It isn’t easy keeping track of the cruise ships about to surge down slipways over the next few years, but some 20 small ships alone are being launched, and with increasingly adventurous itineraries in mind. Most aren’t just scaled-down versions of bigger cruise ships but are specifically designed for expedition sailing, with new bow designs and stabilisers for rough seas, dynamic positioning systems to avoid the need for anchoring, and expanded fuel tanks to provide access to remote areas among their innovations.
As a result, cruise boundaries are being pushed back, especially in polar regions but also in other remote places such as the islands of the Mozambique Channel or the scattered atolls of Papua New Guinea. Some ships are offering increasingly extravagant ways to explore, with a new generation of luxury expedition vessels carrying helicopters, submersibles and advanced scuba-diving equipment among other eye-popping toys.
“Cruise guests can now expect to experience unique itineraries and voyages to parts of the world which are largely untouched or unseen by the vast majority of travellers, all whilst in well-appointed and lavish surrounds,” says Amber Wilson, general manager Australasia for Silversea, which has just transitioned Silver Cloud into its expedition fleet.
A shift in eco-attitude is taking place too in response to the increasing attention turned on the cruise industry’s generally woeful environmental record, coupled with the need for ships to meet ever-more stringent marine regulations in places such as Alaska. Many small-ship companies also have a genuine desire to protect the fragile environments they visit. The result is stricter emission controls and environmentally-friendly initiatives.
In 2016, Peregrine Adventures offered the world’s first carbon neutral cruises in destinations from Cuba to Iceland. In 2021, Ponant launches the first expedition ship propelled by liquefied natural gas, which means zero emissions when in electric hybrid mode, and reduction of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and carbon dioxide emissions at other times.
If LNG-fuelled small ships prove a success, big ships won’t be far behind – in fact AIDA and Costa (owned by Carnival Corporation) are already on track to produce four LNG-powered ships. Some bigger ships are also already seeing other eco-friendly innovations such as more efficient hulls, advanced waste-management systems and solar panelling. The Cruise Lines Industry Association (CLIA) says its members have invested more than $US1 billion ($1.3 billion) in technologies to minimise emissions, and that alternative fuel orders are in place for 87 cruise ships over the next decade.
“In the coming years there’ll be an even greater focus on sustainable tourism,” says Joel Katz, managing director of CLIA Australasia.
“Travellers can look forward to participating in sustainable practices both on-board and off, from recycling and waste management to popular voluntourism initiatives that focus on creating a positive environmental and social impact.”
In 2016, for example, Royal Caribbean Cruises (which includes brands Celebrity and Azamara) and World Wildlife Fund announced a five-year global partnership. The company pledged to reduce its environmental footprint, raise awareness about ocean conservation and support WWF’s global ocean conservation work. Carnival Corporation, the world’s biggest cruise company, now has an entire website dedicated to its sustainability objectives.
The environmental targets of big ships, such as supply-chain sustainability, recycling and emissions reductions, appear partly modelled on the existing example of some small ships. What seems clear is that the new generation of smaller ships is setting the agenda not just in eco-technology but in luxury levels and the cutting-edge in cruise destinations, too. Here’s the good and the better of these new ships and what they’ll offer.
Azamara Club Cruises, August 2018
VITAL STATISTICS Though not a new ship, this utterly transformed vessel carries 690 passengers and is almost identical to sister ships Azamara Quest and Journey.
WOW FACTOR The big drawcard is Azamara’s emphasis on destination, often with unique itineraries, longer stays in ports, and at least one overnight per itinerary.
ECO CREDENTIALS A Save the Waves initiative supports marine conservation and education programs. Occasional on-board lecturers from the WWF discuss sustainability, development and environmental issues.
ALL ABOARD Seven restaurants, cafes and lounges, sun decks, a swimming pool and revitalising spa. On-board entertainment features cabaret, musicians and theatre shows.
DESTINATIONS Norway and Iceland on maiden voyages, followed by European and South American itineraries. The ship is in Rio for New Year’s Eve 2018 and Carnivale 2019. Pursuit adds 61 new destinations for Azamara.
SET SAIL A 17-night Antarctica Pursuit voyage sails round-trip from Ushuaia on January 6, 2019, taking in the Antarctic Peninsula, Falkland Islands and cities Montevideo and Buenos Aires. From $8958 a person. See azamaraclubcruises.com
Celebrity Cruises, May 2019
VITAL STATISTICS The 100-passenger vessel, designed for Galapagos waters, has anchorless technology, advanced stabilisers and a three-Zodiac marina.
WOW FACTOR Innovative outward-facing design gives passengers 360-degree views. An open-air stargazing platform with telescope is a venue for guided astronomy tours.
