No More Crystal Serenity in the Northwest Passage

Crystal Serenity, pictured here in Antarctica, was the first of its kind to sail through the Northwest Passage in 2016. (Photo: Courtesy of Crystal Cruises)
In 2016, with much fanfare, the Crystal Serenity spent 32 days sailing through the Northwest Passage. Now, with much less fanfare, Crystal Cruise has cancelled the route.

In 2016, with much fanfare, the Crystal Serenity spent 32 days sailing through the Northwest Passage. Now, with much less fanfare, Crystal Cruise has cancelled the route.

Two years ago, history was made when the Crystal Serenity passed through the Northwest Passage with more than 1,000 people on board.  This luxury cruise liner returned in the summer of 2017 for a second run of the voyage. However, it seems the 2017 voyage was also the final trip for the Crystal Serenity in these northern waters. Crystal Cruise Vice President of Land Programs, John Stoll, answered questions regarding this change via e-mail correspondence with the High North News.

Crystal Cruise in the Arctic  

Although the Crystal Serenity, which comes in at 820 feet and 68,870 gross tons, will no longer be heading through the Northwest Passage, there remains questions around if Crystal Cruises will be sending other ships along the route.  Mr. Stoll commented that “We are always looking to expand the experiences we offer our guests and the Arctic region is in consideration.” This leaves open the change that Crystal Cruises will continue trips in the region, although likely in a different capacity.

Mr. Stoll further commented that “In the future, we [Crystal Cruises] are looking to offer guests a more intimate experience in the Arctic perhaps through our new expedition ship the world’s first purpose-built Polar Code-compliant yacht but nothing has been confirmed at this time.”  With the Crystal Endeavor advertised on Crystal’s website as a “polar-class megayacht” debuting in 2019, it seems a fair assumption that this ship will be heading to the Arctic passages in the future.

The northern voyage of the Serenity, although a success, was not without backlash. Many experts pointed out that rescuing passengers on such a ship would cost millions, not to mention the impact such a ship, with more than a 1,000 people on it, would have on the delicate environment, and of course the impacts on communities in the region. It would also be remiss not to mention the impacts that an oil spill from such a ship would have in remote northern waters, where clean-up would not only be costly but drawn out.  Yet, the 2016 sailing was sold out.

Engagement with Local Communities

The challenges of such a large luxurious trip are not only tied to the environment but also the people living in the Arctic. However, Mr. Stoll assured that Crystal Cruise tried to provide services to the communities while they were in town.  During the 2017 sailing, “we’re especially pleased to be of service to the people of Pond Inlet, who purchased much needed solar panels months ago, but who, due to the massive shipping costs, had planned to wait for delivery until funds could be raised. Crystal transported the panels to Pond.” The cruise company also donated school supplies, benches and clothes to communities throughout their passage.

There are also economic benefits of having cruise ships travel to remote communities who might otherwise not get such an influx in tourists. The impact of losing potentially a thousand customers will hit some communities hard. As Robert Hafner, the executive director of the Commerce Chamber of Nome said to the Alaska Public Media, “A lot of our businesses, they ramp up for it. They buy extra gear getting ready to supply those customers. That kind of money that’s not flowing through our community, even if it’s just one day, we need. And that’s too bad that at this time they are not intending to come back.” If Crystal Cruises does bring a much smaller ships such as the Crystal Endeavor to the north, communities such as Nome will not benefit nearly as much.

The Crystal Serenity sailed into history in the summer of 2016, but the long-term impacts of opening the Northwest Passage to cruise liners and other luxury ships has yet to be determined. Although the press surrounding the 2016 trip was impressive, Crystal is no longer sailing in the Northwest Passage, raising the question: What now?