As the cruise industry continues to evolve, so does the actual experience. Interest in adventure cruising has really taken off in the past decade as travelers seek active, mind-expanding vacation experiences to write home about. From niche cruise lines to high-end ones, there are more options than ever before. Adventure cruising is something to seriously consider when dreaming up your next group cruise.
The world has become smaller because it’s so much easier to navigate. Does your group want a cold- or warm-weather adventure? Frosty-weather fans choose Antarctica, a continent that was virtually untouched by humans until the 20th century. Today more cruise lines than ever are offering Antarctica options. Seabourn Cruise Line just unveiled plans to offer four “Ultimate Antarctica and Patagonia” voyages, with the first departure this fall.
If your group prefers a balmy clime, consider the Amazon River or Galapagos Islands. Both Celebrity Cruises’ Celebrity Xpedition and Lindblad Expeditions offer year-round cruising in the Galapagos.
Celebrity Cruises is the only major cruise line that sails to the Galapagos. Its Celebrity Xpedition is an intimate mega-yacht that accommodates just 94 guests. Celebrity Xpedition has two exclusive itineraries that call on more than 20 island locations and works closely with the Galapagos National Park to ensure low-impact travel, leaving the islands pristine. All sailings are accompanied by naturalist guides certified by the national park.
Another nice touch? The Celebrity Xpedition is a seamless all-inclusive experience. The price covers all beverages (bottled water, beer, wine, spirits, as well as coffee and tea service, including espresso and cappuccino), gratuities and shore excursions. All snorkeling equipment is provided − wet suits, fins, masks, snorkels and vests. Three levels of excursions are ranked according to the activity involved.
Celebrity Xpedition’s seven-night cruise departs on Sundays. The cruise can be combined with pre- or post-cruise hotel stays in Quito, Ecuador, creating a 10- or 11-night experience. A post-cruise Peru visit also can be part of the package.
G Adventures recently increased capacity on the Amazon River with the launch of its newly refurbished purpose-built vessel, the Queen Violet. Departures began in May and continue through January 2014. The Queen Violet accommodates only 32 guests, and each journey includes visits to local villages where guests can spend time with a family.
A company that created quite a legacy, Lindblad Expeditions was the first to take travelers to places where only scientists had gone. Sven Lindblad has continued what his father, Lars-Eric Lindblad, pioneered. Lars was among the first to take explorers to many offbeat destinations, including Antarctica (1966) and the Galapagos (1967).
Lindblad has increased the size of its owned and chartered fleet to 10 ships, with two of them based in the Galapagos. Worldwide options range from West Africa to the Arctic. It has added some new programs to its expeditions, such as kayaking in the polar regions and the Galapagos.
In 2004 Sven Lindblad created an unprecedented alliance with the National Geographic Society, and since then guests have been able to travel with National Geographic explorers, scientists, writers and other experts in diverse fields. Lindblad’s 96-passenger National Geographic Endeavor and 48-passenger National Geographic Islander expedition ships offer 10-day trips in the Galapagos. A 16-day option combines the cruise with a visit to Peru.
Silversea Cruises in 2008 launched its first expedition ship, the Prince Albert II, offering a new product that combined adventure cruising with its trademark ultra-luxury ambience. In 2011 the line renamed the ship the Silver Explorer and continues to market itineraries ideal for adventure-seeking travelers who appreciate returning to Silversea’s pampering after a day of authentic experiences in wild places. The 132-passenger ship roams the world, from Antarctica and Polynesia to Norway, Iceland and Northern Canada. The line’s newest addition, the 100-guest Silver Galapagos, starts seven-night Galapagos cruises in September.
The Silverseas expedition leader works closely with the captain to make sure opportunities for exploration and adventure are the best possible, based on weather, wildlife activity and other factors. Zodiac excursions are led by the expedition team or a guest host. Activities vary with the actual itinerary and are designed for different levels of physical ability and interests. Shore excursions are complimentary. Another nice touch: The itineraries follow a tentative schedule, which allows for some flexibility as far as staying longer at a site of particular interest.
Seabourn Cruise Line’s new, all-inclusive Antarctica/Patagonia cruises include five days touring the White Continent. The Seabourn Quest departs Nov. 20, Jan. 4 and Jan. 25 on 21-day cruises, while a special 24-day holiday version departs Dec. 11 and includes South Georgia Island. Passengers will be able to view glaciers and wildlife while cruising along the shore in Zodiac rafts. While in Antarctica, guests will be led by a team of naturalists, scientists and historians. Seabourn ensures that these itineraries will have a minimal impact on the environment. For instance, guests will be required to disinfect their shoes before traveling to and from shore. Once on land, they must stay in a small, contained group. Because of the great interest, Seabourn plans to offer a few more Antarctica voyages later in 2014.
With the increased demand for offbeat travel and authentic experiences, adventure cruising appears to be a growth niche that group planners should not ignore. These trips are not for everyone, but for those with the time, the money and a sense of wanderlust, an expedition to the Galapagos, Antarctica or the Amazon promises to be the trip of a lifetime.