AHOY! Cruising is back, with more luxury

12368624497?profile=RESIZE_710xThe Silver Ray from Silversea Cruises launches this summer with dining options that match the destinations.

New ships cater to passenger demand for best of all worlds

By Tao Woolfe and John Hughes

If you’ve been yearning to get back out on the seven seas, you’re in good company. People have shaken off the coronavirus blues and are cruising again in record numbers, according to travel industry reports.

The post-pandemic customer has evolved, however, and is especially interested in high- end, “mindful” cruises, as one company puts it.

“Luxury cruises are the quickest growing segment of the cruise industry,” said Jeff Dash, CEO of Dash Travel and Cruises in Delray Beach, which specializes in cruises and has been in South Florida for 40 years.

Travelers want to go to ports of call that add an extra layer of interest to the trip — such as historic or environmental significance, Dash says.

The Antarctic, for example, is a newly popular destination.

Le Commandant Charcot, a luxury cruise ship from Ponant, aims to attract high-end adventurers who want to learn about the planet. The cruise line lays claim to having the most advanced ice-breaking technology on the ocean, in addition to scientists and researchers onboard collecting data and sharing their findings.

Dash describes Ponant as a small, interesting French luxury line that focuses on smaller audiences and specialty destinations such as the polar regions. Le Commandant Charcot has room for 200 passengers.

The limited number means that guests maintain their privacy and enjoy the feeling of being on a private yacht — able to call at iconic ports as well as secret harbors, accessible only to smaller ships.

People want to see the Antarctic because “it’s on their bucket list,” Dash said.

The travel industry suffered mightily during the pandemic and subsequent COVID outbreaks — such as last winter’s surge — but is making up for lost time and money, Dash said.

The market, which peaked in 2019 at 29.7 million customers and went down to 20.4 million customers in 2022, roared back to life in 2023 with 31.5 million customers, he said.

“The expectation is that the market will go to 37 million customers in five years,” Dash said.

For 2024, at least 14 new luxury ships are under construction by many of the traditional sailing companies, such as Cunard, Seabourn, MSC, Regent and Viking.

A few ships are being produced by completely new cruise lines. Among them are small ultra-luxury ships such as the Explora I — built by a relatively new cruise line, Explora Journeys. Launched in 2023, the Explora I accommodates fewer than 1,000 guests and weighs 64,000 tons. The Explora II is due to be finished and launched with a tour of the Mediterranean later this year.

The traditional global routes are always available, but many of today’s travelers want an experience deeper than overeating and overdrinking for a week.

“Many of the luxury and expedition cruises now have specialists on board to offer lectures,” Dash said.

Viking is among them, offering resident historians and guest lecturers to shed light on a destination’s history, art and architecture. Guests have access to an extensive library as well.

Dash has seen a lot of advance booking and says most of the space on his 2024 cruises is sold out.

Here are some details about the luxury ships that have joined their respective fleets, and those that will grace the seas later this year:

 

12368626079?profile=RESIZE_710xThe Ilma by Ritz-Carlton, to launch this fall, has a stunning pool area. Photos provided

Ilma
Last October, Ritz-Carlton launched the Evrima and entered the cruising industry with the same promise of elegance for which its luxury hotels are known. This year it is expected to double its fleet with its second superyacht, the Ilma.

Late to the cruising business, Ritz-Carlton is something of a trendsetter ship-wise. Luxury hoteliers Four Seasons and Aman are also planning to launch ships in 2025.

Prices for the Ilma’s inaugural voyage, to and from Athens in September, start at around $7,400. Amenities include an attached marina that allows guests to be in the water while also on the water.

All 224 suites have private balconies, butler service and 24-hour in-suite dining. The ship has boutiques, fitness studios, spas and bars.

