Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Cruise Weekly Comment: Changes Afloat


Like so many travel industry segments, the so-called global financial crisis has caused many operators to reevaluate their strategic planning. Even so, several were committed to new vessels and itineraries devised in the glory days leading up to the collapse.

Certainly one of the most ambitious and adventurous itineraries would have to be Cruise West’s Voyages of the Great Explorers, a 335-day circumnavigation of the world. Departing Singapore on March 6, 2010, the 120-guest, all-suite Spirit of Oceanus will sail westward, following the sun, to return to Singapore on February 3, 2011.

This remarkable journey includes visits to 242 ports in 59 countries and 85 UNESCO World Heritage sites while crossing 14 seas and oceans, transiting three canals, as well as a voyage tied to The Famed Edinburgh Military Tattoo, Scotland’s colorful military musical spectacular. This is really a fine weave voyage, over twice as long and visiting nearly five times as many ports as a comparable Cunard, ‘big ship’ itinerary.

Another vessel that re-emerged after an expensive refit was Silverseas’ Prince Albert II. The luxury small ship cruise line jumped the adventure bandwagon by picking up the ex-Society Expeditions MS World Adventurer in 2007 and following her relaunch last year, immediately placed her on a leisurely schedule in French Polynesia. Fortunately that was quickly corrected and she is now embarking on proper polar voyages.

GAP Adventures were obliged to find a new ship after the high profile loss of Explorer in Antarctica in November 2007. The new 105m Expedition re-entered service last month and follows a popular recent trend among operators of converting arctic ferries into adventure vessels along the lines of Quark’s Ocean Nova, which was reborn from the Danish-flagged Greenlander, Sarpik Ittuk, in 2007.

Quark Expeditions, by the way, is in the process of rejigging their itineraries in response to the new challenges and an announcement is due any day on the revised plans. Stay tuned.

The giant, century old, Norwegian Hurtigruten cruise line (formerly Norwegian Coastal Voyages) is currently negotiating choppy waters. The decision to embark on a major fleet upgrade was a bit of unfortunate timing and the company is one of many caught in the global mess. There is a major push to get travellers aboard the newest expedition vessel, MS Fram. Built in 2007, she is one of the bigger expedition vessels with 318 berths and a GRT of 12,000.

In a more classic vein, the 1976-built Royal Dutch Navy vessel, Hr. Ms. Tydeman will be transformed to the 112-passenger MV Plancius and begin polar voyages next year in Antarctica with Oceanwide Expeditions.

As you’ve seen written many times already, now is certainly a great time to go adventure cruising with many companies offering enticing specials and deals. Go see your travel agent today.