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Expedition Ships for (Almost) Everyone

Expedition cruising is one of the most rapidly growing segments of the industry,

with four new builds this year (two from Ponant, one from Scenic and one from Hurtigruten), 11 next year and more than a dozen in the following few years. 


Today, younger travelers, active travelers, and those seeking richer experiences than those offered on conventional cruises are choosing adventure on expedition ships. The kind of ships that have no Vegas-style entertainment, no casinos, no Bingo – in short, none of the familiar onboard experiences.  



As if to underline this trend, even Lindblad Expeditions, known more for serious exploration than for frills, have added luxury elements to the 126-passenger National Geographic Endurance. Set to debut in 2020, the line’s first new polar build in 50 years will feature such luxuries as twin infinity Jacuzzis, saunas with views and a glass-walled yoga studio.


Windstar moved into the expedition market in May of this year, when it launched the Signature Expeditions program on the 212-passenger Star Legend for 11- to 16-day expedition cruises to Alaska. The program consists of experts, including naturalists, glaciologists and historians, who lead guided tours into some of the Alaskan frontier’s most remote areas. .


The French-flagged line, Ponant, launched Le Lapérousethe, the first of the new luxury ships in July. Among her extraordinary features: Blue Eye, a multi-sensorial underwater lounge located in the hull below sea level, with two portholes made in the shape of a cetacean eye. Three digital screens project images captured by underwater cameras, allowing passengers to observe ocean life without disrupting that life. The second new ship, Le Champlain, debuted in October of this year; Le Dumont-d’Urville will be delivered in 2019, and Le Bellot and Le Surville, in 2020. In 2019, Ponant expeditions will sail to Antarctica, Indonesia, the Amazon River, Spitsbergen, New Guinea, Greenland, the Arctic and other iconic destinations.


Scenic’s 228-passenger Eclipse set sail in 2018 with over-the-top luxuries that included two helicopters, a seven-person submarine, six dining options, a heated pool with a retractable roof, a 4,844-square-foot spa, butler service and a staff-to-guest ration of almost one-to-one. The Eclipse’s highest passenger ship ice-class rating – 1A Super – allows it to sail deep into the Arctic and Antarctica. For the 2019/2020 season, Scenic has introduced several new Arctic destinations, including the Russian and Canadian Arctic; an expansion of the European Arctic itineraries; and new departures of the Antarctic in Depth cruise and the Antarctica, South Georgia & Falkland Islands itinerary.


Scenic will also offer a series of “Ultimate Voyages,” which combine back-to back sailings for 17- to 30-day itineraries. The 30-day Ultimate Chilean Fjords & Antarctica cruise uses Lima and Buenos Aires to bookend a journey through the Patagonian Fjords and the Antarctica Peninsula. 


Crystal Cruises’ first expedition mega-yacht, the 200-passenger Crystal Endeavor, will debut in 2020. Designed for expeditions in Arctic, Antarctic and tropical conditions, the Endeavor is a purpose-built Polar Code compliant yacht with a PC6 Polar Class designation. This means the Endeavor can sail in Polar Regions during the summer and autumn in medium “first year” ice, which may include old ice. The ship has state-of-the-art offshore dynamic positioning technology, which will allow her to float atop coral reefs, etc., without utilizing anchors, which can damage the terrain. 


There will be 90 Deluxe Suites (304 square feet) and eight Penthouse Suites (457 square feet). Two Crystal Penthouse Suites (985 to 1,130 square feet) feature dining rooms and a butler’s pantry. The Endeavor has a two-story solarium featuring a glass-domed pool, a spa, salon and fitness center. 


Her maiden voyage in August, 2020, is a 17-day roundtrip expedition though the Russian Far East. Other expeditions range from 12 to 22 days and explore destinations in Japan, Australia (the Great Barrier Reef), the Philippines, Indonesia, Borneo-and, of course, Antarctica & the Ross Sea.


Silversea’s Silver Cloud was re-named Silver Cloud Expedition and converted into an ice-class ship during an extensive refurbishment in 2017. As an expedition ship, the all-suite vessel accommodates 254 guests-and 200 for Arctic and Antarctic voyages, to allow a broader range of Antarctic sites. The line now has four luxury expedition ships with such features as spacious suites, butler service ship, multiple dining options, pools and spas. The line’s itineraries incorporate a remarkable polar program, comprising 10 itineraries and 83 destinations in the Arctic and 11 itineraries and 26 destinations in Antarctica, including East Antarctica and the Ross Sea. In August, 2019, the line celebrates its 10th anniversary with Silver Explorer’s crossing of the Northeast Passage, sailing from Nome, Alaska, to Tromso, Norway – a remote and spectacular cruising route above the Arctic Circle.


In 2019, Hapag-Lloyd will launch two identical 230-passenger (or up to 199 for Antarctic voyages) expedition ships. The Hanseatic Nature will serve German-speaking markets, while the Hanseatic Inspiration will serve both German and international markets. Both ships have the highest ice class rating for passenger vessels and such environmental features as SCR catalytic converters, optimized hulls and E-Zodiacs.  Hanseatic Inspiration will sail to the Arctic, Antarctica and South America’s Amazon River. Her maiden voyage in October, 2019, is a 15-day itinerary from Antwerp, Belgium to the Canary Islands. Hapag-Lloyd will add another expedition ship, the adults-only Hanseatic Spirit, to its fleet in 2021.


Known more for serious expeditions rather than luxury, Hurtigruten’s new (2019) state-of-the-art hybrid ship, the 530-passenger Roald Amundsen will have such attractive features as three restaurants and a pool deck with infinity pools, Jacuzzis and bars. Sister ship, the Fridtjof Nansen, will probably launch in 2020.


In 2019, the Roald Amundsen and Hurtigruten’s other expedition ships, the Fram and Midnatsol will sail 7- to 24-day itineraries to such rugged destinations as Greenland, Iceland, the Arctic and Antarctic.


The Chile-based line Australis is noteworthy because it is more family-friendly than most. The line’s two 200-passenger ships, Stella Australis and the newer Ventus Australis (early 2018), though not luxurious, are pleasant and comfortable and feature good food and good service. Both offer the 4-day cruises between Punta Arenas in Chile and Ushuaia in Argentina. The itinerary is not hard-core expedition-style.


Bottom Line: For clients who have never sailed an expedition cruise but would like to try one, there is something for almost everyone.

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