Guests can also learn about destinations from experts and immerse themselves in local culture as shared with artists and musicians at ports of call.ritzcarltonyachtcollection.com

Silver Ray
When it launches this summer, the Silver Ray (Silversea Cruises) is expected to further demonstrate that the luxury cruise business is back in the black. The Silver Ray is the sister ship of the Silver Nova, which launched last year and was lauded as a luxury-cruise game changer for its asymmetrical deck design and its “S.A.L.T.” dining experiences.

The name is an acronym for Sea and Land Taste — a program that matches menus with destinations and emphasizes the cuisine of a region.

At a starting price of $6,150, the Silver Ray promises the same “Nova class” experience: 728 guests plus 544 crew sharing the 801-foot vessel. silversea.com

Explora II
Last year, Explora Journeys (an outgrowth of the MSC shipping conglomerate) became the newest line hoping to exploit the nascent luxury sea-travel niche. Like others offering exclusive service on the seas, Explora Journeys eschews the word “cruise,” preferring instead “an ocean journey.”

This summer the company plans to launch Explora II: 813 feet, 922 passengers, and a guest-to-staff ratio of 1.25 to 1. Basic fares start at around $4,000.

As with others in its class, the Explora II experience promises to include ethical ecological practices. For example, the ship will not stock any single-use plastic, and its green technology includes the potential for using alternative energy sources — part of the parent company’s goal to have zero emissions by 2050. explorajourneys.com

12368625298?profile=RESIZE_710xSpa area with pools on the Viking Saturn

Viking Saturn
Last year’s rookie of the luxury-expedition vessels, the Saturn is almost identical to its sisters in the popular Viking fleet. And, in keeping with the sense of exploration for which the line is named, the Saturn will take 925 guests (considered a small crowd by the industry) on Europe’s most enchanting rivers to places travelers want to see but few reach via waterway.

The 745-foot Saturn is decked out in indulgence, with a side of cultural and culinary enrichment served with a glass of one of the ship’s champagnes.

From the single Owner’s Suite that has a private sauna to one of the 465 all-balcony suites, the ship has five price ranges starting at about $2,800.

The Saturn is another of the line’s stars that feature signature Scandinavian designs. vikingcruises.com

12368625664?profile=RESIZE_710xLe Commandant Charcot from Ponant cruises is equipped to churn through ice in the polar regions. Photos provided

Le Commandant Charcot
The words “luxury” and “Arctic” are rarely combined in sentences. But here’s one: Ponant features expeditions to the Arctic (and Antarctic) aboard a luxury ship that can churn through sea ice.

Yes, an icebreaker. Not the breath mint; in Ponant’s case, Le Commandant Charcot.

Ponant describes its fleet as offering “luxury cruises for the discerning traveler.”

If your discerning ways are somewhere between the polar regions, the line’s other ships sail to more traditional cruise destinations. 

But it’s Le Commandant Charcot that plows its way into polar cruising history as the first of its kind to use hydroelectric power; it uses recycled energy from its engines to heat the outdoor pool, deck benches and a “snow room.”

The ship is also a workplace: Voyages include research scientists, and sometimes the ship stops just to let them do their work.

Le Commandant Charcot (named for a French explorer) is an exclusive experience at a cost of about $46,500 per person. us.ponant.com

Regent Grandeur
The Regent, Jeff Dash’s favorite luxury line, “has the best food, the best experiences, the best everything,” he says. “The dining experience is great, and the staff is fantastic, the shore excursions offer great variety — something for everyone.”

The Grandeur is a new addition to Regent Seven Seas Cruises. It boasts sprawling suites, multiple dining options and spacious social areas.

The ship set sail for its inaugural season in November, and is scheduled to make 17 voyages to the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, and transatlantic crossings.

The Grandeur is 735 feet long and can accommodate 750 guests and 550 crew members. It has 10 decks, 373 suites, weighs 55,500 tons, and is 102 feet wide.

Guests enjoy sumptuous all-suite accommodations, nearly all with private balconies, as well as highly personalized service throughout and expansive outdoor spaces. rssc.com

12368626687?profile=RESIZE_710xThe Antarctic, with its charming penguins, is a popular Viking cruise destination.

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