Cruising Reimagined

When you think of a cruise, what do you imagine? Perhaps you’d envision a yacht that makes humans look like ants in comparison; pools with slides and fountains for family fun; and large decks for sunbathing and drinks by the poolside. Altogether, you think of an enjoyable vacation with opportunities and activities for all, and of course, every few days or so, the cruise ship will pull into a port for a few hours at some exotic location, be it the Caribbean, Mexico, or some other warm, sun-kissed destination.

There’s another type of cruise that may not yet have caught your attention: the expedition cruise. These cruises are ventures to destinations that are “off-the-beaten-path,” so to speak. They include trips to Alaska or the Arctic; they could even be along the Northeast Passage, from Norway across Russia. These expedition cruises are certainly not your typical, beaches-and-palm-trees destinations that you’d expect from a cruise. Rather, they have historically been smaller ships that act merely as a form of transportation to their destination. Some will use Zodiac inflatable boats to send people to shore because they will often attempt to come onshore via rocky beach; these sometimes even require a “wet landing,” which means that the group must wade through the water to reach the shore for the last part of the trip. Ultimately, this is not exactly what families imagine when they picture a relaxing vacation.

Recently, there has been a call for luxury to be brought onto the expedition cruise experience. The river cruising industry has grown in popularity, and customers are beginning to look for a smaller, more personalized vacationing experience to a wider variety of destinations. Between now and 2022, twenty-eight expedition cruise ships are scheduled to launch, including those launched by National Geographic and Crystal Cruises.

These new luxury expedition cruises promise to be a fantastic emulation of a typical cruise ship and probably provide an even greater experience altogether. Some of the features promised in many of these new luxury vessels include heated rooms and storage to dry the wet parkas of passengers who have spent a day exploring Antarctica, restaurants with food cooked by world-renowned chefs, helicopters for aerial excursions, solariums in which to sunbathe, and more. The French line Ponant is launching ships with relaxation rooms below water, which have portholes to view the depths of the ocean and hydrophones that transmit the sounds of the sea. All the while, these expedition ships will retain the very qualities that have made them so enticing in the first place: their adventurous destinations and smaller, more personalized experiences.

Cruises have an almost 200-year history, but it is clear that the industry is changing. Traditional cruise ships will definitely remain popular for now as luxury expedition ships are still quite expensive in comparison. However, there is no denying that these new luxury expedition vessels offer an intriguing alternative. With this new development, there is no telling how transportation could be altered across the world. If the general public begins to show an interest in higher-end travel, in which the transportation vehicle’s amenities and beauty are as much a part of the experience as the destination, then planes, trains, buses, and other forms of transportation may begin to have luxurious counterparts as well. All in all, knowing that you can return to a beautiful, comfortable setting after a long, freezing day exploring Alaska or the Arctic sounds pretty enticing, and surely there will be people more than happy to pay for that comfort. In the coming years, expect to see these luxury expedition ships rise in popularity as people discover they can have the best of both worlds.

Sources: Cruise Critic, NY Times