Luxury cruising is moving into adventure in a big way, taking passengers to places like Antarctica in white-gloved style.
Silversea and Seabourn are getting new cashed-up competitors like Crystal Cruises, now backed by gaming giant Genting Hong Kong.
They have already announced three new ocean-going ships, all equipped with reinforced stabilisers that will be able to cut through ice – perfect for expedition cruisers who like a glass of champagne to accompany their trips to the white continent.
Built by Lloyd Werft, the first ice-rated Crystal ocean-going liner will launch in 2018. Like all Crystal ships, it will be able to accommodate 1000 well-heeled and affluent passengers.
This is big by expedition cruise standards and at least two to four times larger than other premium expedition vessels.
Most lines that ply the choppy waters of the Drake Passage to reach the Antarctica are small ships: 102 passengers on National Geographic Orion, 132 on Silver Explorer, 264 on Ponant’s L’Austral and 450 on Seabourn Quest.
“It’s an environment issue because of the landings on ice. It is already a logistic challenge to disembark 1000 passengers at any one time, leave alone on ice. Rarely do big ships go to the Antarctica,” said one cruise expert.
Crystal is not the only one expanding its expedition portfolio.
Seabourn Quest launched her 21- to 24-day expedition itineraries from Patagonia to the Antarctica in November 2013. Silversea added a third vessel to its expedition fleet, which has been operating since 2008.
Expeditions are popular cruises with expert guides. They are tailored-made for adventure seekers keen to see the myriad of wildlife including penguins, albatross, humpback and orca whales and hundreds of different birds.
Lindblad Expeditions, which recently completed a recapitalisation with publicly traded American investment vehicle Capital Acquisition Corp, plans to build two more expedition ships.
They will be purpose-built for expeditions equipped with retractable stabilisers and have shallow draught to manoeuver the ships close to shore.
But there won’t be any white gloves here. “Our focus has always been, and will continue to be, expedition/adventure,” Sven Lindblad told Cruise Passenger during a recent interview.
French luxury line Ponant has just been bought by French billionaire Francois Pinault, whose family holding company Artemis owns a string of luxury brands including Gucci, St Laurent Balenciaga and Bottega Veneta.
Artemis will provide the capital to drive Ponant’s international expansion and next level of growth, the company said.
The main driver for expedition cruises going luxury is to broaden their appeal to a younger generation of adventure seekers who may find the more established luxury lines too elderly for comfort.
However, expedition passengers are generally younger. Many are in their 40s and early 50s as they have to be fit enough to climb on board Zodiacs to walk around slippery icy surfaces.
Expeditions to the white continent are also expensive, anything from $15,000 per person on Seabourn’s 21-day expedition to $24,920 on Lindblad National Geographic Orion’s 24-day journey.