ECO CREDENTIALS Flora is one of the most energy-efficient Galapagos ships of its size thanks to advanced propulsion systems, hull configuration and special diesel engines. There are strict waste-management and water-saving systems.
ALL ABOARD Expect the luxury feel of a high-end yacht, with all-suite accommodation, personal attendants, stylish lounges, two dining venues and private cabanas on deck. There’s also a Naturalist Centre and Discovery Lounge where seminars are conducted by ecology experts.
DESTINATIONS Celebrity Flora sails the Galapagos Islands from Baltra on alternating seven-night inner and outer-island loop itineraries.
SET SAIL The “Southern Loop Cruise” starts from June 2019 and calls at destinations such as Puerto Egas, Elizabeth Bay, Tagus Cove and San Cristobal and Santa Cruz islands. See celebritycruises.com.au
Coral Expeditions, April 2019
VITAL STATISTICS Coral’s biggest vessel carries 120 passengers and has more than 1000 square metres of open deck. Two tenders, five Zodiacs and diving facilities cater to expedition-style excursions.
WOW FACTOR A guest observation lounge in the bridge allows guests to immerse themselves in the ship’s navigational activity and interact with crew.
ECO CREDENTIALS Highly fuel-efficient, with a modular diesel electric-propulsion system with multiple generators that respond to power needs. All waste is processed for port disposal.
ALL ABOARD Several indoor and outdoor bars. Most cabins have french windows and private balconies. Two spacious Bridge Deck Balcony suites have a lounge area, king-sized bed, and bathroom with picture windows.
DESTINATIONS A maiden voyage from Singapore to Darwin is followed by a Kimberley season and then Cape York, Arnhem Land, New Guinea, the Spice Islands and Raja Ampat.
SET SAIL A 17-night Komodo Dragons & Krakatoa cruise between Darwin and Singapore departs January 15, 2020, and sails the Indonesian archipelago with visits to national parks and coral reefs. From $15,490 a person. See coralexpeditions.com
Crystal Cruises, August 2018
VITAL STATISTICS The 183-metre, 200-passenger mega-yacht is the world’s first purpose-built yacht with PC6 Polar Class designation, enabling it to sail through medium “first year” ice.
WOW FACTOR Two helicopters, two seven-person submarines, underwater scooters, jet skis and wave runners, and a recompression chamber all cater to extreme adventures by sea, land and air. A Remote Operated Vehicle allows glimpses of sunken galleons and the Titanic.
ECO CREDENTIALS A fuel reduction program, advanced water-management systems and all solid wastes incinerated or brought to port.
ALL ABOARD A one-to-one crew-to-passenger ratio includes butler service for all. Standard suites are an expansive 122 square metres. The ship has a full-service spa, six dining options, a cinema, theatre and computer centre.
DESTINATIONS Endeavor specialises in Arctic and Antarctic voyages but will sail the Americans and Europe as it repositions, including remote Atlantic and Pacific islands.
SET SAIL No itineraries or pricing has been released for sale as yet. See crystalcruises.com
Aurora Expeditions, October 2019
VITAL STATISTICS The ice-class 1A expedition ship will feature the latest advancements in naval design and carry 120 passengers. It has 360-degree observation decks, activity loading platforms and 15 Zodiacs.
WOW FACTOR Cutting-edge Ulstein X-Bow technology to reduce vertical movement, providing more stability in rough seas. Dynamic positioning technology allows the vessel to maintain position without anchors, useful when launching Zodiacs and kayaks mid-water.
ECO CREDENTIALS The X-Bow also improves fuel efficiency and reduces air emissions, while virtual anchoring protects the seabed.
ALL ABOARD An observation lounge, wellness centre and diving equipment are among amenities. On-board lectures will be given by environmental and other experts.
DESTINATIONS The inaugural 2019-20 season features 20 expeditions in the Antarctica Peninsula, South Georgia and Falkland Islands; then the Arctic, including Svalbard, Franz Josef Land, East Greenland, Iceland and Norway.
SET SAIL A 12-day “Spirit of Antarctica” cruise round-trip from Ushuaia with three departure dates in October-November 2019 has activities including sea kayaking, ski touring and snowshoeing. From $US9900 a person. See auroraexpeditions.com.au
Hapag-Lloyd, October 2019
VITAL STATISTICS The expedition ship carries 230 passengers and has the highest ice-class rating for passenger vessels. An infrared camera can spot ice at night and in misty conditions.
WOW FACTOR Two extendable glass balconies allow passengers to stand directly over the ocean. The all-round upper deck above the bow gets passengers even closer to the view than the ship’s captain.
ECO CREDENTIALS A catalytic converter reduces nitrogen oxide emissions by 95 per cent, while an optimised hull and special rudder reduce fuel consumption.
