Ponant in Taormina

(2:07 p.m. EST) -- Tauck will increase the passenger capacity on its small ship cruise offerings in 2019 by 40 percent, with an expanded fleet, more charters and new itineraries. In all, the small-ship cruise line and tour operator will offer 22 itineraries next year aboard a fleet of 13 ships.

"2019 is where the rubber meets the road for us," Katharine Bonner, senior vice president of Tauck River & Small Ship Cruising, said at a press conference at the Seatrade conference in Fort Lauderdale. At last year's conference Tauck revealed that it planned to double its small ship cruise division over the next several years.

As part of its growth, Tauck is adding five new small ship itineraries and increasing the number of Ponant sailings it charters.

Tauck and Ponant have partnered together for nearly 27 years. Tauck currently operates sailings onboard six different Ponant ships, including the soon-to-launch Le Laperouse. That ship is the first of four new Explorer-class ships being launched by Ponant in 2018 and 2019, and Tauck will feature three of them (Le Laperouse, Le Champlain and Le Dumont d'Urville) in 2019.

Including those additional charters, Tauck is expanding the number of charters it will operate with all partner cruise lines by approximately 50 percent.

The five new itineraries for Tauck in 2019 are:

  • Arctic Allure: Spitsbergen and the Midnight Sun; nine nights with seven-night cruise onboard Ponant's Le Boreal
  • Legendary Scottish Isles, Edinburgh and Glasgow; 11-nights with seven-night cruise aboard Ponant's Le Champlain
  • Cruising Down Under; 20-nights with a six-night land trip exploring Australia and a nine-night cruise aboard Ponant's Le Laperouse
  • Alaska's Inside Passage; eight-nights aboard Ponant's Le Soleal
  • Cruising the Great Lakes: Chicago to Toronto; 12-nights with an eight-night cruise onboard Ponant's Le Champlain

Tauck, which is celebrating 93 years as a tour operator in 2018, has been offering small-ship cruising for 25 years. Its first cruise was a "Treasures of the Mediterranean" sailing in 1993.

--By Dori Saltzman, Senior Editor