(2:35 p.m. EDT) -- Tauck will double its small ship cruising capacity over the next four years through an expansion of its relationship with luxury expedition cruise line Ponant. As part of the expansion, Tauck is also adding new itineraries to its catalog of small ship cruises, including a new Cuba itinerary.
"Tauck Small Ship Cruising is our first product to sell out each year," said Jennifer Tombaugh, president of Tauck. "We have this great demand, but we've been really constrained by the capacity... By adding new destinations and expanding our capacity with Ponant, we're able to provide more choice and more availability in order to better serve the current and growing demand."
Of Tauck's small ship cruising product, the line's expedition division, Tauck Earth Journeys accounts for about 40 percent, but the growth for the company will be driven by expedition.
Currently, Tauck uses five Ponant ships for 10 itineraries, both for cultural journeys and for expedition. By 2020, the line will offer sailings on nine Ponant ships.
As part of its expansion plans, Tauck will charter sailings on all four of Ponant's new expedition ships. (Ponant is launching four new expedition ships between 2018 and 2019.) The first charter will be onboard Ponant's Le Laperouse to Iceland. Tauck will offer five Iceland sailings on Le Laperouse, with the first departing July 3, 2018 for a one-week exploration of Iceland. It will sail roundtrip from Reykjavik.
Also new for Tauck Small Ship Cruising will be six 10-day journeys around Cuba aboard the three-masted schooner, Le Ponant, with three departures in December, 2018 and three in January 2019. The journey will begin with a one-night stay in Miami, a flight to Cuba for a two-night stay in Havana and then a one-week cruise sailing between Havana and Santiago de Cuba, with stops in Cienfuegos and Trinidad. A flight back to Miami is included, as well.
Another partnership Tauck is expanding is its relationship with BBC Earth. Starting in 2018, all Tauck Expedition small ship cruises will feature exclusive BBC Earth programming designed to help passengers connect with wildlife and nature. Additionally, Tauck tour directors will receive training and certification by BBC Earth filmmakers and historians.
Tauck Earth Journeys feature on-tour film vignettes custom made by BBC Earth, which provide insights into the destinations visited on the itinerary from BBC Earth experts. Also on every Tauck Earth Journeys cruise are BBC Earth-approved field equipment such as sensitive long-range microphones, thermal imaging cameras, night-vision goggles and self-activating camera traps, giving cruisers unique methods of interacting with their surroundings.
While it's not adding new river cruise ships in 2017, Tauck is in the process of revamping its older Jewel-class ships, reducing capacity from 118 passengers to 98, making cabins larger and reconfiguring the specialty restaurant. The first of the five ships, Swiss Sapphire, will relaunch on April 3 while Swiss Emerald will follow on April 7.
--By Dori Saltzman, Senior Editor