Updated: Aug 17, 2018
Luxury Ships With Submarines. Here they come.
About ten years ago, I was in a discussion with Niels- Erik Lund, CEO of SunStone Ships, in Miami. We were reviewing the purchase of a vessel when he disclosed his future strategy: to build luxury expedition ships and lease them to prospective operators. I thought it was quite an ambitious and aggressive pursuit at the time. The luxury sector was in transition and exploration cruises into the far-reaching corners of the world didn't appear like an appealing option Crystal or Silverseas passengers would opt for. I was mistaken.
Today, Niels-Erik, a pioneer and successful ship-management operator for decades, has achieved his objective. Visiting the web site for SunStone's elected yard (China Merchants Heavy Industries - Shenzen) to build these new ships, I was a bit skeptical at first. Digging deeper, and wrong again, the ships are under construction as witnessed by the shot below from the yard in China (Niels-Erik Lund, Center.)
From Marine Link, Niels-Erik comments:
"The expedition market has expanded drastically over the last five years, and quite a number of owners and operators have ordered new tonnage which will come into place from 2019 forward, with newbuildings being ordered from Norway, Germany, Spain, Croatia, and China.
From a historic point of view, there has never been so many newbuildings on order for the expedition segment. However, it is not expected that any more secondhand vessels will be converted into expedition ships, and the worldwide fleet is very old on average and should be scrapped within the next 10-12 years. Newbuildings are clearly needed as the market is expanding."
“Ten years ago, most expedition cruises were carried out by older Russian research vessels, many with inside cabins, and many with cabins without private facilities,” Lund says. The market changed about 10 years ago, as ships became more comfortable and conventional cruisers started evolving. Past expedition guests spread the word, which as evidenced has had a big impact on the industry.
As of March of this year, SunStone has order three of their 200 passenger Infinity Class ships designed by Ulstein featuring the "X" bow design
About the "X" Bow:
The X-BOW introduces the gentle displacer; a tapered fore ship shape with a different volume distribution as well as sectional angles, resulting in a wave piercing effect at small wave heights, and also reduces pitching and bow impact loads in bigger seas. When comparing fore ship volumes with more conventional, bulbous bow shapes, the X-BOW has more displacement volume starting from the waterline.
The definition of an expedition ship will range from fifty to two hundred and fifty guests.
Luxury entries will up the game (so yes, you can bring your fur.) Seasoned cruisers will appreciate above average product delivery, albeit limited features, and amenities - many of whom are poised to exit the Caribbean, Mediterranean, and Alaska - eager and desirous to explore. These far reaching destinations may include Far East Russia, Arctic Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Spitsbergen and Antarctica, Australia, Borneo, Polynesia, Philippines, Galapagos, and the Amazon. Voyages will not be cheap - don't expect last minute deals. All of these newbuildings will amount to less than half the capacity of an Oasis class ship.
Experienced operators include: National Geographic (Lindblad), Expedition, Hapag Lloyd, and Hurtigruten, QUARK Expeditions, Adventure Canada, Aurora Cruises, Polar Latitude, Iceland Pro Cruises, and Polar Quest.
Carnival's acquisition of Seabourn expands expedition cruising...as web site SKIFT states: "The ships will be purpose-built for expedition cruising by a partnership between shipbuilders T. Mariotti and Damen and will each include two submarines as well as kayaks and inflatable Zodiac exploration boats. “That will allow us access into parts of the world based on the ice-strengthened hull that will be more extensive than what we can currently do today,” Meadows said. The amenities will be classic Seabourn, with balcony suites, high-end dining, and other luxury touches.
Following Royal Caribbean's - 1B Silversea deal, it became evident that the world’s largest cruise operators were finally posturing themselves for expedition cruising. Royal Caribbean has been operating expedition and exploration cruises through its Xpedition brand with a focus on South America and particularity, the Galapagos.
While not expedition ships, what really intrigued me was RITZ CARLTON's entry. I saw this before when Four Season made an attempt with their failed condo ship. I have always been a firm believer that land-based operators were missing the boat. I actually spoke to Virgin over ten years ago about building a resort-vacation ownership ship. Look where we are today. Less expedition, more yacht, I congratulate RITZ. What a great brand. I don't play the lottery, so hopefully I'll sell a lot of my books and prints.
ENTER PONANT - SIX NEW SHIPS COMING
A real player in uber-luxury cruises in also in the game. Their web sites says it all:
PONANT, the polar expedition leader and pioneer, is expanding its unique luxury expedition cruise concept with the arrival of six new sisterships, the PONANT EXPLORERS.
The web site calls them yachts with cutting edge technology..."The six new stars of our fleet pay tribute to the great French explorers and will carry guests in the wake of these men who, long ago, set off for adventure in search of new lands…
Le Lapérouse and Le Champlain will join the fleet in 2018, Le Bougainville and Le Dumont-d'Urville in 2019, followed by Le Surville and Le Bellot in 2020… In keeping with our cruise line’s philosophy, each ship combines a limited guest capacity, sleek design, cutting-edge technology, and respect for the environment. They will enable PONANT to offer an ever-wider range of destinations."
