World-class cruise vacations – best-in-class travel companies combine

Travel is going way back two years after COVID restrictions, and many major tour operators and providers are setting records for bookings later this year and into 2023. In fact, the industry is getting so hot that it’s hard to book some of the best trips before next year, and even these are moving forward. quickly.

But it’s not just “revenge travel” or pent-up demand that is changing the leisure travel paradigm, it’s a fundamental shift in the way consumers view vacation time. Because we’ve all learned – in a dramatic and unprecedented way – that you can never be sure of what will happen next, from epidemics to wars, and that life is short, many take a “now rather than later” approach to travel. According to luxury travel agents/advisors and industry experts I spoke with, this means working on those epic “bucket list” trips that were previously postponed until “someday,” skipping average vacations to get to the once-in-a-lifetime ones sooner.

For this reason, the best tour operators, premium operators, luxury and specialist operators, across the board, are seeing spikes in bookings, because they are the suppliers that usually offer these types of “best in the world” excursions to consumers suddenly craving. At the same time, since COVID, there has been an exponentially increased demand for everything smaller, more intimate and shopped in travel, from accommodations to tour groups to transportation. Another big travel trend that started before the pandemic and is still going strong is the desire for experiential trips, ones that go in deeper and allow guests to learn something beyond how to get a suntan, known in the trade as “making memories.”

Trips of a lifetime, more exclusivity, and more in-depth experiences are currently three of the biggest trends driving vacation selection, and now they all come together in style and in time thanks to a new partnership between two of the best companies in their fields, Smithsonian Cruises and Ponant Cruises.

We all know the Smithsonian Institution, the biggest name in museums, natural history and scientific research, for over half a century, Smithsonian Travels has been the educational outreach arm of the esteemed institution – through travel. It has a long and stellar track record of expert-led road, rail, river and sea travel to all seven continents, with more than 300 trips a year. If you are a renowned scientist, professor, or expert in a natural, cultural or historical field, working with the Smithsonian Institution is your dream job, this gives the institution a huge list of world guides to choose from for its excursions, which always have experts to lead and an educational focus focused on enrichment . At sea, Smithsonian cruises have always focused on intimate ships that go where big market cruises can’t and allow easy, frequent disembarkation to dive deeper into the places they visit. The ships are in turn selected for quality of service and accommodations with individual sit-down dining, plenty of open deck space, and desirable amenities from creature comforts to fitness facilities.

This brings us to Ponant.

Founded in 1988 by several French Navy officers, it was the first French cruise line and since then has built an excellent reputation by trying to make customers feel like guests on a private yacht. The ships are modern, large and well-equipped, from spas to moorings for launching inflatable zodiacs, but they are much smaller than the vast majority of cruise ships, which allows them to reach those places that others cannot reach, including the polar regions. Pair this with uniquely French flair in the form of luxurious accommodations, service, multilingual crew and of course the cuisine (think of the famous Laduree macarons, the finest wines from Brittany and French wines). The line has won dozens of prestigious awards including titles such as “Best Luxury Adventure Cruise Line”, “Best Expedition Cruise Line” and “Best Ocean Cruise Line” from the likes of the likes Cruise Critic, Luxury Travel Magazine, Travel + Leisure, Travel Weekly, Time Magazine, British Cruise Awards, Conde Nast Traveler UKand one of its paths National Geographic Traveler “50 rounds of a lifetime.”

They’re also a travel company that focuses on sustainability, and while there’s a lot of talk in this regard today, they’re putting their money where they are, starting with the real actions and the Ponant Foundation’s detailed statement that protects ocean and polar habitats. They have partnered with National Geographic and the Oceanographic Institute of Monaco, hold several major international certifications including Cleanship and Cleanship Super for Polar Ships, won the French Blue Charter Ecological Trophy, and were the first European cruise line to be awarded the Green Marine label. They have just launched the world’s first hybrid electric polar expedition ship.

In the main fleet there are four sister ships each with 132 luxury rooms – in the style of a grand hotel, most with outdoor decks. There are 145 crews for a maximum of 264 guests, a full spa, two restaurants, a fitness center, a theater, a swimming pool, an outdoor bar and multiple lounges and observation decks. Many of the smaller but fully featured Explorer ships each have 92 rooms and suites all with private balconies, and the newest one features a unique multi-sensory lounge under the sea so you can enjoy the sights and sounds of the ocean from inside the ship.

This is a new partnership that began this year, and has already seen the sale of several cruises through 2023. Each sail carries two Smithsonian itineraries, and in total there are 22 itineraries, each “designed to promote cultural immersion and discovery,” including an excursion or activity at each port of call . According to the Smithsonian Institution, “Together, the Smithsonian and Ponant offer a rich sailing experience, tailored to suit a range of interests and highly rewarding… Ponant ships are designed to accommodate only 184 to 264 guests. And when you’re on shore excursions, you’ll explore in small groups so you can Closer to sites and experiences. The smaller ship size also allows Ponant to follow best practices for environmentally responsible tourism.”

It’s also bargains in the luxury travel space, especially considering that it includes all meals, all beach excursions, an open-air bar, plus expert guides, free Wi-Fi, and an airport shuttle at both ends. Meals can be enjoyed in the restaurants, al fresco on the deck, or with 24-hour room service. For example, an 8-day cruise through the highly sought-after Greek islands currently starts at $5,130 per person, or about $650 per day, including luxury accommodations, food, activities, drinks for adults, and more. It’s hard to beat.

Among the experts appointed to the partnership are the likes of Franklin Knight, Professor Emeritus of History at Johns Hopkins University, and an expert on Portugal and Spain; James Zimpelman, Senior Geologist Emeritus at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum; and Jill Cornell, an architectural historian who teaches at New York University and lecturer in architecture, design and art at the Museum of Modern Art. Cruises range from sailing around Sicily to sailing the Dalmatian coast and the Ionian Sea to destinations including Greece, Morocco, Italy, London, Norway, Scotland, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Iceland, Canada, Panama, Costa Rica, the Caribbean, French Polynesia, the Middle East, and Antarctica. Besides driving routes to the destination, there are also event specials like the Solar Eclipse 2023 flight from Indonesia to Australia, which in addition to astronomical viewing from a deserted location, includes visits with the Komodo Dragons and the Zodiac’s journey through the canyons to Australia’s towering King George falls. A trip to the North Pole in Norway is designed around wildlife, including polar bears, as well as giant glaciers and ice floes. There is something for nearly every taste and language to be desired, but what they share, in addition to a surprisingly good value proposition, is first-class leadership and hospitality.

As of today, there is still space for only a few departures in fall 2022 (Greek Islands, French Polynesia, Great Lakes, Galapagos, Spain and Portugal). The first quarter of 2023 is similarly tight, with five cruises still offering bookings, and then more to come, including six new sailings in 2023. You can download the Smithsonian + Ponant brochure here.

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