It’s increasingly popular on cruise itineraries but how well do you know Greenland? Abigail Healy asks cruise lines and operators for their insights and tips to help you sell it
Greenland is the world’s biggest island, reaching 1,750 miles from north to south and 625 miles from east to west yet, except for a few settlements and sheep farms in the south, there are no roads between towns, so cruising is a great way to explore its rugged wilderness.
According to industry body Clia, the cruise industry saw a 6% growth in the popularity of ‘exploration’ type cruises last year, including to Greenland.
Martin Lister, head of itinerary planning & destination experience at Fred Olsen Cruise Lines, says the line is seeing a similar trend in its own bookings. “This rise is most likely fuelled by frequent cruisers who have already sailed to the more typical destinations and who are looking for something new,” he asserts.
Hurtigruten has also seen strong growth to the destination, going from one small ship visiting once or twice a season to four designated itineraries for 2019.
Anthony Daniels, general manager UK & Ireland, says: “Further significant expansion is planned for the release of our Explorer 2020/21 season, due for launch in December this year.”
He adds that typical Greenland clients tend to be more experienced expedition cruisers – active and looking for new experiences. “They are well-travelled and stay up to date with the latest travel trends.”
Aurora Expeditions is noting a similar trend. Craig Upshall, UK & Europe sales director, says: “We are seeing huge demand for Greenland on our Jewels of the Arctic itinerary, and with the launch of new ship, Greg Mortimer, in October 2019, the European Arctic programme has been expanded to offer Greenland on a number of other voyages such as the Arctic Discovery, the Arctic Complete, and the Inuit Arctic & Beyond itineraries.”
Cruise & Maritime Voyages’ (CMV) two Greenland itineraries have proved so popular the line has more planned for its 2020 cruise programme.
It’s a destination on the rise, but what makes it so exciting? Hurtigruten’s Daniels says essentially “Greenland equals icebergs”, but dig a little deeper and you’ll find the world’s largest island with the largest fjords, Inuit culture, Viking heritage, the world’s largest national park and the Ilulissat icefjord.
He adds that wildlife is a key draw. “In spite of the dominating inland ice, the wildlife has access to a huge domain. Musk oxen, Arctic foxes, hares, ptarmigans, lemmings and the rare Arctic wolf are all part of the terrestrial fauna of Greenland. Whales, including narwhals, tend to get most of the attention when we talk about marine animals, but the walrus, which can weigh up to a ton, is also worthy of our attention.”
Fred Olsen’s Lister says that for some clients it is the remoteness that appeals. “Greenland is notoriously difficult for holidaymakers to reach, and cruising is definitely the best option.
It allows you to see parts of Greenland that aren’t accessible to mainland travellers. For instance, we can cruise through icebergs in the Qorooq icefield from Narsarsuaq, and through Prince Christian Sound, with its rugged peaks and glaciers, which has been ranked by our guests as the best scenic cruising in the world.”
Of course, there are practicalities to consider. Cruise Plus by Travel 2’s product and commercial manager, Nicola Payne, says: “Most expedition cruises go to east Greenland, while a number of Greenland cruises begin near the international airport in Kangerlussuaq on the west coast.
Kangerlussuaq is the main departure port in Greenland: you would fly here if you were coming from Copenhagen. Longyearbyen in Norway is also a popular departure port for Greenland cruises.”
Fred Olsen offers itineraries that sail ex-UK from Liverpool and Dover for those who prefer not to fly. Bear in mind, though, that these visit south Greenland only, with around four to five days of a two-week cruise spent in Greenland.
Typically, Greenland cruises take place in the summer months of July and August, and September for some lines, with itineraries from 14-20 days. Despite it being summer, temperatures tend to range from 5°C to 15°C, so ensure your clients are prepared.
Aurora’s Upshall highlights that the timing means guests enjoy the midnight sun phenomenon with “most tourist regions lit up 24/7 from early June to mid-July”.
Although much of the Greenland experience involves scenic cruising, there are also some fascinating ports of call.
Disko Bay is one such highlight. Cruise Plus’ Payne, says it is popular for its dog-sledding and icebergs.
Hurtigruten’s Daniels says Qeqertarsuaq is the only town on the volcanic island of Disko and that it is surrounded by local legend. “This verdant island in the midst of the ice offers amazing Arctic experiences. Guests can join optional excursions such as a guided town tour, kayaking or an ice-cruising boat trip. There’s also a local museum that’s worth a visit for archaeology and history fans.”
Payne also recommends Ittoqqortoormiit. “It is the most isolated settlement in Greenland. For up to nine months of the year, the town is cut off from the outside world,” she explains.
And for authentic cultural insights, Fred Olsen’s Lister suggests Nanortalik. “It’s a small community that gives guests an insight into the local way of life in such a remote part of the world. As it’s a small community, we don’t offer excursions as such but locals organise an “open town” for us and invite guests to walk around and explore as they please. Activities on the day include a visit to the Open Air Museum, a folk dance performance, a Greenland Choir recital and a kayak show.”
Daniels’ other top picks include Nuuk – “the oldest town in Greenland”, situated at the mouth of one of the largest and most spectacular fjord systems in the world – and Ilulissat, set in the stunning scenery of the Ilulissat icefjord and added to the Unesco World Heritage List in 2004.
In Greenland, the term “shore excursions” is somewhat loose, as many take place on the water. For example, Aurora’s guests can go sea-kayaking – paddling in small groups between ice floes, where the floating ice and icebergs are dotted with wildlife. Fred Olsen offers a boat trip through the icebergs in the Qooroq icefield with impressive photo opportunities.
As well as boat trips and kayaking excursions, Hurtigruten offers its guests helicopter tours, hikes and cultural excursions. Passengers can also choose to spend a night on deck under the stars with cosy sleeping bags and hot chocolate to keep the cold at bay.
For clients with specialist interests, Aurora offers photography workshops with expert guides and, new for its 2019 programme, a rock-climbing adventure on the rugged summits of east Greenland.