Expedition cruising is making a big splash. As the fastest growing segment of the cruise market, the opportunities for adventurous travellers are exciting, unique and unexpected. From barren ice-covered landscapes to tropical jungles, modern day cruisers can choose to explore in luxury or skim the waves in hardy research vessels.
Typically, expedition cruising involves smaller ships sailing intrepid itineraries to the world’s least visited places. These hidden gems, once discovered by courageous explorers, are home to pristine environments and lesser-known cultures. From the white vistas of Antarctica to the abundant wildlife of the Galapagos Islands or the tropical paradise of Papua New Guinea – these cruises are ALL about the experience.
Attracting sophisticated travellers seeking enrichment and engagement, exploration voyages place great emphasis on destination immersion. Expedition teams are abundant in their knowledge and skills; tailoring excursions to suit the interests of guests and ensuring a well-rounded, authentic experience. Expedition cruisers tend to be physically fit, curious, intelligent and brave with a love of nature and an open-mind to unfamiliar cultures. Although expedition cruising very much appeals to the established cruise traveller, the younger demographic is also showing strong interest along with first-time cruisers who previously shunned the large party-boat cruises on offer.
Vessels are specially adapted to the environments they visit, in particular polar vessels have ice-strengthened hulls. Shipyards can barely keep up with the number of new expedition ships on order. Leading cruise lines are embracing the demand for exploration cruises and the investment needed to provide first-class, environment-adapted and high-technology vessels.
Some lines still follow the time-honoured style of expedition cruises with clean and comfortable ships focused more on the destination than fine-dining and champagne. Others, on the other hand, are meeting a very real demand from discerning clients who expect to enjoy their home comforts as they sail to the furthest reaches of the globe. Luxury is most certainly an integral part of the design for the newest ships expected to launch over the next few years. Notably Ponant, Scenic and Crystal have ships due with all the embellishments and accoutrements of the six-star cruise experience.
Sustainability is obviously a major issue tied to the growth of expedition cruising. The very nature of the places featured on such itineraries is their untouched habitats, small communities and unsullied environments. Advances in technology, along with strict environmental controls, hope to preserve these places for the future, allowing naturally curious humans to visit without leaving damage literally in their wake. Many leading experts will keep a watchful eye over this growing area of tourism, ensuring the highest standards are maintained. Visitor numbers are to be kept low and new technology aims to reduce any impact from the ship. Hurtigruten’s Roald Amundsen will be the first pure hybrid commercial cruise ship to enter service when it is introduced later this year.
Countering the undeniable environmental and cultural concerns raised by a growth in exploration cruising, it is important to identify that such travellers often come away from their trip with an enhanced perspective on the natural world and indigenous cultures. Most return home with a determination to protect these important places and raise awareness of the issues threatening their importance to our world.