Expedition and adventure cruising is the focus of the last week of Choose Cruise month, but there is so much happening in this sector of the cruise industry it really needs a month to itself.
Among the companies heading for far-flung corners of the globe are luxury lines Silversea and Seabourn, who both announced recently that they are ordering expedition ships. Silversea is adding the 100-passenger Silver Origin, which will sail in the Galapagos Islands from March 2020, to its four-strong expedition fleet and Seabourn has two 264-passenger luxury expedition ships on order that are scheduled to debut in June 2021 and May 2022.
Like the much-anticipated Scenic Eclipse, now due in January 2019, the Seabourn ships will be equipped with mini submarines; the 228-passenger Scenic Eclipse and Crystal Cruises' 200-passenger Crystal Endeavor, due in August 2020, will add helicopters to their onboard exploration kit, among other sophisticated toys such as amphibious Zodiacs.
Celebrity Cruises is another major line that is launching a new luxury expedition vessel. The 100-passenger, all-suite Celebrity Flora will join the 100-passenger Celebrity Xpedition in the Galapagos Islands in May next year; the smaller Xperience and Xploration will then leave the fleet.
Ponant is well on the way to bringing its fleet of luxury expedition vessels to 12 by 2021. Two of the six new Explorer-class ships set sail this year, Le Laperouse and Le Champlain, and two more pairs will arrive in 2019 and 2020. All six Ponant Explorers accommodate a maximum of 180 passengers and feature the line's signature "Blue Eye" multi-sensorial underwater lounge. Ponant is also building an electric-hybrid ice-breaker that will launch in 2021, Le Commandant Charcot.
Australian company Aurora Expeditions is launching its first-ever purpose-built ship, the Infinity-class Greg Mortimer, next August. It is the first expedition ship to have the Ulstein X-bow, a bullet-shaped bow that is designed to pierce waves rather than ride up and down them, thereby providing a smoother ride in rough conditions and using less fuel in the process. Named after Aurora's co-founder, renowned explorer and adventurer Greg Mortimer, the ship will accommodate a maximum of 120 passengers.
Lindblad Expeditions' just-announced new build, National Geographic Endurance, will also feature the revolutionary X-bow – the ship will be built by the X-bow's inventor, Ulstein, and its first itineraries will be in the Arctic in 2020.
Queensland-based Coral Expeditions' new 120-passenger Coral Adventurer will make its sold-out maiden voyage in April next year, from Singapore to Darwin. It has been designed for tropical seas and will sail to the Kimberley, Papua New Guinea and the Spice Islands.
While this is not an exhaustive list – German company Hapag-Lloyd Cruises has three expedition ships in the works and no doubt there are more to come – we are all wishing we had bought shares in shipyards years ago.
THE PORT Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
WHO GOES THERE Carnival, Celebrity, CMV, Crystal, Cunard, Disney, Fred.Olsen, Hurtigruten, HAL, NCL, Noble Caledonia, Oceania, Princess, Royal Caribbean, RSSC, Seabourn, Silversea, Viking, Windstar.
WHY WE LOVE IT The capital of Nova Scotia and the largest city in Canada's Atlantic Provinces, Halifax has maritime history galore. Although it is best known for its connections to the Titanic, its massive natural harbour (reportedly the second-biggest in the world, after Poole in Dorset) has made it an important seatrading centre for centuries. Today it has a big student and military presence and is renowned for its lively arts, music, crafts and brewing scene.
TAKE A TOUR OR GO IT ALONE? Ships dock at Piers 22 and 20 at Halifax Seaport and are often welcomed by a Scottish pipe band. A four-kilometre boardwalk runs around the waterfront and is home to shops, galleries, restaurants, pubs, the beautifully restored warehouses in the Historic Properties precinct and the excellent Maritime Museum of the Atlantic and Canadian Museum of Immigration. Halifax is quite hilly – you can walk to the Citadel that overlooks the city or take a variety of tours, such as the amphibious Harbour Hopper, guided bike and kayak tours, food and beer walks and the hop-on, hop-off bus. Family-friendly options include Theodore Tugboat and "pirate tours" on board tall ship Silva. The Halifax-Dartmouth ferry is another fun way to see the harbour. Half- and full-day tours visit the 18th-century harbour town of Lunenburg, Peggy's Cove Village and Lighthouse and Fairlawn Lawn Cemetery, the final resting place of 121 victims of the Titanic disaster.
MUST SEE Halifax Citadel National Historic Site, dating back to 1856 – a noon gun is fired daily and sentry changes occur hourly; Province House, Canada's oldest seat of government.
MUST EAT Seafood of all types, particularly Prince Edward Island oysters, Nova Scotia haddock and lobster, Digby scallops and seafood chowder. Donairs were named Halifax's "official food" in 2015; they are similar to doner kebabs, made with spit-roasted spiced ground beef, tomatoes, onions and an unusual signature sauce, served in grilled pita bread.
NEED TO KNOW The cruise season runs from May to the end of October, late spring to early autumn, and the weather is generally warm but changeable – keep a lightweight rain-jacket in your daypack.
Queen Elizabeth has launched 23 ships, including four Cunard liners: Caronia (1947), Queen Elizabeth 2 (1967), Queen Mary 2 (2004) and Queen Elizabeth (2010).
P&O Cruises' first Grand Class ship will be named Pacific Adventure and is set to join the cruise line's family in late 2020. The 3100-passenger ship, currently sailing for Princess Cruises as Golden Princess, will be refurbished along similar lines to the rest of P&O's Australian fleet. It will feature an expanded range of accommodation, including 560 balcony rooms, 230 suites and mini-suites and the fleet's first five-berth family cabins; an array of dining experiences from Australian chef and restaurateur Luke Mangan and award-wining Melbourne chef Johnny Di Francesco; and an extensive child-free Oasis retreat across multiple decks, offering sun lounges, spa tubs, a swimming pool and dedicated bar. Popular live-music venue The Blue Room will also be installed on Pacific Adventure. Bookings open this month. See https://www.pocruises.com.au
Tales of the South Pacific
Paul Gauguin Cruises, operator of the award-winning, longest continually sailing luxury cruise ship in the South Pacific, MS Paul Gauguin, is offering 50 per cent off its all-inclusive fares on select voyages in 2019. Paul Gauguin Cruises' itineraries include the company's signature 14-night Marquesas, Tuamotus and Society Islands cruise, sailing round-trip from Papeete. Highlights include diving and snorkelling; exploring the history and culture of the Polynesian islands, with Hiva Oa being home to the largest stone sculptures in the Marquesas; a visit to Fakarava, home to rare and exotic birds, plants and crustaceans; and a day on the company's private islet, Motu Mahana. The 332-passenger ship has an onboard watersports marina stocked with windsurfing, snorkelling and kayaking equipment; scuba-diving courses are also offered on board. See https://wiltrans.com.au