With demand for luxury expedition and small-ship cruising on the rise, tour operators are expanding their marine offerings to up the ante on experience and comfort.
G Adventures, for instance, said it would introduce a sixth expedition yacht, the Reina Silvia Voyager, to its Galapagos fleet, and it said the ship would be the most comfortable in its class.
Abercrombie & Kent, meanwhile, said its 2020-2021 season will
feature its largest portfolio of Luxury Expedition Cruises to date.
Butterfield & Robinson just released a new list of water-based trips for the 2020 season, which includes private yacht cruises through Turkey, the Greek Islands and the Amazon as well as small-group biking cruises in Sardinia and Croatia's Dalmatian Coast and small-group river cruises in Europe and the Amazon.
Tauck said it's in the process of doubling its small-ship cruising capacity. This year, it added an expedition cruise to Spitsbergen, an itinerary through Alaska's Inside Passage, a Great Lakes cruise, and an itinerary that explores the Scottish Isles.
G Adventures said its Reina Silvia Voyager will enable G Adventures to meet the traveler demand it is seeing for Galapagos cruises. Since January 2016, the company said, it has seen 19% surge in bookings of its cruises in the region.
A&K said the Expedition Cruises portfolio has grown by more than 30% in the past three years. Besides expanding the number of departures in the polar regions, it has added destinations like the Kimberley in Australia, and culturally focused cruises to less-frequented parts of Japan, Greece, Italy and the Baltics.
It all translates into a host of options, making it more important than ever for travel advisors to understand both their clients' desires and the growing number of cruise options.
Yves Marceau, vice president of product for G Adventures, said like its land tours, its expedition cruises and the sailing ships it operates in Greece, Croatia, Thailand, Indonesia and the Caribbean, are smaller than traditional cruises and "go off into smaller ports where [guests] get a chance to explore and have a much more intimate experience than the big-ship cruises."
Like its land tours, G Adventures at sea is more focused on adventure than luxury.
A&K Expedition cruises, on the other hand, are luxury with a heavy focus on in-depth learning. Unlike its river cruise product, where A&K's small groups travel on sailings with other passengers but also have their own private guide, coaches and exclusive excursions, A&K charters the whole yacht.
For instance, with A&K polar cruises, spokeswoman Pamela Lassers said, A&K charters a Ponant yacht, which offering all the amenities that brand is known for. A&K then adds its own team of about 18 experts, including biologists, geologists, anthropologists, historians and other specialists, to give lectures, guide excursions and generally be available to guests.
The experts work closely with the ship's captain to map out and tweak daily activities based on weather, tides and ice conditions.
Each Zodiac is piloted by an experienced field naturalist, who provides the kind of insight into wildlife behavior that comes from years of research and experience in the field. By comparison, many cruise companies rely on ship's crewmembers to lead the off-ship expeditions.
The end result is a cruise that is heavy on learning.
"Some people might not want that," Lassers said. "And that is where the travel advisor needs to really get to know the client."
Updated: This report was updated Aug. 13, 2019, to include information about Tauck's new small-ship options.