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These Cruise Lines Offer Serious Adventure Itineraries on Ultra Luxury Ships

Travel + Leisure logo Travel + Leisure 5/11/2019 Ian Centrone
a group of people on a boat in the water © Courtesy of Andrea Klaussner/Hurtigruten

When it comes to cruise vacations, people tend to fall into one of two drastically opposing categories: fervent advocates or overzealous naysayers. For critics, cruising is a divisive concept that typically elicits visions of massive, outdated ships, less-than-desirable travel companions, and cookie cutter itineraries that feel more like lackluster field trips than authentic, once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Cue the caricature of an obnoxious tourist looming over the cruise ship buffet in his loudest Hawaiian print button-down.

Although that unsavory depiction undoubtedly exists in some form or another, it’s certainly no longer the norm — at least not when it comes to luxury ships. For the uninitiated, the cruise industry’s luxury segment is booming. Now more than ever before, leaders in the space are attracting well-heeled holidaymakers and transporting them to some of the most stunning destinations on earth.

a bridge over a body of water: Courtesy of Camille Seaman/Hurtigruten © Provided by TIME Inc. Courtesy of Camille Seaman/Hurtigruten

What’s more, the vessels currently sailing the high seas are so impressive, you could easily mistake their swoon-worthy suites for some lavish European hotel — and nobody would blame you. Just ask anyone dining at The Grill by Thomas Keller aboard Seabourn Ovation or beckoning their personal butler on Silversea’s Silver Muse. Truth be told, it’s a far cry from the long-standing stigma that has traditionally plagued the industry, and nothing like that spring break booze cruise you may (or may not) remember.

a person standing next to a body of water: Courtesy of Andrea Klaussner/Hurtigruten © Provided by TIME Inc. Courtesy of Andrea Klaussner/Hurtigruten

But the latest trend in luxury cruising looks beyond simply combining stellar service with world-class accommodations and a database of exclusive destinations. These days, an increasing amount of passengers are insisting that options for unforgettable adventures and out-of-the-box excursions are folded into the mix. Luckily for them, the cruise lines that are willing to listen are eager to oblige.

The demand for expedition-themed offerings has become so prevalent that many of the key players in the industry are already preparing for the rising trend. In order to usher in this swelling wave of adventure chasing cruise enthusiasts, more than 50 expedition ships are slated to be constructed over the next five years alone. The move indicates a fundamental shift in how “cruise people” are choosing to travel.

a group of people in a boat on the side of a mountain: Courtesy of Andrea Klaussner/Hurtigruten © Provided by TIME Inc. Courtesy of Andrea Klaussner/Hurtigruten

A Reimagined Approach

Many of these newcomers will draw inspiration from their luxurious sister ships and incorporate thoughtful design details not commonly found in expedition vessels. Historically, expedition ships offered little more than bare bone essentials, which makes logical sense considering their main purpose was functionality. Tough but nimble, they served as a launch pad for intrepid pursuits during the day, and a simple place to sleep at night. But that mindset is finally beginning to shift as elegant new vessels gear up to make their grand debut.

“The changes taking place in the expedition category are a natural evolution of the cruise industry that responds to the curiosity of today’s traveler,” said Richard Meadows, president of Seabourn. “I’m confident that these consumer interests will continue to grow in the years ahead.”

a group of people in a small boat in a large body of water: Courtesy of Camille Seaman/Hurtigruten © Provided by TIME Inc. Courtesy of Camille Seaman/Hurtigruten

Built specifically for adventurous excursions, these vessels will still be able to access far flung corners of the earth (like their predecessors), but they’ll do so in unprecedented style while incorporating immersive itineraries and experiences that are sure to impress any thrill-seeker. This revolutionary approach marks the first real effort to expand passengers’ focus from the destinations alone and include the actual vessels into the overarching experience. And it’s going to change the cruising industry as we know it.

Notable Newcomers of 2019

This year will welcome an innovative fleet of newcomers that will certainly set the bar high for all future iterations. One of the most buzzed about forthcoming ships is Hurtigruten’s MS Roald Amundsen. Her arrival this July marks the revered company’s first hybrid ship. Designed by Rolls Royce, the 530-passenger ship will employ sustainable technology and be powered by renewable, fossil-free liquefied biogas produced by dead fish and organic waste. Adrenaline-fueled itineraries will include a 17-night trip along Alaska’s coast; a journey through Chilean fjords and Antarctica’s pristine landscapes ($10,105 per person); and exploring Viking heritage in Iceland and Greenland (starting at $8,457).

