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The expedition cruise industry is having a moment.
“It’s a very exciting time; it’s really booming,” said Mark Spillane, director of sales and marketing for Crystal Yacht & Expedition Cruises. “For the first time in expedition cruising, we are seeing new, purpose-built expedition ships that not only have all the quintessential expedition touches such as mud rooms, zodiacs and expedition teams, but even more features, like helicopters, submersibles, remotely operated underwater vehicles (ROVs) and more.”
Although the news coming from the expedition cruise market is indeed exciting, it can also be difficult to decipher everything. We chatted with a number of expedition cruise line executives to get a more accurate sense of what travel advisors can expect — and how to interpret it all.
Amy Wilson, U.S. brand manager for Scenic, points to a Cruise Lines International Association statistic that helps explain why there are so many new expedition options: Cruises to Antarctica, the Arctic, the Galapagos and Greenland grew by almost a third between 2017 and 2018. Clearly, demand is strong.
“The expedition experience speaks to the desire of both baby boomers and people under 50 to have intimate experiences with elements of discovery and an active vacation, especially for guests who are focused on the destinations less traveled,” Wilson said.
Scenic is promoting the ultra-luxe, all-inclusive side of expedition cruising onboard its intimate Scenic Eclipse. Differentiated by its signature spacious suites, small passenger count and eight restaurants, Eclipse also features stabilizers that are only 20% smaller than those on the largest passenger ships at sea, according to Wilson. This provides an exceptionally smooth and stable sailing through rough waters such as the notorious Drake Passage.
Crystal, meanwhile, is upping the ante with its own take on expedition comfort, most notably with its passenger space ratio. The upcoming 20,000-ton Crystal Endeavor will cater to just 200 guests. This means it has a remarkable passenger space ratio of 100 tons per guest, whereas most cruise ships fall around 50 or lower.
“It has the largest space ratio in expedition cruising,” Spillane said. “We will have 206 officers, staff and crew onboard, ensuring our 200 guests receive the most luxurious and immersive expedition experience. At the heart of the Crystal experience is always the people. The intangible luxury of the very best service and personalized attention to each guest cannot be matched.”
Hapag-Lloyd Cruises is another brand aiming for the five-star expedition segment.
“While there is a lot of building in the expedition segment, all those expedition ships together only add up to 6,000 total passengers,” said Karl J. Pojer, CEO of Hapag-Lloyd. “That’s about the size of one mega-ship. Given the high consumer demand for adventure travel, that’s not that much.”
Pojer makes an important point: There is still plenty of room in the segment for each individual line. Hapag-Lloyd, too, has its own differentiators. Besides expected next-generation technology, its Hanseatic Inspiration features two extendable, glass-floored balconies on the sun deck for unique viewing of the ocean below.
“The ship was built with a retractable bridge wing,” Pojer added. “It will be able to cruise into the U.S. Great Lakes, navigating through the region’s many locks and canals. That’s unlike many other oceangoing ships, which must turn back east after reaching Montreal. It’s freedom — high-tech is not important; it’s high-touch.”
Lindblad Expeditions, meanwhile, is both optimistic and cautious about the future of the market.
“While I believe it’s great to provide travelers with diverse opportunities, I do have concerns that there will be consequences as well,” said Sven Lindblad, CEO of Lindblad.
He specifically cites problems such as crowding in remote destinations and potential accidents due to lack of experience, but he also offers a solution.
“We have deep experience honed over 50 years,” Lindblad said. “We know geography well, we have highly skilled navigators and expedition staff, and we have vessels of a size that can maximize experience for guests. Our newbuilds [including National Geographic Endurance] have a maximum capacity of 126 guests — a decision we believe is critical to providing high-quality expedition experiences while mitigating the impact on places visited.”
The DetailsCrystal www.crystalcruises.com