Story by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Managing Editor
For many travellers, the sense of exploration compels them to venture to far-off places. It’s an activity that fulfills an innate need in humans to find what’s out there. These days, though, voyaging to destinations that are lightly travelled is close to impossible. Tour operators exist in jungles, deserts, isolated archipelagos, and polar regions. In December, China launched its first of several planned flights to Antarctica, which will add to the already 45,000 tourists expected to visit the bottom of the world in 2018.
Within such mania for global tourism, what Adventure Canada achieves with its Arctic expeditions is remarkable. The family-run operation that has been in business for three decades brings travellers to Canada’s Arctic regions, as well as to Greenland, Iceland, and other hard-to-reach destinations. It does so with great care for the footprint it leaves on the environment and with conscientious efforts to allow local residents to teach and interact with passengers, rather than only being gawked at by them.
For those reasons and others, the Adventure Canada Arctic cruises are ranked No. 1 on the Vacay.ca 20 Best Places to Visit in Canada for 2018, an annual survey of travel journalists that directs consumers to destinations that are poised for an exceptional year in tourism. It is the first time a cruise is listed at the top of the ranking and the key factor for Adventure Canada’s nomination is its focus on exploring the north, a region of increasing interest for the nation and foreign visitors.
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I journeyed with the company on a July sailing to Nunavut and then across the Davis Strait for stops in Greenland, including the opportunity to walk on that nation’s massive (and famously melting) ice cap. The experience included phenomenal polar bear encounters, immaculate sunsets over the iceberg-filled horizon, stops on desolate islands that have rarely been visited by humans (and never by a cruise ship), visits with Indigenous artists in their home environments, spectating as Inuit youth challenged each other in the traditional sports of their people, and the chance to participate in a chaotic soccer game with local residents.
While the Adventure Canada itinerary is rich with extraordinary activities, the most remarkable aspect of the voyage for many passengers is the crew and the fellow shipmates. The crew includes scientists, many of whom are university educators who work as tour guides and lecturers on board the ship, creating a fascinating environment for the cruise passengers. A group called the Young Explorers includes student researchers working on environmentally focused projects related to their university studies. And guest speakers include notable Canadians who have been inspired by the north, nature, and Indigenous people. In 2017, those honoured guests included author Margaret Atwood and Phil Fontaine, the former chief of the First Nations.
“When you love something,” says Atwood, the “Handmaid’s Tale” author who was on her 17th Arctic trip with Adventure Canada, “you just love it, and it doesn’t require any more explanation than that.”
Fontaine’s trip was his first cruise to the Arctic and marked an opportunity for him to connect with the Inuit people whose rights he championed while he was a dealmaker on the federal political landscape.
Other passengers may not have had such famous names but their shared adventure was similarly exceptional.
“I shopped around and I chose this cruise because of the culture. I was thinking about National Geographic’s cruise but it was so focused on the science and for me any big trip I’ve ever taken has had art involved in it. So I liked that we would be able to interact with some of the painters, sculptors, and pottery-makers in these different little communities,” says Pat Sacks, who journeyed from Pennsylvania for the voyage.
Audrey Oswald, a retiree from Mississauga, Ontario, was on her fifth trip with Adventure Canada, a company that she says “just knows how to do it right.” Oswald adds, “The staff, the resource specialists are incredible, and the food is pretty good.”
Her experience with the company is not unique. Alana Faber, one of the company’s executives, says Adventure Canada enjoys a customer retention rate of 55 per cent, which is high for a luxury cruise operation with a limited number of trips and itineraries focused on remote destinations.
While many elements of the ship are luxurious, cruise aficionados may expect more creature comforts and some may be dismayed by the volatility of the near-daily Zodiac boat rides that travel across what can be rough waters while shuttling passengers from the ship to shore. Others may miss the amenities of the humungous ocean liners. There are no discos, casinos, or celebrity-chef restaurants on Adventure Canada’s Arctic cruises, and if there were they would seem odd on a trek that is largely contemplative about the planet and your own place in it.
Whether it’s in 2018 or some other date in the future, a cruise to the Arctic should be firmly in your dreams. Like any great vacation, the cruise offers much of the good things in life. It has the added benefit of also making clear how much of those joys you already possess.
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Cost: 2018 fares for the all-inclusive Arctic Safari expedition, including charter flights from Ottawa and back to Toronto at the end of the cruise, range from $5,995 to $17,695 (USD).