Get creative and you can find many trips that lend themselves well to bringing along the whole family. When you think family trip, cruises might come to mind—but you probably don’t think about one that starts in the Canadian Arctic and traverses the Northwest Passage. Remote and at times desolate, the far north doesn’t necessarily give off a family-friendly vibe. Here’s a little secret, though: That remote element is exactly what makes it the ideal travel experience for bringing mom, dad, teen, tween, toddler, and even baby.
Because most of the Northwest Territories that make up the Canadian Arctic lack airstrips for landing, many of them are only accessible by ship. Several cruise operators run trips through the Northwest Passage, making stops at tiny villages like the Inuit community of Pond Inlet and uninhabited areas like Devon Island. One of them is Adventure Canada, an Ontario-based (and family-run) operator that offers excursions ranging from 6 to 16 days.
For every one of its trips, Adventure Canada offers pretty sweet incentives for families. Kids under 2 get to travel for free—even on the charter flights between the gateway cities and the ship—and kids under 4 only pay for flights. Anyone under 30 automatically gets 30 percent off. (At the other end of the spectrum, traveling solo is an option too: Adventure Canada doesn’t charge a single supplement on any of its expeditions.)
I recently spent 12 days on Adventure Canada’s Ocean Endeavor, a small, 200-passenger ship that sailed the Northwest Passage from Resolute Bay, Canada, to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, and the ages ranged from three months to 87 years old, with a couple dozen of the 130-odd passengers aged under 30.
Here’s where the magic happens: The itinerary allowed for everyone to travel in the way that best suited them.
Onboard, the staff—which included musicians, biologists, naturalists, archaeologists, photographers, botanists, historians, and geologists—gave lectures on everything from Greenlandic mummies to arctic flowers, as well as just-for-fun events such as concerts, a talent show, yoga, and a whiskey label-making competition. There were also kids-only science projects and a panel with Adventure Canada’s Inuk staff about what it’s like to live in the north—both events that were pulled together in response to the interests of the passengers on board.
But excursions are the bread and butter of expedition cruising, and Adventure Canada’s trips are heavy on them. Almost every morning, we’d wake up, grab a quick breakfast, and head out on our first Zodiac of the day. Sometimes we’d spend hours zipping around ice, taking in the enormity of glaciers like Jackobsvan and the icebergs they produce.
Other times, we’d visit uninhabited islands, where we’d have the option to go on a long hike, to walk a short distance to an archeological site, or to stay near the shore and meditate. Or we’d visit historic Inuit communities in Canada and Greenland, where we were again given options: tours on foot or by bike or car, community center visits, souvenir shopping, or none of the above. (Although we all got the stern warning to be back to the Zodiacs by 6 p.m.)
When you’re in your 80s, it’s nice to have the option to take a car tour or circle an island in a Zodiac, with a naturalist explaining the differences between the call of a thick-billed murre and a kittiwake. When you’re 13, you’d probably rather ride a mountain bike. On the Ocean Endeavor, I saw this play out time and time again: grandma, mom, and son all got to travel in the way that worked best for them during the day, and at night, families shared stories, took in the scenery, and bonded in the absence of screens. All of the memories, none of the drama.
© 2016 AFAR Media