Gi­ant cruise ship makes his­toric voy­age in melt­ing Arc­tic

China Daily (USA) - - LIFE - By AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS in Nome, Alaska

The gi­ant lux­ury cruise liner was an­chored just of­fNome, too hulk­ing to use the Ber­ing Sea com­mu­nity’s docks on its in­au­gu­ral visit.

In­stead, its more than 900 pas­sen­gers piled into small trans­port boats and mo­tored to shore, where they snapped pho­tos of wild musk oxen, lifted glasses in the town’s col­or­ful bars and nib­bled blue­berry pie while ad­mir­ing Alaska Na­tive dancers at Nome’s sum­mer cel­e­bra­tion.

The Crys­tal Seren­ity’s visit to Alaska’s western coast is his­toric. At nearly three foot­ball fields long and 13 sto­ries tall, the cruise ship is the largest ever to tra­verse the North­west Pas­sage, where its well-heeled guests glimpsed po­lar bears, kayaked along Canada’s north shore, landed on pris­tine beaches and hiked where fe­whave stepped.

Some re­mote vil­lages along the way are see­ing dol­lar signs, while en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists are see­ing doom. They say the voy­age rep­re­sents global warm­ing and man’s de­struc­tion of the Earth.

The ter­ri­ble irony with the Crys­tal Seren­ity’s voy­age is that it’s tak­ing place only be­cause of cli­mate change and the melt­ing Arc­tic, says Michael By­ers, a pro­fes­sor in the po­lit­i­cal sci­ence depart­ment at the Univer­sity of Bri­tish Columbia in Van­cou­ver.

The North­west Pas­sage, which con­nects the Pa­cific and At­lantic oceans, has long been choked off by ice. But melt­ing brought on by cli­mate change is al­low­ing pas­sen­gers to cruise up the Ber­ing Strait and then head east to­ward Green­land over the Arc­tic Ocean be­fore dock­ing next week in NewYork City.

“And yet, by ac­tu­ally tak­ing ad­van­tage of cli­mate change, it’s con­tribut­ing to the prob­lem be­cause the ship has a very large car­bon foot­print of its own,” By­ers says.

The cruise ship left Se­ward, on­the Ke­nai Penin­sula, on Aug 16 with about 900 guests and 600 crew mem­bers on board. Dur­ing its month­long jour­ney to New York, it will visit towns and vil­lages in western and north­ern Alaska, Canada, Green­land

Smaller cruise ships, those that hold about 200 peo­ple, rou­tinely make a port call in Nome and con­tinue through the pas­sage, but this ship is dif­fer­ent.

“This is the game changer,” Nome Mayor Richard Beneville says.

“This is the one that’s on ev­ery­one’s lips.”

Nome spared noth­ing to make sure tourists off the high-end cruise liner — tick­ets cost more than $20,000 per per­son, with a pen­t­house start­ing at about six times that— felt at home.

The guests came to town in waves so they didn’t over­whelm the avail­able and the east­ern se­aboard. ser­vices in­Nome, with a pop­u­la­tion of about 3,800.

They ar­rived at the small har­bor dock and loaded into vans or school buses for their ad­ven­tures, which in­cluded get­ting a gan­der at a herd of wild musk oxen that had taken up res­i­dence just out­side town.

Other ac­tiv­i­ties ar­ranged for the cruise ship pas­sen­gers were hik­ing and bird­ing tours and he­li­copter or fixed-wing air­craft flights. Or­ga­niz­ers even resched­uled the an­nual Blue­berry Fes­ti­val so vis­i­tors could en­joy a $5 piece of pie while watch­ing tra­di­tional Eskimo dancers or brows­ing ta­bles of seal skin gloves and wal­lets made by Alaska Na­tive artists. The event took place a block from where the world’s most fa­mous sled-dog race, the Idi­tarod, ends ev­eryMarch.

“Be­ing at this fes­ti­val here, the in­dige­nous fam­i­lies that are here, I mean they are so proud of what they have, their hand­crafts, their danc­ing, their mu­sic. They just love it, even with the hard­ships they­have to en­dure, the prices they have to en­dure,” says Florid­ian Bob Lentz, whowas trav­el­ing with his wife, Linda.

Char­lie and Joan Davis of San Fran­cisco signed up for the cruise within the first hour it was of­fered three years ago.

“We’ve been around the world many times, and this is some­place we’ve never been to, that’s some­what un­known,” Char­lie Davis says. “You know, just an ad­ven­ture.”

They weren’t alone in want­ing to be part of the his­toric cruise.

“This is the long­est sin­gle cruise we­have ever made, and it is the most ex­pen­sive cruise we’ve ever made be­cause it’s many days, and it’s very ex­pen­sive to op­er­ate up here,” says the ship’s cap­tain, Birger Vor­land.

“And it’s the one that sold out the fastest; 48 hours, it was ba­si­cally gone.”

This cruise was three years in the mak­ing, and just about ev­ery­thing is unique to the trip, says John Stoll, a Crys­tal vice-pres­i­dent who or­ga­nized it.

The Seren­ity was fit­ted with spe­cial equip­ment to op­er­ate in the Arc­tic, in­clud­ing an ice-nav­i­ga­tion satel­lite sys­tem. Its op­er­a­tors even char­tered cargo flights to north­ern com­mu­ni­ties to gather fresh per­ish­ables for the ves­sel’s five-star restau­rants.

“The plan­ning and the lo­gis­tics that has gone into this ship has been noth­ing short of amaz­ing,” Stoll says.

The cruise com­pany is plan­ning an­other Alaska-to-New York City voy­age next Au­gust, cater­ing to trav­el­ers like the Lentzes.

“We’re go­ing off on a wildlife ad­ven­ture right now, and that, to me, is what it’s all about in our twi­light years — kind of ex­pe­ri­enc­ing things be­fore crazy hu­mans de­stroy it,” Bob Lentz says.

Peo­ple pre­pare to take a po­lar plunge in the Ber­ing Sea in front of the lux­ury cruise ship A high-end restau­rant aboard the ship. an­chored just out­side Nome, Alaska.


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