When Kathy greeted Zuiderdam’s third officer in the elevator for a second time, she told him how great our Iceland ports-of-call had been. He smiled knowingly. “Just wait ‘til Greenland,” he promised.
When you’re right, you’re right. For many of Zuiderdam’s 1,900 passengers – us included – the perfect introduction to this icy landmass was a day of scenic cruising on Prins Christian Sund. Today’s cruise log: Sunny skies, light air, calm seas, 59-degree high.
On-board lecturer and Greenland expert Jon Vidar Sigurdsson prefers to call this incredible stretch of natural beauty by its proper Greenlandic name – Ikerasassuaq, noting, “The Danish place names in Greenland are gradually disappearing while the original names are used more and more.”
No matter its moniker, we spent the day marveling at not only five coastal glaciers but soaring peaks, tumbling waterfalls, icebergs and a perfect blue-sky for unforgettable photos. “A sunny day,” the daily program promised, “reveals sparkling water and white-blue ice amidst the starkness of the cliffs.”
That program had also promised “one of the most beautiful cruise experiences on earth.” It is.
We later learned some on board had been here six times but never in clear weather, so our luck was amazing.
Speaking of luck, Kathy had risen very early, excited for the day ahead. As she made her way to Deck 10’s Explorations Cafe for a morning latte, a security officer in the elevator told her the best view was on Deck 4. Skipping the coffee, she hit the down button for Deck 4. Turns out, that officer had just opened the bow for the first time this cruise, and she was the first there. Serendipitous.
Taking in the distant icy, craggy outlines, she reveled in the moment. Soon a pair of travel companions from Australia joined her on the starboard rail, camping out for the day, thrilled by what lay ahead. Both happened to be named Heather, and a quick friendship with “The Heathers” formed. Over the next several hours, she checked in with them several times. Their grins never lessened.
We both headed to Deck 7 for a higher vantage point as Capt. Bart Vaartjes expertly maneuvered the 82,000-gross-ton Zuiderdam unbelievably close to the first glacier – Sermeq Kujalleq. Bundled-up cruisers happily snapped photos and marveled at the sight. All awaited a calving; several small ones did materialize over the day.
Two more of the glaciers that reached all the way to the water offered even more photo opps: Sermeq Avangnarleq and Sermerunerit.
Throughout much of our daylong journey, about seven hours traversing the exquisite waterway, Sigurdsson offered periodic commentary over the ship’s loudspeaker. Explorations Central (EXC) Guide Misha Perko of Slovenia also took turns at the mic, adding facts and tidbits including how icebergs and their smaller cousins “bergies” and “growlers” are formed. Officially, an iceberg must rise at least 16 feet above sea level and must cover at least 5,382 square feet.
Sigurdsson, a geologist and outstanding photographer, has photographed the region extensively since 1994. When he recounts how quickly the glaciers we’ve passed by are receding, we know the pronouncement is serious.
The sound is 36 miles long and only about 1,540 feet wide at its most narrow. Zuiderdam is 955 feet long.
The passing scenery is too gorgeous to break away from for lunch in the dining room, so we grab to-go from the Dive-In – best hot dogs and French fries at sea – and head to our stateroom balcony port side.
We’re rewarded with icebergs passing close by — one characterized as tabular with tall sides and a flat top — plus sounds of rushing water from a myriad of waterfalls. The sunny day had reached nearly 60-degrees, so we’ve peeled off our heavy coats to enjoy the warmth on our skin.
An afternoon highlight is passing alongside a small village. The bright red, blue and yellow houses of Aappilattoq stand in stark contrast to the vast, rocky, gray shoreline they inhabit, precariously it seems in some spots as the mountain they’re below rises up 2,970 feet.
A handful of residents in their small boats come out to greet the ship, whistling, yelling, waving and smiling. Zuiderdam passengers line the rail and enthusiastically return the greeting. Sigurdsson tells us the villagers are hunters and fishermen living mainly from hunting seals. They also operate a small fish processing plant.
On this bright day, it seems a happy postcard, the view of their town, but a handout the commentator has prepared puts things in perspective: “It is impossible to walk farther than 1.2 miles from the settlement without coming to a dead end. From July ‘til late autumn, it is possible to get to and from the village with boats, but at other times, helicopters are the only means of transportation.”
We think about the dead of winter, the isolation, and the toughness this population must possess for this lifestyle.
After sailing by the settlement, we next reach the last part of the transit, the channel Torsukattaq, considered by many, says Sigurdsson, to be the most beautiful part with high mountains on both sides sporting sharp peaks and glaciers. Icebergs continue to dot the waters here and there.
This incredible day had us recalling glaciers we saw in Alaska; one particular mountaintop reminded us of Patagonia’s Torres del Paine, while even our Rotterdam sailing in Norway’s fjords flickered in our collective memory.
So many adjectives come to mind — stunning, jaw-dropping, fantastic. It’s one of those days of world travel we simply savor and plant in our hearts forever. Yes, that just happened.
(Holland America visits Prins Christian Sund in both July and August, 2018.)
Kathy M. Newbern and J.S. Fletcher of Raleigh, NC, are award-winning freelance travel writers and photographers specializing in cruising, spas and luxury destinations. This sailing was their 72nd cruise, and with the addition of Greenland and Iceland, they’ve now reported on 76 countries and each continent. They’ve written often about Holland America, including the Koningsdam and Nieuw Amsterdam most recently. Their travel writing also inspires their other venture, YourNovel.com, where they put any couple in their own personalized romance novel.