Suddenly, it’s the hot ticket in Cruise Town. We’ve seen it develop steadily in the past 15 years, but now expedition cruising is taking off like one of Elon Musk’s Falcon Heavy rockets at the Kennedy Space Center.
Originally, there were companies like Lindblad Travel in the US (1966), Canada’s G Adventures (1990), Seattle-based Quark Expeditions and Britain’s Noble Caledonia (both 1991), plus Aurora Expeditions in Australia (1992) who all offered a range of adventure-orientated voyages in fairly basic ships, often chartered, like the Russian ice-breakers used by Quark.
Other companies with either a cruise or expedition-travel style joined in, notably the French Ponant Cruises, Norway’s Hurtigruten, Dutch company Oceanwide Expeditions, Germany’s Hapag-Lloyd, National Geographic, Australia’s True North and UnCruise Adventures in the US.
Travelling from the Arctic to Antarctica, and journeying around just about every remote sea-going destination in between – from the Amazon to the Galapagos, and Hawaii to the Russian Far East – these intrepid companies established a real demand for their more rugged style of cruising.
At the same time, advances in both technology and sophistication led to more refined vessels, meeting a demand for adventure with style. If the existing companies could get better, so the luxury lines could invest in expedition cruising themselves.
Silversea were the first, in 2008, when they bought the World Adventurer and turned her into the chic Prince Albert II (since renamed Silver Explorer). They added the Silver Galapagos in 2013 for purpose-designed voyages around the Galapagos islands, and made it a trio of adventure-style ships with the Silver Discoverer in 2014.
Sensing this expeditioning sea-change, Crystal Cruises dipped a sizeable toe in these waters in 2015 by acquiring the MegaStar Taurus from Star Cruises in the Far East and transforming her into the ultra-elegant Crystal Esprit for sailings in the more exotic parts of the Mediterranean, West Indies and Indian Ocean.
A year later, Crystal went full-on for this adventuring trend when they announced they would build their own expedition-quality vessel from scratch, the 25,000-ton, 200-passenger Crystal Endeavour, which is due to set sail in 2020 as the world’s first polar-class megayacht.
And now we have Seabourn. Already laden with awards in the Best Luxury Line category (notably when the Seabourn Encore made her debut in 2016 to huge acclaim), this Seattle-based deluxe offshoot of the giant Carnival Corporation definitely turned some heads with this week’s announcement of not one but TWO vessels purpose-built for cruising in the polar regions. They will weigh in at 23,000 tons and carry 264 guest=
The duo will be delivered in June 2021 and May 2022, and will carry their own submarines – take THAT, Jacques Cousteau! – as well as kayaks and motorised Zodiac boats for exploring ashore in remote areas. They will, of course, be full of the usual Seabourn style, and offer arguably the most stylish way to see polar bears and penguins yet devised.
In truth, the line has been edging in this direction since 2013, then it first offered a more expedition-style option with a handful of voyages to Antarctica, but going full-ahead with two ships is definitely an eye-opener for the industry.
And the company statement left no doubt that this is intended to be a game-changer for Seabourn, with president Richard Meadows insisting: “This is a ground-breaking moment for Seabourn and for luxury travellers, who will now find a new standard of authentic yet luxurious expedition adventures in new and amazing destinations few people will ever see.
“The combination of immersive experience, fine accommodations and sumptuous amenities offered by these new ships builds on the success of our current product line-up and further demonstrates our leadership as innovators as we continue offering the finest ultra-luxury cruises available.”
Any real detail of this new brand of ship has yet to be released, while the initial itineraries and bookings will only be available early next year, although Seabourn has indicated the first season will be in the Arctic followed by winter in Antarctica.
The vessels will be purpose-built in a unique partnership between ship-builders T. Mariotti and Damen, and have a PC6 Polar-Class rating. “That will allow us access into parts of the world based on the ice-strengthened hull that will be more extensive than we can currently do today,” Meadows added.
The crew will include expedition teams comprised of experienced adventuring experts, scientists, historians and Zodiac operators. The experts will also take part in the onboard Seabourn Conversations programme, providing insights into the history, ecology and culture of each destination.
“It’s been amazing to watch the growth of our expedition-style experiences since our first sailing to Antarctica in 2013 through today, where we now offer the Ventures by Seabourn shore-excursion programme in a number of desirable destinations around the world,” said Robin West, vice president of expedition operations and planning for Seabourn.
“A year ago, we started developing the concept for this next chapter of our expedition story with dedicated ships built to take luxury travellers to the most coveted places on the planet and they will be thrilled to see these remote destinations in Seabourn style.”
It certainly makes good sense. The main destinations, even for the small-ship ultra-luxe operators like Seabourn who can look for the smaller ports, are rapidly filling up, and there is a strong desire to see new cruise frontiers open up. This is another step in that direction, and, with Crystal, Ponant, Silversea, Hurtigruten and Lindblad all with new-builds on the horizon, there will be rich pickings indeed for those who want to get off the beaten cruise track in style in future.
What do YOU think? Are you interested in an ultra-luxe expedition-style cruise, or have you already taken one. Give us your thoughts in the Comments section below.