“With an eye on the next generation of responsible adventure travel, we set out to develop ground-breaking vessels,” said Daniel Skjeldam, CEO of Hurtigruten. According to Skjeldam, guests can also look forward to “a fleet of Blueye underwater drones, kayaks, and large inflatable Explorer Boats used for landings in otherwise inaccessible destinations.”

a group of people standing on top of a snow covered mountain: Courtesy of Hapag-Lloyd Cruises © Provided by TIME Inc. Courtesy of Hapag-Lloyd Cruises

Known primarily for their exceptional river itineraries, Scenic Luxury Cruises and Tours is branching out and taking a slice of the metaphorical ocean expedition cruise pie. With a 228-passenger capacity, the brand will introduce its all-suite Scenic Eclipse in August of this year. Her initial adventure-focused programming will center on bringing guests into the deep Arctic, thanks to its ice-class rating and heavy-duty stabilizer. The ship will also boast enviable features such as a fleet of Zodiacs, two helicopters, and a submarine outfitted for polar exploration. A diverse array of itineraries include a 21-day sailing through the Northwest Passage (starting at $36,995); a 13-day trip across Russia and the White Sea ($18,495 per person); and a multitude of Mediterranean journeys (beginning at $9,795).

In addition to sustainability efforts, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises is leveraging emerging technology to differentiate themselves from the competition. Launching in October 2019, the international HANSEATIC inspiration will be the second of two highly anticipated luxury expedition ships to come from the award-winning German cruise line. The other, HANSEATIC nature will be an exclusively German-speaking ship. Accommodating 230 guests — and just 199 on Antarctic routes — the small ship will offer six different cabin and suite types (each with ocean views), and some will be outfitted with retractable balconies to position passengers even closer to the action. Her 15-day maiden voyage is scheduled from Antwerp, Belgium to Tenerife, Spain and will visit France, the Channel Islands, Portugal, Morocco, and Madeira along the way ($9,085 per person).

a room filled with furniture and a large window: Courtesy of Crystal Cruises © Provided by TIME Inc. Courtesy of Crystal Cruises

Eyes on the Horizon

Looking ahead, there are plenty of other awe-inspiring new ships in development that deserve a spot on any traveler’s radar. To jump-start 2020, Lindblad Expeditions will introduce National Geographic Endurance in January, signifying their first polar-specific expedition ship. The state-of-the-art, 126-guest vessel will boast the highest ice class of any purpose-built passenger ship. Its innovative design will also include expanded fuel and water tanks, allowing for deeper exploration in remote regions. The 12 current itineraries range in price from $7,970 up to $96,190 per person, depending on the route and duration.

a group of people standing next to a body of water: Courtesy of Genna Roland/Hurtigruten © Provided by TIME Inc. Courtesy of Genna Roland/Hurtigruten

Crystal Cruises will also follow suit with the launch of the all-inclusive Crystal Endeavor. The largest of the polar class expedition yachts, it will be able to accommodate 200 people and will weave in the brand’s sumptuous signature touches, such as spacious suites measuring up to 1,130 square feet. Along with high-tech adventure toys, guests will also be able to take advantage of the on-site spa, theater, and six different culinary concepts. Hopeful passengers looking to experience the maiden voyage are encouraged to request a quote directly from their team of personal cruise sales consultants.

a seal on a rock next to a body of water: Courtesy of Hapag-Lloyd Cruises © Provided by TIME Inc. Courtesy of Hapag-Lloyd Cruises

Spilling into 2021, Seabourn will debut an ultra-luxury expedition ship in June, followed by a second arrival in May 2022. Inspired in part by the company’s successful Ventures by Seabourn program, the currently unnamed ships will each tout 132 deluxe oceanfront veranda suites and are expected to carry two submarines, a collection of kayaks, and 24 inflatable Zodiac boats. The onboard crew will include well-traveled expedition teams consisting of wilderness experts, scientists, and historians to provide an enriched guest experience.

“Our primary goal in building these new ships is to give luxury expedition travelers the best possible destination experience on board and far afield, with a design that enables us to get all guests out into the environment as quickly as possible to fulfill those travel wish lists,” said Richard Meadows. “The adventurous experiences that our guests are seeking do not come with a compromise in luxury.”


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