ALL ABOARD Inspiration boasts three restaurants, an extensive wellness area and marina for water sports. Most cabins have a balcony or french balcony with retractable glass.
DESTINATIONS The maiden voyage sails from Antwerp to Tenerife and onwards to mainstream destinations worldwide, plus expedition cruises in the Amazon, Azores and Cape Verde.
SET SAIL An 18-day cruise departing on November 28, 2019, from Callao (Lima) explores South America’s west coast and Chilean fiords, finishing in Ushuaia. From €10,165 a person. See hl-cruises.com
Ponant, July 2018
VITAL STATISTICS The ice-class, 184-passenger ship features small-ship manoeuvreability, a Zodiac fleet and water-sports marina. Sister ships Champlain, Bougainville and Kerguelen follow.
WOW FACTOR Blue Eye, an underwater lounge that uses technology to allow passengers to see passing sea life underwater. Hydrophones pick up subaquatic sound.
ECO CREDENTIALS Cutting-edge Clean Ship equipment, silent and economic electric propulsion, and diesel engines operating with less polluting marine diesel oil.
ALL ABOARD The seven-deck vessel has a fitness centre and spa, observation lounge, choice of dining venues and infinity swimming pool.
DESTINATIONS Laperouse starts in Iceland and northern Europe, then the Indian Ocean. The ship visits Australia, Melanesia and New Zealand in 2019. Ponant is expanding beyond its well-known polar cruises to Pacific expeditions and “green” destinations such as the Amazon, Costa Rica and PNG.
SET SAIL A 12-day series of Iconic Kimberley expeditions between Broome and Darwin begins on June 2, 2019, visiting the Hunter and King George rivers, Twin Falls and Montgomery Reef. From $12,300 a person. See ponant.com
VITAL STATISTICS Ponant has just announced this 270-passenger, world-first electric hybrid icebreaker, propelled by liquefied natural gas.
WOW FACTOR The PC2 Polar Class luxury ship can sail through ice floes more than 2.5 metres thick, and compression ridges over 10 metres. Its independent energy supply enables sailing to extreme regions.
ECO CREDENTIALS Clean Ship-certified, with zero emissions when in electric hybrid mode, and fully compliant with new International Maritime Organisation 2020 regulations on sulphur-emission levels.
ALL ABOARD The company promises helicopters, Zodiacs, expansive suites, spa, swimming pool, plus gastronomic restaurants similar to those on Ponant’s other expedition ships. An on-board laboratory will be used by research teams.
DESTINATIONS The ship aims to take passengers to seldom-explored polar destinations such as the true geographic North Pole, Weddell Sea, Ross Sea and Peter I Island.
SET SAIL No itineraries or pricing has been released for sale as yet. See ponant.com
Scenic, August 2018
VITAL STATISTICS The 228-passenger ship features the latest stabilisers, dynamic positioning, zero-speed stabiliser fins and a Polar Class 6 rating. Sister ship Scenic Eclipse II follows in 2020.
WOW FACTOR A remotely-operated underwater vehicle, two helicopters, submarine, Zodiacs, kayaks and scuba-diving gear.
ECO CREDENTIALS Advanced water-treatment systems. Efficient, low-impact engines reduce emissions below global standards, and have low vibration and noise levels to reduce disturbance to marine life.
ALL ABOARD A full-service spa with yoga studios, theatre, eight lounges and bars, 10 dining experiences, and indoor and outdoor swimming pools. Butler service for all.
DESTINATIONS Voyages in the Arctic and Antarctica, as well as Europe and the Americas, are among 18 itineraries planned for Eclipse’s first year, following a maiden Istanbul-to-Venice cruise.
SET SAIL A series of Antarctic voyages opens on November 23, 2018, mostly round-trip from Ushuaia, and visiting South Georgia, South Shetland, the Falkland Islands, Deception Island and Whalers Bay. From $20,615 a person. See scenic.com.au
Seabourn, May 2018
VITAL STATISTICS This is an expanded version of existing Odyssey-class vessels, with 12 decks (one extra), 600 passengers and similar interior design.
WOW FACTOR All-verandah suites, featuring large windows and glass doors, high-level finishes and furniture, and all-marble bathrooms. Premium Suites have personalised services by a guest service manager.
ECO CREDENTIALS Seabourn has set itself sustainability goals for 2020, including reduced carbon footprint, water and waste efficiency and better exhaust-gas cleaning technology. It partners with UNESCO to promote sustainable tourism at World Heritage properties.
ALL ABOARD Several dining venues (one overseen by Michelin-starred American celebrity chef Thomas Keller), a water-sports marina and exclusive top-deck retreat with cabanas and hot tub. The ship is graced by 1200 artworks.
