Cold shoulder cruising

Antarctic voyages are new hot ticket

By Mike Hood, 16 July 2007 Lloyds List

THE boom in the worldwide cruise market is not just restricted to the new megaships and ‘mass market’ cruising — there has also been a significant surge in demand for expedition-type voyages on much smaller vessels.

The Antarctic region is still one of the top expedition cruise areas and continues to grow, so much so that the southern Argentine port of Ushuaia is to invest $120m in upgrading its cruiseship facilities.

Two new 300 m berths are to be built at the end of the port’s existing cruiseship pier in a $90m project which will allow four Infinity class vessels to berth simultaneously. The port is also investing in a $30m passenger terminal. Ushuaia is expecting nearly 400 cruise vessels in the 2007/2008 season.

But it’s not just Antarctica that interests expedition cruise passengers; other popular voyages take in the Arctic, Greenland, the UK/Ireland and the Mediterranean, while other areas of the world are also opening up for intrepid cruise travellers, such as the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea, Australia, New Zealand, the South Pacific, Japan and Korea. Some operators are now offering long voyages akin to world cruises on ships such as Norway’s Hurtigruten’s newly delivered 318 passenger Fram, which will cruise exclusively around Greenland for most of the year, but will undertake a 67-day odyssey from the Arctic to the Antarctic this autumn.

Meanwhile, the dramatic increase in demand from expedition-type cruisers has led one of the world’s leading providers of such voyages, Noble Caledonia, to charter in a new ship and offer extra sailing on existing voyages in 2008. Noble Caledonia offers a wide variety of voyages on over 20 vessels that it charters, with passenger capacities ranging from just 12 up to 318. These vessels range from the basic exploration-type vessel such as the pioneering 100 passenger capacity Explorer, and the former Swedish coastal cargoship Stockholm, which carries just 12 passengers. At the other end of the spectrum are a former Norwegian coast express vessel, a Russian nuclear ice-breaker and polar research vessels, and three of the world’s most exclusive vessels — the luxury sail cruise vessels Sea Cloud and Sea Cloud II, and the purpose-built upmarket Australian-based Orion.

The latest vessel to join the Noble Caledonia fleet is the 1992 Danish-built Quest. This 50 passenger capacity vessel has been taken on long term charter and will be offering a series of 10, 12 and 16 day fly-cruises from the UK to Spitsbergen and North Greenland between June and September next year, while also offering cruises around the west coast of Scotland in April and May 2008.

The 1969-built Explorer pioneered expedition-type cruises when it entered service for Lindblad Travel. The world’s first purpose-built expedition vessel, the well-travelled Explorer was the first cruiseship to transit the North West Passage and the first cruiseship to visit the then Russian Far East. The vessel’s 11-day Islands on the Edge cruise, around the UK and Ireland in May 2008, sold out so fast that a second voyage had to be added to the programme. The vessel will sail from Portsmouth to Leith, calling at some of the most remote and inaccessible islands and coastal regions of the UK and Ireland. Explorer will then retrace its steps on another 11-day voyage, from Leith back to Portsmouth.

Noble Caledonia is also offering a new itinerary in May 2008, Islands of Japan, a 16-day fly cruise from the UK visiting a number of remote islands in and around Japan and South Korea. This voyage is being undertaken by the specially chartered 128 passenger capacity Clipper Odyssey. Noble Caledonia’s expedition cruise ship fleet includes the followingvessels:

Akademik Shokalskiy — 1982-built Russian polar research vessel; 48 passengers. Mainly operates Antarctic voyages

Andrea — 1960-built former Hurtigrute Harald Jarl; 107 passengers. Mainly operates Antarctic cruises

Clipper Adventurer — 1975-built former Soviet passenger ship; 122 passengers. Mainly operates cruises in the Adriatic and Aegean

Corinthian II — 1991-built former cruiseship Renaissance VIII; 112 passengers. Mainly operates Antarctic cruises

Explorer — 1969-built expedition vessel; 100 passengers. Mainly operates Antarctic, Svalbard, Chilean Fjord and UK/Ireland cruises

Explorer II — 1996-built former Russian research vessel, formerly Swan Hellenic’s Minerva; 300 passengers, but only 198 when in the Antarctic. Mainly operates Antarctic cruises

Island Sky — 1992-built former cruise ship Renaissance VII; 100 passengers. Operates an extensive itinerary including voyages in the Adriatic, Indian Ocean, Arabian Sea, Baltic, Black Sea, Red Sea, round UK and Mediterranean/North Africa

Kapitan Khlebnikov — 1981-built Russian diesel-electric icebreaker; 108 passengers. Mainly operates Arctic, Greenland, North West Passage and Antarctic cruises

Lyubov Orlova — 1976-built former Yugoslav passenger vessel; 110 passengers. Mainly operates Antarctic cruises

National Geographic Endeavour — 1966-built converted stern trawler; 113 passengers. Mainly operates Antarctic voyages

Oceanic Discoverer — 2005 purpose-built expedition vessel; 76passengers. Operates voyages around Australia and New Zealand, as well around the South Seas

Orion — 2003-built luxury expedition vessel; 106 passengers. Operates Antarctic cruises from Australian and New Zealand

Polar Star — 1969–built former Swedish icebreaker. First icebreaker to be fully converted into an expedition ship in 2000; 105 passengers. Operates Antarctic, Greenland, Azores Island Hopping and Polar Circle Crossing

Professor Multanovskiy — 1983-built former Soviet polar research vessel; 52 passengers. Operates Antarctic voyages

Quest — 1992-built vessel; 50 passengers. Operates Spitsbergen, Greenland and Scotland cruises

Sarpik Ittuk — 1992-built passenger ship designed for Greenland service; 96 passengers. Operates mainlyAntarctic cruises

Sea Cloud — 1931-built sailing cruiseship; 68 passengers. Operates in the Caribbean, Central America and the Mediterranean

Sea Cloud II — 2001-built luxury sail cruise vessel; 96 passengers. Operates in the West Indies

Stockholm — 1953-built former Swedish Maritime Administration coastal cargoship; 12 passengers. Operates cruises around the Spitsbergen Archipelago

Yamal — 1992-built Russian nuclear-powered icebreaker; 100 passengers. Operates voyages to the North Pole, one of only a few surface ships able to reach this part of the world