Onboard Obsession: Sleeping Under the Northern Lights in a Glass Igloo

Ralph Lee Hopkins/Courtesy Lindblad Expedition

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.

At first, the light was blue. A soft, cool blue that gently reflected off the still waters of Igaliku Fjord, but kept the hills in silhouette. Soon the warm yellows, oranges, and pinks of dawn crept into the scene, setting aglow the clouds clinging tightly to the cliffs along the shoreline. Following a quiet knock on the door, a steaming mug of coffee and freshly-baked muffin entered the scene.

Such is waking up in a glass igloo on the top deck of Lindblad Expeditions' National Geographic Endurance in Greenland during the waning days of summer. Launched in 2021, Endurance is a polar-class expedition vessel named after the ship of iconic explorer Ernest Shackleton; she typically spends summers in the Arctic and austral summers in the Antarctic. Though Endurance has 136 bright and airy cabins for guests, she and her twin sister, National Geographic Resolution also carry a pair of igloos for a special overnight experience. The glass domes, which can comfortably fit up to two people, are located on opposite sides of the aft deck (port and starboard) about 50 feet apart. Spending a night inside is free of charge, booked on a first-come, first-served basis (you can reserve your stay at reception).

I had sailed on Endurance once before, in Antarctica, and I'll admit that I was a touch skeptical about the igloos then, despite the fact that they were booked every night of the sailing. Why would you want to stay in an igloo when it's daylight 24/7? There was zero chance of seeing the stars or the southern lights—so I chose to spend all of my nights in my suite. Later on, I traveled to Svalbard on Resolution, again encountering the midnight sun. Here, it wasn't just the light that dissuaded me from booking a night in the igloo, but the single-degree temperatures that I felt weren't conducive to spending a night on deck.

The proverbial third time was indeed the charm. In southern Greenland during the late summer, temperatures are fairly mild—at night, they're often above freezing. But more importantly to me, the skies would be dark, allowing for a chance to see the stars and, if we were lucky, the northern lights.

Spending a night in one of the ship's glass igloos is free of charge and booked on a first-come, first-served basis.
Spending a night in one of the ship's glass igloos is free of charge and booked on a first-come, first-served basis.
Stefanie Waldek

Before dinner on the night of my igloo stay, I met the hotel director for a quick briefing about the experience. We ran through the amenities in the igloo itself, from the color-changing mood lighting to eye masks for the light-averse. Then there were the bathrobes and the fleece-lined cape for mad dashes across the deck to the nearest bathroom (just steps away in the spa) or the dual infinity-edge hot tubs just outside the igloo door (don't worry, the igloo is frosted on this side for privacy). He pointed out that there were no outlets, advising that I charge my devices before turning in for the night. Of course, should you want to return to your cabin at any moment, that's always an option, too.

After dinner, I bundled up in some warmer layers in preparation for my evening and joined a few fellow passengers for a nightcap under the heat lamps on deck. And then someone spotted them—the northern lights, dancing faintly astern through a break in the overcast sky. Sadly, they slipped behind the clouds soon after we spotted them. As the crowd dispersed, I entered my igloo and cocooned myself within the fluffy duvet, sandwiched between the two hot water bottles provided for warmth. Though I had intentions of keeping guard in case the cloud cover cleared, I promptly fell asleep. And I slept deeply, thanks to the gentle hum of the ship and the crisp air in the igloo.

Having slept sans eye mask, I found myself naturally roused by dawn, and even after my coffee delivery, I remained firmly planted in my igloo bed, entranced by the panoramic view. And in that hour, I realized that whether or not the stars or aurora made an appearance, I'd have enjoyed the experience nonetheless. If I ever return to Antarctica or Svalbard on Endurance, I certainly won't be passing up the opportunity to spend a night in a glass igloo.

As the sun rose higher in the sky and the ship continued deeper into the fjord, a dense fog rolled in, the light fighting its way through the mist to dance across the cliffs. Alas, nature's curtain had dropped, and I took it as my cue to head back inside for a hot breakfast.

Originally Appeared on Condé Nast Traveler