CruiseWhat travel agents need to know about the booming post-pandemic expedition cruise market.

Deeper, farther and wilder than before

Lindblad Expeditions will soon launch its National Geographic Endurance.
Lindblad Expeditions will soon launch its National Geographic Endurance. Photo Credit: 2021 Lindblad Expeditions

No other cruise experience takes travellers deeper into remote coastal zones and connects them so intimately with nature. And despite the Covid-19 pandemic, the segment is flourishing.

With overall travel interest on the rise, and more cruise lines ramping up operations, travel advisors just need to look at the expedition cruising segment — where some ships are already sailing — to find inspiration.

Upcoming expedition cruise ships

There are dozens of new expedition ships coming to market in the next several years, and the list of fresh amenities and itineraries to offer clients is long.

Seabourn is working tirelessly to introduce its first dedicated expedition ship. Seabourn Venture’s shell of a superstructure — already completed up to deck nine — was just moved via barge to the T. Mariotti shipyard in Genoa, Italy, where the vessel will receive its final outfitting into a bona fide luxury vessel.

Seabourn Venture will set sail in Norway in 2022.
Seabourn Venture will set sail in Norway in 2022. Photo Credit: 2021 Seabourn Cruise Line

Venture is slated to set sail beginning in Norway in the winter months of 2022, followed by a yet-to-be-named sister ship later in the same year. Both will feature a pair of submarines, 24 exploratory Zodiacs, adventure kayaks and an expert expedition team.

“Those who love Seabourn will love this product, but the opportunity lies with those who may not be selling Seabourn — or cruises in general. There is a huge population of advisors who specialise in experiential travel, such as safaris and other adventures. These expedition sailings are a perfect fit for [their clients]," said Steve Smotrys, vice president of sales for Seabourn Cruise Line.

Viking will also join the market soon with its Viking Octantis, which was recently floated out ahead of its January 2022 debut. Its maiden season will traverse Antarctica and North America’s Great Lakes. Then, sister ship Viking Polaris will come online in summer 2022, journeying to Antarctica and the Arctic.

Viking Polaris will sail to Antarctica and the Arctic.
Viking Polaris will sail to Antarctica and the Arctic. Photo Credit: 2021 Viking

Similarly, newcomer Atlas Ocean Voyages has celebrated the float out of its first ship, World Navigator, in anticipation of its inauguration in July 2021. Its twin, World Traveller, is also under construction, and will set sail in mid-2022. Three additional sister ships are on the calendar for delivery at the end of 2023.

Meanwhile, veteran expedition cruise lines are by no means sitting out of the market’s massive expansion.

Lindblad Expeditions is awaiting the 2021 launch of its new National Geographic Endurance — complete with its innovative X-Bow for smoother sailing through rough seas — in addition to its National Geographic Resolution, which will also be delivered this year. Both were recently photographed together at the Ulstein Shipyard in Ulsteinvik, Norway, known as the home of the unique prow design.

Even the historic Swan Hellenic brand, a pioneer of expedition cruising back in the 1950s, was itself relaunched last year before embarking on the construction of its all-new expedition fleet. A trio of polar-class vessels will be led by SH Minerva when it is delivered in November 2021, followed by SH Vega in early 2022 and a third larger version by the end of next year.

Impressive demand for expedition cruises

Most important to travel agents is the exceptional demand — pent-up, or otherwise — for expedition cruising. Swan Hellenic reported that reservations have exceeded expectations to the point that Minerva’s inaugural Antarctic “Polar Solar” eclipse voyage has entirely sold out.

Atlas Ocean Voyages’ World Navigator will debut this summer.
Atlas Ocean Voyages’ World Navigator will debut this summer. Photo Credit: 2021 Atlas Ocean Voyages

Crystal is seeing high yields, as well. Within a day of releasing five of its maiden 10-night Luxury Iceland Expeditions — onboard the new Crystal Endeavor, launching in summer 2021 — bookings were already at more than 50%.

Current and future sailings

For those ready to book now, it is important to point out that expedition cruise travel has already started to resume. Quasar Expeditions, for instance, is back to sailing in the Galapagos Islands, where there’s currently a wildlife bonanza.

“Since there hadn’t been any travellers for six months in 2020, the wildlife has had time to rest, and some have even migrated to other islands,” said Fernando Diez, marketing director of Quasar. “Many visitor sites look the way they did 20 years ago, with animals nesting in the trails. It’s something the first travellers back to the Galapagos in 2021 will get to see that no one else will.”

Lindblad Expeditions is gearing up with plans to start sailing again in the Galapagos and Alaska this June, and the brand is ready to do so as safely as possible with all guests 16 years of age and over be vaccinated prior to travelling onboard.

UnCruise Adventures is yet another line mandating inoculations for all adult guests and crew. One of its first sailings back after the pandemic will be on the brand’s S.S. Legacy in Alaska later this month.

Offers and partnerships

Cruise lines are also promoting sailings with offers of bonus inclusions. For all 2021 itineraries, Atlas Ocean Voyages will bundle in a free shore excursion at every port. This rounds out the line’s all-inclusive value proposition, which further encompasses complimentary roundtrip flights, prepaid gratuities, polar parkas, emergency medical evacuation insurance, premium wine and spirits, international beers and coffees, Wi-Fi access, L’Occitane bath amenities and more.

Crystal Endeavor will sail its maiden journeys in Iceland this summer.
Crystal Endeavor will sail its maiden journeys in Iceland this summer. Photo Credit: 2021 Crystal

What’s more, expedition cruise lines are broadening their horizons by partnering with other brands to appeal to a larger audience.

Disney has taken to the seas and rivers of the world before, but its Adventures by Disney brand is now launching its first-ever expedition cruises to Antarctica and the Galapagos. Families will be able to explore the southern polar region on charters of Ponant’s L’Austral, Le Boreal and Le Lyrial beginning in late 2021, and the Galapagos Islands onboard the Galapagos Legend in 2022. Disney’s unique brand of narrative travel will focus on ecological storytelling and personal connections with natural wonders, all overseen by dedicated Adventure Guides.

Ponant is also collaborating with Smithsonian Journeys — the travel program of the Smithsonian Institution — for select sailings to Antarctica, Japan, Iceland, the Mediterranean, the British Isles, the Great Lakes and the Norwegian Fjords, starting in 2022. For its first alliance with an expedition line, Smithsonian will dive into destinations’ history, cuisine, language, environment and wildlife, while passengers interact with expert anthropologists, archaeologists, historians and scientists.

Looking to the future of the expedition cruise market

Fully aware that expedition cruises in the near future are filling up fast, lines are preparing their calendars further out and releasing schedules sooner than before. For years, Ponant has partnered with luxury tour operator Abercrombie & Kent (A&K) for exclusive overlays with fewer passengers onboard, and now A&K is renewing the collaboration into 2022-2023 — a season that will include 13 polar and cultural expeditions to Antarctica and the Arctic, Japan, Australia, the Baltic Sea, the British Isles, Italy, Greece and Indonesia.

Likewise, Aurora Expeditions has already opened up bookings for its 2022-2023 Antarctica programme onboard Greg Mortimer and Sylvia Earle; Celebrity Cruises announced deployments in the Galapagos on three ships (Celebrity Flora, Celebrity Xpedition and Celebrity Xploration) in 2023; Scenic Eclipse is sailing to Antarctica and South America in 2022-2023; and Seabourn Venture is heading to the Arctic, the Caribbean and Central and South America from May to late October 2022.

Source: TravelAge West

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