Seabourn is expanding into expedition cruising

The firm is building on 30 years of ultra-luxury with its two expedition newbuilds due out in June 2021 and May 2022. Susan Parker talks with president Rick Meadows

Seabourn is expanding into expedition cruising
Seabourn guests can enjoy expeditions like kayaking among king penguins in Antarctica with expert guides

This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2019 issue of Spring/Summer 2019 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

A year ago when ICFR last talked with Seabourn president Rick Meadows, the brand had no plans (on the record at least) to build any new ships. Now there are two expedition vessels on order at T. Mariotti Damen which he believes “will be the most luxurious ships in the expedition market today.” A statement that may have competitors wondering.

The two 170-metre-long, 23,000gt ships will each carry 264 passengers and meet Polar Class 6 standards. Among the features onboard will be two submarines, a complement of kayaks and 24 Zodiacs. These vessels are still very much in the early stages of planning, but further details are due to be revealed in the next few months. 

Seabourn, however, is not a complete stranger to expedition cruising. It has been taking ice-strengthened Seabourn Quest to Antarctica since 2013. The move to add two purpose-built expedition ships to the fleet is very much part of the brand’s desire to continue to innovate and hold its place in the ultra-luxury market. 

“We are listening deeply to our guests and we really do connect with what is important to them to continue to return [to Seabourn],” says Meadows. “Our commitment is to be the very, very best. We are going to continue to innovate, that is at our very core. A good demonstration of this is what we are doing in the expedition space. The newbuilds will be a nice directional move to continue the brand.”

What is clear is that the ships will be ‘Seabourn first’ and purpose-built to offer ultra-luxury. “Design will play a very important part in these two ships,” says Meadows. “We are being very thoughtful about this, all the way from the hotel to the expedition experience. All suites will have a veranda.”

In terms of environmental impact, the ships will feature the latest in fuel efficiencies, recycling and so forth. Meadows explains: “The environment is one of our highest priorities. We will do everything that is expected of us [in this respect].”

The environment is also key to delivering shore excursions in the Seabourn style. “We have learned from our experiences in Antarctica and our expanded Ventures by Seabourn programme throughout the fleet that our guests want the choice of a deeper and richer experience that encompasses expedition, but with an incredibly luxurious onboard experience,” comments Meadows.

Offered in selected ports of call in regions around the world, these ‘ventures’ aim to provide guests with a greater understanding of the places and people they are visiting. It is more about experiencing than viewing, which is all part of the brand’s mission statement. All the guides are experts in fields like glaciology and ornithology, enabling them to lead adventures, such as hiking in temperate rainforests, glacier walking in Alaska, kayaking among king penguins and fur- and elephant seals in South Georgia, or Zodiac trips in Iceland to view birds including eider ducks, puffins and black guillemot. 

Looking back over the past 30 years, Meadows credits Seabourn’s success in the ultra-luxury segments to Carnival Corporation’s investment in the brand, which goes as far back as 1991. “That has been such a vote of confidence in not only the brand but the category,” he explains. “Our relationship and Carnival’s engagement in Seabourn has been such a key part of our success since the early days. There are many benefits for an older, luxury brand like ours – not only access to capital but also to strategy and the breadth of experience that comes with that kind of affiliation. It has helped the company to not only survive, but also thrive.”

Meadows is keen to point out Seabourn’s autonomy within the group however. “We are still a very unique brand in how we serve and deliver to our guests. Being authentic to Seabourn while having that ownership model makes it work.” 

In this respect, personalisation of service is a critical part of Seabourn’s delivery and it is something the brand has been known for since the beginning. “It is at the heart of what we deliver,” comments Meadows. “Personalisation can take a good travel experience and turn it into an amazing one. It allows us to know our guests and deliver on part of our mission statement, which is delivering Seabourn moments for our guests, delivering something which is over and above expectations.” 

Thanks to Seabourn’s special affiliations with various partners, this could be something small, such as tailoring the Molton Brown products in the bathrooms, or something larger, like creating exclusive and authentic experiences with UNESCO. “Dialling in authentic experiences is critical today,” says Meadows. “For luxury travellers, we all know that experience is more important than travel. We want to help people feel immersed in the world around them.”

Today’s passengers are very different to those who came onboard Seabourn Pride in 1988 when the company first sailed. “In helping to pioneer this luxury cruise space, one of the things we have seen is that it has become a much more global market,” remarks Meadows. “In the initial years there was a big growth out of North America but, as we have expanded and matured, we have seen our guests come from all over the world which has helped to create an onboard atmosphere of multicultural, but like-minded, people who all want experiences. In the UK alone, the growth in the past 15 years has been impressive.”

Commenting on this change, Meadows says: “It has been a wonderful shift. For the whole cruise industry, it is good to have a broader range [of passengers] and I think it makes it more interesting having guests from all over the world. You get a richer dimension to the cruises. The fact that all these nations and individuals are coming together and enjoying their time onboard is a nice change.”

The fact that people from different nations are travelling together to experience different parts of the world is an exciting one. It is a change that bodes well for the future. When asked if Seabourn will still be at the forefront in 30 years, Meadows says: “Absolutely. We will be leading as we go forward. I am 100% confident of that.”  

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Susan Parker
By Susan Parker
Tuesday, May 7, 2019