States of Being in Boutique Cruising

Category: Hospitality & Travel
24 Apr 2023
Read time: 5 MIN
For many within the luxury travel industry, it’s easy to trace a shift from a near-exclusive focus on silver service to a renewed obsession with location, location, location. Off came the white gloves to reveal hands firmly pointed at a breathtaking view. With that shift came a decline in connection and intimacy — two things boutique cruise brands are trying to keep afloat.
Written By
MOF Team
MOF Team

Agatha Christie was a master narrator of legendary luxury transport. First the nineteenth-century elegance of the Orient Express and then the Art Deco magnificence of the Karnak in Death on the Nile. Despite the latter being fictional, Kenneth Branagh’s 2022 cinematic adaptation of Christie’s novel reignited a desire among luxury travellers to step aboard the vessel.

These experiences (minus the murder) are increasingly coveted among the U/HNW. Many iconic names in hospitality are dedicating capital to crafting their own boutique cruising and yachting collections. A trend we’ve explored previously but one begging for deeper examination. Because the experiences being crafted by these kinds of brands? They’re even better than those in our favourite books.

But beautiful boats alone aren’t enough of a driver to fill a passenger list, even with the continued interest in slow travel and off-the-beaten-path destinations. 

Liners are raising the stakes when it comes to the onboard experience, evoking the various states of being sought out by cruising luxurians — ones which go beyond fad and land safely on the coast of culture and shared values.

Emotional Anchors

Humans are contradictory beings, in which the tensions between values and behaviours can be stark. It is a minority of people who claim they don’t wish to live sustainably. Yet the world hasn’t seen widespread adoption of sustainable behaviour to match these claimed value systems. So the co-existence continues and contradiction persists. 

Where brands can make a difference, and simultaneously differentiate themselves, is through the creation of spaces that can harmonise the two. Making it easier for travellers to have the best of both worlds. Whether it’s sustainability, inclusivity or another set of values. 

The most obvious fix for the former? Sailing. Or other mechanisms for greener travel on the waves which can connect to travellers' desires to protect our planet.

French company Ponant is one of few flagships leading forward-thinking fleets toward a more sustainable future via their Blue Horizons programme.


The scheme covers six commitments to optimise their environmental performance alongside a strategy of everyday actions to approach luxury cruising more responsibly. 

These range from regular beach cleans and conserving marine biodiversity with zero- and low-emission navigation through protected regions to their circular economy model where Ponant donates equipment and other goods to local businesses to be reused. 

In calmer, more linear waters, boutique river cruise operators Uniworld are doing the expected when it comes to sustainability: net zero by 2050 or sooner, seriously reduced food waste and they waved goodbye to single-use plastics. But they’re also writing the values and intent into their stories, under the imperative ‘Make Travel Matter®’. 

Uniworld’s experiences are designed to give guests purpose when travelling, supporting sustainable tourism as well as local communities and wildlife. They’re carefully selected using a proprietary assessment tool endorsed by industry experts, which ensures each experience directly advances United Nations Global Goals.

A couple of examples include:

  • Indulging in red-wine-and-saffron chocolate and saffron-seasoned jams, vinegars and honey at Wachauer Safranmanufaktur — the home of bio-dynamically certified saffron — in line with the UN’s goal of Responsible Consumption & Production. 
  • Crafting gifts and products alongside the Iraq Al-Amir Women’s Cooperative to help local women become financially independent and raise their standard of living while simultaneously preserving local heritage. Pushing forward the goals of Quality Education and Gender Equality.

Sustainable and ethical mindsets don’t necessarily have to equate to boat mechanics or environmental commitments. In fact, too often those kinds of claims are dismissed by buyers, increasingly perceived as the bare minimum. 

The beauty of boutique travel is connection. With people and place. And brands who leverage that can not only feel good about the connections they foster for their passengers, but about the legacy they leave behind once they reembark.

Self Navigation

There’s a distinct absurdity to the ocean in its vast and terrifying glory. One many find meaning in; whether they’re in it, on it or splashing in the shallows. Explora Journeys have based their entire proposition on it — The Ocean State of Mind. 

Explora Journeys

“Inspired by the blue waters of our seas and oceans. Characterised by calm, unity, elegance and joy, that encourages inner and outer exploration and discovery.”

Their ethereal language is matched by their visuals as well as their offerings. A lengthy experiences page lists: Bespoke Experiences (in partnership with luxury travel experts Pelorus); Beyond Boundaries, ‘soul-stirring experiences that touch the impossible’; Tailored Experiences, ‘the travel equivalent of haute couture’; Enchanting Explorations, ‘for small, agile groups seeking peerless experiences’; Boundless Discoveries, ‘hidden wonders and VIP access’; In-Country Immersions, ‘deeper into the culture’; and Journey Enrichments, for a seamless end-to-end experience.

What Explora do so well here is tap into the sparks sought out by the modern traveller. Phrasing like ‘soul-stirring’ and ‘enchanting’ evokes a feeling more coveted than the status of being on a yacht. 

The concept has become far more concerned with who we are than what we have. Status has become more ethical, tasteful, connected. Increasingly creative and inclusive, though status and inclusivity traditionally seem at odds. 

One brand harmonising the polarity is Variety Cruises, who really do live up to their name. Guests can select their cruise based on destination and travel style which varies from History, Nature, Active and Gastronomy to LGBTQ+, Off The Beaten Path and the brand’s Limited Collection. 

Since 1949, their vision has been to create a better world at sea and what better way to do that than by combining creativity and fun with inclusivity and enlightened travel? All wrapped up into seven days of life-enriching experiences.

Mapping Curiosity

We know it’s a distinctly human urge to explore. But with so much of the world known, those who have the privilege want to see it for themselves. Every extreme of nature. Every corner of culture. The good among them want to appreciate, not appropriate.

That starts with intimacy. Small-scale adventures that don’t disrupt. And if they must intervene, it’s to leave a place better than it was found. The calling card of timeless brands.

Based in Singapore, Aqua Expeditions venture into “unspoiled sanctuaries to witness the beauty of nature and wildlife; sailing to remote destinations with minimised human interaction, secluded from crowds.” 

Aqua Expeditions

On small ships, they explore the world’s most ecologically and culturally significant locales, framed by purposeful excursions and expert-led voyages. 

Also coming in with a different approach to cruising, Elixir combines immersive cultural journeys with a specific wellness approach, food for the soul, comfort and personalised service to guarantee an unmatched experience as well as educational trips to enrich minds; for institutions, families or individuals.

All of these brands are succeeding in shifting approaches and mindsets. Towards thoughtful travel where luxurians are taking away positive, intangible things while seeking out experiences that help them give back. 

Making Headway

It’s easy to forget the importance of architecting whole, flowing (not necessarily linear) experiences when the essence of luxury travel is hyper-focused on seeing the unseen or lesser seen. But while emerald gulfs and pearlescent ice caps are undoubtedly wonders, timeless brands gift charm and delight at every touch point — especially when eyes on board can’t find the vista views. 

The industry can’t rest on the crutch of incredible locations. For brands offering boutique cruises, they need to deck out the plot; infusing meaning in the vessel as well as the places they embark and, most importantly, highlighting the passenger’s place in the journey. 

Let us hoist the sails of strategy and experience design for your business, get in touch via to find out more about our services.

MOF Team

Published by MOF Team

We are a London-based Brand & Experience Design Agency delivering second-to-none experiences for forward-thinking luxury brands with something to say.

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