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Avid Travel With Britton Frost – Vantage’s New Ocean Ship, Ocean Explorer

This week on Avid Travel With Britton FrostI am joined by Lauren McIsaac, the director of product marketing at Vantage Deluxe World Travel.

Rendering courtesy of Vantage

Lauren McIsaac joined me to talk about Vantage’s new ocean ship, Ocean Explorer. This will be Vantage’s first ocean cruise ship. The ship will be delivered in 2021, with a second ship on order that will debut in 2022. The ships will accommodate 170 passengers and will visit destinations from Sri Lanka to Antarctica.

To learn more about Ocean Explorer, listen to the podcast or read the transcript below.

Britton: Hello, everyone. Today I am joined by Lauren McIsaac, from Vantage Deluxe World Travel. She is the director of product marketing. Thank you so much for joining me today, Lauren. How are you doing?

Lauren McIsaac: Thanks, Britton. I’m doing great. I’m so excited to talk about the Ocean Explorer with you and share some exciting news we have about it setting sail in 2021.

B: So, I just want to give a little bit of history. We did a podcast about river cruises a couple of weeks ago, which I will link in the description, but Vantage does have this ocean ship coming up as you said in 2021 and I know you all are so excited for it. So, I think we should just jump straight into it and tell everyone what they’re going to expect. How big is this ship?

LM: Perfect. All right! Well, actually let me rephrase. This is our first small ship ocean cruise for 2021, but we have one coming right after it in 2022. So, hopefully this will take off like hotcakes and all of our travelers will love it and we’ll continue to open up new ways to travel with our travelers. To be exact, the ship is 342.5 feet. However, to break that down for you, it’s 77 cabins, 15 of those are solo cabins, which is unheard of these days, with a total capacity of 170 passengers. So, this is a small ship. It is nothing like a giant cruise line. There are only six functional decks on board. There are observation decks, there are a number of cabin decks, but it’s a small intimate cruising experience.

B: And I know I’m going to jump forward a little bit because you did mention the solo cabins now. When we did the podcast about river cruises, we learned a lot about what Vantage has to offer for solo travelers. So, clearly because you have those solo cabins, you’re going to offer those same advantages for solo travelers on the ocean cruises as well.

LM: Yes, absolutely. Solo travelers and offering the same amenities and experience to solo travelers is extremely important at Vantage Deluxe World Travel. All solo cabins will have free and reduced Single Supplements. We’ll also have solo cabins on a number of different decks. So, if you’re looking for a more affordable option, you can choose a solo cabin that is more of a studio with twin beds or you can go up to different decks and have a studio that has a veranda on it, a nice lookout area with floor to ceiling windows. It’s really up to you. But we are making those affordable to solo travelers because they are just as important as a couple traveling together.

B: I think that’s really important because there are so many solo travelers and oftentimes we have these cruise companies that say that they’re so solo traveler friendly and they offer these waived and reduced supplements and that’s great. But it’s also great to allow people to choose which category their cabins are going to be, and that’s something that I really haven’t seen very much other than through certain promotions where certain category cabins may have a waived or reduced deposit. But just to have that as an option from the beginning is really special. And that’s definitely a standout for you, it sounds like.

LM: Right. Frankly, it’s the way I travel. I always travel solo, so it’s not only about having the cabin that’s a perfect fit for you, but it’s also about having the camaraderie on board. We have solo-connection mixers. The Concierge and the cruise director are going to take care of you. They’re going to make sure that you feel comfortable by yourself and that you’re meeting new people and feel open to meeting new people. So, it’s all about the experience as well as the accommodation.

B: And I think equally as important is what ship, how big the ship is, and who it can accommodate, as well as where it goes, of course. Those are two things that everyone wants to know. And I know that you have one very exciting place that you’re going to visit that not a lot of cruise ships visit, which is Antarctica, correct?

LM: Yes, we are. We’re actually going from Hong Kong all the way to Antarctica. So, if you want some impressive stats, let me just give them to you really quickly.

B: Sure.

LM: There are 311 ports we will visit, with 46,000 miles that will be covered in 2021 and 46 countries that will be visited. So, all in all, there are 18 unique itineraries and, like I said, going from Hong Kong all the way over to Antarctica. We’re also offering our travelers what we’re calling combination itineraries: If you want to take trip A, which is Hong Kong to Singapore, but you also want to go to Sri Lanka, which is trip B, we’ll combine those itineraries for you, so you have one seamless experience. This really offers you the best value, because we’re going to give you free international airfare and you won’t have to pay those connection fees or having to stay at a hotel in the middle or arranging it yourself, which is never fun.

B: Yes.

LM: We do all the work for you.

B: Yes. This wasn’t on my list of questions, but can you speak a little bit to the Concierge services that Vantage offers as well?

