From left to right: Connie Georgiou, Luke Clarke, Andy Tait, Sarah Schlederer, Kaye Holland, Aishling McLoughin, Andy Harmer, and Carly Perkins. Credit: David Sanders

Expedition cruising in 2023: everything you need to know

Author: Kaye Holland

Published on:

Updated on:

A panel of industry experts reveal the latest trends in expedition cruising and explain why it is for everyone

Expedition cruising – where the emphasis is on adventure and excursion – is one of the fastest-growing segments of the cruise industry with more and more passengers looking to make up for lost time and missed experiences after years of coronavirus lockdowns and travel restrictions.

But how has expedition cruising evolved and what can you expect from a voyage? World of Cruising's Kaye Holland caught up with Aurora Expeditions’ senior business development manager, Andy Tait; Silversea’s sales director Connie Georgiou; Seabourn’s senior marketing manager Carly Perkins; Swan Hellenic’s sales director Luke Clarke; Quark Expeditions’ UK business development manager, Sarah Schlederer; Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ sales representative Aishling McLoughlin; and CLIA UK & Ireland’s managing director, Andy Harmer, to discuss all things expedition cruising in 2023.

Demand since the pandemic

Expedition cruising is on the rise and is a trend that is clearly here to stay. How do you account for the surge in popularity?

Carly Perkins, Seabourn: Seabourn is fairly new in the expedition market – we launched our first ship, Seabourn Venture, last summer – and our second expedition ship, Seabourn Pursuit, will launch this summer. We’ve been offering expedition-type cruises – but only in Antarctica – since 20212 and they proved so popular that we decided to create a purpose-built expedition ship. I think, after the last few years we’ve all had, people are after once-in-a-lifetime bucket list trips. Seabourn Venture and Pursuit are attracting not only traditional Seabourn guests but people who wouldn’t normally consider a cruise.

Aishling McLoughlin, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises: The pandemic definitely had an effect – people were cooped up for so long and weren’t spending so they definitely had more budget and wanted to make up for lost time. Also, I think passengers are becoming more aware of expedition cruising as agents are promoting it more. And that is, in part, thanks to the events that CLIA is putting on which are helping get agents onside.

Andy Tait, Aurora Expeditions: I also think that the pandemic has played an important part. Clients have the money but they are now going ‘We don’t know what will happen next year so let’s go for it.’ They aren’t holding off.

Luke Clarke, Swan Hellenic: For me, it’s all about experiential travel – that’s grown and expedition cruising has grown with it. That’s perhaps partly because the expedition cruise sector has made everything easier – we charter flights, include hotels, etc.

Sarah Schlederer, Quark Expeditions: I’d put it down to the diversity of experiences and ships that expedition cruise lines, including ourselves, now offers. At Quark, we have operated in the polar regions for 32 years. We used to be much more rustic and about adventure but now we offer ultra-luxurious ships – and everything in between – so we have opened the sector up to a wider audience.

Andy Harmer, CLIA UK & Ireland’s managing director: Travel agents need to have the confidence to offer their customers an expedition cruise – it’s not a cheap purchase and it’s an investment of customers’ time too. I think that their confidence has grown thanks to the work done by cruise lines and CLIA – and also the media who are covering expedition cruising more and thereby raising awareness.

Seabourn Venture is the first of two purpose-built expedition ships built by Seabourn. Credit: Seabourn

A changing customer base

Due to the high price tag, people often think of expedition cruising as the preserve of the retired or semi-retired who have the time and resources. I’m curious as to whether the demographic profile is changing?

Luke Clarke, Swan Hellenic: Different price points attract different age ranges. We are obviously at the higher end so attract the over 55s – someone my age certainly couldn’t afford to do it. Price dictates the age – the more expensive the cruise, naturally it’s a case of the older the client.

Andy Tait, Aurora Expeditions: [Expedition cruising] still skewers older particularly for the Arctic but we’re finding that Antarctica is attracting a lower age – think honeymooners who are often wanting a wedding ceremony of some sort on the ship too!

