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Presentation from the Nez Perce tribe on a National Geographic Quest cruise in the Pacific Northwest (Photo/David Vargas)
Presentation from the Nez Perce tribe on a National Geographic Quest cruise in the Pacific Northwest (Photo/David Vargas)

How Indigenous Cultures Are Becoming More Front and Center on Cruises

Presentation from the Nez Perce tribe on a National Geographic Quest cruise in the Pacific Northwest (Photo/David Vargas)
Presentation from the Nez Perce tribe on a National Geographic Quest cruise in the Pacific Northwest (Photo/David Vargas)
Executive Editor, U.S.
Chris Gray Faust

Last updated
Sep 29, 2023

Read time
4 min read

The best cruises not only give you a chance to relax and recharge, they give you the opportunity to learn more about the world and the people who live in it. More and more cruise lines are taking pains to ensure the indigenous cultures of different destinations are represented onboard, in a variety of ways.

In honor of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, which is celebrated in the United States on the second Monday in October, Cruise Critic is taking a look at the ways that different cruise lines are highlighting and employing indigenous guides, speakers and performers. Our hope is that this list continues to grow as cruise lines realize that today’s travelers want authenticity in their destination experience.

Mainstream Cruise Lines Feature Indigenous Speakers, Artists and Performers

Tlingit artwork on a Celebrity Solstice cruise in Alaska (Photo/Chris Gray Faust)
Tlingit artwork on a Celebrity Solstice cruise in Alaska (Photo/Chris Gray Faust)

On its Alaska cruise itinerary, Celebrity showcases native culture almost immediately. On a Seattle cruise on Celebrity Solstice, a Tlingit artist was present on the pool deck, showcasing traditional carvings and patterns. Later in the sailing, a dance and cultural performance was given in the main atrium.

Celebrity has similar events in other regions. On cruises that stop in Hawaii, cultural ambassadors give lectures and lead hula and ukulele classes. Similar lectures take place from cultural ambassadors on all cruises to Polynesia. When the ship stops on overnights in both destinations, local performers come onboard the ship. Certain sailings within New Zealand and Australia bring Maori and Aboriginal performers onboard, respectively.

Other lines are joining in celebrating the Indigenous cultures of the West Coast as well. Disney Cruise Line offers its passengers the chance to learn Tlingit and Haida traditions on shore excursions in Ketchikan, and Canada’s Indigenous peoples have played a part on past Seabourn itineraries in Alaska as well, with cultural stops in Klemtu, British Columbia.

Luxury Line Paul Gauguin Dives Deep into Polynesian Culture

While many luxury lines bring on indigenous performers, Paul Gauguin, which operates one ship in the South Pacific, has a signature program with Les Gauguines and Les Gauguins. These Polynesian cultural ambassadors are front and center on the ship, from embarkation to entertainment to lectures and presentations.

The ship also goes out of its way to serve regional cuisine, such as moonfish and traditional suckling pig. It adds up to an experience that’s hard to replicate on other cruise lines, thanks to the indigenous involvement.

Expedition Cruise Lines Hire Indigenous Guides, Arrange Authentic Experiences

Tua Pittman, Cultural Navigator for Lindblad Expeditions (Photo/Jeff Romeo)
Tua Pittman, Cultural Navigator for Lindblad Expeditions (Photo/Jeff Romeo)

Expedition lines bring small ships to the more remote corners of the world – and so perhaps it stands to reason that these cruise lines are leaders in hiring indigenous guides to bring a more authentic experience to guests.

Lindblad Expeditions stands out in this regard. The line makes a “conscious and concerted effort” to arrange for indigenous naturalists, cultural guides and guest speakers to serve as Culture Ambassadors on relevant itineraries. For example, when the cruise line visits Haida Gwaii in the Pacific Northwest, just north of Vancouver Island, local Haida people come onboard for lectures, as well as acting as guides for visits to Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site.

Lindblad Expeditions employs expedition guides, like Lars, from places like Greenland. (Photo: John Roberts)
Lindblad Expeditions employs expedition guides, like Lars, from places like Greenland. (Photo: John Roberts)

The line also makes sure that indigenous people have a place within the expedition field staff on relevant voyages to the Canadian Arctic and Greenland cruises. These Inuit field staff give lectures and help put the cultural practices of the people who live in the region into context.

In the South Pacific, Lindblad has a full staff field staff member, Tua Pittman, who also holds the special position of Cultural Navigator. Of Cook Island, Maori and Tahitian descent, Pittman is also a master navigator of traditional canoes and gives onboard lectures relating to the origin and migration of Pacific peoples; traditional voyaging; open air star identification and navigation and Pacific Ocean cultures.

Lindblad also works with local artisans to spotlight indigenous products within the ship stores, when possible and relevant.

Quark Expeditions' Tundra to Table Inuit dining experience on Ultramarine (Photo/Quark Expeditions)
Quark Expeditions' Tundra to Table Inuit dining experience on Ultramarine (Photo/Quark Expeditions)

Quark Expeditions is another expedition line that employs indigenous Inuit staff as Cultural Educators on its cruises that go to Nunavut and Greenland. The line also supports a cruise ship training program called Nalunaiqsijiit, run by the Nunavut government, with an intern onboard during Arctic seasons.

On its newest ship Ultramarine, Quark also has an optional Inuit culinary experience, Tundra to Table, that it runs during the ship’s Greenland and Nunavut itineraries. Held in the main restaurant Balena, the four-course meal is considered “Inuit fusion” and is created by Inuit chefs, who also talk about the origins of the food. Even the tableware is regional. Sample dishes include beer-braised muskox served with Greenlandic mashed potatoes, mushroom sauce and berry jam; and honey-glazed ptarmigan served with turnip puree.

Viking does not have full staff indigenous staff on its expedition cruises on the Great Lakes. The line does, however, offer excursions that explore different aspects of First Nation/American Indian culture, such as a birchbark canoe creation or trail walks on Anishinaabe land. Storytelling enrichment with female elders is also a feature in several ports in northern Minnesota and Canada.

Publish date September 29, 2023
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