Top Expedition Cruise Tips From Seabourn's Robin West

robin west

Do your clients think of an expedition cruise as “roughing it” on the high seas without many creature comforts? Or, do they think such a cruise is skewed primarily to super athletes who could climb a mountain, run a marathon and do a scuba dive, all on the same day?

Those are among the misconceptions about expedition cruising in today’s marketplace. Travel Agent talked this month with veteran expedition leader Robin West, the new manager, expedition operations and planning, Seabourn Cruise Line (www.seabourn.com) about trends in expedition cruising.

Heading up recent expedition cruise programs in Patagonia and the Antarctic, West is now developing new expedition land elements and tours for Seabourn in other regions around the world. Trendwise, “people are wanting more than just a cruise and a sightseeing cruise vacation,” said West, who emphasized that guests now want to experience it first-hand.

Today's guests seeking expedition cruises aren't solely die-hard adventurers. Clients interested in such voyages are people from all walks of life. They're young and old, fit and less fit. That said, all seek to be "in the experience," explore nature and learn more about the world.

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From West's perspective: “They want to experience the wildlife in its natural environment and interact with ‘real’ people, not [just view] staged performances with no context. I think it has a lot to do with people wanting a genuine experience."

West gained first-hand experience with Seabourn’s luxury guests while serving as expedition leader during four expedition voyages onboard Seabourn Quest in Antarctica and Patagonia during late 2013 and early 2014.

“We realized that there is an ever growing amount of travelers who are seeking to do more exploration and expedition-style voyages,” said West. He described the expedition cruise experience as both “very addictive and extremely rewarding.”

But, at the same time, he says even expedition guests aren’t willing to compromise on luxury. So cruise lines, whether big or small, must create a genuine expedition experience but also deliver the creature comforts guests expect and desire -- everything from pampering accommodations to quality enrichment, from fine dining and wine choices to intimate shore adventures.

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As for top expedition destinations and experiences, West gave us his personal favorites. First, he cites Antarctica and South Georgia: “The abundance of wildlife, history and scenery is without a doubt the most spectacular out of any destination on the planet.”

West’s second personal choice for an expedition experience is the Asmat in West Papua. “For me, this is my favorite cultural destination,” he says. “Being witness to a traditional Bis pole, mask or canoe ceremony is something you never forget.”

Third on his personal list is Aldabra in the Indian Ocean. “Without a doubt, it is the best natural history tropical island in the world,” he says, noting that the island teems with wildlife. He likes the experience of an outgoing drift snorkel through Johnny Channel.

What do travel agents need to know when they send clients on any type of expedition cruise, whether on a mid-sized or small ship? What should they advise clients to do?

For expeditions to remote Antarctica, West gives this advice: “In my opinion, travel agents should advise their clients to learn as much as they can about Antarctica, the Antarctic Treaty, the history, early explorers and the wildlife. The more they know before they leave home, the more they will enjoy their experience in Antarctica and appreciate just how special and important it is.”

Agents also might refer clients to cruise line Web sites for more detailed expedition information. For example, “they’ll probably have questions about what to pack, what to wear and how cold it will be,” West noted. Seabourn’s page about Antarctica-Patagonia is: www.seabourn.com/luxury-cruise-destinations/Antarctica-Patagonia.

Even experienced ocean cruisers should be encouraged to carefully read over pre-cruise documents; expedition documents may have different kinds of information than typical voyage documents given the remoteness of destinations visited and the different types of land-sea experiences, such as Zodiac landings.

Many guests also are lacking in knowledge about the clothing and gear needed for an expedition cruise. Seabourn’s Web site has a link to “Gear Shop,” a resource to help clients purchase the right gear, such as parkas or boots and also offers details about a boot rental program. The line will ship heavy gear directly to the vessel so boots can be waiting in the guest's suite upon arrival.

What does West have planned for Seabourn’s expedition voyages in the coming months and years? He says that after the line’s first successful Antarctic season, “it’s only a natural progression to look at exploring the opposite side of the world.”

Seabourn Quest is now outfitted with Zodiacs and the line has contracted for an experienced expedition team, so the line is looking at making use of those elsewhere. "The Arctic is a natural choice [and under discussion],” he said. “Nothing has been approved or confirmed, but the future of Seabourn expedition itineraries is definitely an exciting one.”

Personally, West believes Seabourn Quest would be a good platform from which to offer expeditions and extended exploration trips going from London all the way to Svalbard, across to Iceland, the Denmark Strait, taking in South and West Greenland, moving across to Baffin Island and eventually southward to finish up in Canada.

That type of voyage would allow guests a comprehensive Arctic “Arc” voyage, experiencing the best of what the north has to offer, West believes. “Along with other destinations, this is what is on the table for discussion at Seabourn,” he said. At press time, nothing yet had been announced.

Many lines, both big and small, sail to the Arctic. Stay tuned for the June issue of our sister publication Luxury Travel Advisor, which will outline a sampling of Arctic regional voyages this year and early next for both expedition and mainstream lines.

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