DESTINATIONS An inaugural cruise between Venice and Barcelona is followed by itineraries in northern Europe and the Mediterranean before Ovation heads to Asia.
SET SAIL A 28-day Grand Southeast Asia itinerary round-trip from Singapore departs on January 19, 2019, and takes in Thailand, Cambodia Vietnam, Hong Kong, Xiamen in China and the Philippine islands. From $14,699 a person. See seabourn.com
FIVE FRONTIERS OF CRUISING
Cruise ships in polar regions are boldly going where few ships have gone before thanks to icebreaking technology, global warming and shifting icepack.
Explorers Scott, Shackleton, Ross and Amundsen all penetrated Antarctica’s Ross Sea, but few expedition cruise ships have sailed as far south as its Bay of Whales, the world’s most southerly navigable point. Chimu Adventures (chimuadventures.com) does, allowing passenger to access the previously inaccessible huts of Australian explorer Douglas Mawson. Last year, New Zealand small-ship company Heritage Expeditions (heritage-expeditions.com) broke the world record when it navigated further south than any ship, reaching 78° 44″.008S.
This long impassable sea route across the Canadian Arctic has opened up in the last decade as icepack melts. The first large cruise ship sailed through in 2012 and the route has become almost a staple for the likes of Crystal Cruises (crystalcruises.com), Silversea (silversea.com) and Regent Seven Seas Cruises (rssc.com). With the more recent opening of the Northeast Passage to cruise ships, some expedition companies now offer back-to-back itineraries for a full Arctic circumnavigation.
Although icebreakers and naval vessels have made the journey for a century, Russia’s Northeast Passage is new to cruising, tackled by the likes of Peregrine Adventures (peregrineadventures.com) and Hapag-Lloyd Cruises (hl-cruises.com). Heritage Expeditions (heritage-expeditions.com) recently made a successful double transit on the Akademik Shokalskiy. The northern sea route takes in destinations such as Murmansk, Franz Josef Land, Wrangel Island and the Chukchi Peninsula, home to polar bears and musk ox.
Many cruise ships sail to Greenlandic ports, but parts of its coastline are only intermittently visited. In 2016, Quark Expeditions (quarkexpeditions.com) unsuccessfully attempted to reach its most northerly point, Cape Morris Jesup, and from there to cross the Kennedy Channel between Greenland and Canada. More attempts might be made. Hapag-Lloyd Cruises (hl-cruises.com) is sending Hanseatic on a round-trip from Kangerlussuaq this August 2018 to sail the west and north-west coasts should ice conditions allow.
Nuclear-powered Russian icebreaker 50 Years of Victory, chartered by companies such as Quark Expeditions (quarkexpeditions.com), Poseidon Expeditions (poseidonexpeditions.com) or Peregrine Adventures (peregrineadventures.com) reaches the geographic North Pole. Ponant (ponant.com) promises its new 2021 icebreaker will also make the journey. Fewer than 300 people annually visit, making this an exclusive experience. For more bragging rights you can take a hot-air balloon ride providing that the weather is kind.
SIX NEW BIG SHIPS THIS YEAR
CARNIVAL HORIZON (April)
Horizon’s innovations include a Dr Seuss-themed water park, bike-ride-in-the-sky attraction and IMAX Theatre. Accommodations include spa cabins and extra-roomy Family Harbor staterooms. See carnival.com.au
SYMPHONY OF THE SEAS (April)
Royal Caribbean’s latest megaship carries 6680 passengers and is the largest cruise ship ever by gross tonnage. It has new family suites, dining venues and entertainment including Broadway hit Hairspray. See royalcaribbean.com.au
NORWEGIAN BLISS (June)
This 4000-passenger ship is dedicated to Alaskan cruises from Seattle. It boasts the largest racetrack at sea, open-air laser tag course, new dining concepts, waterslides and kids’ clubs. See norwegiancruiseline.com.au
VIKING ORION (July)
Orion sails the Mediterranean and Asia before arriving in Australia this November. It’s near-identical to existing 930-passenger Viking ships, with a spa, infinity pool, 10 dining options and focus on culture and education. See vikingcruises.com.au
CELEBRITY EDGE (December)
The 2900-passenger Edge-class vessel promises cutting-edge innovation and design, environmentally-friendly technologies, and the amenities of a large ship matched with small-ship itineraries. See celebritycruises.com.au
NIEW STATENDAM (December)
Holland-America’s 2650-passenger ship sails the Caribbean and Europe in its maiden season. Like sister ship Koningsdam, it features numerous dining and entertainment venues and a two-tiered Lido Pool. See hollandamerica.com.au