This, we assume, is in case you hit an iceberg, of which there are still many that haven’t completely melted in the Arctic, and which cruise ship operators have been very touchy about ever since that Titanic thing. If the Crystal Serenity goes down, the US Department of Defense is ready to rescue the passengers and is practicing to do so at considerable cost to the taxpayers. Yes, your tax dollars are being spent to assure the safety of these bloated eco-snobs, who plan on enjoying golf, gourmet dining and fine wines right until the moment they crash into an ice cube the size of Delaware County, PA,* whereupon brave and well-trained rescue squads will fish them out of the Arctic waters and chopper them back to land.
“Why bother with that?” you might ask. “They’re just going to dry them off and send them back to their day jobs, which for most of them consist of making my IRA disappear.”
That’s a good question, for which this column has no real answer. We have cruised, however, in Alaska if not the Arctic, and are anxious to provide insight on how to behave on board.
We had an unlimited drink package on our voyage, and I assume for a minimum of 22 large, which is more than ten times what we paid, the cocktails are free as well, so your first job is to stay drunk. I don’t mean to boast here, but this was almost effortless for us.
On our voyage we stopped at a different Alaskan port almost every day, and we took the option of stumbling off onto the shore just to enjoy the novelty of paying for our drinks. There were a multitude of other activities offered, all by cheerful vendors who were no more attached to Alaska than we were—they just moved there for the summer to sell us souvenirs.
On the Northwest Passage cruise, the passengers aren’t going to get much of that, as there are no ports to call on, due to the fact that the passageway was covered with ice year-round until enough of us drove enough Hummers to induce it to melt. There is one port on the way, the far northern village of Ulukhaktok, whose members are being trained by the Canadian government, at expense to Canadian taxpayers, on how to host a cruise ship carrying four times the number of people that live in their village.
This training consists mainly of fitting the word “Ulukhaktok” on a t-shirt, if our experience is any guide. Plus they could invent some boring local lore to mumble at the passengers as they drive them along the featureless tundra. Also they could throw up some zip lines between the icebergs and offer to help the tourists paddle around in kayaks so they could enjoy the thrill of being crushed by ice floes.
The original adventurers who tried to find the Northwest Passage before it existed did this, along with being frozen in the Arctic ice over the winter, being chased by polar bears, and dying of starvation after they ran out of spoiled whale blubber to eat.
The Crystal Serenity, on the other hand, chases polar bears. A passenger on a previous Arctic expedition described it as follows:
“I think that’s why we kept getting closer and closer even as they tried to swim away, crossing a cove and scrambling up a cliff. There were people on the cruise—a minority, to be sure—who later criticized the decision to follow them. Polar bears, they pointed out, often go up to a month without finding anything to eat and can ill afford to waste precious calories paddling away from people, even if those people only want to share pictures of them on Facebook.
But I’m not sure we had a choice. … If we hadn’t seen any polar bears, I think there might have been a riot.”
I can see his point—I would hate to have to tell my grandchildren “Yes, your grandmother was lost in the Great Polar Bear Riot of ’16,” but polar bears, on the other hand, make their living waiting around holes in the ice for seals to come up for air, and then bite their heads and drag them onto the land to devour them. I think it’s safe to say this is, at the very least, unpleasant for the seals.
The less ice there is, the fewer holes there are, so the polar bears are in danger of following the dodo into extinction anyway, and chasing a few around with a 900-foot cruise ship probably isn’t going to make much of a difference to them, long-term survival-wise.
Plus, imagine the hearty flippers-up we’re getting from the seals.
*191 square miles