It is over a year since we last caught up with Robin West, VP General Manager, Expeditions, so we wanted to update ourselves as the long anticipated Seabourn Venture is close to becoming a reality.
As a prototype ship for the company, Seabourn Venture was always going to be challenging for the yard, but add to that supply chain issues and Covid staffing challenges, and it is unsurprising there have been a few extra delays. But now we are nearly there.
Checking out itineraries for Venture and Pursuit the other day, I was amazed by the opportunity to combine so many cruises back to back to create long duration voyages, and Robin confirmed that there are many Seabourn guests who want to be on the ship for an extended period of time. The demand exists for two, three or even four voyages, which plays to the post-pandemic zeitgeist: take fewer trips but make them really worth it by staying away for longer. As time goes on, Robin confirms, there will be even longer extended expedition journeys planned, just as Seabourn have for their classic fleet.
The Northeast and Northwest Passage itineraries, for example, were created in such a way that guests could do both - a total Arctic circumnavigation. The current situation in Russia is being closely monitored and of course there are contingency plans in place. Either way, in autumn 2023 one of the ships will follow the West Coast of the Americas, and the other cross to Japan and the Far East, before going southwards through the South Pacific and being in place to cruise to the Ross Sea from New Zealand.
The challenge for expedition operators is scheduling itineraries between the two polar seasons. Robin is excited about Papua New Guinea and the Kimberley, with plans for the Indian Ocean in the future: Madagascar, Seychelles, Mauritius, and his favourite the Aldabra Atoll, effectively "a tropical version of Antarctica"!
The Arctic itineraries stand out with a real focus on Greenland, and an excellent itinerary from Longyearbyen to Scoresby Sound, and north to East Greenland National Park, the largest national park in the world. The programme is VERY well sold. Robin says, "Svalbard is great, but the east coast of Greenland combined with Iceland is a winner. Scoresby Sound has the Antarctic effect, choked with ice and the most extraordinary of icebergs with more shape and more structure, coming straight off this vast ice sheet."
Ittoqqortoormiit, at the entrance to Scoresby Sound, is home to the only residents in this region - one of the most remote settlements on the east coast of Greenland.
Which brings us on to AECO, the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators, in which Seabourn plays a very active part, even prior to starting operations in the region. The Association is dedicated to managing responsible, environmentally friendly and safe tourism in the Arctic and strives to set the highest possible operating standards.
"It's something of a blueprint for the restof the world," says Robin, "in terms of managing responsible tourism in sensitive areas."
Seabourn Expeditions is "an incredibly exciting new product", Robin told me. There is no compromise between the onboard experience and the off-ship expeditions, everything you expect from a Seabourn cruise and much much more.