Abercrombie & Kent, the luxury small-group touring company, takes people on customized journeys to the most remote corners of the world -- by land and by sea. Yes, the tour operator offers a handful of small-ship cruises designed to put avid travelers at the center of some of the most exotic and sought-after destinations on the planet that can't be reached by land. These adventurous sailings are supported by a knowledgeable, highly trained group of expedition guides.
If you're looking for a cruising adventure but still want to feel pampered, an Abercrombie & Kent expedition cruise just might be the right fit for you.
Because Abercrombie & Kent (affectionately known as A&K by its loyalists) doesn't have a cruise ship of its own, it has partnered with French-based luxury expedition cruise line Ponant. It's a partnership that works efficiently, and most passengers wouldn't be able to tell where A&K ends and Ponant begins, as everyone works together seamlessly onboard.
For 10 years, the companies have combined forces: A&K charters the ships, staffing them with expedition guides and cruise directors, while Ponant provides the hotel staff as well as the captain and his team. A&K's expedition guides take on piloting the Zodiacs and ensuring passenger safety onboard and ashore.
Ponant has a fast-growing fleet of intimate ships that are equipped with all the necessities for an expedition cruise, from sturdy Zodiacs to marinas and plenty of observation space. Most of its ships were built after 2010 -- with a big building surge from 2015 onward -- and all feature comfortable yet chic decor. The ships offer a buffet restaurant and traditional sit-down main dining rooms, as well as lounges and theaters for enrichment discussions. They also have spas/fitness areas, shops, elevators and medical centers.
For cruises, Abercrombie & Kent's focus is on comfortable, enriching exploration, as it is with its land-based tours and safaris. Top-notch naturalists provide regular educational lectures onboard; they also point out wildlife and explain animal behavior while ashore or on Zodiac tours in scenic fjords or pristine bays.
A&K is not a hard-charging expedition company. Its guests, whether on land or ashore, are older -- many of them are retired -- and while they tend to be fit and curious travelers, they aren't seeking experiences like stand-up paddle-boarding, glacier kayaking or polar plunges. Generally, A&K passengers crave a thorough understanding of the wildlife they're seeing and the geology and history of the areas they're visiting, rather than adrenaline-pumping exploration. (A&K suggests a "minimum level of fitness" is required on its cruises.)
On our Antarctic sailing, most passengers were fairly mobile, and many took advantage of opportunities to take easy hikes (a mile or less) in South Georgia. That kind of hike -- up a good-sized hill to see glacial lakes -- is about as active as it gets, though, which is perfectly fine for most A&K passengers.
What you do experience on the voyage is thoroughly thrilling, though: close (though safe) encounters with wildlife, such as penguins and seals, and skillfully narrated Zodiac trips through fjords, populated by animals and birds. Shore excursions are carefully curated by A&K and customized for its sailings; you won't find the same tours offered by other companies.
Part of the appeal of Abercrombie & Kent is the lineup of naturalists aboard every cruise. The team is well-rounded, with guides who have diverse backgrounds and areas of specialty.
On our sailing, we had whale and marine mammal experts, bird specialists, a geologist, a historian and photographers, among others. The expedition team is great ashore, pointing out wildlife behavior or natural features to passengers.
Onboard, they provide a series of lectures that gives color and context to what you're seeing. Some presentations are fun and spirited (birds versus mammals!), while others are more somber and enlightening (climate change and its effect on the polar regions). Many passengers attend them all and discuss what they have learned with one another at dinner.
Photography, too, is a major part of A&K's expedition sailings, and at least one of the guides will be a photo expert who helps passengers take -- and create through editing -- better photos. These sessions are wildly popular, as many passengers are equipped with high-end photo gear (and in some cases, perhaps, more camera equipment than they probably need or know how to use).
The photo guide also will work one-on-one with passengers, showing them features of their equipment they might not have known they have or how to use photo editing software, such as Lightroom or Photoshop.
Sailings, too, might feature expert guest lecturers in various areas. On our sailing, we were joined by world-renowned photographer Rick Sammon. His lectures were entertaining and enlightening, but he also made a point of spending "office time" in the ship's main lounge with passengers, who peppered him with questions at every turn. He cheerfully answered every query, even offering to edit photos for people from the trip.
Outside of lectures, naturalists join passengers for dinner. (There's a sign-up system, and it's first-come, first-served.) They also routinely set up time on outside decks to do wildlife spotting with passengers.
We visited Antarctica, which is certainly among the highlights of Abercrombie & Kent's expedition offerings. Our journey took us to Antarctica as well as South Georgia. (Sadly, weather didn't allow us to make our scheduled visit to the Falkland Islands, which was on the original itinerary. Sailings to more remote regions are often affected by weather, and staff find exciting alternatives to replace missed ports.) A&K also offers a more classic Antarctica sailing that takes you deeper into The White Continent.
Also popular are the company's Arctic visits, which might include Iceland, Norway or Greenland; Northwest (and Northeast) Passage trips are also on offer. This is your chance to see polar bears and walruses and learn about the native cultures that formed these areas.
Perhaps lesser known but no less incredible is the Kimberley coast of northwestern Australia, which allows passengers to take in beautiful beaches and breathtaking geologic formations.
And, while A&K might be best known for its voyages to the polar regions and the Kimberley coast, it does offer a handful of more cultural sailings as well. One key difference is you probably won't get into the Zodiacs as you explore Japan, the Mediterranean or northern Europe. These sailings focus more on historic sites and local people and culture.
Abercrombie & Kent's cruise fares are inclusive. Onboard, all meals, drinks (including some fine wines and premium spirits), internet and gratuities are included. Because of the length of the cruises -- and sometimes restrictions on packing weight and number of bags -- A&K also offers included laundry service a couple of times each cruise. All enrichment activities, shore excursions and park and entrance fees are included, too. Some suites come with butler service.
For cruises to the polar regions, passengers additionally get parkas, waterproof backpacks and reusable water bottles to keep. A&K also provides trekking poles, waterproof pants and boots to use during the cruise. (Binoculars aren't included, and you'll definitely want them, so bring along your own.) Passengers to the polar regions and the Kimberley are required to provide proof of travel insurance (coverage minimum of \$100,000 per person), which can be purchased through A&K or independently.
International and internal airfare and visa fees are not included. Neither are pre- or post- cruise extensions, which are a hit with passengers. Many on our sailing took advantage of extension options, spending extra time in Buenos Aires and Iguazu Falls.
Updated February 25, 2020