Travel is resuming after two years of COVID restrictions, and many leading tour operators and providers are setting booking records for the end of the year and into 2023. In fact, the industry is so hot that some of the best trips are hard to book until next year, and even those are going fast.
But it’s not just “revenge travel” or pent-up demand that’s changing the leisure travel paradigm, it’s a fundamental shift in how consumers think about vacation time. Because we’ve all learned – in very dramatic and unprecedented ways – that you can’t be sure what’s going to happen next, from pandemics to wars, and that life is short, many are taking more of a “now not later” to travel. According to luxury travel agents/advisors and industry experts I’ve spoken with, that means taking action on those epic “Bucket List” type trips that were previously postponed to “one day”, and skipping vacations. averages to get to the occasion. -an earlier life.
For this reason, the top tour operators, those high-end, luxury and specialty operators, across the board, are seeing huge increases in bookings, as they are the providers that typically deliver these types of “world’s best” trips. that consumers are sudden craving. At the same time, since COVID, there has been considerably more demand for all things smaller and more intimate 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 travel, one that goes deeper and allows customers to learn something beyond how to get a tan. , known in the trade as “making memories”.
Trips of a lifetime, more exclusivity and deeper experiences are currently three of the biggest trends driving vacation selection, and now they come together perfectly and in a timely manner thanks to a new partnership between two of the best companies. in their fields. , Smithsonian Journeys and Ponant Cruises.
We all know the Smithsonian Institution, the biggest name in museums, natural history and scientific research. For more than half a century, Smithsonian Journeys has been an educational arm of the venerable institution – through travel. He has a long and excellent track record of expert-led land, rail, river and sea travel across seven continents, with over 300 trips per year. If you’re a renowned scientist, professor, or expert in a natural, cultural, or historical field, working with the Smithsonian Institution is a dream job, and it gives the organization a vast list of world-class guides to choose from. for its trips, which always have experts leading them and an emphasis on enrichment-oriented education. At sea, Smithsonian Journeys has always focused on intimate ships that go where large mainstream cruises cannot and allow easy and frequent disembarkations to dive deep into the places they visit. The ships, in turn, are selected for the quality of their service and accommodations while offering individual dining, plenty of open deck space, and desirable amenities ranging from creature comforts to fitness facilities.
This brings us to Ponant.
Founded in 1988 by several French naval officers, it was the first French cruise line and has since built a stellar reputation trying to make guests feel like they are guests on a private yacht. . The ships are modern, substantial and very well equipped, from spas to marinas for the launch of Zodiac inflatables, but are much smaller than the vast majority of cruise ships, allowing them to access places inaccessible to others, including the polar regions. This is coupled with unique French flair in the form of luxury accommodation, service, a multilingual crew and of course cuisine (think the famous Ladurée macaroons, the best butter in Brittany and French wines ). The line has won dozens of prestigious awards, including titles such as ‘Best Luxury Cruise Line for Adventure’, ‘Best Expedition Line’ and ‘Best Ocean Cruise Line Itineraries’ such as Cruise Critic, Luxury Travel Magazine, Travel + Leisure, Travel Weekly, Time Magazine, British Cruise Awards, Conde Nast Traveler UKand one of its routes makes National Geographic Traveler’s “50 tricks of a lifetime.”
It’s also a very sustainability-focused travel company, and while there’s a lot of talk about it today, they put their money where their mouth is, real action and a detailed manifesto to the Ponant Foundation which protects ocean habitat and polar regions. They are partners of National Geographic and the Oceanographic Institute of Monaco, and hold many major international certifications, including Cleanship and Cleanship Super for polar ships, won the Blue Charter Eco Trophy in France and were the first company to European cruise to receive the Green Marine label. They just launched the world’s first hybrid-electric polar expedition ship.
In the main fleet, four sister ships each have 132 cabins – grand hotel style, most with outside decks. There are 145 crew members for a maximum of 264 guests, a full spa, two restaurants, a fitness center, a theater, a swimming pool, an outdoor bar, and several lounges and observation decks. Several slightly smaller but fully-equipped Explorer ships each have 92 rooms and suites, all with private balconies, and the newest one has a unique underwater multi-sensory lounge for you to enjoy the sights and sounds of the ocean from inside the ship.
It’s a new partnership that started this year and is already seeing many sold-out trips through 2023. Each sailing carries two Smithsonian Journey Experts, and in total there are 22 itineraries, each “designed to promote cultural immersion and discovery”, including an excursion or activity in each port of call. According to Smithsonian, “Together, Smithsonian and Ponant deliver an enriching cruise experience, designed to meet a range of interests and deeply rewarding…Ponant ships are designed to accommodate only 184 to 264 passengers. And when you go on shore excursions, you explore in small groups so you can get up close to the sights and experiences. The small size of the ship also allows Ponant to follow best practices for environmentally responsible tourism.
These are great deals in the luxury travel space too, especially since they include all meals, all shore excursions and open bar on board, plus expert guides, free Wi-Fi and airport transfers at both ends. Meals can be enjoyed in the restaurants, al fresco on the deck, or through 24-hour room service. For example, an 8-day cruise through the currently ultra-desirable Greek islands starts at $5,130 per person, or about $650 per day, including luxury accommodation and food, activities, adult drinks and Moreover. It’s hard to beat.
Experts assigned to the partnership include Franklin Knight, Professor Emeritus of History at Johns Hopkins University, expert on Portugal and Spain; James Zimbleman, senior geologist emeritus at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum; and Gail Cornell, an architectural historian who teaches at New York University and teaches architecture, design, and art at the Museum of Modern Art. Voyages range from a circumnavigation of Sicily to a cruise on the Dalmatian coast and the Ionian Sea to destinations such as Greece, Morocco, Italy, London, Norway, Scotland, Sweden, Finland , Denmark, Iceland, Canada, Panama, Costa Rica, the Caribbean, French Polynesia, the Middle East, Antarctica. In addition to destination-oriented itineraries, there are also offers for special occasions such as a Solar Eclipse 2023 cruise from Indonesia to Australia, which, in addition to astronomical observation from a desert location, includes visits with the Komodo dragons and a zodiac trip through the canyons to the imposing King George of Australia. Falls. An arctic trip to Norway is designed around wildlife, including polar bears, as well as giant glaciers and ice floes. There is something for almost every taste and every desired location, but what they share, in addition to a surprisingly good value proposition, is first-class leadership and hospitality.
To date, only a few departures in autumn 2022 still have places available (Greek islands; French Polynesia; Great Lakes; Galapagos; Spain & Portugal). The first quarter of 2023 is also tight, with five voyages still offering bookings, and then more are available in the future, including six new 2023 sailings. You can download the Smithsonian + Ponant brochure here.