By Samantha Page of thinkprogress.org
This week, a massive, luxury cruise liner departed from Anchorage, Alaska, on the first leg of a 32-day cruise through the Northwest Passage.
The Crystal Serenity is carrying 1,070 passengers and 670 crew members. It has boutique shopping, a casino, a theater, and several bars on board. Its nine passenger decks tower over a hundred feet above the ocean surface. From these decks, passengers will see views that for centuries have been largely the provenance of intrepid explorers and a scant population of native people, clustered in hamlets that can be separated by hundreds of miles of Arctic tundra and icy waters.
In recent years, though, more and more tourists have begun popping up along the Northwest Passage. Some organizers use a dash-in, dash-out approach, departing and returning from Greenland. Others rely on expedition-style ice breakers, a specialized type of ship that, as the name suggests, breaks up ice as it travels. But the Crystal Serenity will be the first large-scale cruise liner ever to traverse the Northwest Passage — going from Anchorage, through the Bering Strait, along the northern coast of Canada, past Greenland, down the Eastern Seaboard to New York City. Temperatures will be in the 50s on good days. At night, it will be below freezing.
The trip is possible only because the Arctic’s ice is receding, and it is a powerful reminder of how far we have come in a century and a half of industrialization.
This is the same region where the HMS Resolute was locked in ice in August 1850. Where a British expedition was lost in September 1840 near King William Island, in Nunavut, Canada, a northern province made up mostly of maritime islands. The Crystal Serenity will pass mere miles from King William Island, stopping on the other side of the Victoria Strait at Cambridge Bay, one of the largest hamlets in the province.
This voyage is the beginning of a new era. But locals and environmentalists worry that is the end of one, as well.