Onboard Obsession is a new series that explores the can’t-miss highlights of the best-loved cruises—from the shore excursions to book to the spa treatments too relaxing to pass up.
It was the penultimate day of our Hurtigruten cruise in Alaska. Our ship— MS Roald Amundsen, the world’s first battery-powered, hybrid electric cruise ship—was emerging from a turbulent storm in the Bering Sea when we learned an unscheduled stop was being made the next day. This stop would be unlike the previous port visits, where we watched humpback whales, fin whales, albatross, and puffins in the Aleutian Islands, tracked brown bears in Katmai National Park, and kayaked at Misty Fjords National Monument. This next port would be about people and culture in the traditional Indigenous Village of Savoonga, home to the Siberian Yupik people intermittently for the past 2,000 years. I knew this was going to be special because the crew on board were ecstatic, and navigating to Savoonga meant crossing the international date line destined for an island 35 miles off the coast of Russia.
Just after 9 a.m. the next day, our Hurtigruten cruise ship and its 324 passengers anchored just off the coast of Savoonga Village on St. Lawrence Island, home to just over 800 residents.
Outfitted in the expedition gear provided by Hurtigruten, a red raincoat and tall rubber boots that I was oh-so-familiar with by this point in the journey, we departed for a rare glimpse at a subarctic Indigenous way of life. After boarding the ship’s zodiacs that would tender us to shore, we made a wet landing onto the island’s volcanic beaches. The enthusiastic energy of the local villagers was palpable: Not even two minutes after landing I heard cheers and laughter. The excitement was contagious, and soon everyone had a smile on their face. I later learned that we were the first cruise ship they’d seen since 2019. Favorable weather and a ship full of healthy passengers meant the conditions were perfect for adding one last excursion that would end up being a highlight amidst an unforgettable trip.
As I walked up the rocky bank, I noticed a child being launched up into the air—not something I expected to see. The child was jumping on a type of trampoline made of walrus hide and rope held by encircled locals and guests participating in the fun—a game, and from what I was told, a favorite pastime of the community. A cheerful introduction to Siberian Yupik culture.