Let’s open with a fun fact: Hurtigruten began as a postal steamboat, freighter, and passenger ship 120 years ago. Today, the cargo is more passenger than shipment heavy, and Hurtigruten is now a leader in expedition cruises with a fleet of 12 ships able to accommodate 100 to 646 passengers sailing the Norwegian coast.
From spring to winter, Hurtigruten offers voyages and excursions highlighting the Norwegian countryside; yet its expedition ship MS Fram was made specifically for slicing through polar waters transporting passengers to distances outside of Norway like Greenland, Antarctica, Spitsbergen and Iceland.
So no surprise that come summer, the MS Fram transports cruisers to Greenland and Spitsbergen, an island in the Svalbard archipelago located in the Arctic Ocean between Norway and the North Pole, while during the winter the ship heads to the Antarctic region. MS Fram carries only 279 souls, an intimate number compared to the capacity of today’s mega ships.
Hurtigruten’s 9-day In the Realm of the Polar Bears tour ($4,999 pp) circumnavigates Spitsbergen, giving travelers a glimpse at local wildlife, from polar bears to walruses and whales; a history lesson of the trials and hardships of human exploration in the region; a passage crossing the 80th parallel, weather permitting; sailing the Hinlopen Strait; witnessing the wonders of the midnight sun; and landing on the island’s isolated east coast via Zodiac. Adventure cruisers can also try the 11-day Land of Fire and Ice voyage ($6,148 pp; departing May 2014), which traverses Iceland’s diverse landscape of glaciers and volcanoes, stopping at select regions around the island to experience its wild coast and centuries-old villages that were trading posts for shark hunting and whale operations.
Whale Watching Under the Midnight Sun ($328 pp) is a new excursion that will be offered every summer from June to August. Travelers board the whale vessel MS Reine to the edge of the continental shelf outside Andenes in Norland county, a grazing spot where whales are normally found feeding on deep-sea nutrients. Using hydrophones, the ship’s crew is able to locate the whales underwater, which promises sightings from these great mammals as they rise to the surface for air.
lindblad expeditions-national geographic
It’s the beginning of a new phase in adventure cruising for Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic now that Orion Expedition Cruises has become part of Lindblad’s existing fleet.
“It begins a new chapter in exploration that opens up the vast new geography of the South Pacific with the Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic approach as to how we explore it,” says Ralph Hammelbacher, v.p., expedition development. “We have created some remarkable voyages that will explore unusual cultures, beautiful islands and some of the world’s finest diving and snorkeling. While our National Geographic Explorer keeps you dry, with the National Geographic Orion guests will get wet with lots of swimming, snorkeling and scuba diving as we stay pretty much between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, except when we take her to Antarctica in December.”
Inaugural voyages set for 2014 to the South Pacific (the Great Barrier Reef and the islands of eastern Indonesia, for example) will set sail on the 102-passenger National Geographic Orion. The 20-day Reefs, Lagoons and Volcanic Isles: Fiji to Tahiti (starting rate, $18,990 pp) will sail from Fiji to Tahiti’s volcanic bluffs. Divers and snorkelers will explore underwater canyons and tunnels formed from lava; visit remote island communities and villages; spot rare and colorful birds and flowers in Fiji’s Garden Island, Taveuni, and the rain- forests of Samoa; witness a traditional kava ceremony in Tonga; and sail into Rangiroa’s lagoon in French Polynesia to explore the area’s rich marine world. And you should start looking at these cruises, or any others your clients might be interested in, now because according to Hammelbacher, “guests are booking further out—the booking window has increased to an average of nine months prior to departure.”
On board the National Geographic Orion, clients can expect classic Lindblad exploration tools such as kayaks; snorkeling gear; an onboard scuba program that can accommodate up to 24 divers at a time; and a state-of the-art ROV (remote operated vehicle reaching depths up to 1,000 ft.). In addition, like most other Lindblad tours, the expedition team will feature a National Geographic photographer on most departures, and the ship will maintain the accommodations, services and cuisine associated with the Orion brand.
If your clients want more snow than sand in their expedition cruise, the 25-day The Northwest Passage, Iceland and Greenland, new for 2014, has the National Geographic Explorer navigating from Iceland and southern Greenland on this inaugural voyage through the Northwest Passage, discovering its islands, protected waterways, ice-filled fjords, historic sites, and native communities, while also exploring the wild, rugged western coast of Iceland and its capital, Reykjavik, and the soaring icebergs at the mouth of Greenland’s Ilulissat Icefjord, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Rates start at $24,990 pp.
For over 20 years, Quark Expeditions has specialized in cruises to the planet’s Polar regions. But it can be a tough sell if you don’t know who the target client is, so Karine Bengualid, Quark’s marketing manager, sums it up for you.
“There are four types of travelers to the Polar regions: ‘Escapist,’ middle-aged exotic experience seekers who prefer vacations to help reconnect with self, and has a need for luxurious accommodations and gourmet food; ‘Learners,’ more mature in age, over 55 years old, who travel to the Poles to connect with nature, want to share experiences with like-minded individuals and are looking for education programs and connecting with ‘experts’; ‘Adventurers,’ younger travelers, 25 to 47 years old, who are still in the work force and are looking for an active adventure and are motivated to see all extremes of the globe; and ‘Checklist,’ mainly over 55 years old and for them visiting the Polar regions is a life goal, these are cultural- and sightseeing-oriented travelers who value their comfort and touches of luxury,” she says.
