Historically, there has been a distinction between luxury cruising and what the travel industry describes as adventure or expedition cruising.
Luxury cruising was just that—a cruising experience with luxury amenities on a small ship that typically held from 200 to 900 or so passengers.
Like the larger, mid-market cruise lines, the itineraries focused on popular destinations in the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, the Baltic or Alaska. The smaller ships did have the advantage of being able to call on smaller ports; ones that couldn’t handle the 2,000 passenger and up cruise liners.
Expedition cruising was much more adventurous with a strong focus on the natural world. Many itineraries focused on the Arctic and the Antarctic, venues that, until quite recently, were avoided by the commercial cruise industry.
Additional venues included more exotic destinations like the Galapagos, the Amazon or the South Pacific. Ships were typically older and lacked the amenities associated with luxury cruises. Ships destined for Arctic and Antarctic waters were usually older icebreakers that had been refurbished for adventure cruising.
The most important distinction between adventure cruising and luxury cruising, however, was that the former was much more interactive. While luxury cruise ship passengers simply sailed by exotic locations, adventurer cruisers often times landed on these remote shores to observe the wildlife and to see the area up close.
Zodiacs, a type of rigid inflatable boat (RIB), were the vessel of choice for landing on remote, inhospitable shores that lacked docking facilities. The sales and marketing brochures of adventure cruise companies invariably contained up-close photos of eager passengers making their way in a RIB to a remote beach.
There are two trade organizations for the adventure cruising industry: Association for Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO) and International Association Antarctic Cruise Operators (IAACO). Both organizations have about 40 members. Not surprisingly, many adventure cruise companies belong to both groups. Notwithstanding the polar references, many of the expedition companies that are members also organize adventure cruisers to other parts of the globe. Not all members of the organizations offer shore excursions on polar cruises, although most do.
Membership includes such well-known tour operators as Oceanwide Expeditions, Linblad/National Geographic, Hurtigruten, and Abercrombie & Kent. It also includes, however, luxury cruise lines like Silversea, Seabourn and Ponant. The World, which bills itself as the “largest private residential ship on the planet,” is also a member. Viking Cruises, another trendsetter in the luxury cruising sector, has also just joined. In addition, both Celebrity Cruises and Holland America operate cruises along the Antarctic peninsula and are members of IAACO.
According to IAACO, approximately 50,000 tourists visited Antarctica during the 2017-2018 season. About 10,000 of those visitors were cruise only, while the balance were on expedition cruises that made landfall on the Antarctic continent.
Tourist visits in the Arctic are the mirror image of the Antarctic. According to AECO, there were around 100,000 cruise visitors in the Arctic region. About 30,000 of which were expedition cruisers. About 60% of the expedition cruisers went to the Svalbard Archipelago, about halfway between Norway’s North Cape and the North Pole, and another 30% went to Greenland. Polar cruisers currently represent less than 1% of the cruising market.
Lately, luxury cruise lines have begun expanding their polar cruise offerings. Partly that expansion is driven by a warming Arctic creating more possible itineraries, heightened consumer interest in the region, and in part it is driven by the need of luxury cruise companies to differentiate themselves in what is becoming an increasingly crowded market segment.
Ponant has ordered a specialty-built icebreaker cruise ship, Le Commandant Charcot, which it describes as the first luxury ice breaker. The ship is scheduled for deployment in 2021. Silversea Cruises has announced that during its scheduled 2020 drydock, the Silver Wind will receive a strengthened ice-class hull as well as “new-state of the art equipment for cruising in remote regions.” In addition, the ship will be outfitted with a fleet of Zodiacs and kayaks.
According to Roberto Martinoli, Silversea’s CEO:
Evolving the ship into an ice-class vessel, complete with Zodiacs and kayaks, will diversify her offering for our guests: she will be capable of unlocking deep travel experiences in both classic and expedition destinations, from the Caribbean to Antarctica, and everywhere in between.
There have also been persistent rumors that Viking Cruises will soon introduce Zodiac based excursions on three of its ships: Viking Star, Viking Sky and Viking Sea….
Source: www.forbes.com (Joseph V Micallef)
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