“Today luxury is all about acquiring unique, bespoke, curated experiences that improve quality of life—the experience of beauty, knowledge, and humanity at their deepest and most inspiring across our extraordinary world,” says Chris Austin, Seabourn’s senior v.p. of global sales and marketing. “Luxury travelers we are seeing today are also placing a greater emphasis on the level of authentic experience they can have at destinations around the world.”
In other words, although luxury clients do expect the finest in service and accommodations, it’s not just about “a higher price point,” adds HJ Sauer, owner of a Dream Vacations franchise, “luxury is also being defined by the uniqueness of the travel. I find my clients want an adventurous or unique experience.”
In fact, with the release of Cruise Planners’ 2018 Travel Trends, Vicky Garcia, the organization’s COO and co-owner, noted that “The level of…custom travel experiences that travelers expect are high.” So it’s no surprise that one of Cruise Planners’ 2018 travel trends predictions is the “BIG Little Extras,” with the trends piece noting that “cruise lines…are partnering with cultural hotspots to provide the exclusive tours and experiences that money simply can’t buy, either before the crowds arrive or after the sun goes down.”
When asked his top recommendations for luxury cruise lines that deliver both remarkable service and inimitable experiences on land, Sauer points to a range of cruise lines for a host of different reasons, including Azamara Club Cruises, which offers “overnight experiences for those who want to experience the nightlife in a city. Crystal has some unique styles of ships, including its yacht offerings with less than 70 people. Similar small ship experiences can be found on Windstar; small ships also have unique itineraries because of their smaller size that offer off-the-beaten-path ports of call.
“My recent experience was on the new Silversea Muse in South America. I would describe the ship as understated elegance. They pride themselves on service, and, like Regent, have world tours that you can take portions of, or, if you want to ‘see it all,’ stay on for the entire length.
“For luxury river cruises, I suggest all-inclusive brands such as Uniworld. They are highly staffed and the service is remarkable.”
So how are these luxury cruise lines—both on the river and on the ocean—upping the ante when it comes to offering clients an unparalleled experience both on board and on shore, as well as high-touch experiences?
Many are bringing celebrity and award-winning chefs and winemakers to offer magnificent culinary spreads. For instance, Crystal Esprit, part of Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises, will have celebrity chef Ben Robinson on board two West Indies sailings (March 8 and April 1, 2018); he’ll lead cooking demos, and host Q&As, hang out with guests during cocktail receptions and go with them on shoreside visits to local markets. The highlight is the multi-course dinner specially prepared by the chef.
Silversea’s gastronomic feast comes via its Enriched Voyages, a series of culinary- and wine-themed sailings for this year and next that encompass the sights and sounds of cities around the world with onboard cooking events and demonstrations complemented by specially curated menus, wine tastings and more. These voyages are split into three categories—The Asian Collection, Culinary Voyages, and Wine Voyages. Overall, guests will have the opportunity to hang with local chefs, partake in cooking demos and market-to-plate excursions, as well as go on private tours of vineyards.
Aqua Expeditions, too, delivers a full plate of gastronomic delights with its chef-hosted departures in September and October 2018. Pedro Miguel Schiaffino, consulting chef on the Aria Amazon and chef/owner of Malabar and ÁmaZ (both restaurants were chosen among Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants 2017), invites gastronomes to explore the flavors of the Amazon. Guests will take classes with the chef and travel together to local markets to learn about locally grown and harvested ingredients.
Beyond divine gastronomic offerings, signature experiences for 2018 will include jumping on a helicopter to get a bird’s-eye view of breathtaking scenery or diving into the ocean while in a submarine—this is, of course, if your clients are guests on board Scenic Eclipse, Scenic Cruises’ six-star luxury discovery yacht that will launch later this year. Among the unrivaled experiences for guests of Scenic Eclipse will be wildlife-themed excursions by Zodiac and on foot while exploring the Arctic: the 11-day Ultimate Arctic journey, departing Bergen on June 16, 26 and July 6, 2019, will have guests searching for Svalbard reindeer and hiking to the upper reaches of the archipelago’s area to witness flora unique to this part of the world. From the ship’s fleet of Zodiacs, they’ll take in the islands’ thousands of Arctic terns and skuas that dance across the skies, and search for polar bears.
For clients who like to explore Alaska amidst plush surroundings, Windstar is offering its Signature Expeditions program, where guests will have access to an expedition team of five—geologists, glaciologists, marine biologists, and other experts—that will lead enrichment classes, one-to-one discussions and topical presentations. While exploring off the ship, guests will gain in-depth insight into the destination while going on a hiking, kayaking, or Zodiac excursion led by the same expedition team.
“We are offering travelers the chance to slow down and truly enjoy scenic immersion cruising amongst the glaciers and wildlife, and we have the perfect size ships for Alaska, period,” says John Delaney, Windstar Cruises’ president.
And cuisine-focused Oceania takes a bite out of the globe with 80 new itineraries for 2019, including 40 new Mediterranean voyages, 18 new Baltic, Scandinavia & Northern Europe journeys, five new Alaska sailings, six new Canada & New England voyages, and 10 new Tropics cruises. In Europe, for example, there are eight new itineraries that focus singularly on Italy or Spain or the Iberian Peninsula and French wine country and include overnight stays in Venice, Lisbon, and Bordeaux. And farther north, there are visits to off-the-beaten path ports in Norway such as mountainous Bodo, located just north of the Arctic Circle, and Haugesund, known as the Homeland of the Viking Kings.
Aqua Expeditions: aquaexpeditions.com
Azamara Club Cruises: azamaraclubcruises.com
Crystal Cruises: crystalcruises.com/yacht
Oceania Cruises: oceaniacruises.com
Regent Seven Seas Cruises: rssc.com
Scenic Cruises: scenicusa.com
Silversea Cruises: silversea.com
Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection: uniworld.com
Windstar Cruises: windstarcruises.com
Seabourn: Ultra-Luxury Cruising
“I would say the ultra-luxury client is looking for the best, plain and simple, but it must be fulfilling, and they want to spend their time with like-minded people,” says Chris Austin, Seabourn’s senior v.p. of global sales and marketing. “The good news for the travel professional is the client looking for a traditional luxury experience can often be moved up to an ultra-luxury experience if you look for the right opportunities….milestones like birthdays, professional achievements, or anniversaries are all great moments to suggest.”
Seabourn, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary, is the embodiment of an ultra-luxury cruise experience: “On a Seabourn ship, space is generous and crowds are few. Our guest’s names, cocktail choices and wine orders are remembered, preferences noted, and wishes granted before they are spoken by a crew that borders on clairvoyant and is intent on exceeding guest expectations.”
For this celebratory year, Seabourn will debut its fifth ship, the Ovation. The all-suite, Odyssey-class vessel features accommodations with walk-in closets, verandas, sofas, writing desks, dining tables, full bath and separate showers, and dual vanity sinks. “These are some of the same amenities,” says Austin, “that you would find in the accommodation at luxury hotels and resorts.”
Beyond divine accommodations, Ovation guests will also encounter a tantalizing culinary experience, a world-class art collection comprised of 1,600 art pieces throughout the ship, and sublime experiences.
“All good things to come on Seabourn Ovation,” says Austin. “She’ll position from the Med to North Europe for her first summer season and we are looking forward to welcoming many of our travel professional partners on board this year.”
To read the full interview with Seabourn’s Chris Austin, visit recommend.com.