It was the pioneer Lars-Eric Lindblad who invented the concept of expedition travel by leading the first-ever citizen-explorer expedition to Antarctica in 1966. Back then, pickings were slim for travellers looking to embark on an expedition cruise: time-worn, Soviet-era icebreakers and retired research ships in the adventure cruise service had little to offer in creature comforts – meaning that cruisers had to make concessions on everything from accommodation, to food, to service so that they could set sail on a once-in-a-lifetime passageway to remote, faraway lands.
But fast-forward half a century, and the expedition cruising sector is seeing a dramatic increase in the number of ships on order between now and 2020. These vessels are set to surpass the level of lavishness ever seen on boutique-sized ships, and are pushing the boundaries of what was previously believed to be possible in the luxury expedition segment.
A New Level of Luxury
“Expedition cruising is certainly booming, with an unprecedented number of new ships currently on order. For many years, the industry remained stagnant, or with little growth; now, we are not only seeing a huge rise in the number of new ships, but also many new entrants into this segment”, says Conrad Combrink, senior vice president of Strategic Development Expeditions and Experiences at Silversea Cruises. “When Silversea started [in] the luxury expedition segment 10 years ago, many people were skeptical as to whether luxury expeditions would ever work. Many people asked the question: how can luxury and expedition be related?”
Another front runner leading the way in the luxury expedition sector is Quark Expeditions. With top-of-the-line balcony suites; personal butler service; 24-hour, in-suite dining; and spa services at your disposal, there has been no scrimping on luxury aboard The World Explorer, their new 176-passenger, all-suite expedition vessel, which is set to debut during the 2018/2019 Antarctic season.
“While for some, luxury still means lavish, we believe more consumers will increasingly be looking for true expeditions that deliver transformative experiences – but at a premium level”
Thomas Lennartz – Vice President of Sales, Quark Expeditions
“She’s our first all-suite, all-balcony ship, and provides a great combination of expeditionary ability and high-end comfort”, says Thomas Lennartz, vice president of sales at Quark Expeditions. “We are still seeing the continuing segmentation and evolution of the definition of luxury. While for some, luxury still means lavish, we believe more consumers will increasingly be looking for true expeditions that deliver transformative experiences – but at a premium level, like The World Explorer.”
“With the numerous new vessels coming online in the next few years, I see the industry doubling down on the tried and true, and exploring parts of the map that [no-one] is really talking about”, says Trey Byus, chief expedition officer at Lindblad Expeditions.
Silversea is also set to push the boundaries of the luxury expedition sector by offering their first-ever Northeast Passage voyage in 2019. This is in addition to the launch of their first-ever cruise ship to Bangladesh – an extension of their exploration covering Micronesia and Melanesia that includes destinations such as Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and The Solomon Islands.
“People are interested in seeing and experiencing new places – particularly those destinations that are out of the ordinary. It is so important to have the in-depth knowledge and expertise to deliver these incredibly unique and remote destinations to the inquisitive traveller”, Combrink of Silversea explains. “In Vanuatu, [we] will offer a distinctive opportunity to experience the land-diving ceremonies that take place once a year in celebration of the yam harvest; and we will visit as far north as Ellesmere Island, exploring the rugged coastline of Baffin Island and the incredible communities of western Greenland.”
As travellers continue to trek to the far-flung corners of the globe, sea-based tourism remains a final frontier for those seeking to discover uncharted territory and experience a true sense of exploration.