There aren’t many corners of the earth that John Stoll has not yet charted. As vice president of land programs, John has the enviable, if often daunting, task of venturing to the ends of the earth – quite literally – in search of the most extraordinary experiences for Crystal guests. John has a passion and talent for finding what’s truly special about a place, activity or experience and, because of this passion, he continues to push boundaries, creating ways to discover destinations that are unexpected, unheard of, or just plain impossible.
Such was the case when John set out to visit Ulukhaktok Village in Canada’s Northern Territories – which he did in the winter, when temperatures hit a frigid 47 degrees below zero! – as he developed the Crystal Adventures for the upcoming groundbreaking Northwest Passage voyage. Crystal Serenity will sail a route that went unpassed for nearly 100 years, and is still rarely reached, when she embarks from Seward, Alaska to New York on a 32-day Northwest Passage navigation, this August. Here, John shares some of his perspective on the very unique process of creating adventures in one of the world’s most untouched regions.
I feel so fortunate that Crystal Cruises entrusts me with exploring and investigating the most spectacular destinations in the world. The Northwest Passage has been one of the most thrilling projects I’ve ever had the pleasure to work on, simply because so few others have done what Crystal is doing there. That just adds to the fulfillment for me, personally, when I know we’re creating something truly special exclusively for our Crystal guests.
My primary job is to make sure that there’s a depth to the experiences we offer with each of our Crystal Adventures excursions. What’s really beneficial to the guests is that the experience is presented in a way that conveys how and why the destinations we select in building our itineraries are so unique and special. Our goal is to offer travelers context for what they’re seeing and doing so they come away with a true understanding of the culture.
From a land programs perspective, in any destination, the first consideration when planning adventures is the safety and security of our guests. In some areas of the world, this means transportation precautions, or appropriate gear for specialized activities. For Northwest Passage adventures, this portion of the planning took on a whole new meaning. Many ports will only accommodate “wet landings,” which entails the ship anchoring away from shore and guests arriving ashore by zodiac, often stepping foot on unstable and wet terrain. Several excursions available will involve strenuous physical activity in a region that boasts extreme temperatures and uneven territory. Clearly, this voyage may not appeal to every traveler for various reasons, but we have seen to each of these details to ensure ultimate safety and enjoyment for the intrepid individuals who are able and eager to embark on this journey.
With the assistance of our support vessel chartered to lead us through the Northwest Passage, we will have 15 zodiacs and 12 kayaks stacked on the support ship’s deck ready for adventure. The zodiacs will be equipped with virtually everything travelers will need in this atmosphere – safety gear, auto-inflate life jackets and the guests will be instructed to wear extreme weather boots, and men’s and women’s waterproof pants and other “outfitter gear” that will protect them from the extreme temperatures. Similarly equipped kayaks will be led by expert guides and escorted by a zodiac for several daily excursions in order to allow as many guests as possible to navigate the waters and the sea ice for themselves. There is something special about paddling or hiking or exploring in a destination versus simply viewing it from afar. Both experiences lend themselves to incredible memories and incredible wildlife sightings indigenous only to the Northwest Passage.
I am especially thrilled about what we are calling our “Unexpected Adventures”. We will look for opportunities to further enhance the voyage by offering these unexpected adventures. They are not port specific and will be launched from Crystal Serenity or our support vessel. For instance, if the captain spots floating ice or breeching whales or other wildlife during the ship’s transit, we’ll stop so guests can take it all in while we serve hot chocolate on the deck. We will also launch the zodiacs and the kayaks from the support ship to maneuver around the sea ice or perhaps make a wet landing on an uninhabited island.
A helicopter on the support vessel will also offer rare flightseeing in one of the most remote and beautiful areas in the world. These kinds of surprises are one of the many benefits to sailing through a secluded region like the Northwest Passage with Crystal. We are combining the thrill of expedition cruising with ultra luxury accommodations. It’s a win-win.
One of the components to the Northwest Passage voyage that excites me most is the opportunities offered to meet and get to know the people of the local communities and villages, some of which have a population of only 450! The people of Ulukhaktok (Canada’s Northern Territories) are warm and friendly, and they’re truly excited to welcome Crystal guests to their community. They have a long, proud history that is rarely considered for adventure seekers due to its remote location, the inaccessibility of the area, and the weather. But many surprises are in store. We have arranged an “Arctic Golfing Expedition” at the community’s Billy Joss Club golf course. Set just outside the town in open tundra on the shores of Amundsen Gulf, the course is the world’s most northerly nine-hole golf links. The local golfers will be hosting foursomes with our guests. This makes for a great game with knowledgeable hosts, but also a much more personalized perspective of the locale.
The Northwest Passage is full of amazing places, if unconventional for a “typical” luxury vacation. You can even just lie on the beach all day if you choose. You might just have to dress a little differently than for most other beaches.