Slated to be the first-ever, PONANT, in keeping with its pioneering spirit, is launching the world's-first: Le Lapérouse - will be the first cruise ship on Earth to be equipped with a multi-sensory underwater space, called Blue Eye. Le Champlain, Le Bougainville, Le Dumont-d’Urville, Le Bellot and Le Surville will be the next. The design of this technical prowess was entrusted to architect Jacques Rougerie, who is deeply passionate about the sea. Rougerie’s mission is to enable PONANT guests to perceive and feel the underwater universe that has never ceased to amaze and inspire him during his career through three innovative concepts.
HAPAG LLOYD - SOUND INDUSTRY EXPERIENCE
Hapag-Lloyd Cruises is putting its trust in the strong HANSEATIC brand name and has named the two new ships in its 5-star expedition segment ‘HANSEATIC Nature’ and ‘HANSEATIC Inspiration’. The company unveiled the names of the two, new members of the fleet and released various other details at a press conference held at ITB Berlin. The expedition ships, which are planned to launch in April and October 2019, respectively, are an investment by the TUI Group on behalf of its Hamburg-based subsidiary. The new expedition ships – both of which feature an identical construction – will accommodate up to 230 passengers (or up to 199 passengers on Antarctic expeditions). Alongside the highest ice class for passenger ships, they each boast three restaurants and an extensive wellness and fitness area. There is also a marina for water sports.
CRYSTAL - LUXURY GOES POLAR
Crystal's CEO Tom Wolber. states, "At 19,800 GRT, Crystal Endeavor will be the largest, most spacious purpose-built polar class expedition yacht in the world, accommodating just 200 guests and boasting all the luxurious amenities and special touches for which Crystal is known," the company said. "The yacht will feature generous public spaces, a full-service spa and salon, six restaurants including Nobu Matsuhisa’s Umi Uma, expedition rooms and elegant suites that contrast beautifully with the rugged adventures beyond the vessel."
HURTIGRUTEN - EXPERTS IN ICE
Hurtigruten has placed an order for two new hybrid-powered expedition ships, designed by Rolls-Royce®, to be delivered in 2019 and 2020, that will use a new and environmentally sustainable hybrid technology. These new ships will reduce the fuel consumption by approximately 20%. For the first time, fully electric propulsion on a passenger ship will be possible. The decision to invest in a hybrid solution is an important milestone in Hurtigruten’s goal of sailing fully electric expedition ships in the Arctic and Antarctic. These ships, to be constructed at Kleven Yards in Norway, will be the world’s first expedition ships with true hybrid propulsion - states Hurtigruten's web site.
MY PERSPECTIVE: The expedition cruise sector will touch previously untouched areas on our planet. A certain respect must be in place, first, and before more than one vessel shows up at the same iceberg. Sustainability and ecological concerns should be at the forefront with practices that protect the waters and land where these ships will sail. Celebrity's Xpeditions has learned well, as have others who sail to the Galapagos for example. Policies and procedures are incredibly stringent. Footwear is sanitized before anyone steps off the ship and provisioning is regulated and well offshore.
I do endeavor to see regions of the world that are undiscovered and untapped. New routes will take discerning wealthy guests (not me yet) to the most remote places on earth, further shrinking the globe. This is an exciting time in an explosive sector - trusting the operators and ship managers to take stewardship, control, and remain poised to protect the most awe-inspiring, amazing spectacles on the face of this earth is an undertaking and obligation that must not fail.
THE (PARTIAL) LIST
World-fleet of current and newbuild exploration ships:
(expect this to grow)
CRYSTAL ESPRIT 1989/2016
CRYSTAL ENDEAVOR 2020
BREMEN 1990 HANSEATIC 1991/2011
HANSEATIC NATURE 2019
HANSEATIC INSPIRATION 2019
ROALD AMUNDSEN 2019
FRIDTJOF NANSEN 2019
NA GEOGRAPHIC EXPLORER 1982/2008
NA GEOGRAPHIC ORION 2003
NA GEOGRAPHIC ENDEAVOUR II 2005
NA GEOGRAPHIC ISLANDER 1995
NA GEOGRAPHIC QUEST 2017
NA GEOGRAPHIC SEA BIRD 1982
NA GEOGRAPHIC SEA LION 1982
NA GEOGRAPHIC VENTURE 2018
NA GEOGRAPHIC ENDURANCE 2020
LE BOREAL 2010
LE SOLEAL 2013
LE LYRIAL 2015
LE LAPEROUSE 2018
LE CHAMPLAIN 2018
DUMONT D'URVILLE 2019
LE BOUGAINVILLE 2019
ICE BREAKER 2021
PONANT 5 2020
PONANT 6 2021
SCENIC ECLIPSE 2019
SCENIC ECLIPSE II 2020
SEABOURN QUEST 2011
SILVER CLOUD 1994/2017
SILVER DISCOVERER 1989/2014
SILVER EXPLORER 1989/2014
SILVER GALAPAGOS 1990/2014