For hard-core cruisers, it may not happen fast enough, but the cruising industry is slowly making a comeback.
In late June, Celebrity Cruises’ Celebrity Edge became the first cruise ship to set sail from U.S. waters in more than a year, embarking on a seven-night trip to the Caribbean and Mexico. Several other cruise lines have itineraries scheduled for this fall and winter.
Safety protocols and proof of vaccination aside, the vacations by sea today are unlike the ones in the past: Marcella Rappaport, a cruise specialist at Ovation Travel in New York, says that the company is breaking free from the stereotypes of what a traditional cruise is—to our relief, cheesy entertainment and midnight buffets need not apply.
“You’ll find ships that are designed for people who would never typically take a cruise,” Rappaport says. “They have dynamic itineraries, creative onboard programming, and delicious food. They’re a mode of transportation that allows you to see incredible sights.”
With dozens of cruise lines to pick from, it’s not easy to know which ones are worth the journey, but we’ve done the work for you and narrowed down the choices to six innovative brands putting a new spin on a classic pastime.
The Brand: Aqua Expeditions
What It’s About: Aqua Expeditions debuted in 2007 in Peru as a luxury boutique river-cruise operator. The line expanded from the Peruvian Amazon to Cambodia and Vietnam and debuted an ocean-explorer yacht, Aqua Blu, in 2019, that sails to three coastal destinations in eastern Indonesia: the Spice Islands, the Komodo Islands, and Raja Ampat.
The ships range in size from 15 to 20 cabins and have excursions centered around local culture, nature, and wildlife—snorkeling, diving, bird-watching tours, village visits, and walking safaris are just a few examples. Food is a highlight too, featuring regional cuisine that incorporates local ingredients on every trip.
Inclusions and Pricing: All meals, alcohol, and tours. Prices begin at $4,125 for a three-night cruise.
The Brand: Seabourn
What It’s About: One of the first brands to introduce the concept of ultra-luxury cruising, Seabourn has a fleet of five all-suite vessels that accommodate up to 600 passengers each; two expedition ships, each with 132 suites, are scheduled to debut within the next year. The ships sail to more than 400 destinations all over the world and, since they’re small, they can access ports that larger cruise ships can’t. Upcoming trips include a whale-watching-focused itinerary in Australia and New Zealand in December 2022 and a trip through the Arctic (the North Pole included!) next May.
With nearly one staff member per guest, the service is exceptional, and so is the food which comes courtesy of the celebrated chef Thomas Keller.
Inclusions and Pricing: Trips include all meals (caviar is not uncommon), top-shelf alcohol and gratuities. You can even request your in-suite bar and fridge to be custom stocked. Seven-day voyages start at around $5,000 a person.
The Brand: Ponant
What It’s About: Founded in 1988 by officers of the French Merchant Navy who wanted to travel to unexplored regions, Ponant sails to all seven continents and is known for its creative voyages that keep passengers engaged. On a journey through Japan, as an example, it’s possible to take a class on making udon noodles with one of the top chefs of the craft, and in a trip this December to Antarctica, guests will be in the only place in the world where the solar eclipse will be 100% visible.
Given their moderate size, the ships can often dock in the heart of whatever destination they’re in as opposed to a far-away port and are equipped with Zodiac boats for exploring. Naturalist guides are also onboard every trip. Ponant recently announced a collaboration with Smithsonian Journeys to offer culture-focused itineraries starting next year.
Inclusions and Pricing: Trips include all meals and alcohol, excursions, water sports (except scuba diving), and gratuities. Seven-day voyages begin at $3,990 a person.
The Brand: Silversea Cruises
What It’s About: Upscale but unstuffy, Silversea has boutique-style vessels as well as expedition ships that offer all-suite accommodations. Itineraries hit the seven continents and cater to a variety of interests—a trip through the Galápagos, for instance, is full of hiking and wildlife-watching, while a journey through the Mediterranean emphasizes cultural sites in cities such as Bordeaux, in France, and Athens, Greece.
Heads up, food fans: Silversea is debuting a “Sea and Land Taste” program this summer in collaboration with former Saveur editor-in-chief Adam Sachs in which ingredients are sourced at each port for onboard dishes and drinks.
Inclusions and Pricing: All meals and alcohol, excursions, gratuities, butler service, and unlimited Wi-Fi. Seven-day cruises average $7,000 a person.
The Brand: Virgin Voyages
What It’s About: When Richard Branson starts a cruise company, you know it’s going to be an experience packed with flamboyance and cheekiness. The adults-only line has a sleek aesthetic inspired by super-yacht design and looks to top talents Roman and Williams, and Tom Dixon’s Research Design Studio to create the vibe.
Virgin Voyages has a philosophy of freedom: There are no dress codes or set mealtimes, but there are fun touches, such as mood lighting and hammocks, throughout the ships. Other features include more than 20 dining venues and longer stays at ports. The first ship, Scarlet Lady, offers Caribbean itineraries, while another two will set sail from Barcelona and Athens (journey dates are yet to be announced).
Inclusions and Pricing: All meals and drinks (but no alcohol), Wi-Fi, and gratuities. Trips start at $1,500 a person.
The Brand: Crystal Yacht Cruises
What It’s About: Crystal’s new, hip offshoot, Crystal Yacht Cruises, offers active journeys to both popular and less-explored destinations in a 62-passenger yacht, Crystal Esprit. Itineraries include the Dalmatian Coast, the Seychelles, Petra, and the Arabian Peninsula. Esprit is outfitted with water-sports equipment such as water skis and Jet Skis, wake and paddle boards, and kayaks, and even has a submarine that goes 1,000 feet below water.
Butlers attend to every guest, and the adventure-packed excursions include zip-lining, aerial tours, scuba diving, and sightseeing by bike.
Inclusions and Pricing: All meals and alcohol, unlimited Wi-Fi, gratuities, and two excursions in every port. Trips start at $3,899 a person.
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