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In Tauck's thriving cruise business, 'small is the new luxury'

Tauck now fields nine river vessels, and half the passengers are new to the brand Tauck now fields nine river vessels, and half the passengers are new to the brand (Photo: Tauck)

Tauck plans to double its small-ship cruise capacity over four years thanks, largely, to programs on newbuilds belonging to long-time partner Ponant. In other news, expedition sailings will be distinguished by BBC Earth, the company's first Cuba cruises are on tap and a new Galápagos program will use Silversea Cruises' Silver Galapagos.

'Our demand far exceeds our capacity,' Tauck's Katharine Bonner, svp river & small ship cruising, told Seatrade Cruise News.

'Our guests are small-ship-oriented. We think small is the new luxury. People are willing to spend more for that intimate experience.'

Tauck continues to add small ship opportunities with the growth of its long-time partners, Windstar Cruises and Ponant, the latter set to introduce two newbuilds in 2018 and two in 2019.

The size of the Ponant ships 'allows us to do some really different things,' Bonner said. 'We're able to dock places cruise ships normally can't.' And, in the Caribbean, the captain can drop anchor to let everyone go swimming.

The largest Ponant vessels carry 260 passengers, and the newbuilds will be slightly more compact. According to Bonner, 'You feel like it's your own yacht. You feel like you're in a giant cocktail party.'

Tauck has offered Cuba by land for several years. Using the chartered, three-masted schooner Le Ponant, the company will introduce a 10-night cruise and land program between Havana and Santiago de Cuba that visits Isla de la Juventud, Cienfuegos or Playa Girón on the Bay of Pigs and Trinidad, with two nights in a Havana hotel and guided sightseeing. Three departures are available in December 2018.

'People are surprised by how large Cuba is. It's difficult to get from one end to the other. There aren't that many ports,' Bonner said. And, she noted, the differences between the destinations are striking. Havana's Spanish colonial flavor is distinct from Santiago de Cuba's Afro-Caribbean heritage and strong revolutionary history.

In an effort to better differentiate its cultural cruises from expeditions, Tauck's expedition cruises will become a part of the Tauck Earth Journeys portfolio starting next year. These programs feature customized BBC Earth enhancements such as night-vision goggles or underwater sound equipment that help connect travelers with wildlife and nature.

The newest destination to be added to the Earth Journeys cruise collection is Iceland.

At Tauck expeditions tend to attract younger travelers who are keen to explore remote places like the Arctic, Antarctica and the Galápagos.

To satisfy the demand for more active travel, Tauck offers choices in destinations, with hiking, kayaking and guided bicycle trips now among the included excursion options.

'People are more active and more fit,' Bonner said. 'We see a lot more empty-nesters who aren't retired. There are also active 70-year-olds out there. Often the person at the head of the guided bike tour may be the oldest one in the group.'

New programs on Windstar ships this year include a Lisbon-Barcelona itinerary that delves into Spanish and Portuguese ports, and a Venice-Piraeus program that visits some of the Greek Isles and transits the Corinth Canal, possible thanks to the small size of the 212-passenger ship.

New programs with Ponant in 2017 are the Norwegian Fjords with a cruise between Bergen and Oslo and a call at Gothenburg, Sweden. Also new is a British Isles sailing between Portsmouth and Dublin with stops at Belfast, the Isle of Man, Liverpool, Cobh (for Cork), the Isles of Scilly and Guernsey.

In 2019 and 2020, Tauck will expand with two new tours in Europe (one of them in the Arctic) and one in the US.

River cruising, too, is on the upswing for the company, which now fields nine river vessels. Half the passengers buying river programs are new to the brand making these, according to Bonner, 'a really good way to fuel growth and introduce people to Tauck overall.'

The company is reconfiguring its four 110-meter boats, built between 2014 and 2016, to offer larger cabins. Vessels on the Seine and the Rhone were just completed, and the two remaining boats will be transformed prior to the 2018 season.

As a result, occupancy on these vessels is going from 118 passengers to 98.

'This will give us a different level of intimacy,' Bonner said.

More new river itineraries are coming in 2018. One program pairs a Rhine cruise to or from Basel with a hotel stay and touring in Milan, traveling to the Italian city through the Alps by train via the Gotthard Base Tunnel. Another new journey bookends a Danube cruise with hotel stays in Berlin and Krakow.

'Berlin is very hot now,' Bonner said.

Posted 18 April 2017

© Copyright 2017 Seatrade UBM (UK) Ltd. Replication or redistribution in whole or in part is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Seatrade UBM (UK) Ltd.

Anne Kalosh

US editor of Seatrade Cruise Review and Seatrade Cruise News

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