LM: Absolutely. A few things are unique in our Concierge service. One is that it’s open to all cabin categories. A lot of big cruise lines just offer concierge service to the owner’s suite or different suite levels. This is open to everyone from the solo traveler to the owner’s suite passengers: They’re ready to book you excursions or if you’re celebrating an anniversary while you’re on board, or you can do a special dinner off the ship or onboard, in one of our special restaurants. We also have a Concierge that’s here on the Boston side of things. So, before you even book your trip or while you’re booking your trip, if you say, “I know that you’re doing two days in Singapore prior to getting on the ship, but I’d really like to spend some more time there. Can you help me book a hotel and a few different tours?” we’ll take care of all of that for you.

B: And yes, it’s always nice to be able to have someone else to take care of everything. Getting ready for a trip can be so stressful and so that little touch makes it so much more relaxing and so much easier for guests, I’m sure.

LM: Absolutely. We’re taking all the guesswork and all the grunge work out of it, just leave it to us.

B: So, the ship is important, the destinations are important, and — I think that may be the most important thing for me — what I’m going to experience onboard. Because we’ve seen so much of a shift recently that the ship is the destination now. And I kind of disagree with that. The destination is still the destination, especially when you’re going to Antarctica. So, can you speak a little bit about what onboard life is going to be like?

LM: Sure. So, first I want to touch on what makes the ship so special itself. I don’t know if you’ve ever been on a small ship, but especially in open waters, it can be a little hairy, especially for those of us that get seasick. So, the Ocean Explorer will actually be the fourth passenger ship to use something that (I’m probably going to butcher my German right now) it’s called the Ulstein X-BOW technology. What makes it so cool is that it actually mimics the way dolphins swim in the water. So, rather than plowing through the water, it’s bowed really to make it a seamless stream through the water, to eliminate all that, not all of it, but a lot of that rocking and rolling that you experience in the Drake Passage or in the North Sea, places like that. Definitely friendly for those of us that have had experiences of small ships where they’ve gotten a little seasick.

B: And that technology also helps with the ice as well.

LM: Absolutely. It’s polar class. We’ll be able to cut right through the ice. There’s no danger of the ship not being able to return to port or anything like that.

LM: Then onboard, the ship is really impressive. We’re getting more and more renderings every day from our partner and it’s just blowing my mind every time I see it. There are so many amenities. There are open observation lounges, there’s a lecture theater where we’re going to have a Vantage Exclusive lecture series where topics will cover different destinations that you’re heading to, so that you enter each city and country with the knowledge of where you’re going prior. There will be a special, pretty cool rock dining area where you’ll be cooking on hot rocks. There’s an infinity pool, hot tubs, a spa, a sauna. I mean, you name it and it’s on the ship. If you are taking an itinerary where there’s a few days as you cross the ocean or as you go through the Drake Passage, which typically takes about two days, there’s plenty to do on board. You will not get bored by any means.

B: You have a long standing river cruise product. It’s been around for years. What have you taken from the river cruises that you do and implemented on the ocean? What have you learned from the river cruise experience that you’re taking to this new product?

LM: Well, the same quality and expectations that you expect from a Vantage river cruise you’ll find as you embark on these itineraries on the Ocean Explorer. My favorite part of these itineraries is getting into small ports and making that connection with the culture that you’re going into. One special thing that we have is we’re not only skirting along the coastline, but for example, we’re getting you into Sri Lanka: We’re not just staying on the coast. You’ll do two overnights in the heart of Sri Lanka, so you can experience the actual culture inland. We’re doing the same with an overnight in Luxor. Cultural discoveries mean so much to us and we know that that really makes or breaks a trip when you’re having those authentic moments with the people in places that you’re traveling to.

B: I think that is important to take note that oftentimes, when you’re on a big ship, when you’re on an ocean ship, regardless of whom it’s with, some companies do better than others with this cultural immersion. And it depends on the connections that you have with people. It depends on how long you’ve been visiting cities and whom you know. I think that it’s really something that you experience so much more on the rivers, that you experience this intimacy with the culture, with the locals, with the guides.

B: And because this ship is so small and because you’re taking what you already know on the river, which is this cultural immersion and your ocean ship is coming second to the river ships. I think that that’s a very interesting observation and what’s so important to a lot of people is creating these relationships and being so immersed in the culture, and I’m really happy that you mentioned that because I think that that is something that I prefer more about river cruising and knowing that you’re taking that model to the oceans as well makes me very happy.

LM: Of course we’re going to have the most included tours. It’s going to be small groups. There’s expert cruise directors, there are city hosts. We’ve learned and it’s a proven method and we’re bringing it over obviously to the ocean cruise line, but it’s really about getting into those small ports that you wouldn’t be able to do on a cruise line and really just creating a memorable experience.

B: And that’s what it’s about for everyone. When you’re shelling out the money and when you’re flying across the world, you want to have something that’s going to stay with you forever.

LM: Absolutely.

B: Is there a favorite… I know that you’ve mentioned Sri Lanka and Hong Kong and Antarctica. Is there an itinerary that you’re really looking forward to?

LM: Oh, there are so many that I’m looking forward to. I’m basically hoping I just spend 2021 on the sea.

B: OK.

LM: But no, in all reality.

B: Do your own version of a world cruise.

