This summer, Crystal Cruises’ 800-foot-long mega-yacht, named the Crystal Serenity, will travel from Seward, Alaska, to New York City, carrying upwards of 1,700 people — passengers and crew included. The voyage, expected to take 32 days, will follow the Northwest Passage, a legendary route through the Arctic that was first navigated by Roald Amundsen in the early 1900s. This is not the first time cruises have navigated the 900-mile journey, passing fjords and towering glaciers; but once completed, it will be the first time a ship this large, which weighs close to 68,000 tons, has ever navigated these icy waters.
According to The Guardian, Crystal Cruises has global warming to thank for its new itinerary. “Scientists expect the Arctic will be almost entirely ice free in the summer within 25 years,” wrote Suzanne Goldenberg for the British publication. Some experts believe that the last time the Northwest Passage was open was between 6,000 to 8,500 years ago.
One of the chief concerns among native populations that live along the route is the possibility of oil spills and pollution due to increased traffic, all the while affecting their indigenous cultures. Earlier this month, in a press release announcing a second voyage next summer, Crystal Cruises stated that the line “has diligently gathered information and resources from field experts, going so far as meeting with the Inuit elders of the Arctic, to create an expedition voyage that is rewarding and thrilling for guests while also remaining respectful to the local lands and cultures.”
The other concern, of course, is safety for those aboard. Next month, Coast Guard officials will begin training for the worst case scenario: a Titanic redux. “If something were to go wrong it would be very, very bad,” Richard Beneville, the mayor of the coastal town of Nome, where the Crystal Serenity is scheduled to visit, told The Guardian. The lack of infrastructure in the Arctic — no roads, bad cell service, thousands of miles to the closest coast guard bases — means that risks associated with a sinking ship are increasingly troublesome. As a precaution, the Crystal Serenity will travel with an icebreaking escort vessel and two helicopters along its entire route, said a company spokesperson.
Fares started at a cool $21,855 and rose as high as $120,000 per person. But for all the anxiety surrounding the trip, coupled with its exorbitant price tag, travelers seem undeterred. According to Crystal Cruises, this year’s voyage is sold out, and a second pass in 2017 is already confirmed.