“In the Wake of the Vikings” a Stunning Greenland Cruise

A view a river leading to the sea where there is an iceberg and mountains beyond in Uunartoq. A must-see when  visiting Greenland.

I first fell in love with the polar regions on a polar bear walking safari in Manitoba. From that moment on, I’ve been fascinated by the otherworldly landscapes, the spectacular wildlife, indigenous history, and the inherent adventure of going to such a remote destination.

Just a quick break in your read. If you think I am absolutely loony toons for talking about a cruise in the middle of this COVID-19 hubbub, please know this trip won’t be available again until 2021. Thinking about future travel is a good thing. For more information on how Adventure Canada is handling the crisis, please refer to the Table of Contents.

Why Greenland?

If you’re intrigued by less-traveled destinations, Greenland more than fits the bill. A fifth of the size of the United States, it’s the largest island in the world, with 80% is covered in ice, in some places over a mile thick.

The population is about 56,000––that’s half the population of Burbank, CA––with ninety percent of the residents being Inuit. Officially, it’s part of the Danish kingdom though its government is autonomous.

Rolling green hills and red buildings in a landscape view of Qassiarsuk in Greenland.
The rolling hills of Qassiarsuk

The biggest communities, and that’s relative, are found along the coast in the west and south. With the country’s interior under ice, there’s only one three-mile road between two small settlements. No other roadways exist to connect one city to another. Greenlanders must swap roads and highways for sailing the country’s channels and fjords to visit one another.

We will “engage with the sense of place, the people, the cultures, the wildlife… and to do so as a community.”

David Newland, host

In short, Greenland is tailor-made for expedition cruising.

What is an Expedition Cruise?

For those who are not familiar with the term, an expedition cruise enlists smaller ships (6 – 200 passengers or so), focusing on remote destinations. The ships are often former commercial vessels with reinforced hulls designed for challenging waters.

The ship Ocean Endeavor in a fjord in Greenland
The Ocean Endeavor, a former ferry in the early 80s

The voyage has less to do with visiting ports and more about physical and/or cultural activities like kayaking, wildlife viewing, community visits, photography, biking, zodiac tours, snorkeling, or diving in extraordinary locations. Expedition ships travel to the nooks and crannies of the world’s wildernesses inaccessible by any other means.

Adventure Canada’s Vibe

Every cruise company has a unique personality.

Think of the Canadian, family-owned Adventure Canada as a floating adult sleepaway camp with a lot of cool PHDs. Continuing with my analogy, all the camp counselors work hard to create an atmosphere of excitement and camaraderie.

As I met other passengers, I found that many had been on at least two previous cruises with the company––some as many as five or six.

Naturalist Krista Gooderham enthusiastically talks to passengers on an Adventure Canada trip. On the shore of Prince Christian Sound
Krista Gooderham talks to passengers before exploring a landing spot along Prince Christian Sound

Our first night onboard, our host and master of ceremonies, David Newland called everyone together to give us the low-down on the upcoming week. I am responsible for the “care and keeping of the spirit of the expedition,” he told us. Their goal over the next 11-days was to provide us with the opportunity to “Really engage with the sense of place, the people, the cultures, the wildlife… and to do so as a community.”

We are travelers he said, not “tourists.”

"MJ" Swan of Adventure Canada in a zodiac. He was the leader expedition leader during my cruise beginning in Iceland and exploring Greenland.
MJ Swan wrestles some choppy waters with one of the ship’s zodiacs

A tourist he explained is “Someone who wants to go away and have a good time but come home, more or less, the same person that left.” A traveler, on the other hand, is open to change. “Their hearts and minds are drawn to new vistas and the idea of gaining new understandings.”

I would say this is true. My experiences with expedition cruises in the Amazon, Baja Mexico, The Great Bear Rainforest, Penobscot Bay, and Antarctica, all shared like-minded travelers who wanted more than a “standard” holiday. They wanted to actively participate, and immerse themselves in the adventure.

Mathew “MJ” Swan, our Expedition Leader and son of one of the co-founders, was tasked with overseeing our Greenland excursions and landings. A taciturn fellow with a dry sense of humor, he elaborated on David’s words.

Jane Sproull-Thomson, the Safari Endeavor's ethnographer
Jane Sproull-Thomson, ship’s ethnographer

“We’re going to bring the destination to life in many different ways. We’ll “introduce you to the natural history world; we’ll take a look at the deep history and the archeology of a site, then also take a look at present-day and what it means for the future of these regions, as well.”