LM: Exactly. We actually do have a world cruise. It’s 126 days from Hong Kong all the way to Stockholm. But we’ll see if they let me do that. I’ll take just the leg of the trip if I’m lucky enough. But I did fall in love with India and Asia probably about eight years ago when I did my first big solo trip to India and I did the golden triangle and all that. I’m excited that we’re opening up new ports in India and new places like Sri Lanka to our travelers who we haven’t been able to offer these things for before.

LM: It’s one thing to go on a land trip, but it’s another to do a cruise where you’re unpacking just once and you’re not going to a number of different hotels and being shuttled in buses every day. So, having these places that were primarily land destinations now offered on the cruise is going to be really exciting. And I, for one, am passionate and excited to visit Sri Lanka and all these new destinations that we’re going to be traveling to.

B: Sure. And the world cruise, that’s something that I’ve seen such a growing interest in. Just to touch back on that for a minute, is that people really want to spend time on these ships. Like you said, they want to come, they want to unpack once and there are just so many people who want to see the world and what better way to do it on a journey that’s 40 days or 100 or however long it is and whether you choose to do a segment or whether you choose to do the whole thing. It’s a way that a lot of people like to travel now because they have the time, they can pack up, they can get on a ship, they can have everything taken care of for them and they meet people and form close relationships.

B: I had someone who was just writing a story about doing a world cruise and they were all guests who had been on this cruise line before and at the terminal right before they got on. They were all hugging and greeting each other, and she said that it was like a family reunion. When you’re with someone for 100 days, for over 100 days, you definitely start to feel like a family, especially on a ship that’s this size.

LM: Yes, what makes small groups and small ship cruising so special is the camaraderie that builds as you experience all these new things together. And we just wanted to offer to that unique traveler who does want to be gone for 126 days a seamless experience where they could go all the way from Hong Kong to Sweden, unpacking just once as we said. There are things like a salon on board, so they can get their hair cut. We’ve thought of it all, really. There’s laundry available, so it should just be like living in your apartment, but getting to experience all this wonderful places and countries along the way.

B: Absolutely. What is included in the cruise fare?

LM: What isn’t included in the cruise fare? All tipping is included. Beer, wine, and soft drinks are included with dinner. Based on what the itinerary is, there are a number of different included features. So, for example, on our 126 world cruise, there are 246 included features and Cultural Discoveris and 46 UNESCO World Heritage sites. So, you’re not missing a wink with this tour. But yes, on all of them, gratuities for local guides and drivers are included. Meals of course, soft drinks and wine on board with dinner, and things like a laundry stipend.

B: Again, that sounds like something that you’re taking from the river as well because that’s something that, on the river we’re so used to having that beer and wine included, we’re so used to having those tours included, excursions included, and maybe paying extra for certain excursions, but really having the minimum included on the trip. That’s great as well. It sounds like you’ve really modeled that product after your river ships and that river experience, which I like because I don’t like to have to think about doing very much or mostly spending very much money once I’m on the ship.

LM: Yes. Until you’ve experienced having to give gratuities to every driver and carry all different types of currencies, it’s such a unique and wonderful thing to have all those covered, so you’re not constantly going into your purse or constantly paying for excursions, things like that. That really makes the difference. And we’re excited to bring all of those aspects that we’ve learned and that work on the rivers over to this new gem of ours.

B: I know that we talked about an itinerary that you were looking forward to. Is there an excursion that stands out to you that you are like, “I cannot wait to do this one”?

LM: That is putting me a little bit on the spot. Antarctica is going to be fabulous. We have Zodiac boats now. Having our own Zodiacs means that we’ll be able to do trips around glaciers as long as we’re obviously compliant with the Antarctica rules there, but really getting into the location. For example, on one of our trips around the British Isles, we were talking today about the fact that you’re just going to be able to hop on a Zodiac and go right into the Isle of Tresco, which is gorgeous. It’s one of these unique ecological islands where there’s so much vegetation growing and there’s birdwatching and etc. So, having that Zodiac available that can just go right up to the dock is going to be a really cool feature.

B: Yes. That’s such a special trip. My father has done that trip three times.

LM: Really? The British Isles?

B: Yes.

LM: I loved it when I went, I absolutely loved it. You never realize how beautiful places like Wales are or Britain and things like that. So, it’s very exciting to have that as one of the itineraries we’re featuring.

B: And that’s again, such a place with such high demand. It seems like almost no matter where I wanted to go next year, I could find an itinerary that fit.

LM: Absolutely. Hong Kong to Antarctica, there’s got to be a lot there that is going to appeal to everyone. And if you can’t find your itinerary, you’re sure to find it in 2022 with the sister ship that’s coming out.

B: Yes. So, two. That’s great. Is there anything else that you feel like we didn’t touch on or that you want to add in? I know that there’s so much to look forward to.

LM: There is, we’re really excited. Keep watching our website. We’re actually unfolding about 14 new combination tours, because they have been in such high demand, to do more than one itinerary at once. We’re continuously rolling those out to make it a seamless experience for our travelers. So, keep checking the website and taking advantage of those value itineraries that you get when you’re combining one or more trips.

B: Yes. Well, thank you so much for joining me. I really appreciate it.

LM: Thank you so much, Britton.

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