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Canadian Arctic Cruises

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Cruise the Northwest Passage & Newfoundland

Revered for its fascinating Inuit culture, its stark remoteness, spellbinding beauty and astonishing wildlife. The Canadian Arctic is no doubt the most coveted destination for anyone who dreams of exploring the most isolated reaches of our planet’s north

In the Canadian Arctic you’ll encounter oversized glaciers, impossibly picturesque fjords and snow-drenched mountains, all harbouring a mind-boggling array of hardy creatures.

The Canadian Arctic’s isolation and lack of widespread human population is what turned it into an unparalleled wildlife haven. Churchill, in Hudson Bay, is dubbed the ‘polar bear capital of the world’ and Baffin Bay, considered one of the absolute jewels of the High Arctic, attracts a multitude of whales and boasts islands brimming with enticing history and culture. Then there’s the Northwest Passage, one of the biggest sailing challenges humans ever faced on this place – this sea passage separates Canada from Russia and, for just a few weeks a year, it is possible to cross it aboard an ice-strengthened Arctic expedition ship. For avid sailors, the passage is an absolute bucket-list dream.

The remoteness of the Canadian Arctic means cruising really is the best way to explore and, in this regard, you’ll have quite a few choices. You’ll find Canadian Arctic cruises that concentrate solely on the Arctic Archipelago (fly in/out of Toronto/Ottawa) and more popular itineraries that include Greenland (for Canada and Greenland Cruises) and Iceland (for Canada, Greenland and Iceland Cruises), the latter also exploring the sub-Arctic coasts of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Most Arctic cruises to and from Canada last about two weeks, with the longest itineraries (25 days) set aside for cruises which include a Northwest Passage crossing.

Read on to learn the answers to the most frequently asked questions about Canadian Arctic cruises.

FAQs

How was the Northwest Passage discovered?

The challenge to discover the Northwest Passage is probably the most epic ‘hunt for a short-cut’ there ever was, with initial endeavours dating back to the time of Henry VII in the 15th century. Linking the North Atlantic with the North Pacific, but primarily Europe to Eastern Asia, the passage meanders through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, an area that is, for most of the year, simply unpassable due to pack ice and treacherous sailing conditions. The passage or, rather, the existence of it, eluded humans for many centuries, only being finally crossed by Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen in 1906 – just a few years before he made a U-turn and accomplished the first successful expedition to the South Pole.

The Northwest Passage is wholly within the Arctic Circle and has only become increasingly more accessible in recent times, due primarily to the rising of our planet’s temperatures. Even though it was first crossed in 1906, it wasn’t a viable commercial route for many decades to come and has only been utilised in recent years. In the summer of 2007, the Northwest Passage became completely free of ice, for the very first time in recorded history. In 2016, the first tourist expedition cruise ship navigated the passage. Amazingly, there’s also been a cross-migration of marine life across the passage. A pair of Pacific grey whales were spotted in the Atlantic in 2010 and many experts believe that, given their location, they could’ve only crossed along the Northwest Passage.

For maritime history aficionados, the crossing of the Northwest Passage on a Canadian Arctic cruise is indeed a monumental achievement and a lifelong dream.

Best time to cruise the Northwest Passage and Canada?

The northern summer is the only time of year you can sail the Canadian Arctic, with cruises casting off from June to September. Northwest Passage cruises usually take place in August and September when the most ice has melted away, allowing free passage. In July, you’ll find the sun above the horizon the entire time, keeping temps to a balmy 7-10 degree Celsius. Obviously, early and late season cruises will encounter slightly colder temps but also spectacular sunsets and, having a few hours of darkness, also the chance to spot the Northern Lights.

For whale-watching value, late-season cruising is also ideal, as August and September will see the highest concentration of minke, sperm, bowhead and even the magnificent blue whale in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. July is a great month for spotting humpbacks, beluga and narwhals in this region. If spotting polar bears is your main priority, then early season cruising may deliver the best rewards, as bears trawl the coastline for food and are easier to spot from ships.

What wildlife will I see on a Canada cruise?

Not only is the Canadian Arctic the very best place in the world to see polar bears in the wild (followed closely by Spitsbergen) but the region is also home and attracts perhaps the widest range of Arctic wildlife. Several species of whales and seals visit these waters every year, and you could see walruses, narwhals (this is the best place to see this elusive whale) musk ox, foxes, wolves, lemmings, reindeer and a nearly endless array of spectacular birds, including the much-adored puffin. For wildlife lovers particularly, dare we say the Canadian Arctic is quite unsurpassed, especially as its one of the least navigated areas of the entire region.

Wildlife is distributed widely in the Canadian Arctic but there are plenty of animal hot-spots in specially protected coves. These areas are known to expedition ships, naturally, and itineraries include visits to coves, islands and inlets that are revered for their high concentration of Arctic wildlife.

