Let’s Go Adventure Cruising
I don’t care what anyone says, the new wave of adventure and expedition cruise operators are serving up some of the most exciting innovations in travel anywhere, not just in cruising.
In fact, I would go on to claim that expedition cruising isn’t really about cruising at all. It is, I contend, about exploration, discovery, unrepeatable experiences and priceless enrichment – by ship.
Sure, we’re seeing new players in the sector, many of whom are bringing their brand credentials along and expanding the ‘pie’, so to speak, and creating thousands of new converts to expedition cruising.
Silversea Cruises, for one, has developed Asia-Pacific into its second largest expedition market. The luxury line now has three adventurous Silvers sailing the world in the form of Explorer, Discoverer and Galapagos, bringing their own special incarnation of ‘champagne’ expedition cruising to Australians and indeed the world.
Homegrown brand, APT, have charged headlong into this sector too thanks to a very canny merger with top-rated UK operation Noble Caledonia that introduced the Berlitz 4.5 star rated Caledonian Sky to Australian adventurers.
The stalwart, double-barrelled Lindblad Expeditions – National Geographic brand is now taking on this lofty sector with the acquisition of the Orion, a magnificent and eminently capable ship many believe to be the best in class. It’s been a marriage that many observers, including myself, have watched very closely as the pioneering family company (who can trace their expedition cruising heritage back to 1966) subsume a ship quite different to the other five, more utilitarian, vessels in the NG fleet.
The newly ‘Linbladised’ NG Orion’s new suite of “tools for exploration” includes a comprehensive scuba facility, greatly expanded photo and video workshops, a remote-controlled underwater submarine, brand new kayaks and a high resolution camera for stunning underwater images. Would you like caviar with that?
American newcomer (to the AU market) and frequent name-changer are Un-Cruise, having been once American Safari Cruises and InnerSea Discoveries. Seattle-based, small ship entrepreneur, Dan Blanchard, has collected most of the former Cruise West vessels and itineraries and turned them into Safaris and Wildernesses. The big little line now offers six cruising regions on eight vessels, most of which are unknown to Australian expedition cruisers.
The more traditionalist (some might say ‘purist’) One Ocean Expeditions, are renewing the search for Sir John Franklin in the Canadian Arctic (since found) with the sturdy ex-Soviet Akademik Sergey Vavilov. The MH370 of its day, Franklin, 126 men and two complete ships have been missing 160-odd years. Good luck chaps.
Out on the rivers (yes, expedition cruising happens there too) the burgeoning Pandaw fleet continues to expand despite the mysterious disappearance of the Saigon Pandaw last Christmas. Pandaw have added a new mid-size vessels like Katha and Angkor (32 pax), as well as a boutique-sized boats like Kaladan and Kha Byoo (20 pax) to bring their fleet of gorgeous heritage vessels up to 12.
And they are not alone on the rivers, because breathing down their neck are Aqua Expeditions, Travel Indochina (now Insider Journeys) and Heritage Line with their own new builds. India too is set to reincarnate itself on the holy rivers, Hooghly and Ganges, with new launches there from Assam Bengal Navigation.
Otherwise there’s been a major makeover of the much-loved Blue Lagoon Cruises flagship, Fiji Princess, Aurora Expeditions will begin operating from the under-utilised Chilean port of Puerto Williams for their Antarctic departures which includes the ground-breaking ‘polar snorkelling’ activity (yes, you read it correctly) and the mighty Russian nuclear icebreaker, 50 Years of Victory will close a chapter in polar exploration when she ‘retires’ as a passenger ship in 2015.
So keep your eye on all the action in expedition cruising because one thing is for certain, there is always something exciting happening!