Aurora Expeditions’ new ship, Greg Mortimer, promises a refined cruising experience. TTG joined agents on a training day in Scotland to find out more about the concept.
Spray stings my cheeks as the speedboat slams down on the grey waters of the Atlantic Ocean, my new travel agent buddies huddling together like Despicable Me’s Minions in their blue and yellow drysuits. “Look, there’s a grey seal,” shouts our skipper. “Hopefully we’ll see a few dolphins too!”
I’m off the coast of Oban in Scotland with Aurora Expeditions, sampling some of its excursion options. Despite the torrential rain and Flipper not making an appearance, this white-knuckle ride has me sold on the expedition cruising concept.
Back on land, and after a fine Scotch, I catch up with Craig Upshall, Aurora’s sales director for UK and Europe.
“We are here to promote our amazing activities on offer, as well as our brand-new ship, the Greg Mortimer,” Upshall says. “I love getting agents out to see what we do. The trade is our bread and butter – 90% of business in the UK comes from agents. We are also in the process of launching an online booking platform for early next year and have just recruited a new business development manager.”
The Greg Mortimer, which departed on its maiden voyage to the Antarctic Peninsula in October, is the cruise line’s first purpose-built expedition vessel. It is also the first polar expedition ship to feature the Ulstein X-Bow design, which promises smoother sailings and reduced emissions.
I joined Aurora Expeditions on an agent training day in Oban to test its expedition experiences, hear about new ship, #GregMortimer and the company's plans for the UK travel trade - watch me try my hand at sea kayaking and get soaking wet on RIB excursion here! @Polar_Experts pic.twitter.com/5w4BgZCHYI— Andrew_TTG (@Andrew_TTG) November 1, 2019
Standout features include two hydraulic platforms for unobstructed views of the surrounding landscapes, an indoor passenger lounge with panoramic windows and the ability to load its 15 Zodiac speedboats quicker, allowing for a maximum of three landings a day.
“Luxury is not how we describe the onboard experience but it’s important to note that the accommodation and food are of a high standard,” says Upshall. “The luxury element of cruising with Aurora is exploring the amazing destinations we visit. We are all about getting clients off the ship. That’s why we’ve capped the number of passengers to 120, so they can disembark much quicker and spend more time on land.”
Offering itineraries in nine destinations, including Iceland, Patagonia and Costa Rica, clients will be spoilt for choice, says Upshall.
“We are polar specialists and have extensive experience with the Arctic and Antarctica, but with Greg Mortimer we can visit Patagonia and the Chilean fjords, Costa Rica, Scotland and Eastern Canada too.”
Aurora Expeditions offers a range of activities including snowshoeing, climbing, ice camping, diving and sea kayaking, the last of which I also experienced. Excursions include a ski tour, where passengers will join expert guide Tarn Pilkington on an adventure to discover glacial slopes and icebergs, and follow in the footsteps of renowned explorer Shackleton across South Georgia.
For agents unsure who to recommend expedition cruising to, he suggests they look to more intrepid travellers. “Target clients who would look at independent long-haul travel to destinations such as Australia, New Zealand, South America and Canada. Also look at your cruise database for guests travelling on smaller vessels, or experienced cruisers looking to tick off Antarctica from their bucket list.”
Upshall adds clients should be in good health to join one of Aurora’s cruises.
“All our clients must have a signed form from their GP, just to let us know of any pre-existing conditions. Our passengers tend to be physically and mentally strong. The days are full of excursions, early starts, fresh air and exercise.
“Solo travel is also a large part of our business – more than 20%. This is because of the social nature of an expedition cruise and reduced solo supplements, making it perfect for clients who previously thought it was not financially possible [to travel alone].”
Agents share their feedback on the expedition cruise concept
Sarah Busby, Ascot Travel House: “It was great hearing from Aurora’s onboard wildlife expert Carol Knott, and discovering how integral the guides are to the expedition cruise experience.”
Jamie Jackson, Iglu: “I loved stepping out of my comfort zone by taking on the sea kayaking and RIB excursion. I will definitely recommend those activities to my clients.”
Ian Crichton, GoCruise: “It was great getting a feel of the Aurora ethos, and what expedition cruising would be like for my clients. I can now confidently measure Aurora against other product in the market.”
Lindsay Forderer, Cruise Direction: “I loved seeing how engaging the guides were. Carol Knott was fantastic, and I was very impressed with her knowledge of the local wildlife and landscapes.”