He brought the gathering to a close by asking us to let the team know why we were there.Were we into geology? Love birding? Want to connect with the Inuit culture? Knowing would enable the team to tweak the itinerary in real-time so everyone would get the most out of the experience.

Did he mean they were going to customize the trip to satisfy each individual need? No. But as much as they could do to keep people happy, they would.

Nice.

From Iceland to Greenland: “In the Wake of the Vikings Itinerary”

When you’re online looking for an expedition cruise, it’s important to note the itineraries you see are just a “sample,” not a given. Weather conditions or wildlife sightings can alter the day’s trajectory, and that’s ok, you want the expedition to be nimble. Big ships with strict port requirements and docking deadlines don’t have the luxury to hang out for two hours watching a pod of whales hunt.

Expedition ships do.

The manor House ruin on Hvalsey in Greenland. An important location in the history of the Norse in both Iceland and Greenland.
The manor house ruin at Hvalsey

Consider my Iceland to Greenland itinerary the same way. While the major archeological sites are scheduled (weather permitting), your ship may explore different fjords or make landings in different spots, that kind of thing. Also, be prepared for change. In the morning you may think you’re doing X and by the afternoon something has changed and you’re doing Y. That’s the nature of the beast.

If you’re the type that needs everything just so, expedition cruising is not for you.


The Journey at a Glance

Reykjavik, Iceland (Red-eye flight from New York, boarded the Adventure Canada’s Ocean Endeavor around 4 pm) –-> Heimaey Island in the Vestmannaeyjar “Westman Islands” archipelago –->Kangerluluk Fjord Southern Greenland –->Prince Christian Sound–-> Uunartoq–->Hvalsey –->Qaqortoq–->Qassiarsuk/Brattahlid–->Arsuk / Ivittuut –-> Nuuk –->Evighedsfjorden (Fjord of Eternity)–->Kangerlussuaq (Charter flight from Kangerlussuaq to Toronto, Ontario – included in the cruise fee)


Trip Highlights

Heimaey Island

Our first stop was the fishing port of Vestmannaeyjabær, 43 miles south of Iceland on Heimaey Island, the only inhabited isle within the Westman Islands archipelago.

Passengers of the Ocean Endeavor hike the trail to the summit of Eldfell volcano in the Westman Islands, part of Iceland.
Hiking the trail to the summit of the Eldfell volcano

In the early 70s, Vestmannaeyjabær was nearly destroyed when the Eldfell volcano erupted, spewing 200 million tons of lava and ash onto the city and creating a 600-foot mountain where a meadow used to be. A third of the buildings were buried 40 feet deep.

“When they [Norse people] came from Iceland, they would’ve come into the fjord and seen this beautiful, tall, white church shining in the sun.”

Jane Sproull-Thomson, the ship’s ethnographer

Desperate to save the harbor, responders successfully halted the advancing disaster by pumping thousands of gallons of seawater on the tip of the flow.

A Couple hold hands while walking on the lava field of Eldfell volcano in the Westman Islands
Hiking to the summit of the Eldfell volcano

Out of a population of 5,000, there was only one fatality. When Eldfell ended its reign of terror 100 days later, the island’s mass had grown by twenty percent.

Today, the aftermath is a tourist attraction.

Upon landing, we split up. Passengers wanting a more laid-back morning took a bus tour around town followed by a visit to the Eldheimar “Worlds of Fire” museum. (Passengers who went said the exhibit based on the eruptions was excellent.)

Anxious for a little exercise after being on the ship for over 24 hours, I chose the relatively steep, 4-mile roundtrip hike to the Eldfell summit.

The massive cliffs in Heimaey Harbor covered in lichen and home to many species of birds.
The mysterious cliffs in the harbor of Heimaey Island

As we approached the base of the mountain, we passed memorial plaques in the lava field showing where homes and community buildings once stood.

The trail was a moonscape enhanced by what the locals called a “black fog.” We were lucky if we could see 25-feet. Ascending a series of switchbacks, the hikers above me seemed more apparition than human.

Huge, freeform boulders called “volcanic bombs” launched from Eldfell’s mouth had come to rest in the oddest places. Magma sculptures born from cooling rock were gnarled and twisted and pocked with holes and random stones. Basketball-sized vents in the rubble were hot enough, we were told, to tempt picnickers to use them for cooking.

