Arrive in Montreal, Quebec’s European-style city. Transfer to your hotel before meeting your local guide for an afternoon walking tour. In the evening, attend a welcome cocktail reception and dinner to celebrate the start of your adventure.
Arrive by charter flight in Kangerlussuaq in the afternoon. Time permitting, visit the edge of the Greenland ice sheet (indlandsis), a vast body of inland ice covering 80 percent of the continent. En route, be on the lookout for native wildlife, such as musk ox, reindeer, Arctic foxes, falcons and eagles. Board your ship in the evening and join the crew for a welcome cocktail reception.
In 1906, polar explorer Roald Amundsen became the first person to successfully cross the entire Northwest Passage. Begin your voyage exactly where Amundsen did — along the stunning West Coast of Greenland and north into Baffin Bay, which you explore for six days. Based on ice, weather and sea conditions, your captain and expedition crew determine the day’s best sightseeing opportunities, which may include:
Sisimiut: Located just north of the Arctic Circle, Sisimiut is both the northernmost city in Greenland able to maintain a year-round, ice-free port as well as the southernmost town with sufficient snow for dog sledding through the winter and spring. Visit the local museum with its interactive exhibits on Inuit culture and Greenlandic colonial history, as well as a local dog musher and his dog-sled team.
Disko Bay & Ilulissat: Cruise into Disko Bay, a wide inlet off the Baffin Sea first explored by Erik the Red in AD 985, when he established the first Norse settlements in Western Greenland. Discover the Ilulissat Icefjord at the sea mouth of one of the fastest and most active glaciers in the world, Sermeq Kujalleq. The scene is spectacular with giant icebergs, floating growlers and bergy bits (large chunks of glacial ice), and the sounds of the calving ice-stream. Take a walking tour of the village of Ilulissat, including a visit to the local history museum, and meet with villagers in their multicolored homes to learn about life in this often-harsh Arctic region. Enjoy a huskie dog-sled demonstration and learn about the centuries-old methods of leather tanning still in practice today.
Kullorsuaq: Located at the southern end of Melville Bay, Kullorsuaq is the northernmost village in the Upernavik Archipelago, and one of the northernmost settlements in Western Greenland. Founded in 1928 as a trading station, Kullorsuaq received its first migrants some 4,000 years ago as well as the migration of all southbound Inuits that followed. It stands today as one of the most traditional hunting and fishing villages in Greenland. Grasp the full meaning when you spend time with local villagers who still maintain a traditional way of life, living off of the narwhal and seal populations common to the region.
Melville Bay: Enjoy excursions on Zodiacs (sturdy inflatable boats) through this remote area of far Northwestern Greenland, and among thousands of small icebergs and bergy bits.
Cruise west across Baffin Bay and into the Canadian Arctic Archipelago of Nunavut. As you wind your way through the legendary channels and inlets of the Northwest Passage, keep your eyes on the horizon for whales and visit the following:
Pond Inlet: Located on the Northern end of Baffin Island, Pond Inlet is the noted gateway to the fabled Northwest Passage. After clearing customs formalities for Nunavut, set off for a shore excursion to an area originally inhabited by the Thule (ancestors of the Inuit). Visit the Nattinnak Visitor’s Center or Toonoonik Sahoonik Co-op, where you can shop for artisan carvings made from local red and green soapstone, beautiful wall hangings and other handcrafted goods.
Lancaster Sound: Situated between Devon Island and Baffin Island, this body of water forms the eastern entrance to the Parry Channel and the Northwest Passage. It is also home to a rich abundance of Arctic cod, which in turn draws copious populations of sea birds and marine mammals. Beluga and endangered bowhead whales, the narwhal with its spiraling tusk, ringed and bearded seals, the enchanting polar bear, and mustached walrus, as well as northern fulmars, black guillemots and Arctic terns — all are among the fantastic wildlife that inhabit the area. And, some may come into view on exciting Zodiac excursions and landings.
Beechey Island: Historic moments in Arctic exploration define this island, best known for providing a safe haven to British explorer Sir John Franklin in 1845. Look east toward Resolute Bay at the huge silhouette of Cape Riley and imagine what Captain Franklin saw here in Erebus Harbour, were he took shelter for two years before his ill-fated attempt to conquer the Northwest Passage. See the wooden grave markers for three of Franklin’s men, now bleached by the sun, and visit the cenotaph memorial erected in memory of the lost explorer. It is an unforgettable experience.
