By Anne Kalosh.
There’s a building boom in ocean cruising and, lucky for small-ship lovers, plenty of new choices are coming their way. The new small ships of 2018 range from a square-rigged tall ship to coastal vessels to ice-strengthened expedition ships stocked with cool exploration tools.
French luxury operator Ponant is introducing two expedition ships of a new style that’s slightly smaller than those of their existing fleet to give added flexibility in deployment. The 10,000-gross-ton LE LAPEROUSE and LE CHAMPLAIN will carry 184 passengers each.
Perhaps their most exciting feature is an underwater viewing lounge, Blue Eye. French architect/oceanographer Jacques Rougerie designed this spot so passengers can become modern-day explorers, following in the wake of Jules Verne and Jacques Cousteau. They’ll be able to hear underwater sounds, too, thanks to hydrophones installed beneath the keel.
For their inaugural seasons, LE LAPEROUSE and LE CHAMPLAIN will sail from North America to the Mediterranean and Northern Europe via Asia, Australia and the Arctic in the northern summer. One voyage will visit Iceland, following in the footsteps of the Vikings.
Australian tour operator Scenic, which has made a big splash in the river-cruise sector in recent years by building up its Scenic and Emerald Waterways fleets, breaks into ocean cruising with what the company touts as a “discovery yacht.” At 16,500 gross tons but carrying just 228 passengers, SCENIC ECLIPSE will be extraordinarily spacious and the most luxurious of 2018’s new small ships.
Travelers will have nine dining options (Italian, French, Asian fusion, steak, a cooking emporium and more) plus 24-hour room service. Among the lounges is a Champagne bar. A nearly 5,000-square-foot spa, indoor and outdoor Jacuzzis, and plunge pools are other features.
But with an ice-class hull, two helicopters and a submarine, SCENIC ECLIPSE is definitely an expedition ship and will sail widely throughout the Americas, Antarctica, Europe, the Mediterranean, the Arctic and Norwegian Fjords.
Another new operator with river cruise experience who’s branching into the ocean sector is Portuguese entrepreneur Mário Ferreira. His Mystic Cruises is building WORLD EXPLORER, a 9,300-gross-ton ship that will carry 200 passengers in mostly all-balcony-suite accommodations.
An expedition ship with an ice-class hull, WORLD EXPLORER will sail on charter to Quark Expeditions for the 2018/19 and 2019/20 Antarctica seasons and for Germany’s Nicko Cruises, a company owned by Ferreira, the rest of the year.
The vessel has an energy-efficient Rolls-Royce hybrid propulsion system. A bow observation deck, mudroom and lockers for passenger gear are among the expedition features. Further facilities include a theater/lecture hall, main lounge, observation bar, restaurant, library/chart room, small casino, fitness room, outdoor pool and jogging track.
Surprisingly, it’s the sailing ship that has the greatest passenger capacity of the year’s crop of small new builds: Star Clippers‘ FLYING CLIPPER, a replica of 1911’s FRANCE II, the largest square-rigged tall ship ever built, can carry 300 travelers. (Though at 8,770 gross tons, it’s not the largest in volume.)
FLYING CLIPPER will unfurl 35 sails with a whopping total area of 6,350 square meters/68,351 square feet. Among its facilities are a water sports platform in the stern and three pools, including one that funnels sunlight through the atrium into the elegantly appointed double-deck dining room.
FLYING CLIPPER will also have Star Clippers hallmarks including a cozy library, bowsprit net and the alfresco Tropical Bar, where evening entertainment takes place. The ship will sail the Mediterranean in summer and the Caribbean in winter.
Chilean expedition operator Australis, a specialist in adventure cruises around the southern tip of South America, has just introduced its new ship, the 210-passenger VENTUS AUSTRALIS (Latin for “southern wind”). It features all ocean-view rooms, three lounges and a restaurant.
VENTUS AUSTRALIS plies the Chilean Fjords, Patagonia and Tierra Del Fuego, but what’s really extraordinary is the opportunity for passengers to step ashore at Cape Horn. The ship also offers a new expedition to Condor Glacier.
American Cruise Lines
Connecticut-based American Cruise Lines, which fields U.S.-flag river and coastal vessels, is introducing AMERICAN CONSTITUTION in the spring. The 175-passenger coastal ship is the sister of 2017’s AMERICAN CONSTELLATION. Roomy balcony accommodations and modern appointments characterize these vessels, and their sun decks offer a fun diversion: a putting green.
AMERICAN CONSTITUTION will debut with an “American Revolution Cruise” that charts historically significant places around Chesapeake Bay, including Washington, D.C., and Mount Vernon, George Washington’s estate. Other itineraries are “Maine Coast and Harbors,” round-trip from Portland, “New England Islands,” round-trip from Providence, Rhode Island, “Grand New England Cruise” from Boston, and Hudson River sailings from New York City.
Completing 2018’s new small ships roster is Lindblad Expeditions’ NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC VENTURE, the sister of 2017’s NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC QUEST. Like the ships of American Cruise Lines, these coastal vessels are U.S.-built, fly the U.S. flag and are staffed by U.S. crew.
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC VENTURE sports special design features, from an innovative bow to customized Mark V Zodiacs, that maximize wildlife-viewing and expedition adventures. Other exploration tools include 24 sea kayaks, paddle boards and snorkeling equipment. In addition, the ship will be equipped with a remotely operated vehicle, video microscope, hydrophone and underwater cameras.
The 100-passenger ship has 22 balcony cabins and six sets of connecting cabins for families and groups. It will enter service on varied Alaska, San Juan Islands and British Columbia voyages.
What a selection of new choices for small-ship enthusiasts! And—great news—even more new small vessels are coming in 2019. Stay tuned !
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