From brand-new ships to purposeful refurbishments, small ship luxury cruising is evolving at a breakneck pace.
No longer content with merely being small and intimate, luxury cruise lines – including Crystal Cruises, Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn and Silversea are beginning to innovate as well. They’re adding features and amenities that would leave Royal Caribbean (a prolific innovator on the mainstream side of things) drooling.
And they’re pushing farther and farther into the world of expedition cruising, with ships being designed and retrofitted for service in some of the world’s most remote places.
In November, 2017, Silversea completed a multi-month refurbishment of the Silver Cloud, transforming it into a full-fledged, ice-rated expedition ship. Updated with similar décor and colors to the recently-launched Silver Muse, she’ll divide her time between Antarctica and the Arctic.
In addition to repurposing Silver Cloud, Silversea will also be putting Silver Spirit under the knife. The ship, which was built in 2009, is being cut in half so that a new 49-foot midsection can be added to the ship at Fincantieri’s shipyard in Palermo, Italy. The massive refit will not only add new suites to the ship, but her decor will be brought in line with Silversea’s new look that debuted aboard Silver Muse earlier this year.
Silver Muse was transformative for Silversea. In addition to ushering in a newer, brighter decor scheme, she also added more of Silversea’s popular Silver Suite category of accommodations, in addition to new dining venues, an expanded pool deck, and vastly enlarged public areas. Silversea is gradually refitting its existing fleet in order to “Muse-ize” them; Silver Whisper and Silver Wind will receive their cosmetic makeovers this winter, which will result in new soft furnishings in most public rooms and suites throughout.
A new vessel, Silver Moon, is slated to debut in 2020. She’ll expand Silversea’s classic fleet of luxury ships, allowing the line to offer more itineraries worldwide aboard its newest vessels.
New ships are in the mix for Seabourn as well, with the launch of Seabourn Ovation in spring 2018. She’s a sister to the highly-successful new-build, Seabourn Encore.
2017 was a busy year for Seabourn as well, with the inauguration of the company’s first cruises to Alaska in nearly two decades, and the expansion of the line’s “Ventures by Seabourn” product over more destinations and ships in the fleet. The program adds expedition-like features that were first developed for the line’s Antarctic voyages, including the benefit of having a full onboard expedition team in destinations where it is appropriate, in destinations such as Alaska.
Over the past few years, Seabourn has been expanding its luxury partnerships significantly. These have, in turn, contributed to making the onboard experience with Seabourn even more lavish. A partnership with Sir Tim Rice, for example, created one of the best musical production shows we’ve seen at sea, An Evening With Sir Tim Rice. It’s exclusive to Seabourn, and has helped to substantially raise the bar on the line’s entertainment offerings with shows that are truly Broadway-quality.
Seabourn has also partnered with multi-Michelin-starred Chef Thomas Keller to offer what has become one of its most popular specialty restaurants, The Grill by Thomas Keller. The noted chef behind a trio of Michelin-starred restaurants – The French Laundry, Per Se, and Bouchon – Keller has also introduced new specialty menus for the ship’s main dining room. Dining at one of Keller’s restaurants on land would set you back a considerable amount; aboard Seabourn, reservations at The Grill are complimentary.
Regent Seven Seas Still Growing
Still basking in the luxurious glow of Seven Seas Explorer, Regent Seven Seas will add a new sister, Seven Seas Splendor, to its fleet in 2020. Until then, Regent has been hard at work refitting the rest of its luxury fleet with new features, amenities and décor, transforming some of its best-loved ships into brand-new experiences.
Seven Seas Explorer was a major win for Regent.
The most lavish ship built for the line to-date (and the most luxurious in the world, if you believe the marketing department), Seven Seas Explorer raised the bar on what constitutes luxury cruising. The over-the-top ship is beautifully done, with some 2,500 pieces of artwork and nearly 500 chandeliers onboard; perfect for complementing a swooping grand staircase that looks like it belongs at the base of a European palace.
Much to-do has been made about the ship’s 412 square metre (4,443 square foot) Regent Suite, with its two private balconies, two bedrooms, two-and-a-half bathrooms, three walk-in closets, custom-built Steinway piano, and its $150,000 Savoir No.1 bed.
Crystal Cruises Going Beyond
Crystal Cruises innovated in an entirely different way, sending the massive (relatively, by luxury ship standards) Crystal Serenity through the Northwest Passage in 2016 and 2017. Crystal’s ethos has been to offer guests what other lines can’t, and these high-value, bucket-list voyages have proven to be just that.
Crystal also has an ambitious newbuild plan in place that calls for three, 25,000-GT luxury expedition vessels to debut between 2019 and 2021. It will also introduce its new “Crystal Exclusive Class” ship, at 60,000- to 65,000-GT, in 2022 (they had originally been announced at 100,000-GT). The passenger count has also been reduced to 800 instead of 1,000 and they will not feature private apartments on the top deck as previously announced.
Soon, these lines will be joined by even more high-end competition. Hapag-Lloyd Cruises is in the process of building two dedicated luxury expedition ships, Hanseatic Nature and Hanseatic Inspiration. One will be dedicated to the German-speaking market, while the other will feature a full program of bilingual cruises in German and English.
Another line making its luxury debut is Scenic, which will unleash its high-tech Scenic Eclipse in August of 2018.
Dubbed “The World’s First Ocean Discovery Yacht,” Scenic Eclipse will be the first oceangoing vessel for the Australian-based company, which has for many years offered land and luxury river cruise tours. Purpose-built for the world’s polar regions, Scenic Eclipse will feature two helicopters and an onboard submarine. Both will carry an additional charge, which is perhaps no surprise given their unique nature, but these toys would typically only be found aboard more traditional icebreakers like Quark’s Kapitan Khlebnikov: real working ships with few creature comforts.
Finally, Peru-based Aqua Expeditions is growing awareness of its luxury river expedition brand. With two vessels carrying just 32 or 40 passengers, the company’s mission is to bring unparalleled travel experiences, in the utmost comfort, to modern-day adventurers cruising the world’s greatest rivers. Its two five-star, eco-friendly ships cruise the Peruvian Amazon, and the Mekong in Vietnam and Cambodia.
All told, the luxury cruise of the future isn’t just about lavish amenities or doting service. It is about providing some of cruising’s most discerning guests with experiences that simply cannot be had anywhere else.
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