If you are planning an expedition cruise to the Canadian Arctic and/or Greenland you will find there are a lot of cruises to choose from. You can of course ask us which fits best f or your interests. For those who want to select the places and experiences for their ideal adventure cruise holiday themselves, below we outline all the different highlights and experiences you can have.
Most people will go to the Canadian Arctic and Greenland for the wildlife and both the land and waters harbour plenty of it. You may encounter polar bear, barren-ground grizzly bear, muskox, caribou, walrus, Arctic fox, Arctic seal, harp seal, bearded seal, beluga, humpback and bowhead whales and narwhal.
Located in Davis Strait, Monumental Island is a well-known spot for walrus as well as polar bears. On my own trip we cruised by Zodiac right around the shoreline and saw a couple of polar bears on the prowl. Zodiacs are sturdy inflatable boats used to explore hidden coves and inlets, while on the lookout for wildlife. They are sturdy enough to cruise through the ice and you can beach them to land at a historical site.
Such historical sites are plentiful in the Arctic and Greenland. Along the southwest coast of Greenland lie old Norse settlements which loom large in the imagination of many people. It was at Brattahlíð that Erik the Red lived, while at Hvalsey the famous medieval Norse Cathedral stands, the largest Norse building in Greenland. Much later, other European explorers charted these waters and it was at Beechey Island that Franklin’s ill-fated expedition spent its last winter in 1845 before vanishing in the ice. Three of his crew are buried here and visiting their graves is a poignant reminder of the lives lost during the exploration of the Canadian Arctic. Key places in the saga of the ill-fated Franklin Expedition along the shore of King William Island, like Victory Point, are good locations to reflect on the quest for exploration that opened up the Arctic. No matter where you go, at some point during your cruise you will visit historic sites and come eye to eye with poignant reminders of those who gave their lives during the exploration of the High Arctic. Take a moment to learn more about their fate and honour their sacrifices.
Beechey Island lies in the far-western reaches of Lancaster Sound, where a massive outlet of water streams out of the Arctic and in the resulting mixing of water, nutrients well up which provide food for myriad of wildlife. In the southern regions of the sounds, Prince Leopold Island is one of the most important bird sanctuaries in the Canadian Arctic. Cliffs such as those on Leopold and Cobourg Islands are locations where breeding birds find a safe haven from predators such as polar bear and fox. Murres and fulmars breed here by the hundreds of thousands, soaring overhead as you cruise in Zodiacs along the base of high cliffs.
Further into the North-West passage, is Bellot Strait where peak tidal flows can reach up to seven knots. The resulting mixing of water provides ample food sources for marine mammals such as harp seal, bearded seal and polar bear. Not too far away is Conningham Bay which is shallow enough to trap belugas during low tide. The bay is a known hotspot for polar bear.
Back on board the ship, it is perhaps time for a BBQ on deck. As you enjoy the food and camaraderie of your fellow passengers, the captain will make sure the ship turns slowly a full 360 degrees, giving you a fantastic view of the panorama around you. Perhaps it will be staged off Baffin Island, the east coast of which is spectacularly scenic and holds such gems as Qikiqtarjuak (the iceberg capital of the world) and the Inuit settlement of Pangnirtung. These are great places to meet with locals and purchase Inuit carvings, jewellery and other local crafts. Also along Baffin's coast are the dramatic cliffs of Cape Mercy and Sunshine Fjord with their excellent hiking opportunities. There is no experience quite like hiking up a pristine mountain in Greenland or Canada's Arctic, admiring the flora and enjoying the spectacular panorama of icebergs, sea and glaciers.
Polar bear, beluga and right whale, narwhal and ring and harp seals are often seen along Baffin's coast. From here you cruise into Baffin Bay, the waters separating Baffin Island and the central Greenland coast. The bay is famous for the so-called middle ice with its abundant wildlife which keeps close to the ice edge. Keep an eye out for fin, sperm, sei and humpback whale as well as the numerous species of Arctic seal and seabirds that abound in the bay.
As you get close to the Arctic Circle, the days lengthen and nights shorten. In June and July, above the Arctic Circle, the sun will not set at all and this a great time to come out on deck at "night" and watch the scenery and wildlife drift by. Deckside is where it all happens! Alternatively, attend one of the many lectures on board. Polar cruises all bring expert lecturers along, teaching you about such subjects as history, flora and fauna, photography and exploration.
After you cross the bay to Greenland, Ilulisat is home to the fastest-moving glacier outside of Antarctica, moving at about 19 metres per day. Cruise the iceberg-studded Jacobshavn Icefjord where massive tabular icebergs enter Disko Bay.
In Greenland you may stop in places like Sisimiut, where you may meet traditional kayakers and see them perform "eskimo rolls'. And while you do not need to know the complete roll to participate, kayaking the Arctic is a unique experience. Hear the swish of water passing your hull, glide across a still bay with mountains and glaciers reflected in the water and get up close to whales and other wildlife. You get to experience the serenity of the Arctic to its fullest.