In 2014, Quark is offering 15 voyages for these travelers with three new Canadian Arctic tours and even a new ship—Quark is returning to the Canadian Arctic for the first time since 2010.
The three new itineraries—Arctic Quest: Greenland to Churchill; In the Footsteps of Franklin: Greenland and Canada’s High Arctic; and Epic High Arctic: Baffin Island Explorer via Fury and Hecla will be on Quark’s new ship, the Sea Explorer.
The 111-passenger, all-suites expedition ship has a hull able to break through thick sheets of ice, and is the sister ship to Quark’s Sea Spirit. The Sea Explorer includes 54 cabins, an all-inclusive beverage package, private facilities, a lecture theater, and carries a fleet of Zodiacs for shore landings. Something worth noting for your clients interested in taking the family on an Arctic journey, the minimum age to travel with Quark is 8 years old.
On the 16-day Arctic Quest: Greenland to Churchill journey ($7,995 pp), travelers will visit the UNESCO World Heritage site, Ilulissat, home to the Sermeq Kujalleq glacier, known as one of the fastest and most active glaciers in the world; visit Monumental Island for some close encounters of the wildlife kind; zip around the island on a Zodiac ride; and tour the small villages and communities that dot the landscape from Canada to Greenland. Those hoping to break a sweat while vacationing can take optional kayaking and tundra hiking tours.
August and September triggers the end of the Arctic traveling season and if your clients want to book a last-minute vacation to Greenland, look into the Greenland Explorer: Valleys and Fjords, which departs Aug. 16 and Aug. 28 (rates start at $6,495 pp). Later this year, as the start of the Antarctic season begins in November, passengers can experience the 22-day Falklands, South Georgia and Antarctica via Buenos Aires: Explorers and Kings voyage ($13,995 pp) on the Sea Spirit, which leads passengers from Buenos Aires to islands near the Antarctic Circle. On board, cruisers can sit back and watch a series of documentary films as part of the first-ever floating Polar Film Festival, which starts Nov. 2.
What’s new for Zegrahm Expeditions? The small-ship cruising company, founded 20 years ago by six seasoned and well-traveled professionals (all friends, too) is also introducing new 2014 excursions.
From Madagascar to the Black Sea and the Galapagos Islands, Zegrahm’s lineup includes 14 new excursions for travelers on board the Sea Adventurer, Isabella II, Island Sky and Caledonian Sky vessels, which can accommodate from 40 to 100 passengers and a team of experts from marine biologists and geologists to botanists and historians.
For the first time, Zegrahm is offering a 7-day Ultimate Aldabra: A Journey through the Seychelles voyage ($12,970 pp) exploring the remote Aldabra Islands, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Additionally, to keep up with today’s trends in travel, Zegrahm’s 17-day Pearls of Polynesia: Fiji and Tahiti ($9,970 pp) is offering travelers a chance to participate in a voluntourism excursion by contributing their time to ecological preservation efforts on Suwarrow Atoll on the Cook Islands; snorkeling, whale watching, and learning about the region’s traditional island lifestyles is also included on the tour.
Also worth noting is Zegrahm’s 2-part voyages to the South Pacific, circumnavigating the island of New Guinea on board the 100-passenger Caledonian Sky, which was renovated in 2012. The 16-day Voyage I: Remote Islands of Papua New Guinea has passengers visiting and interacting with villagers living in remote parts of the island. It’s all about experiencing the native cultures, from understanding their spiritual beliefs and ceremonies to appreciating local artwork and crafts. Rates start at $10,970 pp.
Meanwhile, the 18-day Voyage II: Raja Ampat and Asmat Villages offers the best in snorkeling and diving tours while introducing travelers to the cultural diversity of Papua and its outer islands. Some highlights include snorkeling/diving the underwater corals of Raja Ampat and Ashmore Reef; searching the treetops for over 500 species of birds; and a 2-day tour in the Asmat to be greeted by vibrantly decorated locals (aka, warriors) while also learning about local culture and woodcarving traditions. Rates start at $12,470 pp.
WHAT TRAVEL AGENTS ARE SAYING…
Celebrity Cruises’ 98-passenger Celebrity Xpedition provides travelers all the quality and comforts associated with the Celebrity brand—fine dining, high-end accommodations and service—and transports them to the Galapagos, a bucket list destination among curious active travelers.
But for your clients who live and breathe Celebrity, or book only cruise vacations aboard the mega ships, who is ready to transition to Celebrity’s smaller ship?
“Well-traveled clients who have cruised before, who like luxury accommodations and inclusions, who like adventure travel, and who can get in and out of a Zodiac,” says Michael Consoli, travel agent with Cruise Planners—American Express Travel.
Consoli adds that Celebrity’s 7-day Galapagos Islands voyage is ideal for “multigenerational groups because there are a lot of educational and adventure activities, and it provides great learning opportunities.” Starting rates are $2,899 pp. (800) 647-2251 or celebrity.com