The real distinction today is no longer in opulence but in novelty. For the high rollers, a luxury cruise in gorgeous tropical ports no longer holds much water. Here’s where the uncharted oceans of the Arctic and Antarctic come in.
Climate change is real, and according to experts, the ice-covered landmasses and chilly floes of the polar regions are on borrowed time. The spellbinding views offer what is increasingly known as ‘experiential’ tourism, and cruises to the earth’s wintry edges may be the travellers’ last chance to catch a glimpse of the landscape before it sadly melts away.
International territorial regulations are confusing in these regions and the cost of tickets, though high, are not a deterrent for this sort of cruise-goer. This means that cruise ship jobs on polar routes will probably be increasingly in demand over the next couple of years.
But, this does not mean that polar cruises are basic, expedition-like skeletons with rudimentary upgrades. Cruise-goers can expect Champagne on ice, king-sized beds, indoor pools and other amenities. Crystal Cruises’ Endeavor even features a casino – the only one currently on an expedition ship – with blackjack, slots and roulette.
This isn’t all, Scenic Eclipse and Quark Expeditions’ Ultramarine cruises feature helicopters and submarines, which guests can use to scour the gorgeous landscape from the air and underwater. The Arctic Ocean is home to the rare narwhal, the angelic Beluga whale, polar bears, furry harp seals and gigantic humpback and sperm whales.
In the Antarctic Ocean, you can find emperor penguins, Weddell seals and Arctic Terns which migrate each year to their breeding grounds near the North Pole – 40,000kms in just four months. The Arctic land masses are also home to a wide variety of birds, and animals such as the Arctic fox, Arctic hare, Arctic wolf and snowshoe rabbit not found anywhere else in the world. Combined with the stunning and unforgiving landscape, these regions are mesmerising and jaw-dropping. The magical lights of the aurora borealis and aurora australis are also visible clearly in these regions.
Just a month ago, SeaDream announced a cruise that would let passengers get the best of both worlds. Its 88-day trip, that will kick off in 2022, will take them from Ushuaia in Argentina to a tour of the islands of Antarctica before creeping up South America’s eastern coastline. Then it breaks away to cross the Atlantic, headed for stops in Europe including London, Amsterdam and Copenhagen. Finally, it heads to the Arctic circle to check out the Lofoten islands and the ice-fjords of Svalbard before ending in Longyearbyen.
According to InsideHook, the world can expect polar-class vessels from cruise operators including Seabourn, Abercrombie and Kent, Lindblad Expeditions, Hurtigruten, Crystal Cruises and Quark Expeditions over the next two years. Compared to the US$2000 Caribbean trips, prices here are around US$12000 a pop – the SeaDream cruise ranges anywhere between US$56,536 and US$160,838 per person.
Cruise Industry News suggests 13 expedition ships to launch in 2021, including the ultra-luxury Seabourn Venture which promises kayaks, mountain bikes, Zodiacs for up-close exploration, two six-person submarines, as well as free-flowing Champagne and caviar available round-the-clock.
Cruise Planners admits that passengers look for top-notch service, despite the unpredictability of the harsh environment. They might brave extreme weather to go ice-fishing, glacier hiking and polar diving, but at the end of the day luxury and custom services are expected on the cruise – butler service, gourmet food tastings, spa treatments and saunas.
To offset its contribution to climate change – which is part of the reason why cruise ships of this size are now able to traverse these regions, the Norwegian Coastal Express announced the MS Roald Amundsen which is propelled by environmentally sustainable hybrid technology that allows it to reduce fuel consumption. It features private balconies and outdoor hot tubs with spectacular views, a beautiful observation deck, infinity pool, gym, three restaurants and a science centre at which guests can mingle with the expedition team. Its sister ship MS Fridtjof Nansen should be ready to set sail in 2020.
The latest technologies are helping to diversify the cruise industry, and offering stakeholders including cruise ship chefs with more opportunities.