What’s new at sea?

Ted Blank
Travel Columnist

Cruising is one of the most popular types of vacations for Americans. According to the Cruise Lines International Association, over 12 million Americans have cruised during the last decade. Some cruise lines boast a repeat factor of over 90 percent, meaning that once guests have traveled with them, they come back for more. As the 2018 cruise booking season starts to ramp up, I’m going to take a look this week at some cruise options that many travelers haven’t considered for themselves.

There’s no doubt that traditional, megaship cruises are popular. With passenger capacities of 5,000 or more, these behemoths of the seas offer hundreds of thousands of passengers each year a chance to escape the winter blues, enjoy onboard activities like rock climbing or Broadway-type shows, and spend a bit of time ashore. Attractive pricing, easy access from major U.S. ports, and a broad range of onboard activities for all ages are key selling points for these cruises.

For many travelers, including myself, that type of vacation isn’t attractive. Crowds are a key disadvantage. Both at sea and onshore, crowds not only lead to long lines, but limit the traveler’s ability to truly discover an interesting destination. When six or seven megaships show up in port on the same day, each with 5,000 or more guests, any port becomes overwhelmed with tourists. Beaches can be packed, attractions and monuments jammed, and the unique local atmosphere lost in the shuffle.

Cruise lines have responded in recent years by developing new experiential cruise offerings, where an amazing onboard experience combines with true destination discovery to deliver the trip of a lifetime. Once the preserve of truly exotic locales – think the Galapagos or Antarctica – experiential cruises are becoming more popular. New ships, new operators, and more in-depth itineraries have made this the fastest-growing segment of the cruise industry.

What does an experiential cruise look and feel like? Imagine waking up on a 100-guest ship, anchored in a secluded bay on a remote Caribbean island. Instead of fighting your way through crowds and a shopping mall to disembark, then fighting for a taxi to the beach, you’ll be dropped off right on the beach, where you can relax and perhaps enjoy a champagne and caviar beach party. Or, enjoy paddle boarding, kayaking, or waterskiing off the ship’s own marina, lowered into the water as you anchor. Crowds? Nope, your ship is the only one in sight.

Interested in discovering the world’s natural wonders and wildlife? How about an expert-led hike across Iceland’s rugged landscape to a geothermal pool, where you and a few others can take a refreshing soak? Or taking an unplanned detour as you cruise along Alaska’s remote coastline because a pod of whales is bubble feeding nearby? Believe it not, there’s even a new ship coming online in 2018 that features a six-passenger submarine, available for guests who want to explore the deep in safety and comfort!

This is just a sampling of the huge variety of experiential cruises available across the world. While the operators of these cruises, companies like SeaDream Yacht Club, Star Clippers, Ponant Cruises, and UnCruise Adventures, aren’t household names, they consistently provide some of the most amazing travel experiences in the world. As I’ve personally enjoyed the opportunity to experience this style of travel, I’ll be honest – I’m hooked! The only problem is that my bucket list keeps getting longer, not shorter.

As small, often family-owned companies, these cruise lines don’t invest in consumer marketing campaigns and can be difficult to find. Your local travel agent is a great source, and you’re invited to visit my website at www.ingenioustravels.com or www.facebook.com/ingenioustravels and take a look at some of my recent, personal experiential cruises. Happy cruising!

Ted Blank is a Forest Lake-based travel agent and owner of Ingenious Travels.