keep an eye out for polar bears!
Photography lovers will be totally in their element when cruising the Northwest Passage. The sheer breadth of diverse scenery, culture and wildlife is magnificent and you'll get plenty of shore landing opportunities to make the most of it.
There will be photography expert on each Northwest Passage cruise and these people will be instrumental in finding you the best locations to shoot. They will even help you with the post-editing of your photos if you wish.
for our tips on shooting in cold, bright conditions, please click here.
The islands throughout the Canadian archipelago are teeming with wildlife.
Expect to see polar bears, musk ox, arctic foxes, seals and much more as you cruise through the wilderness.
The marine life is just as spectacular with common sightings of humpback, minke and beluga whales.
One of the most popular activities that can be done during your cruise is to sea kayak!
Kayaking allows you to explore inlets and bays that would otherwise be cut off to the ship. You can get close to nature and view icebergs from entirely new angles.
Make sure you book ahead as these extra activities are very popular.
Because you'll be cruising in conditions that are near freezing (even during summer), having the appropriate clothing is a must. It really takes the enjoyment out of the experience if you're constantly shivering and feeling cold.
You will also require specific footwear to deal with the 'wet landings'. Below we have listed a number of the key items. For a more detailed packing list though, please click here.
Items you'll need to consider before sailing the Northwest Passage are as follows:
Clothing: You'll need to wear layers to keep warm during your shore landings. This often means a base layer, shirt and fleece. If it's raining you'll also need a good all-weather jacket.
Footwear: You'll be making numerous shore landings on a zodiac. You'll want high rubber boots with good grip to keep you dry. You'll also want several layers of dry-socks to keep your feet warm.
Headgear: You'll most certainly want items such as sunglasses, beanies and perhaps even a headtorch!
Gloves: Keeping our hands warm is critically important ad they are the first part our body to freeze. You'll also want some liner gloves for extra warmth and dexterity when taking pictures.
Bags and Daypacks: You'll have your sunglasses, water bottle, snacks and camera gear during each shore landing. Purchasing a good-quality day bag is therefore a great option.
Important Accessories:Water bottles, zip locks, ear plugs, batteries etc are all covered in this section.
Known as the gateway to the Northwest Passage, Baffin Island is a paradise for wildlife. The frozen island hosts many of the Arctic's most famed creatures including polar bears, walrus, seals and, of course, millions of seabirds. You will also visit the tiny community of Kimmirut where traditional ways of life still hold sway.
Captain Franklin was the first European to witness Herschel Island during his fabled 1826 voyage. Located at the northern most point of the Yukon Territory, Herschel Island is one of the best places to see musk oxen. Up until fairly recently, the island was used as a whaling station and the waters around the island are still ideal for whale spotting.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Disco Bay is famed or its stunning icebergs - some of the largest in the world. The large bay is also home to Ilulissat Icefjord; one of the most spectacular icefjords on earth! You'll hear carving icebergs cracking as they cleave off and visit the traditional Arctic settlement of Ilulissat.
Somerset Island is a fantastic place to see beluga whales and narwhal. Both species are not beautiful sites and come to Somerset Island during the summer to feed on the large schools of char. You can also visit Fort Ross where the Hudson’s Bay Company established a trading-post in 1937. Although now abandoned, the site is fantastic to walk around.
Beechey Island is best known as the island that gave British explorer Sir John Franklin safe harbour for two years before his ill-fated attempt to sail the Northwest Passage. The island is a desolate place that still holds three grave markers for three of Franklin's crew.
Some of the best ancient Thule remains can be seen on Devon Island and there are several excellent archaeological hikes available for history lovers. The island is also a great place to see polar bears, musk ox and walrus. Take a zodiac ride along the island's calving glacier for a really memorable experience.
A major whaling station in the 1800s, Kekerten Island is completely uninhabited and lies off the southern tip of the Cumberland Sound. Expect to see the remnants of an antique whaling ship and the large cast-iron pots that were once used for rendering whale oil. The island also provides several beautiful hikes along the coast.
Pangnirtung - often called the 'Switzerland of the Arctic' - is a lovely Inuit hamlet that sits beneath the looming figure of Mount Duval. The community is know for its arts and there are several crafts workshops and plenty of studios to wander around for hours. If you like what you see, there are prints, paintings and tapestries available.
Named after British explorer John Davis, the Davis Straight separates West Greenland and Nunavut. The area of water is known for its spectacular icebergs and marine life. Beluga whales and Narwhal are seen frequently and thousands of seabirds make for some excellent photography opportunities.
In our article – Arctic Travel Insurance – we have provide all the information you need to find your perfect insurance policy. Alternatively, you can get a quote straight away with our rcommended specialist below.
The greatest expedition cruise on earth is understandably not cheap. The remote region and safety requirements of the cruise make the costs high. For the full Northwest Passage cruise expect to pay at least $9,700. This is the base rate and would mean sharing a triple or quad cabin. It would also mean booking at least a year in advance. As cabin become booked up you'll find that the price increases fairly dramatically.
For people who can splash out then a good suite will cost in the region of $20,000 - $35,000. Although these costs sound high it's important to remember that once aboard your ship, there are very few other costs. All of your food, drink an accommodation is paid for. If you imagine staying at a 4 or 5 star hotel for 17 days then the price would no doubt be high also. However, you wouldn't get the stunning scenery and ever-changing landscape you would on a cruise.
For solo travellers it is even more important to book early. You'll want to get a share cabin and this is much easier the further you book ahead. Other costs you need to consider are flights and gear. Flights are often expensive, especially as you will generally need to book several charter flights. Expect to pay at least $1,000 - more if you're going from overseas.
Even in the summer months, the Northwest Passage is not warm and you should expect temperatures around the -4/+4 degree Celsius mark. Therefore, you'll need appropriate clothing. For people living in cold climates this will be no problem, however, people from warmer climates may need to purchase the right gear to stay warm and comfortable. The cost really depends on what your won already. We always suggest budgeting at least $700-$1,000.
Vaccinations, visas and permits are often required for foreigners. Although not expensive in general, these do add to the overall costs.
Always remember that cost should only be one factor when consider which itinerary and accommodation to choose. Many people find that by paying a little more they get a much better experience.
For a detailed page on Arctic cruise costs, click here.
There is no real fitness required for this cruise.
Although there will be many shore landing excursions, you can take your own pace and stop whoever you want. Obviously the fitter you are the further you will be able to explore.
Due to the inaccessibility of the Northwest Passage when the ice has not melted, there is only a very small window for when cruise ships can actually make the transit. These months are July, August and September. However, smaller expedition-style cruise ships only make the journey in August and September when the Passage is essentially ice-free.
Although July and August are the warmer months and flowers are bursting and wildlife is extremely active, September offers an excellent chance at seeing the Northern Lights. This is not to say you will not see wildlife either, just last year 5 polar bears and 35 whales were spotted in a single day in September. For bird lovers though, September is probably too late as many of the species have already migrated south.
Many whales, including beluga and narwhal migrate deeper into the Northwest Passage during July, making for some incredible encounters. Hungry polar bears scour the shore lines and millions of birds make their nests high on the towering cliffs.
No matter what month you decide to cruise, you are guaranteed to witness amazing wildlife encounters and visit some extraordinary cultures along the way.
For a detailed page on when to visit the Arctic, click here.
Below is a short overview video of the Northwest Passage by Crystal Cruises. Enjoy!