This is how you can discover an underwater world from a cruise ship

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Maria Sergeeva
December 15, 2017

Recently, French expedition cruise company Ponant promised to reinvent cruising by launching the world’s first underwater passenger lounge. Blue Eye, a sleek, multi-sensory space, will be unveiled on the brand’s four new Ponant Explorers: Le Bougainville, Le Dumont-d'Urville, Le Lapérouse and Le Champlain in 2018.

At the same time, other cruise lines begin to offer to the passengers the possibility to discover the world beneath the water line. More and more possibilities are available now from submarine experiences to hydrophones or snorkeling and scuba diving.

Ponant

Ponant, a French luxury cruise ship operator runs seven ships, all flying under the French flag and offering exotic itineraries and experiences.

Ponant offers all-season cruises, in places inaccessible to larger cruise liners. The company offers cruises to the following destinations: Northern Europe and Greenland, Scandinavia, Baltic and Iceland; Adriatic and Mediterranean: Corsica, Italy, Croatia, Aegean and Black Sea; Iberian Peninsula; Red Sea and Persian Gulf; Indian Ocean: Maldives; Asia; South and Central America; Antarctica; Canada/New England.

At a media preview in Sydney today, the expedition company revealed further details about the world-first multi-sensory space, James Bond-style Blue Eye, which will debut on Le Laperouse next year.

Sitting two to three meters below the water level within the ship's hull, , Blue Eye has two windows (1.6 metres x 3.4 metres), shaped like whale’s eyes, as well as digital screens projecting live videos displaying  the surrounding marine filmed by three underwater cameras directly on the walls of the rooms, kind of live wallpaper. 

Sounds of marine mammals are also transmitted into the lounge via specially developed hydrophones, integrated beneath the ship’s keel, which can capture noises up to five kilometres away. These sounds can also be felt through your body by sitting in sofas that vibrate in unison.

Sarina Bratton, founder of Australia’s Orion Expedition Cruises, who moved on to Ponant to help to internationalize the France-based business, explained why this French cruise company is unique. Indeed, with French style and sophistication, Ponant has gathered an increasingly large pool of admirers in Europe.

"It allows all guests to indulge in the subaquatic world, not just a few passengers in a submarine or a helicopter,” she said, referring to other luxury expedition yachts with these extra-fee features. But she added: "We welcome other companies’ new ships as the luxury expedition market cannot be sustained with 20 and 30 year old vessels. " Sarina Bratton said.

Expedition leader Mick Fogg said the sound experience would be a phenomenal natural symphony of whales singing, dolphins frolicking and fish chomping on coral. "With over five kilometres of noise, you’re going to want to turn that volume down, " he added.

The striking decor by Jacques Rougerie was inspired by jellyfish and cetaceans. After its unveiling on Le Laperouse, Blue Lounge will be installed on Le Champlain, Le Bougainville and Le Dumont-d’Urville when these new ships launch in 2018 and 2019. The four 184-passenger vessels bring Ponant’s fleet to nine.

"They don’t look like normal cruise ships, " Bratton said. "But people now expect luxury on an expedition cruise. Luxury expedition is no longer an oxymoron. "

Ponant’s 2018 program is now on sale. Itineraries include the Kimberley, Indonesia, Melanesia, Papua New Guinea, Europe, the Arctic and Subantarctic Islands.

Other companies set to unveil next-gen expedition vessels include Silversea, which will refit the Silver Cloud to focus on polar sailings; Norwegian-line Hurtigruten; and Scenic, with its ultra-luxury expedition yacht, the Scenic Eclipse.

Hurtigruten

Another possibility to offer to the cruise passengers this unique possibility to discover the underwater world is to transmit the image directly on their smartphones. And this is what The Blueye Pioneer drone is used for.

This option is offered by Hurtigruten ("Express Route", also known as the Norwegian Coastal Express) is a Norwegian cruise, ferry and cargo operator,  founded in 1893 to operate voyages on Norway's western and northern coast between Bergen and Kirkenes. Hurtigruten ships sail almost the entire length of the country, crossing the arctic circle and completing the round-trip journey in 11 days. The trip has been described as the "World's Most Beautiful Sea Voyage," with stops in such places as Bergen, the Geiranger fjord, and the Lofoten Islands

At Hurtigruten, drones are not just for recording videos in the height. The Norwegian carrier has teamed up with another Norwegian concern and will equip its next generation of expedition ships with underwater drones.

The norway-based adventure cruise line has recently revealed its largest and most diverse selection ever of itineraries for 2019/2020, including the Northwest Passage and Franz Josef Land in Russia. During the long trips, passengers could fully enjoy the live-stream footage of nearby marine life to its passengers.

The company was inspired by the underwater drones previously used by the Navy for defense, marine biologists for research the life beneath the surface.

The Blueye Pioneer was designed for operating in low light and is fitted with powerful thrusters to maintain course and stability.

The Trondheim, Norway, company is the maker of the Blueye Pioneer, a 15-pound, waterproof, hydrodynamic camera with stabilizers and four thrusters that enable it to maneuver even in strong currents.

The $3,500 drone is powered by a battery with a two-hour charge and is tethered by a thin, 250-foot cable to a surface buoy that transmits video, which then can be picked up via WiFi on a guest's tablet or smartphone.

Passengers could control the Pioneer easily by using their smartphones, tablets or goggles and the Blueye App. They could share their dive live by either letting friends or crew on site connect to the video stream directly, or via online services and social media.

"With underwater drones on our ships, we can take our guests to areas less explored than the surface of Mars," Hurtigruten CEO Daniel Skjeldam said.

The company has also designed digital diving masks, allowing immersing with the ocean, and closing out any distractions or sunlight.

The Blueye diving masks are water resistant l with extra rugged design and strap for a power bank to prevent you from running out of energy on your smart phone.

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