Gjoa Haven: During his first attempt to transit the Northwest Passage on ‘Gjøa,’ Roald Amundsen used this natural harbor as a respite while waiting for ice conditions to improve. For two years, he lived with the Netsilik Inuits, learning their skills for survival and more efficient travel, which would later prove invaluable in his successful South Pole expedition. Today, Gjoa Haven has a population of 1,200 and still bears the historic significance of playing a key role in polar exploration.
Victoria Island: Cruise along the south coast of Victoria Island through Queen Maud Gulf, Dease Strait and Coronation Gulf. Expedition stops may include: bird sanctuary Jenny Lind Island, where you may also spy its populations of musk ox; the village of Cambridge Bay; and remote Edinburgh Island.
In the Northwest Territories at Franklin Bay, see the spectacular “Smoking Hills,” cliffs of bituminous shale that combust and endlessly burn. This rare geological phenomenon has likely been occurring for millennia, with layers of the relatively unstable mineral jarosite covering these hills. When the mineral comes into contact with cold air, it becomes red-hot and produces a thick, black smoke — a fantastic site not unlike the smoky fumaroles produced by volcanoes.
During a long mapping expedition in 1826, Captain Franklin was the first European to lay eyes on this unique island at the northernmost point of the Yukon Territory. Named by Franklin, Herschel Island is a landmark in the West Arctic and has since served alternately as a whaling station, relay station and refuge for travellers. The island teems with wildlife that includes the migrating bowhead whale, walrus, moose, musk ox, Arctic fox and 94 species of birds. It is also one of the only places on earth where you may see a grizzly bear, black bear and polar bear, the last of which live along the ice edge in summer. Evidence of the island’s whaling culture and Thule Inuit predecessors remains near the shoreline, though it may not be for much longer; the island is subject to extreme coastal erosion and scientists predict the shoreline will disappear under the waves within 50 years.
Typically dense with ice floes and fog, the Beaufort Sea opens up a 60-mile-wide coastal pass from August to September. Continue sailing in the comfort of your luxury expedition cruiser, participating in eye-opening lectures led by the Expedition Team. Be on the lookout across the sea for bowhead and beluga whales, the latter of which sustain one of the largest populations in the world here. Still hunted on a sustenance quota basis by local Inuits, the sociable creatures often travel in numbers and are said to be quite “chatty,” with their trills, clicks and squeals audible above the surface. ‘Le Boreal’ cruises into the U.S. and clears at Point Barrow, Alaska. Your voyage continues through this narrow passage between North America and the ever-changing Arctic ice cap.
Continue cruising through the Bering Sea to Little Diomede, an island that sits between Alaska and Russia at the edge of the International Date Line. Disembark for a Zodiac cruise of the island, where the Ingalikmiut people still maintain a traditional lifestyle of hunting, fishing and egg gathering. In line with customs and necessity, the Ingalikmiut also use seal, walrus and polar bear hides to make clothing, parkas, hats and mukluks, as well as trade currency for bartering.
Just south of the Arctic Circle, the Bering Strait guards the entrance to the Bering Sea, which ‘Le Boreal’ enters and where a prolific ecosystem supports an incredible, world-renowned fishery. This is the capital of Alaskan king crab. From the ship’s upper decks or your own private balcony, you may spot any number of breeding seabirds and whales (bowhead, blue, fin, sei, orca and even the rare North Pacific right), all here for the feast. The day brings a new series of enriching lectures to supplement the vast ocean views. PLEASE NOTE: Lose a day (September 9) as you cross the International Date Line from the Western to the Eastern Hemisphere.
Arrive in Anadyr, Russia’s Far East city situated in the secluded region of Chukotka. Celebrate the success of your voyage through the Northwest Passage with your newfound friends. After breakfast, disembark ‘Le Boreal’ and board your charter flight to Vancouver. Arrive this evening for an overnight stay at your hotel, conveniently located above the U.S. departures terminal.
After breakfast, depart for your homeward flights.