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Cruise News: Welcome to the World's First "Discovery Yacht"

Plus: celebrating 50 years of cruising in the Antarctic, Regent Seven Seas refurbishes their entire fleet, and AmaWaterways introduces new hiking and biking tours

Two helicopters and a seven-seat submarine are among the features on the newly announced Scenic Eclipse, a 228-passenger ship being touted as the world's first "discovery yacht." The Eclipse, which is currently being built in Croatia to enter service in August 2018, was designed to further Scenic’s mission to open the private yacht experience so travelers can discover regions previously visited only by the "supremely wealthy or explorers and adventurers." While the ship will hit popular ports in both Europe and the Americas (like Istanbul, Venice, Dublin, and Miami), it will also head to both Antarctica and the Arctic. 

Plucky little expedition ships have been plying polar regions since Lars-Eric Lindblad took the first tourists to Antarctica in 1966, but these don’t usually have the level of luxury Scenic plans (which will be akin to Seabourn, SeaDream Yacht Club, or the new Crystal Yacht Cruises). And while the French operator Ponant already sends four large yachts to remote areas, the 16,500-gross-ton Eclipse will be 50 percent larger than those ships while carrying 14 percent fewer passengers.

That difference translates into lots of space, dining options, and a very high crew-to-passenger ratio of almost 1:1. The ship’s all-veranda suites start at a roomy 344 square feet and go up to the 2,500-square-foot, two bedroom Owner's Penthouse Suite, which boasts floor-to-ceiling windows. The yacht also has four lounges, a theater for lectures, three bars, and six dining venues, with food that will range from classic French to pan-Asian fusion. Guests can bliss out in the 5,000-square-foot spa with indoor and outdoor plunge pools and Jacuzzis or work out in the gym with its separate yoga and Pilates studio. 

As for the “discovery” side of things, a team of experts will be on hand to help travelers experience all kinds of adventures utilizing the ship’s zodiacs, kayaks, and scuba and snorkeling gear—and those helicopters and the submarine. 

To keep the ride smooth in challenging seas or in big swells when stationary, Scenic Eclipse has custom-built, extra-large stabilizer fins. A dynamic positioning system keeps the vessel in place so there's no need to drop anchor in sensitive areas where the seabed could be damaged. And among a bundle of safety features are two engine rooms, a backup wheelhouse, and a highly reinforced double hull that qualifies Scenic Eclipse for the highest ice-class rating: 1A super. 

Founded in Australia in 1986, Scenic is growing fast, with 21 riverboats in Europe, Russia, and Southeast Asia. Scenic Eclipse is its first ocean-cruise vessel, but a sister yacht is planned.

Where exactly will Scenic Eclipse go and how much will cruises cost? Stay tuned. Plans will be revealed in February.

Also in Cruise News

50 Years of Expedition Cruising

Speaking of polar cruising, it’s been 50 years since Lars-Eric Lindblad made history by taking 57 intrepid travelers on the first "citizen explorers" voyage to Antarctica, where only professional explorers and scientists had previously gone. As a result, Lindblad is credited for creating expedition travel and is known as the "father of ecotourism." These days Lindblad Expeditions—run by Lars-Eric's son, Sven-Olof—maintains the principle that taking people to wild places makes advocates for preserving and protecting them. To mark the anniversary, 2016/17 Antarctica expeditions on the National Geographic Explorer (a ship run by a partnership between Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic) will host great figures in polar exploration as guest lecturers. 

A Fleet-Wide Refurbishment

Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ new Seven Seas Explorer, coming this year, is being called the most luxurious ship ever built. But it’s not the only ship getting the luxury treatment: A $125 million fleet-wide refurbishment aims to elevate all the suites and public areas on the company’s ships to the same level. The first to be upgraded will be the Seven Seas Navigator, ready this spring. The Compass Rose restaurant will be made grander with silver leaf, pewter, and antique bronze elements; the library will gain a cozy faux fireplace and cream-colored sofas; and suites will get custom-made Elite Slumber Beds. Following its upgrade, the Seven Seas Navigator will sail Regent's first world cruise in six years, a 128-night trip to 62 ports in 31 countries scheduled for 2017. 

New Biking and Hiking Options on European Cruises

AmaWaterways is expanding its biking and hiking tours for active travelers aboard Europe river cruises. Among the newly added bike tours is one to the museums, fortress, and hidden quarters of Antwerp, Belgium, and a ride along the Sava River and through Belgrade's Kalemegdan Park. There’s also an option to bike through Austria's wine-drenched Wachau Valley along the Danube and a new ride through Bavaria's Bamberg, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is famous for its breweries and market gardens. If you prefer to hike, you can look forward to trekking in France through areas like Fourviere Hill in Lyon, Mount Pipet in Vienne, and Chateau Gaillard in Les Andelys. In Porto, Portugal, you can cross the soaring Dom Luis Bridge and roam the Old Harbor Quarter, and in Austria, you can even taste Grüner Veitliner wines after a climb to the fortress above Durnstein.

Anne Kalosh doesn't count the cruises she’s taken, though there have been hundreds—including five years as a shipboard newspaper editor, sailing the world. She loves the experiences sea travel offers. Her byline has appeared in many major publications, and she's on top of the latest cruise developments as the long-time U.S. editor for Seatrade-Cruise.com and Seatrade Cruise Review.