Discoverer cruising the Tracy Arm, a fjord in Alaska near Juneau. // (C) 2013 Un-Cruise/PKnego
To most people, expedition cruising means sailing to unusual, exotic and remote places. But there is another side: expeditions to more familiar destinations such as the Caribbean, the Greek Isles, Scotland, England, Norway, Alaska and Hawaii. If your clients think they have seen it all, they are in for a treat — on expedition cruises, guests find the type of insider experience that is increasingly becoming a priority for travelers.
For instance, Un-Cruise Adventures offers an Alaska itinerary that is far from the conventional route. Most of its vessels are not sailing on a port-to-port schedule, so captains have the flexibility to seek out wildlife and spend extended time watching the animals up close. The ships stay in remote wilderness areas to give guests the opportunity to enjoy the scenery, wildlife and local cultures.
“In Alaska, we go into the backcountry where nobody sails — it is a privileged experience,” said Tim Jacox, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Un-Cruise.
At the beginning of the Alaska cruise season, Un-Cruise airlifts kayaks into the Patterson Glacier so that they are waiting for guests.
“There’s an all-day excursion where they hike up to the lakes, then kayak to the face of the glacier — nobody else offers this.”
Jacox pointed out that Un-Cruise provides an equally unusual cruise in Hawaii, exploring four islands: Molokai, Lanai, Maui and Hawaii, the Big Island.
“We have the Molokai experience with exclusive cultural tours; no other passenger boats go in,” said Jacox. “We also have excursions such as night snorkeling with the manta rays off the Big Island and, when there is wind, our guests can ride in a traditional voyaging canoe off Maui.”
Likewise, Lindblad Expeditions, known for its cruise exploration worldwide, offers its own take on Alaska, the Caribbean and the U.K., along with the more exotic regions.
Ralph Hammelbacher, vice president of the Expedition Department, said there are key elements that distinguish expedition cruising. One is its in-depth approach. In Alaska, for example, the company has an underwater specialist who dives or operates an underwater camera to show the guests life under the surface of the sea, in addition to an expert on birds, marine mammals, plants and native culture.
“It’s also about access,” said Hammelbacher. “We have a special permit for the 17 million-acre Tongass National Forest. We can take people hiking or kayaking almost anywhere instead of gawking and passing by. Everyone goes to Glacier Bay, but our passengers get off the ship there.”
It would be difficult for anyone to duplicate the series of destinations available by water. In Scotland, Lindblad can sail through the Highlands on the Caledonian Canal and also visit the islands of the Inner Hebrides. Next year, the company will offer a May 11 Britain and Ireland cruise that sails to a series of remote locations, including the Isles of Scilly, Skellig, Iona, along with Staffa, St. Kilda and Orkney.
Britain and Normandy also offer opportunities to see the real life behind the tourist route, and Silversea Cruises is offering a 10-day sailing in 2014 on its expedition ship, Silver Explorer, from Portsmouth to Greenock (Glasgow). It calls in unusual ports, from Tobermory and Duart on the Scottish Isle of Mull to Portrush in Northern Ireland, not to mention Tresco in the Isles of Scilly, St. Davids in Wales and Guernsey and Sark in the Channel Islands. Some of the traditional must-see destinations are included, too: the D-Day landing site, Dublin and Mont St. Michel.
Hurtigruten sails the Norwegian coast and the cruise line is the year-round lifeline for the towns and villages among the fjords of Norway. In addition to constant gasp-worthy scenery, Hurtigruten brings guests right into the culture — and shopping — of Norway at its most traditional.
Compagnie du Ponant operates in exotic locales such as Antarctica and Asia, and it brings the same approach to the standard Canada/New England itinerary on a 10-night cruise departing on Sept. 9. Although the ship sails between Quebec City and Boston and calls in Bar Harbor, the rest of the cruise features far more unusual stops, including Saguenay, Tadoussac, Havre St. Pierre, Perce, Cap-aux-meules, Baddeck, Louisbourg and Lunenburg.
These new takes on familiar places appeal to two large groups of travelers: those who ordinarily wouldn’t cruise at all but who travel in search of authentic experiences, and those who have done the usual trips and want to visit unusual places. Both groups will find what they are looking for onboard the expedition ships.