Arctic hamlets prepare for giant cruise ship Crystal Serenity

The largest ship ever to navigate the Northwest Passage has departed Anchorage and plans one stop in N.W.T. and two in Nunavut.

Ulukhaktok, Cambridge Bay and Pond Inlet expecting hundreds of visitors at end of month

The Crystal Serenity, the biggest cruise ship to plan a transit of the legendary Northwest Passage, is on its way, having left port in Anchorage Tuesday. (The Canadian Press)

The anticipation keeps Janet Kanayok up at night. 

"[I'm] a little bit overwhelmed, thinking of the magnitude of how many people are coming," said Kanayok, the community economic development officer in Ulukhaktok, N.W.T. 

The community is the first Canadian stop on the Crystal Serenity cruise ship's inaugural voyage through the Northwest Passage. The ship will also stop in two Nunavut communities: Cambridge Bay and Pond Inlet. 

The 253-metre Crystal Serenity left Anchorage, Alaska, Tuesday on its way to become the largest ship ever to navigate the Northwest Passage. It will carry more than 1,000 passengers and 600 crew. 

Preparations in Ulukhaktok began back in 2014, and are now ramping up in earnest a week and a half before the ship's arrival.

"This is a huge deal," says Kanayok. "We've never had a ship of this size before."

The ship's arrival means the community of 400 — mostly Inuvialuit people — will more than double in size.

To accommodate the massive swell of people, the hamlet got money from the territorial government to order a seacan filled with picnic tables, portable toilets and event tents, but delays in this year's sealift barge means the supplies aren't expected to arrive until two weeks after the visit. 

Instead, the hamlet is doing the best with what it has, and plans to do extra rounds of water delivery and sewage removal from the public washrooms.

It's "just to be safe," according to Kanayok. 

Clearing customs

The crew and guests will clear customs on board the ship, with Canada Border Services Agency officers specially flown in for the task, before venturing into the community. 

Vicki Aitaok, Cambridge Bay's cruise ship co-ordinator, says she is still looking for volunteers to help with the visit of the Crystal Serenity later this month. (Matthew Illaszewicz/CBC)

The hospitality begins on board the ship with a welcome from Inuvialuit drummers performing Western and Central Arctic styles of traditional dance.

Once on land, the tourists will take part in a self-directed walking tour of the community, go on a nature hike, and sample local cuisine such as Arctic char chowder.

Passengers will also have the chance to view and buy local art at the community hall.

Preparations for the ship's visit are also coming along in Cambridge Bay, which includes making enough bannock for hundreds.

Local cruise ship co-ordinator Vicki Aitaok is still looking for volunteers, and she says the hard work will pay off for the community.

"It's definitely a boost to our economy. We don't get hundreds of people coming in the community at any one time any other way."

Uluhaktok, N.W.T., is the first Canadian stop on the Crystal Serenity cruise ship's voyage through the Northwest Passage. The ship will also stop in two Nunavut communities: Cambridge Bay and Pond Inlet.