When a massive luxury cruise ship docked outside the tiny Inuit town of Cambridge Bay this summer, it doubled the population of the town for a day.

“It was just jaw-dropping to think that the same amount of people that are in Cambridge Bay could fit onto that ship,” said Mia Otokiak, 21, a lifelong resident of the small, largely Inuit town in the Canadian province of Nunavut. 

The Crystal Serenity, a 13-deck cruise ship carrying more than 1,700 passengers and crew, stopped there this August for the second time during a repeat of its historic 2016 voyage through the Northwest Passage.

The Serenity is by far the largest passenger ship ever to ply the waters of the Northwest Passage, from Alaska through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago and on toward Greenland. 

The sea route was completely ice choked and impassable until the turn of the last century. Melting ice has opened it up to some ship traffic, but until last year only smaller, expedition-style cruise ships had made the journey.

The Serenity’s arrival in Cambridge Bay last year was preceded by months of planning by residents of the small town, where the gravel roads dead-end at the edge of town and supplies have to be shipped in by boat.

“When I first heard that the Crystal Serenity was coming here … I (had) mixed feelings,” Mia Otokiak said. “My biggest negative is always just how much traffic that’s bringing into our ocean that we use.”

The Crystal Serenity dropped anchor outside the town last month, and Otokiak’s grandmother, Eva Kakolak, 67, watched as passengers were shuttled from the beach to town in taxis, buses, and pickup trucks driven by volunteers.  

Several cruise ships now stop here each summer, but the Serenity was by far the largest, and a frequent topic of conversation.

“The elders always say, ‘Why are these big cruise ships coming through…