Best places to visit during a Canadan cruise?

All Canada Arctic cruises are designed to take you from one astonishing highlight to the next, each stop and visit designed to get you up-close with the region’s wilderness, culture, history and wildlife. A good Arctic cruise itinerary through this region will combine a bit of everything: visits to remote Inuit communities, Zodiac outings to renowned animal hot-spots, as well as plenty of kayaking and hiking options to get you out and about.

Here are some of the best highlights you should know about, which will help you choose the right itinerary, be it a Canada and Greenland cruise, a Baffin Bay cruise, a Northwest Passage cruise or one that also includes Newfoundland.

South Baffin Island

Baffin is the largest island in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago and a lot of cruises concentrate their itinerary along its southern coastline: the eastern facing West Greenland, the southern facing Newfoundland (sharing the Hudson Strait), and the western leading to the Northwest Passage. The coast of Baffin is dotted with fascinating Inuit communities and the waters all-round attract a phenomenal array of marine life (this is one of the best spots to see bowhead whales). Arctic cruises in Canada will mostly concentrate on the coastline and waters around South Baffin Island so, even if you know nothing else of your intended Arctic cruise itinerary, rest assured it’ll deliver on the goods if it meanders around South Baffin.

Hudson Strait

Used commercially for over three centuries and linking the Atlantic to famous Hudson Bay, the strait is impassable in winter and still boasts amazing icebergs by the beginning of summer. As you sail along, you can soak up the splendours and scan the coast (and ice floes) for passing seals and polar bears.

Ivujivik

The northernmost community in Nunavik, Ivujivik sits at the point where Hudson Strait meets the famous bay with the same name. The village is an ethereal site, set among such harsh landscapes, prone to dramatic sea tides.

Cape Dorset

Famous for being home to internationally-renowned Inuit sculptors and painters, Cape Dorset is an amazing cultural and historical stop-over, with a handful of ancient archaeological sites found not far from the coast. The Tuniit people have been living here for an estimated 3,000 years and were enticed to settle here by cape’s abundance of animal life. The community is charming in itself and acts as a springboard for stunning hikes nearby.

Ungava Peninsula

Straight south of Cape Dorset, across the Hudson Strait, is the Ungava Peninsula, a geologically enriched area that offers amazing hiking, kayaking and Zodiac outings. Many Arctic cruises will spend at least 2-3 days here alone, exploring the rugged coastline, choosing the best places to get you onshore and offering a wealth of activities, all aimed at wildlife spotting. This is an incredible bird-watching spot to boot, home to the largest colony of thick-billed murres in all of Canada.

Kangerlussuatsiaq Fjord, Greenland

Aside from simply having more days to cruise Arctic waters in search for more whales and wildlife, a Canada and Greenland cruise delivers the priceless chance to visit Kangerlussuatsiaq, in southern Greenland. The fjord sits just under the Arctic Circle and its relatively calmer and warmer waters attract a lot of marine life and make for a distinctly different landscape, much greener and lusher. There’s some fantastic cruising and hiking to be done here, least of all because the fjord, after a while, will seem endless; the longer you sail through, the more off-shoots you’ll discover! This very complex maze of waterways is but one of the many highlights all along the coast of Greenland and on a Canada Arctic cruise that extends to the east, you’ll at least get to enjoy a taste of it.

West Greenland 

Crossing the Northwest Passage is rewarding enough for cruises taken in the High Canadian Arctic, yet having the chance to explore the very wild coast of West Greenland gives that achievement some stiff competition. Picturesque remote communities like Sisimiut, with their colourful houses and welcoming locals, make for fantastic stop-overs, although it’s the awe-inspiring wilderness that will no doubt capture your heart. On this side of Greenland, you can cast your eyes on the UNESCO-listed Ilulissat Icefjord and some of the largest icebergs on earth in Disko Bay, also renowned for attracting pods of whales. Disko Bay is Greenland’s side of Baffin Bay.

Some of the main Attractions

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South Baffin Island

The largest island in the Canadian Arctic. One of the most famous and dramatic sites is the suitably named Mount Asgard located in Auyuittuq National Park.

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Cruise The Northwest Passage

The challenge to find the northwest passage began in the fifteenth century. It was only until Roald Amundsen came along that it was successfully navigated in 1906. Today, you can follow in the wake of great explorers to navigate the Northwest Passage.

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Spot Polar Bears in Hudson Bay

It is considered one of the best places to see Polar Bears. In this region, it is believed that there are up to 1000 bears.

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Our Vessels

MS Fram | Antarctic & Arctic Cruise Ship

max. 318 Passengers

L'Austral | Arctic & Antarctic Cruise Ship

264 Passengers

Ocean Endeavour | Antarctic & Arctic Cruise Ship

199 Passengers