Guests of the Ocean Endeavor take a zodiac tour of a cave within the cliffs of Heimaey Island Harbor
A shallow cave along the cliffs on Heimaey Island

At the summit, the incredible view we knew was there was obscured by a wall of grey mist, but I didn’t mind, the things we did see were worth it.

Afterward, we loaded into zodiacs for a harbor tour to marvel at the enormous cliffs marbled by lichen and bird guano. The scenery was straight out of an episode of Game of Thrones, and when we opted to examine the depth of one of the larger caves, I half expected the dragon Drogan to fly out. Above us, fulmars, kittiwakes, common murres, and puffins nested in the weathered cavities of the rocks. Occasionally, a few of the seabirds would swoop down to eye level only to depart as soon as they realized we had nothing to offer.


Kangerluluk Fjord

On our second night, after dinner, we had our first glimpse of the eastern coast of Greenland. Sunset wasn’t until 10 pm, leaving us plenty of time to explore.

Bundled in layers, we piled into zodiacs for a tour of the Kangerluluk Fjord, grouped by whether we were interested in a one, two, or three-hour ride. You guessed it; I was in for the long haul.

A natural ice bridge connecting to rocks on a peninsula with a tidal glacier in the background within the  Kangerluluk Fjord in Greenland.
A tidal glacier in the background in Kangerluluk Fjord

Nearly 4,000 feet high, the mountains surrounding the fjord and its many inlets were streaked with snow like a Bundt cake.

The scene lived up to my fairytale imaginings of Greenland. Glassy waters led us into narrow channels past cascading waterfalls and enormous tidal glaciers. Fancifully shaped icebergs worthy of Dr. Seuss in brilliant pale blue were sentries welcoming us to their world.

Adventure Canada guests on a zodiac watch ice calve from a tidal glacier
Ice calves from a tidal glacier

Passengers, who paid extra for the privilege, kayaked snug as a bug in dry suits along the coastline, small as figurines juxtaposed to the enormity of the setting. Three times a glacier put on a show, dropping a torrent of ice into the water and sending ripples of “bergy bits” hundreds of feet in our direction.

Our jaunt came to an end with a special treat. Cruise Director Laura Berman and staff, wearing goofy hats, saddled up to our zodiac in one of their own, delivering piping hot cups of cocoa with Baileys.


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Prince Christian Sound

It was a beautiful morning the day we entered the mouth of Prince Christian Sound. The sunshine sparkled on the channel’s cobalt blue water like diamonds. Jagged mountains on either side were still green where grass grew, other peaks were naked stone sprinkled with snow.

Early morning in Prince Christian Sound. A large channel of water flanked by snow-specked mountains in Greenland.
Early morning in Prince Christian Sound

MJ sent zodiacs in all directions looking for a proper landing site. It was the first time Adventure Canada sailed this route, and MJ told me later they try on every journey to stop at least once at a place they haven’t been before.

We landed on the far side of the sound from where the boat floated in open water. We were at the entrance of a valley of rocks and streams punctuated by boulders left there by glaciers millions of years before.

A gorgeous view from a shore hike in Prince Christian Sound
A gorgeous view from of Prince Christian Sound

The sound of rushing water called my name, and I ambled about letting a mental coin toss lead the way. Some folks went on a group walkabout but I was content to roam the great outdoors at my leisure.

Uunartoq

We made a wet landing (Adventure Canada provides waterproof muck boots) on the island of Unartoq on a cold, misty, rainy morning. Verdant mountains edged the shore upon which lay a jumble of emerald grass, yellow and purple wildflowers, and low-lying rock formations.

A contemplative moment with two Adventure Canada guests on a high hill on Uunartoq
A couple have look out over the water from a hill on Uunartoq

From the top of one of the fells, we could see a few icebergs and the gentle curves of the coastline disappearing into the fog.

We were given plenty of time on our own, or if we wished we could join Tupaarnaq (two-par-nak) Egede, our onboard Greenlandic culturalist, on a hunt for relics. I chose to wander and photograph whatever struck my fancy.

Thule bones in a centuries-old grave on Uunartoq
Thule bones in a centuries-old grave on Uunartoq

By midday, to our delight, the gloomy skies cleared, evaporating the pea-soup haze and revealing a beautiful mountain range I had no idea was there.

