It's all happening in the world of small-ship and luxury expedition cruising. French line Ponant has released details of its world-first Blue Eye underwater lounge, which will make its debut on Le Laperouse, the first of its four new sister ships, in 2018; Tauck is doubling its small-ship cruising capacity over the next four years; and Australian-owned Aurora Expeditions has just ordered its first ice-class vessel.
The Blue Eye lounge is an amazing concept: a multi-sensory space built within the hull, below the waterline, where passengers will be able to observe what's going on underwater through live camera feeds that will be projected on digital screens. Not only will you see marine life, you will be able to hear it; the underwater lounge will be equipped with acoustic technology that captures sounds across a five-kilometre radius, transmitted from a series of hydrophones. Adding to the "immersive sound experience" will be Body Listening sofas, which vibrate in concert with the marine sounds.
According to Blue Eye's architect, Jacques Rougerie, "The state-of-the-art technology lets guests become modern-day explorers, following in the wake of Jules Verne, Jacques-Yves Cousteau and the great adventurers. They will be able to observe the fauna and flora of this sub-aquatic universe and discover its sonorities. For the first time in the world, the public, during a cruise, will be able to 'feel' and be at the heart of an underwater world. They will need to use all of their senses."
US company Tauck operates cruises on Ponant ships, among other small vessels. Tauck President, Jennifer Tombaugh, said, "Tauck small ship cruising is our first product line to sell out each year. By adding new destinations and expanding our capacity with Ponant, we are able to provide more choice and more availability to better serve the current and growing demand."
Meanwhile, Aurora Expeditions has ordered a 104-metre ice class 1A expedition ship that will start sailing in Antarctica in the November 2019 to March 2020 season. It will be the first in a new series of high-performance vessels designed to make the ocean-going experience as safe and comfortable as possible in the polar regions.
Robert Halfpenny, managing director of Aurora Expeditions, said, "The vessel is the first to use the patented X-BOW technology, which has the ability to pierce waves with much greater stability, making open sea journeys – like Antarctica's notorious Drake Passage – more pleasant for passengers."
MEET THE CREW
NAME Neville Joseph, from Yangon, Myanmar
POSITION Cruise Manager, The Strand Cruise, Irrawaddy River, Myanmar
MY JOB I am responsible for ensuring guests have the most comfortable, enjoyable and memorable journey from the moment they step on board. It's my job to make sure the highest levels of service are delivered by my private concierge team.
A TYPICAL DAY Starting early in the morning, I check that the public spaces are ready for the day, including the restaurants and al fresco dining areas, the bar, the sundeck and other lounge areas. As it's a boutique vessel offering first-class service, I greet all guests in person, answer any questions and make sure they are enjoying life on board.
FAVOURITE CRUISE MOMENT Each voyage down the Irrawaddy River takes in the most spectacular sights of local life on the riverbank, but my most special moment of each trip is enjoying the company of guests and staff at the sandbank barbecue.
FAVOURITE CRUISE PORT Bagan – each time we dock at the Koe Lone Village Jetty we are welcomed by friendly villagers.
INSIDER TIP Make the most of the on-board butler service. We are here to ensure your maximum levels of comfort, so please ask us anything. Don't-miss highlights include seeing the pagoda at Bagan at sunrise, shopping at the local Nyaung Oo market and taking a hot-air balloon ride.
When you're booking a family cruise, it's worth checking the age, height and weight rules for waterslides – on Carnival ships, for example, the minimum height for Green Thunder is 1.2 metres.
New horizons for Windstar Cruises
Next year, Windstar is adding eight new itineraries for northern Europe and 12 for the Mediterranean; its boutique ships will call at 26 new ports, increasing the company's global number of maiden ports to 93 for 2018. The sailings, running from April to October, include "small ship-only" experiences such as cruising the narrow Trollfjord in the Lofoten Islands and docking in London near the Tower of London. Windstar's destination expansion brings a ship to Asia later this year on a host of new itineraries, and new voyages in Alaska, Canada and New England have also been announced. "Our team constantly seeks out new experiences, lesser known ports and harbours everywhere we sail — hidden treasures that only true small ships can access," said Windstar president John Delaney. See traveltheworld.com.au
Hotel barging in Europe
European Waterways is expanding its excursions and on-board ship options to include more immersive activities to meet the rising demand for experiential holidays. A leader in the luxury hotel barge cruising market – with an 18-vessel fleet in Europe and the British Isles – the company plans to add highly personalised experiences such as an exclusive tour of a castle garden in Scotland led by the head gardener; enjoying a plate of fresh oysters after a private tour of an oyster farm; and a visit to an artisanal chocolatier to learn first-hand about the art of making chocolate. "Since most barges hold no more than 12 guests, we can go to places that are impossible for larger groups to go to," said Derek Banks, managing director of European Waterways. See gobarging.com
Seabourn Odyssey upgrades
Following its recent spell in dry dock, Seabourn Odyssey now features the line's signature restaurant The Grill by Thomas Keller and the new "mindful living" program designed by Dr Andrew Weil. Spa and Wellness with Dr Andrew Weil offers guests a holistic spa and wellness experience that integrates physical, social, environmental and spiritual well-being. Created in conjunction with The Onboard Spa by Steiner, the program will be led by a certified yoga and meditation practitioner whose role is to "inspire and educate guests" throughout the voyage. Eventually destined for every ship in the Seabourn fleet, Dr Weil's program is the first of its kind available at sea. Seabourn Odyssey is the third of the cruise line's four ships to offer The Grill; it will be installed on Seabourn Sojourn later this year and Seabourn Ovation will launch with the restaurant in May 2018. See seabourn.com
DEAL OF THE WEEK
Save more than $2000 on Latitude 33's 15-night Myanmar Unveiled fly/tour/cruise package, departing Australia on September 19, plus receive a complimentary two-night stopover in Singapore at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel when you book before July 31. Explore Myanmar overland for six nights staying at The Strand Yangon and the Villa Inle Resort before flying to Bagan to board the privately chartered Sanctuary Ananda, for a seven-night Irrawaddy cruise. From $6999; offer valid until sold. Phone 1300 636 848. See latitude33.travel
STAR CLIPPERS is offering $800 per person off flights for select 2017 Mediterranean cruises, when booked by July 31. Itineraries include seven nights on Star Flyer, round-trip from Athens from $2830; seven nights Cannes to Rome on Royal Clipper from $2990; and 11 nights from Rome to Venice on Royal Clipper from $4700. Phone 1300 295 161. See starclippers.com
UNIWORLD Sail on new river ship SS Joie de Vivre round-trip from Paris on a seven-night cruise through Normandy, departing August 13, 2017, and receive a complimentary stateroom upgrade, plus fly return to Europe from $4799 in business class. Offer valid until June 30. Phone 1300 780 231. See uniworld.com