This time next year, a pioneering new ship will be taking its maiden voyage. It will be only 20,000 tons and carry just 200 passengers, but it promises to have a major impact on the way we view expedition cruising.
In many ways, adventure-style cruising is still in its infancy. Companies like Aurora Expeditions, G Adventures and Noble Caledonia have been around only since the 1990s, an eyeblink in real cruise terms, and very few of even these more enlightened companies have invested in new tonnage to this date.
Most expedition-style ships have been either retreads or converted older tonnage, in many cases utilising freighters or ice-breakers dressed up to take passengers. The adventure was real, but usually, the style of travel left a lot to be desired, with conditions best described as ‘spartan.’
Now, all that is changing, and not slowly. In recent months we have seen Hurtigruten introduce a new style of vessel powered by hybrid engines, while Australian-owned Scenic Cruises is about to launch its own all-new vessel, the Scenic Eclipse, complete with helicopters and submarine.
Technical advances are galloping along in leaps and bounds, and the whole style of expedition-orientated voyaging is evolving at a rapid rate. Ultra-luxe Silversea Cruises has had an adventure-cruise arm since 2008, and they will be adding their own purpose-built vessel for Galapagos sailing in summer next year.
But, in terms of sheer quality and style, next year’s launch of Crystal Cruises’ new Crystal Endeavor is the one that most piques our curiosity when it comes to being captivated by these growing possibilities for expedition cruising.
Just to start with, Crystal has been our paragon of sea-going virtue from the moment their Crystal Harmony first dipped her bow into the waters back in 1990. At a time when the only genuine super-luxury vessels were 20,000 tons or smaller, the Harmony weighed in at a whopping 48,621 and carried 940 passengers.
Sister ships Crystal Symphony (51,044 tons in 1995) and Crystal Serenity (68,870 tons in 2003) shifted the luxury-can-be-large paradigm still further, building a 24-carat reputation for delivering a genuine deluxe experience while offering a more expansive onboard vibe.
In 2015, Crystal added another string to its bow with the supreme yacht-style elegance of the 3,370-ton Crystal Esprit, operating in the rarefied waters of the Adriatic, Indian Ocean and the lesser-visited West Indies. And, in 2016, the company went all-in for river-cruising with yet more distinctive stylishness in the shape of five original cruisers for the major rivers of Europe.
It was also in 2016 that we learnt for the first time of the plan for Crystal Endeavor, a new breed of maritime adventurer, taking the best of Crystal’s classic onboard grandeur and transferring it into a genuine polar wanderer, built from the ground up to the most exacting specifications the line has yet envisioned.
We also now know that renowned veteran explorer David Sinclair will serve as one of the expedition leaders for the ship’s most intrepid journeys. His decades of experience exploring the polar regions – skiing across Greenland, summitting the Arctic’s highest peaks and honing his skills as a naturalist and photographer – will bring the destinations and experiences to vivid life for Crystal guests.
Just as importantly, Sinclair will also be involved with building the team of expedition guides and experts on board, and developing the shoreside excursions to ensure a fully-rounded profile of memorable experiences to go with the sumptuous style.
Guests on her maiden voyage will enjoy an inclusive overnight pre-cruise stay before sailing out of Tokyo Harbour to explore the coastlines and volcanic landscapes of Japan, as well as the remote islands and forests of Russia’s adjacent shores, including sailing along the Zhupanova River and isolated Morzovaya Bay.
On subsequent voyages, guests will be able to visit such natural wonders as the Great Barrier Reef and Mount Fuji; reflect on ancient heritage at Japan’s most sacred temples and shrines; trek among the treetops of Borneo’s rainforest observing the orangutans, and search for penguin colonies on Antarctica’s expansive icy landscape.
And, onboard, guests will have the choice of an equally stunning array of features, from headline items such as the pair of helicopters, two seven-person submarines, eight electric amphibious Zodiacs and an array of kayaks and paddleboards to the full Crystal Life Spa (complete with steam room), a Solarium, Library and three exquisite dining options.
It’s easy to make it sound as if it is marketing hyperbole, but Crystal Endeavor will be designed to deliver the most meaningful travel experiences, in the most comfort, and with the most thoughtful onboard service that’s available in the world today.
It is all just a year away (give or take a few days), and you can certainly count us among the most eager and impatient to get a first, full look at the newcomer in due course. Japan has long been on our cruise bucket list, too, so, who knows? We may just see you in Tokyo, this time next year!
Have you sailed with Crystal before and are you interested in the new Crystal Endeavor? Give us your thoughts in the Comments section below.