Mounds and deep indentations on a bluff overlooking the water were all that remained of the Thule culture’s winter homes from the 12th century. Callum Thomson, an archeologist, and anthropologist, specializing in Arctic cultures, pointed to a pile of rocks doubling as an ancient burial site. Inside, a skull and a thighbone were still lying beneath the rubble.

Passengers from the Ocean Endeavor  soaking in the hot springs on Uunartoq Island in Greenland
Lounging in the hot springs on Uunartoq Island

As soon as the sun came out, guests pulled their bathing suits from their daypacks and soaked in hot spring pools hewn out of the sod centuries ago.Not keen on having to get out at some point in 40-degree weather,I was happy to watch.

In the Wake of the Vikings (Hvalsey & Brattalhid)

We arrived at Hvalsey, our first ancient Norse settlement on another foggy morning. (If you recognize a pattern here, you’re right, Greenland is not unlike London in this regard.)

Walking the site, large square-cut stones, partially hidden from overgrowth, were all that was left of several ancient building foundations that once encompassed a substantial farm and trading center. At ground level, they seemed haphazardly strewn about, but from a plateau above it was easier to see how they’d been carefully placed.

The church ruins at Hvalsey next to the water at the end of a fjord in Greenland.
The church ruins at Hvalsey

The centerpiece of the site was an old church––a roofless, rectangular stone structure with 20-foot high walls built in the 14th century, and the best-preserved Norse building in Greenland.

Jane Sproull-Thomson, the ship’s ethnographer and Callum’s wife, explained in those days services were held standing up, which accounted for the Church’s relatively modest size and narrow footprint.

It had been covered in white lime mortar and “beautifully white,” said Jane. “When they came from Iceland, they would’ve come into the fjord and seen this beautiful, tall, white church shining in the sun.”

Pieces of the  manor ruins at Hvalsey
The manor ruins at Hvalsey

A wedding held in the church in September 1408 is the last known record of the Norse in Greenland. There was also talk of a man burned at the stake for using “sorcery” to charm women.

Pieces of a manor house a 100 yards away still stood though not in as good condition as the church.

The following day we sailed to the tiny community of Qassiarsuk to see Brattahlid, the first settlement founded by Erik the Red, the Norseman who gave Greenland its name nearly a thousand years ago.

A view of the beach at Qassiarsuk on a cloudy day.
A view of the beach at Qassiarsuk

Exiled from Iceland after being convicted of murder, Erik sailed west landing on Greenland’s fertile shores. He named the island Greenland, believing the Norse in Iceland would be more likely to follow him and settle there.He was a savvy marketer and, eventually, he convinced 500 people to join him. Many stayed in Brattahlid, while others continued on to what is now modern-day Nuuk.

At Brattahlid we saw reconstructions of Erik’s longhouse and the tiny chapel his wife, Tjodhild, commissioned, making it the first Christian church on the North American continent. She was responsible for converting Erik to Christianity, and their son, Leif Eriksson, would later spread the word of God to the Viking community throughout Greenland.

A replica of the Brattahlid Church in a view of the beach at Qassiarsuk
A replica of the tiny Brattahlid Church. The first in North America.

Today, the residents of Qassiarsuk number less than 100 and still raise sheep in the same lush countryside Erik the Red once farmed. Other than a tiny café, a small school-hostel, and a one-room church there were no other public buildings visible.

A large bronze likeness of Leif Erickson stood at the top of a steep hill.I’m not one to climb just to see a statue but it was worth the effort for the view.

Qaqortoq

Between our visits to Hvalsey and Brattalhid, we stopped at the fishing village of Qaquortoq founded in 1775 and the heart of Southern Greenland’s commerce and trade.

Rising above the marina, dozens of colorful chockablock homes in primary colors peppered the mountainside. Fishing boats of all kinds filled the harbor. One was relegated to drydock, and for a short while, I watched a family repair and paint its underbelly.

The colorful mountain homes scale a Qaqortoq mountain in Greenland
The colorful mountain homes on Qaqortoq in Greenland

I also took the walking tour but the local guide was not a professional and wasn’t sure what to do other than point out buildings and say what things were. “That’s a supermarket. That’s a school.” We saw few people except for the odd child on a bike or a truck driving by. It was eerily quiet.

