Cruising Greenland: An inconvenient, but worthwhile trip

In 2007, it was possible to board a flight in Baltimore and set foot fewer than five hours later in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland’s largest commercial airport.

From Kangerlussuaq, it was a short hop to board Hurtigruten’s (a Norwegian cruise company) Fram to cruise Greenland’s dramatic coastline. But in 2008, Air Greenland ceased operations from North America, and today, a trip to Greenland is indeed an inconvenient one.

Getting there from the U.S. requires connecting through Reykjavik or points beyond in Europe, primarily Copenhagen, so that you board a plane in the U.S., fly over Greenland, disembark, board another plane, and fly back in the direction from which you came. Returning home requires the same travel in the wrong direction and flying once again over Greenland.

Despite the inconvenience, Greenland is well worth a visit, and one of the best ways to see the world’s largest island is by ship. While Fram operates the most extensive Greenland itineraries (ranging from 11 days to 14 days), other cruise lines typically include Greenland on repositioning cruises from Europe, across the North Atlantic, to North America. The Faroe Islands, Iceland and Newfoundland are often included on these itineraries as well. Among the cruise lines that call on Greenland: Crystal Cruises, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises and Silversea Cruises.During the summer months, glaciers disperse chunky icebergs that choke Greenland’s idyllic bays. Point a camera in any direction and snap to your battery blinks. With 80 percent of its surface covered in ice, Greenland is a spectacle to behold.

I cruised Greenland earlier this month on All Discovery Cruising’s mv Discovery. The ship itself was no-frills, as old as it was English. Anglophiles will no doubt enjoy the on-board ambience, where it’s possible to belly up to the bar for a pint of Bass Ale or shimmy up to the table for such British Isles favorites as Shepherd’s Pie, porridge, tea and scones.

The star of the show, of course, was Greenland itself, and though our feet were ashore fewer than 10 hours during the six full days we were on board, the trip was one that imprinted indelible images of icebergs and rugged coastal landscapes. Meeting native Greenlandic people and visiting their homes was a bonus in the ports of Nuuk and Qaqortoq, the only place name in the world, I am told, boasting three of the letter q.

We missed a full day in the UNESCO World Heritage region Disko Bay and the icefjord of Ilulissat. For an explanation and photos of icebergs, see Icebergs in Ilulissat, Greenland: A day in Disko Bay on my site, Avid Cruiser.

Greenland is also what National Geographic referred to in a recent issue of its magazine as “ground zero” for measuring the impact of global warming. If there is significant melting of the icecap, coastal dwellers worldwide should plan on moving to higher ground.

You can’t help but visit Greenland and be reminded of the premises that Al Gore laid out in “An Inconvenient Truth.” And though Greenland itself is “an inconvenient trip” for North Americans, it can be a life-changing one in small, but not insignificant, ways.