People travel because it enriches their lives. And the growing trend of luxury expedition cruises has travelers embracing their bucket-list dreams with an elevated sense of adventure. Expedition cruises have the power to change people’s lives, one voyage at a time - and that’s what makes them truly epic.
“Probably the most unique expedition cruise I took was to the Northwest Passage, which we hosted for a smaller group of about 20 people,” described Ngaire Keene, owner and president of Keene Luxury Travel, and a travel advisor who has been selling expedition trips for 20 years. “That year, there was a lot of ice, and we were the only cruise ship to complete the passage. Other ships turned back. We had an icebreaker in front of us and got stuck a few times … At one point, we were waiting for the ice to clear to move forward and a polar bear and cub came right to the ship and the mother put her paws on the ship. We were all outside and looked right down at the polar bear. Just amazing!”
Shari Kalt, co-owner and president of Bee Kalt Travel (which was started 62 years ago by her husband’s grandmother, who was reputed to be “quite a force of nature” for her time), said she expects to see an increase in expedition cruises to Antarctica over the next year. About one of her recent expedition voyages to the region, she said: “The most exciting thing about Antarctica was the sheer scenic beauty, the iceberg formations and the penguins! I could sit and watch the penguins all day, waddling across the snow, feeding their babies. It’s fascinating.”
Ange Wallace, owner of Wallace Pierson Travel (where 30%-40% of their bookings are for expedition and adventure travel), talked about a warm-weather destination as one of her most extraordinary adventures. She recounted: “Papua New Guinea is epic, for sure. It’s still so fresh and untouched. There are still people in the interior who have never come face to face with civilization. As we went village to village by ship, they still have a very subsistence way of living, mostly bartering, food from the sea, for instance, traded for food from gardens. It’s like living a National Geographic article.”
For one of her clients who had just returned home from a back-to-back cruise, and who was losing interest in the same type of travel experience, Wallace handed her an Antarctica brochure. The client, who was in her 80s, took the expedition cruise. Years later, after the woman passed, her daughter speaking at her funeral said, “That trip to the Antarctic totally changed my mother’s life.”
What’s driving the luxury expedition trend?
“I think it’s a combination: People want to explore less-traveled areas and have authentic experiences, and the cruise lines are coming out with new ships catering to the luxury market. Years ago, most of the choices going to polar regions were on repurposed research vessels with very basic accommodations and few amenities. Now, with more luxury expedition cruise ships entering service this year and next, they are attracting a new segment of traveler who wants comfort and amenities (such as spas, fine dining, and butler service),” said Kalt.
“People are motivated by different things,” Kalt continued. “Some are checking off their bucket-list destinations. Some are keen wildlife enthusiasts and photographers, and an expedition cruise is the best way to get to some parts of the world (Antarctica, for instance). And, I think some want the bragging rights at their next cocktail party.”
Keene noted that it’s a sense of adventure that motivates many expedition cruise guests today, and that “you do not have to young and fit to enjoy the beauty of nature.”
“The expedition team are also a big factor,” she continued. “They help everyone so much - it is not difficult to get in and out of the Zodiacs, and they are always around to assist and educate on the ship and on the landings. Compared to the lectures on classic ships, the lectures on these ships are completely different. They are more in depth on every aspect of nature and our planet, given by experts. Plus, with the smaller size of expedition ships, you get to know all the crew, the expedition team and the guests. It’s a very intimate type of cruise.”
Who is today’s expedition cruise traveler?
“There is a distinct change, I believe, as the reality sets in of what an expedition cruise is all about. More retired people have discovered the joy of expedition cruising, and the word is spreading. I think today’s expedition cruise traveler is a person who has done a lot of traveling on classic ships but wants a new and exciting experience,” said Keene.
Kalt described the expedition cruiser as “someone who likes adventure; is a seasoned traveler; is curious about the world; and who has the disposable income and time to take an expedition cruise (as they are generally much longer than a traditional cruise). On my recent cruise to Antarctica, there were guests of all ages, from age 10 to 85.”
Wallace echoed those sentiments, saying that today’s expedition cruiser is “so across the board. On the Antarctica cruise, we had kids under 12, tweens, and some people who were in their 80s. It really runs the gamut.”
However, she did point out that she has found single female travelers to be “very comfortable on expedition cruises,” and that they were the early adopters of this type of travel; and, interestingly, that her agency has not booked even one single male on an expedition cruise over the years.
To find expedition cruise clients, Kalt also mentioned that: “You don’t want to look at your traditional cruise clients, necessarily. The best prospects for an expedition cruise are clients who are active, ones who have enjoyed safaris, or who have done more adventurous land trips, or who are celebrating milestone birthdays or events.”
Another market segment to target for expedition cruises is multigenerational families, where Wallace said the opportunity is “huge.” About an Antarctica trip she recently took, as a grandmother, with her daughter and her husband, and their two girls ages 8 and 9, she said how wonderful it was to “see it through their eyes and side by side. At one point, the naturalist allowed each of the girls to drive the Zodiac …They come alive, and you come alive. When you travel with kids, people will do things for them that they wouldn’t do for adults. It’s a great way to travel as a family.”
So, where are the intrepid expedition cruise travelers going these days? Among the hotspot destinations are: Antarctica, the Artic, the Galapagos Islands, Iceland, Papua New Guinea, and the Russian Far East.
“I really encourage anybody with any sense of adventure or who has ever read a National Geographic magazine to go out and try an expedition cruise. The world is changing fast and it’s getting more homogenized. Whether it’s to see the Maasais or the New Guineas, or any other destination, go see it before it changes and goes away, and then it’s too late,” said Wallace.
FROM THE SPONSOR: Every Silversea voyage brings unique discoveries and destination immersion along with our usual standard of luxury. Our upcoming expedition seasons include some of the most incredible sailings yet, featuring Solar Eclipse Voyages in Antarctica; exploring the King George Falls on a Kimberley, Australia voyage; or our recently announced 59-day “Mediterranean Grand Voyage” visiting 17 countries; or even a one-of-a-kind Silversea “World Cruise,” visiting all seven continents over 150 days. This is just a glimpse of Silversea’s upcoming voyages, making it evident that any type of sailing your clients desire, they should choose the cruise line that goes above and beyond. For more information, visit www.Silversea.com.