We stopped at a visitor center within Great Greenland, the world’s leading sealskin tannery, to see the finally sewn garments and accessories they make.

It’s important to understand that seal is still a crucial part of Greenlandic society as it was centuries ago. Sustainability has been a practice of the Inuits long before it became a catchphrase.

An inuit fisherman painting his boat in dry dock An Inuit fisherman painting his boat in dry dock in Qaqortoq,  Greenland
An Inuit fisherman painting his boat in dry dock in Qaqortoq in Greenland

The first church built in 1832 was open for a look-see. It no longer holds regular services, that honor goes to a more contemporary chapel a few hundred yards away.

Qagortoq is an interesting place but not easy to read in a couple of hours. I did a drive-by of the Qagortoq Museum which contained Norse relics, but I ended up going back to the ship early while others stopped to check their emails at a small hotel with WiFi.

Ivittuut

One of my favorite landings was the abandoned Ivittuut cryolite mine (founded in 1859) located within the Arsuk Fjord.

One of the abandoned buildings at the Ivittuut mine
One of the abandoned buildings at the Ivittuut mine

In World War II, The mine played a critical role in the allies’ effort to defeat Hitler, though few know about it. At the time, cryolite was essential in the smelting of aluminum used for building fighter planes, and the Ivittuut mine was the only one of its kind in the world.When the Germans invaded Denmark, both Canada and America raced to Ivittut to keep the cryolite, workers, and their families from falling into the hands of the Germans.

The United States deployed 500 troops, erected three major artillery posts, and installed a naval base close by, which is now a small Dutch settlement called Kangilinnguit. To this day, Ivittuut and Kangilinnguit are the only two communities connected by a road.

A view inside the abandoned manager's house called the "Palace" at the Ivittuut mine
A view inside the abandoned manager’s house called the “Palace” at theIvittuut mine

Decades later, the invention of synthesized cryolite made Ivittuut obsolete and it eventually closed in 1987.

Exploring the silent compound’s crumbling buildings with their peeling paint and broken windows, I found it hard to imagine Ivittuut as the bustling, thriving hamlet it once was.

The excavation site’s deep crater had become a lake of seawater, and many of the original structures, including the barracks for the American soldiers, are long gone. A few buildings seemed newer and were apparently used by squatters.

The lonely graveyard at the abandoned Ivittuut mine
The lonely graveyard at the Ivittuut mine

Partially concealed in a shallow ravine reclaimed by grass and foliage, stood an old graveyard––only a few bright white crosses stood out against the green.

A few graves, perhaps more recent, were above ground nearby. A cross, devoid of words except for “Susan” written on it, gave me a chill. In true Stephen King fashion, I wondered if it was a bad omen.

One of a few remaining abandoned homes at the Ivittuut mine
An abandoned home at the Ivittuut mine

I’ve always found abandoned places like Ivittuut compelling. Besides being wildly photogenic, I am fascinated by the sense of mystery left behind where life once reigned. I love looking at a building and wondering, who walked through that door last? What was it like it was brand new? Who was the last person to drive that truck, or wash that dish, or say goodbye?

We only stayed for a few hours, but I could’ve stayed all day.

Nuuk

Near the end of our adventure, we visited Nuuk, the country’s capital, with a population of approximately 17,000. We had a few hours to bebop around, and many of my fellow passengers took guided walking or bus tours, others rented bikes from Adventure Canada and tooled around on their own.

A yellow building at the edge of Nuuk beach, with a red church in the background.
The Beach in Nuuk

Most of my time in the city I spent at the Greenland National Museum where spectacularly preserved “Greenland Mummies” are on permanent display. I highly recommend a visit.

Eight 500-year-old mummies (a family of six women and two children, one around six months old) were discovered in the abandoned Thule settlement of Qilakitsoq, stacked in a cave under a pile of rocks in 1972.

Two of the "Greenland Mummies" at the Greenland National Museum
Two of the “Greenland Mummies” at the Greenland National Museum

Two grouse hunters found them and because of their relatively good condition, they assumed the corpses were only a few years old. It’s believed the cold, dry environment freeze-dried the bodies.

Greenlanders consider the mummies a national treasure, and it’s easy to understand why. It’s a fascinating goldmine of historical and cultural information. The skin, hair, and teeth are still intact, so much so you can still see the remnants of tattoos on their foreheads.

