The Arctic is not commonly a destination for leisure, but all that could change as sea ice melts, opening the area to commercialism and tourism.

On Aug. 15, the Crystal Serenity cruise embarked on a luxury tour of the Arctic, promising to bring passengers through the Northwest Passage as it heads for New York City from Seward, Alaska.

The 68,000-ton cruise ship arrived in Nome on Aug. 21 for its last port call in Alaska. The town sees a cruise ship or two every summer, but none as big as the Crystal Serenity, which was carrying 1,060 paying passengers. Including its crew, the cruise ship has a capacity for 1,700 people.

Cruise-only tickets for the historic trip started at about $22,000, running up to $120,000. A cruise-only fare includes all beverages, non-alcoholic and otherwise; gratuities for cruise staff; eight complimentary dinners; 24-hour room service; enrichment workshop classes; and more.

The Crystal Serenity also houses a putting green and driving range; a movie house; a casino; several pools; half a dozen restaurants; a library with thousands of books, DVDs and games; a fitness center; spa; and hair salon.

Despite the hefty price tag, the cruise trip quickly sold out, already prompting the planning of a second journey. Crystal Cruises might not have trouble arranging more, because scientists have projected that the Arctic may become virtually ice-free at some point during summers, maybe as soon as the coming decades.

While Arctic sea ice may have melted enough to allow the Crystal Serenity passage through the Northwest Passage, the cruise will not be making the trip on its own for safety purposes. Along the way, it will be accompanied by two helicopters and an ice-breaking boat.

The U.S. and Canadian Coast Guards have also been working with the cruise company to help ensure the safety of the passengers. However, as the cruise route is relatively obscure, the U.S. Coast Guard is continuing with its research to study navigational efficiency and safety through the Bering Strait, even as the Crystal Serenity is making its way through it.

Additionally, the Crystal Serenity will be receiving constant updates from the Canadian Ice Service to help it monitor the presence of ice in the area, alongside its two ice searchlights, a thermal imaging camera, a forward-looking sonar and software that improves radar detection.

While most people are cheering on the Crystal Serenity, wishing its success on its first Arctic trip, others have also pointed out the potentially harmful effects the dreamy cruise will have on the already-stressed Arctic environment.

"The unique wildlife is already stressed by a warming climate and the loss of sea ice, and the arrival of mega-cruise ships in this part of the world could push it further towards the edge," said Rod Downie from the World Wildlife Fund.

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