A cruise line's much-ballyhooed itinerary through the Arctic's storied Northwest Passage will take next year off, and the company plans to return with a smaller vessel in 2019 or possibly early 2020.
California-based Crystal Cruises' ship Crystal Serenity last summer made the 32-day voyage through the icy Northwest Passage from Seward to New York City — the largest cruise ship to ever take that route, according to the company. This year, it sailed the passage again.
Now, the company says its large ocean ships, such as the Serenity, won't traverse the path in the future. Instead, a mega-yacht the company is building will sail the passage.
"We will be returning to the Northwest Passage at a future date with our new expedition ship, Crystal Endeavor, which will be a polar-class vessel," said Crystal Cruises spokeswoman Susan Robison, in an email. "Nome will be a part of that itinerary."
The mega-yacht Crystal Endeavor has a passenger capacity of about 200, significantly smaller than that of the Crystal Serenity, which can carry more than 1,000 passengers.
John Stoll, Crystal Cruises' vice president of land programs and project manager for the Northwest Passage, said that taking a year off from the route in 2018 was previously planned and the itinerary wasn't necessarily intended to be an annual event.
"When we first went into it in 2013, we only planned one sailing," he said.
The company started planning its inaugural Northwest Passage trip — the one in 2016 — years in advance. Stoll said that it sold out so quickly that they needed to add a second departure in 2017.
The Crystal Serenity cruises through the Arctic, with a price tag anywhere between about $20,000 and about $120,000, targeted the affluent. Stoll said the price to get aboard the Crystal Endeavor for its expeditions through the Northwest Passage will be "similar or higher" than that.
In 2016, the company's Northwest Passage cruise was full, Stoll said, and this year it was about 90 percent full. He said the downsizing to a smaller ship isn't related to a decreasing demand.
"With a bigger ship, it's harder to get into some areas," he said. "It's going to give us more flexibility, to give us more diverse itineraries that offer more variety of stops."
The Crystal Serenity stopping in Nome on its route to New York City was a major event for the town, which hadn't seen a cruise ship of that size before.
Nome Mayor Richard Beneville said this week that he's felt a bit "put out" as people have asked him about the Crystal Serenity not returning.
"Going across the Northwest Passage is not going to the Caribbean," he said. "I think what they're doing is building up a bit of a passenger list, if you will. … People say, 'Oh, does that mean the end of it?' No, that doesn't mean the end of it at all. It means the end of a big ship for a while."