The view down Hans Egedesvej Street in Nuuk where the Greenland National Museum is
The road leading to the Greenland National Museum

Feeling a bit peckish afterward, I went with a couple of friends to Cafetuaq, a restaurant inside the Katuaq Cultural Center. The bright and airy Café had giant floor to ceiling windows and a decent menu, so we stayed and chatted until it was time to catch a shuttle back to the ship.

Kangerlussuaq: Evighedsfjorden, the “Fjord of Eternity”

As if Greenland wished us a fond farewell, our last full day at sea we woke to glorious sunshine. The Endeavor sailed up the “Fjord of Eternity” near Kangerlussuaq, where it ended at a massive tidal glacier.

The massive glacier at the end of the Fjord of Eternity with a sailboat in front of it.
The massive glacier at the end of the Fjord of Eternity

An itsy-bitsy sailboat (or at least that’s how it looked from the Endeavor) glided back and forth in front of the ice. It was a serendipitous encounter providing us with an excellent sense of scale.

Anxious to soak in the rays and see the glacier, we loaded into the zodiacs for a closer look. Icebergs and bergy bits of varying sizes floated around us suggesting they were the product of recent calvings.

Meringue-looking ice covering the rocks at the end of the Fjord of Eternity
Meringue-looking ice at the end of the Fjord of Eternity

Long grooves etched into the cliffs leading up to the face were telltale signs the ice had receded significantly. On one side of the glacier, the ice resembled blue meringue atop the rocks—albeit it a million times larger.

To our delight, the warmth of the sun coaxed the glacier to calve, dropping thousands of pounds into the sea and sending mini tsunamis (we joked), our way.

Last Morning

We spent our last morning saying goodbye to the Adventure Canada team, new friends, and our home away from home, the Ocean Endeavor.

Afterward, we were shuttled to the postage-stamp of an airport in Kangerlussuaq where a chartered flight would whisk us away to Toronto Ontario where we caught our flights home.


The Ocean Endeavor

Our ship was initially the Konstantin Simonov built in 1982 to be a car ferry. After many years, a few refurbishments, and four different names, she became the Ocean Endeavor in 2014.

The nine deck 198- passenger capacity ship was perfectly comfortable with ample deck space and a swimming pool (only filled during appropriate weather), a sauna, and a hot tub, and plenty of interior common rooms. Aesthetically its design and furnishings are dated, but I didn’t care. I wasn’t there for the decor.

Passengers standing at the bow of the Ocean Endeavor sailing down Prince Christian Sound
The bow of the Ocean Endeavor

(For those who require luxury, newer ships exist that provide all the creature comforts of a five-star experience. They also come with five-star prices. )

Inside, we gathered for lectures, evening recaps, and big events in the Nautilus Lounge. The bright and airy Meridian Club was an inviting place to read, practice yoga, and play tabletop games.

The pool deck on the Safari Endeavor with couches and and chairs for passengers to use
The pool deck on the Safari Endeavor – Photo: Stern, Adventure Canada

For a couple of painters on board, the natural light was the perfect setting for channeling their creativity on to canvas. The smaller Aurora lounge hosted more intimate events.

A modest gift shop, library, gym, and mudroom rounded out the facilities. The Polaris Restaurant was the only dining room.

Dining

Ok..So here’s the thing….

The Bad News…
When I was on my trip, months ago, the food was horrible. I was not the only one who felt this way. We complained. Whether or not we were the reason, the head of the hotel (the hotel is everything on the ship having to do with accommodations including the restaurant) was replaced.

Tables next to the window in the Polaris Restaurant on the Ocean Endeavor
Polaris Restaurant on the Ocean Endeavor | Photo: JP Mullowney

The Good News..
Since then, I spoke to a fellow travel writer, Joel Balsam, on Twitter DM, who was on the Endeavor for Adventure Canada’s “Out of the Northwest Passage” cruise a few months after my trip. He was surprised there was a problem.”I thought the food was quite good, and I didn’t hear any complaints.” So, there you have it.

Note: There is open seating for all meals. Breakfast and lunch are served buffet-style while dinners are sit-down affairs.

My Cabin

My cabin was tiny, simple, clean, and perfectly comfortable. There were two twin beds, a tray-sized built-in desk, an ensuite bathroom, a phone for internal use, a television with some taped programming, and a small window. Depending on your needs and your budget, there are a variety of cabin types to choose from.

