Seabourn Enters Growing Expedition Cruise Market

Seabourn Ovation
file photo: Seabourn Ovation

By Allan E. Jordan 07-02-2018 05:26:01

The competition is continuing to grow for the expedition cruise segment with Seabourn Cruise Line becoming the latest to announce plans to enter the market. More than 30 new cruise ships are currently on order for expedition cruising, including the first entry into the segment from several large cruise brands and the first ultra-luxury expedition ships.

Seabourn has signed a letter of intent for the construction of two new ultra-luxury expedition ships to be built by a new partnership between shipbuilders T. Mariotti and Damen Shipyard Group. This partnership will operate under a new common brand, MARIOTTI DAMEN Cruise. 

The planned 23,000 gross ton ships, each measuring 170 meters (558 feet) with 132 suites accommodating up to 264 passengers, will meet PC6 Polar Class standards. Among the amenities planned for the ships will be two submarines along with kayaks and Zodiac inflatable boats.

Established 30 years ago in the luxury cruise market, Seabourn began its expansion into expedition cruising offering its first cruises to Antarctica in 2013 and more recently introducing optional adventurous excursions in select destinations to interact with the local environment. Seabourn, which currently has five luxury cruise ships, plans to launch its first dedicated expedition ship in June 2021. The ship will sail in the Arctic and Antarctica during 2021-2022. The second ship is expected to enter service in May 2022.

Seabourn will be joining an increasingly crowded market with other new competitors in expedition cruising. Just two weeks ago, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. announced that it would be acquiring a significant stake in Silversea Cruises, a leader in luxury and expedition cruising. Royal Caribbean’s Celebrity Cruises, which has been a leader in the Galapagos Islands, is currently building the new 100-passenger Celebrity Flora due to enter service at the end of May 2019 offering a new level of luxury while traveling in the Galapagos.

The first of the new generation of luxury expedition cruise ships, PONANT’s new 9,900 gross ton ship the Le Laperouse, was recently delivered and is currently in Iceland preparing for its July 10th introduction. The first of six new ships planned for the French company, the PONANT Explorers will each feature 92 staterooms and suites with balcony or private terrace and the Blue Eye, a multi-sensorial underwater lounge with portholes and hydrophones. PONANT has also announced plans for the first electric hybrid cruise icebreaker with LNG propulsion due to enter service in 2021.

Among the other well-established brands that will be expanding their presence in the expedition market, construction is underway for Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ new class of expedition ships. Two ships being built by VARD are due to enter service in April and October 2019 cruising the polar regions, the Amazon and Great Lakes. Each ship, 16,100 gross tons, will accommodate up to 230 guests adding new touches of luxury to expedition cruising, including specialty dining and a wellness and fitness center. Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ parent company, Germany’s TUI Group, has also reportedly already approved a third new expedition ship for introduction in 2021.

Similarly, Crystal Cruises well known in the luxury cruise market for more than 25 years plans to enter the expedition market with its new 19,800 gross ton Crystal Endeavor. Currently, under construction for a debut in 2020, the all-suite polar class vessel is being billed as, “the largest, most spacious expedition yacht in the world.” Accommodating 200 guests, the ship will feature amenities including a Nobu Matsuhisa restaurant, spa, and suites ranging between 300 and 1,130 square feet.

Viking Cruises has also signed a letter of intent with VARD for the design and construction of two cruise ships. These ships, tentatively scheduled for delivery in 2Q 2021 and 2Q 2022, maybe the rumored hydrogen-powered exploration ships and are in addition to the five luxury cruise ships Viking is currently operating and an additional 11 ordered from Fincantieri.

In addition to the larger cruise brands, river cruise line Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours has two 16,500 gross ton luxury ships under construction for the expedition market, and the Norwegian company Hurtigruten, already established in the expedition market, has two new ships that due to construction delays will now enter service in 2019 and 2020.

The entry of the large cruise lines into expedition cruising signals the latest development in the growing segment.  With new ships totaling over 6,000 berths and nearly 400,000 gross tons slated for the segment by 2022, the cruise lines hope the expedition market will capture travelers’ growing interest in experiences along with the desires to travel in luxury.