Aishling McLoughlin, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises: Because of the cost and also the time involved, I would say that expedition cruising still tends to attract an older clientele. That being said, people in their late 40s and 50s – which is still young and not your typical expedition cruise age – are on board too.

Carly Perkins, Seabourn: We haven’t yet had a year of expedition cruising under our belt but so far we have attracted traditional Seabourn guests who have chosen to come on board to see and experience our brand-new ship.

We take delivery of Seabourn Pursuit this summer and next summer she will be sailing down to the Kimberleys, offering very active, 10-night cruises so it will be interesting to see whether that attracts a younger demographic. I think the age range will vary according to destination ship visits.

Sarah Schlederer, Quark Expeditions: We have a diverse fleet – with the equivalent of two, three, four, and five-star ships – so the diff price points will affect that. We spent 2020 when we were grounded, looking at our demographic and an expedition traveller is absolutely anyone and everyone.

We split it into four categories. Firstly, you have the learners; the more mature, traditional age bracket. Secondly, there are the bucket listers who want to reach a certain number of countries by a certain age. Then there are the escapists – this category skews more male and they tend to have a high income and want to get away from work, switch off and have an adventure. So the point is that an expedition traveller could be everyone and anyone.

Connie Georgiou, Silversea: At Silversea, we’re finding that more and more families are booking an expedition cruise. It’s about all making memories together. And selling an expedition cruise to a family is such great business.

Andy Harmer, CLIA UK & Ireland’s managing director: I’ll echo what Connie said. An expedition can look more expensive than other holiday options, but when you look at the value, what's included, and where you are going and break it all down... So travel agents need to be confident when selling.

Expedition cruising is becoming increasingly popular with travellers of all ages. Credit: Shutterstock

New destinations

Antarctica and the Arctic have both been mentioned but are there any other destinations you are seeing a surge of interest in?

Carly Perkins, Seabourn: We only have one expedition ship, Seabourn Venture, but when we have our second ship Pursuit, that will give us more flexibility. As I said earlier, Pursuit will go to Kimberleys and also what we are finding is selling well are our South Pacific itineraries – the less habited, almost uninhabited, tiny Pacific islands that ocean ships would struggle to visit.

Connie Georgiou, Silversea: That’s an excellent point. Everyone thinks of expedition cruises as ‘cold’ but that’s not the case. An expedition cruise can be anywhere – even the British Isles.

Aishling McLoughlin, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises: Agreed. The Amazon – an 18-night itinerary all the way from Belem to Quitos, is doing well for us. And the Great Lakes where we can now launch zodiacs. The US didn’t allow that until recently.

Andy Tait, Aurora Expeditions: We specialise in the polar regions where special interest trips – such as a three-day hiking trip following in Shackleton’s footsteps – always get a take-up. In terms of warm weather expedition cruises, we offer a Costa Rica and the Panama Canal which is great for clients that don’t want a harsh expedition experience. It’s a softer but great way to see Costa Rica without having to go off for hikes in the jungle etc.

Luke Clarke, Swan Hellenic: At Swan Hellenic, we just had a great west coast of Africa season. We also have two cruises to Sicily in September which are an easy sell for agents as they are more along the lines of what traditional Swan Hellenic guests are used to seeing us do.

Andy Harmer, CLIA UK & Ireland’s managing director: There are so many incredible destinations and the message to agents should be this: CLIA has a lot of destination fact sheets on our website, as do individual cruise lines, to help you. But actually, it’s about knowing the type of experience guests will have because agents will never know everything – none of us will. It’s about the experience customers can expect.

Discover the Amazon Rainforest on an expedition cruise. Credit: Shutterstock

Longer cruises

How long would you say people are now booking an expedition cruise for?

Connie Georgiou, Silversea: It depends on the destination but typically you can’t really go for less than two weeks.