The window in my cabin on the Ocean Endeavor with a origami towel elephant on the windowsill
My cabin window on the Ocean Endeavor- apparently I accidentally deleted my other photos of the cabin..sorry

I’m sorry there’s no picture, I inadvertently deleted it. You can look at cabin options here.

My steward was kind and attentive and periodically left me adorable towel origami animals–my favorite was this elephant. I kept him on my windowsill throughout the trip.


Adventure Canada’s Team

Every cruise line hires experts to enhance passenger experience with lectures and presentations that educate and entertain.

Nive Nielsen, her husband and their two children on a zodiac in Greenland
Nive Nielsen, her husband, and two children

For Greenland, we were joined by two archeologists, two marine biologists, a naturalist, a photographer, a kayak guide, a geologist, a Greenlandic culturalist and an Inuit culturalist, an artist in residence, and as a special guest, singer Nive Nielsen.

Nive is a renowned Greenlandic singer, actress, and composer who’s performed around the world. She, her American husband, and two young children were a delightful addition to the trip. They sang for us twice, and Nive was generous with her local insight.After a supermarket run in the town of Qaqortoq, she served everyone nibbles whale and seal, Inuit staples.

Impressed by the breadth of talent, I asked MJ about their approach to hiring.

Genevieve Cote, the head Kayak Guide, on the Ocean Endeavor after her Polar Plunge
Genevieve Cote, the head Kayak Guide, after her Polar Plunge

“In the industry, it’s pretty standard to cover the sciences, but what we also take a look at things from the creative side of the brain. So this trip we have our “artist in residence,” but we also bring on writers and authors, we bring on photography or videography personalities. We’re trying to stimulate both sides of the brain.”

Overall, Adventure Canada’s team was obviously well-trained and fun-loving. They were helpful when they needed to be, good conversationalists, and attentive to our comfort and safety.Were a couple of people oddly stand-offish when speaking one-on-one? Yeah, but nothing that impacted my enjoyment of the trip.


Fun and Games

Adventure Canada’s bonified Cruise Director didn’t mess around. In addition to the lecture programming, Laura made sure there were plenty of other things to do during the day and night.

Partying on the Ocean Endeavor before the Polar Plunge
Dancing around before the Polar Plunge

The “Camp AC’s” (my name not there’s)programming was in full swing. Artist Rob Saley conducted a drawing workshop, and for those who “self-identified as youths,” there was a ship-wide scavenger hunt. I didn’t join in but “Arctic Bluff,” loosely based on a Greenlandic variation of Balderdash, was a favorite.

There were two movies screened, and one afternoon we indulged in an ice-cream social (I wholeheartedly participated in this), a triathlon that used the stairs, decks, and gym equipment for its course, and photographer Jesse Brinkman – Evans showed 20 or so travelers “How to Tell Stories with Light.”

Explorers and Adventurer's party on the Ocean Endeavor in Greenland with Adventure Canada
David in his Polar Bear garb and “Sally Ride” during the Explorer’s and Adventurer’s Party

One evening we gathered for the “Adventures and Explorers” party. A costumed affair where guests dressed as their favorite explorer.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the “Polar Plunge,” a tradition I’d heard of but hadn’t experienced firsthand.You would have thought it was Mardi Gras. David wearing a 3/4-length, white, faux fur coat with a polar bear head hood, invited everyone to don their bathing suits and robes and meet in the Nautilus Lounge where people danced around in funny hats, cheering and blowing noisemakers.

A passenger on the Ocean Endeavor taking the Polar Plunge
The infamous Polar Plunge

I’m not keen on leaping into frigid water but the energy of the festivities was infectious. I sat in a zodiac, floating opposite the daring, to photograph their chilly communion with the Labrador Sea.

There was more that we did, but I think you get my drift.


Stuff You Should Know

I was a guest of Adventure Canada but words and sentiment are my own. The company neither saw or approved this post before going live.

How Adventure Canada is handling the COVID-19 for cruises in the near future.

“The health and safety measures we are implementing throughout our operation reflect the best practices and guidelines set forth by the World Health Organization (WHO), Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), and the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO).”

For the full Health Advisory click here.

A view from a zodiac of a hut on a grassy hill in Greenland
A view from one of our zodiac tours around Greenland

When You Can Go

The next “Wake of the Viking’s” Iceland to Greenland Expedition Cruise is in July 2021.

