While the public is well aware of mainstream cruise lines, there are many small and unique cruise operators that may not be on everyone's radar. Niche or specialty cruise lines such as UnCruise Adventures, Aranui, Quark Expeditions and Hurtigruten, to name a few, are definitely not household names by any means.
Some travellers may also shy away from a cruise vacation due to the mainstream concept associated with cruising - large vessels with thousands of guests, formal dress, busy nightlife, and overly tourist-y ports. They also want immersive itineraries and off-the-grid destinations, and feel that a cruise is unable to offer this experience.
Thanks to niche and specialty cruise lines, it is possible!
The distinctive feature of a specialty cruise line is, first and foremost, the small ship experience. With an average capacity of 100-200, and some as few as 25, clients don't have to worry about line-ups and crowds of anonymous faces for ship mates. In fact, guests can establish wonderful friendships onboard, as they all see each other on a daily basis.
The second biggest selling point of these cruises is the up-close and personal experiences guests will receive during their travels. Small ships can navigate narrow channels, traverse shallow waterways, and access hard to reach places to bring guests face-to-face with waterfalls, wildlife or local residents. Some specialty cruises are completely devoid of ports of call, focusing instead on the natural beauty of the landscape, with excursions to explore the area on foot, kayak or zodiacs.
Due to their uniqueness, specialty cruises naturally sail to more remote areas of the world, such as the Polar regions, Norwegian coast, and lesser known islands in the Caribbean and South Pacific. Some do visit popular places such as Alaska, Central and South America, but instead of visiting busy ports, itineraries feature extensive visits into national parks, wildlife reserves and world heritage sites.
Life onboard a specialty cruise is active and full of learning through participation. In addition to in-depth excursions, enrichment lectures led by professors, naturalists and field experts further bring the destination to guests. But just because it is not a mainstream experience, don't think you will be roughing it. Although ships are small, and many are expedition or working vessels, all the creature comforts are there, and some niche operators even offer luxury accommodations, open bar and gourmet cuisine.
Next time you have clients looking for bucket-list type vacation or something different, consider recommending a niche or specialty cruise.