Sarah Schlederer, Quark Expeditions: What makes expedition cruising so different is that there is no fixed schedule: nature is the tour guide. So yes, there are express itineraries for the time-poor but the more time you spend on an expedition cruise, the more opportunities there are and better the encounters with wildlife and nature are.

Carly Perkins, Seabourn: There is an expedition voyage for everyone so if you are wanting to tick a destination off the bucket list, there are shorter itineraries. However, you still need at least 14 days.

Andy Tait, Aurora Expeditions: For Antarctica, we do have a nine-night express option where you fly in but actually that’s not selling well at all – because we have to tell clients that we have to account for the weather and there is the possibility that they might miss landing on King George Island. Once we tell them this, they tend to go for the next option where they have five to six nights on the ship.

Sarah Schlederer, Quark Expeditions: I think it’s a cultural thing as well. With those express itineraries, we have a 7-8 night itinerary that does not sell well in the UK. However, in the USA, they go like hotcakes as Americans only have two weeks of annual leave each year.

The evolution of expedition cruises

Expedition cruises were typically seen as adventure-focused – their main purpose was exploring the destination. But now we are starting to see more and more luxury ships join the sector….

Andy Tait, Silversea: We are casual luxury so we don't have the same finesse as say Seabourn and Silversea do. You don’t have to dress up for dinner on one of our ships but it’s still a three-course affair.

Connie Georgiou, Silversea: People typically come back on board, have a glass of champagne, go and have a shower, eat dinner and then head to bed because the days are very active so they are exhausted. But that doesn't mean the food isn’t fabulous – it is. Who doesn’t want to get back to a gorgeous ship?!

Luke Clarke, Swan Hellenic: For years, we were almost shamed into talking about luxury. Hard-core expedition companies used to look down on us – it used to be that adventure and luxury couldn’t go hand in hand. But now everyone is building luxury ships and trying to come up and in line.

Carly Perkins: Seabourn: We have only just ventured into expedition cruising but Venture had to be ultra-luxury because Seabourn is ultra-luxury. That being said, we don’t have a partnership with Tomas Keller as we do on ocean ships and we don’t have a show lounge because this isn’t what expedition guests are looking for.

Sarah Schlederer, Quark Expeditions: Yes, the focus is always still on the destination so onboard activities will get shuffled around. If there is a polar bear spotting, then lunch is put on pause. If you’ve booked a spa appointment and a pod of whales appears, no problem. Go out and have your spa appointment later.

Polar bears can be spotted from expedition ships built to sail within icy waters. Credit: Shutterstock

Environmental and cultural impact

Although smaller in scale, expedition cruises have faced criticism for polluting oceans. Is there anything you are doing to combat this?

Andy Harmer, CLIA: Look, it is in everyone’s interest to protect the destinations we are visiting. And if you start creating a list of everything cruise lines do in this area, we do a huge amount of work in protecting destinations and looking after the communities and wildlife. Cruise is very much leading the way – things like having the connectivity to plug into ports? They are already on most cruise ships; we’re just waiting for ports to catch up.

Carly Perkins, Seabourn: Because Venture is only a year old, we have the benefit of the latest technology. Venture runs on marine gas oil – she never has to drop anchor. We’ve also got a Sanishredder onboard which bakes all waste into little coffee grams and then is organic matter.

Sarah Schlederer, Quark Expeditions: Here at Quark, we also put an emphasis on the cultural sustainability of communities we visit in the Arctic. These communities are heavily dependent on tourism but, of course, we are bound by the weather.

Quark pays these communities regardless of whether or not the weather allows us to visit. There is so much cruise lines do that doesn’t get talked about.

Ocean Endeavour is Quark Expedition's largest ship, carrying 199 passengers. Credit: Quark Expeditions
Most recent articles

About Kaye Holland

Kaye is a London-based wordsmith who has written for a range of publications including The Times, The Independent, The I, Culture Trip, The Sun, and ABTA among others. In June 2022, Kaye joined the Real Response Media where she looks – together with Lucy Abbott – after the World of Cruising website. Want to get in touch? Kaye can be reached at: [email protected]