Traveling to Greenland Starts in Iceland

Passengers meet The Ocean Endeavor in Reykjavik in the late afternoon of the first day.

I flew in on a red-eye and was thrilled by how easy it was to drive into town.I booked the GrayLine Shuttle online before departing New York. A representative was waiting for me when I came out of the baggage claim. The shuttle was small but very comfortable and had free wi-fi.The cost was approximately $30 and took 45 minutes.

A passenger from the Ocean Endeavor at Hvalsey
One of my fellow passengers relaxing at Hvalsey

On the day of departure, there is a group, guided tour of the city. Afterward, the bus will take you to the ship.

Going Home

A chartered flight that is part of the cruise price takes you from Kangerlussuaq in western Greenland to Toronto, Ontario. You are responsible for your flight home.

Not included

  • Hotel stays in Iceland and Toronto.
  • Tips – The recommended amount is $15.00/per day per person. A tip for the crew is automatically charged to your card though you are able to remove or adjust that total at your discretion.
  • Soft Drinks and alcohol
  • Wifi: It’s expensive. For example, 30 minutes is $20.00. A 200-minute card is $100.00 there are 7, 14, and 21 packages that cost $400, $600, and $800, respectively. Please note: If you don’t log off when you finish your session, the time keeps ticking down.
  • Gift shop purchases

Additional Fees For…

  • Kayaking and/or diving booked prior to departure, and weather permitting.
  • Biking on a per-day rental basis when visiting local communities.

A view of mountains in clouds from the Ocean Endeavor Expedition Cruise Ship
A view from the Ocean Endeavor

Sea Sickness

I was seasick from moderately high swells between Iceland and Greenland. At first, I was a little queasy but nothing too bad. It progressed, and by the end of the evening, I had to lie down. For the rest of the trip, I was fine. I’d earned my sea legs, though at times when the boat rocked we all walked as if we were drunk.

I can’t wear the patch, so I stuck with the Dramamine the doctor gave me. To be safe, I would bring whatever works for you. If you do feel sick, drink lots of water, eat something bland like toast, and ride it out in bed. Don’t force yourself to do something, you’ll get past it soon enough. Promise.

What to Pack

Adventure Canada provides a windproof/waterproof jacket you can keep.

The weather in Greenland during the summer is volatile. From cloudy to sunny, to cold, to rain, and back again in a single day. Make sure you bring plenty of layers. The coldest days we experienced were in the lower ’40s. On the Endeavor and in the zodiacs, don’t underestimate the windchill factor.

(Use this Winter Packing List and you’ll Never Be Cold Again for any cold-weather adventures. I also have an Insatiable Traveler Amazon store with all the travel products I use and love.)

Top Must-Haves

One of the many waterfalls in Western Greenland
One of the many waterfalls in Western Greenland

Photography

Greenland is stunning. You won’t be at a loss for beautiful landscapes. If you prefer to use iPhones, you’ll be happy with 95% of the trip. Whales or birds at a distance will be hard to capture.

I brought two camera bodies ( Canon 5D Mark 3 & 4), a 24-70 mm, f2.8 lens as well as a 70-200 mm f2.8. I prefer to have two cameras whenever I’m in the field so I don’t miss an image changing lenses. For the majority of the trip, I used the 24-70 mm.

Tip: Use a fast shutter speed when you’re in the zodiac to compensate for the movement of the boat.

Wildlife

Aside from birds, I really didn’t see much wildlife. There were whales sightings but so far away they were small with binoculars. When it comes to animals, you just never know.


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6 thoughts on ““In the Wake of the Vikings” a Stunning Greenland Cruise

  1. Nancy White says:

    Susan, Al and I met you on the Sea of Cortez trip. That was our last as we are now strictly quarantined by a very serious illness that I didn’t know I had on that trip. Your travelogues mean so much to us. The descriptions are informative and intriguing and, of course, the photos are superb. Many thanks for sharing🤗.

    • Susan Portnoy says:

      oh my goodness, Nancy! I’m so sorry to hear about your medical troubles. I wish you the best of luck. Thank you for letting me know you enjoy the posts. That means the world to me. Take care of yourself…. xo

  2. NiTiN ShaRma says:

    Hi, I Like your article, its amazing feeling when you don’t know that what you will do on your travel . when you see mountain snow lush greenery than you think now I have achieved the whole world.

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