What next for expedition cruising?

More cruisers than ever are looking for the adventure of a lifetime - and with new lines, ships and destinations appearing almost daily, the market is changing fast. So what’s over the horizon? Dave Monk pulls on his snow boots to find out...

1. Longer voyages

Why visit one pole when you can sail to both? That’s the aim of three Hurtigruten Expeditions voyages in August.

MS Roald Amundsen will sail from Vancouver via the Northwest Passage to Antarctica over 94 days; Fridtjof Nansen will take 93 days to journey from Iceland, while Fram will take 66 days, starting from Montreal. Meanwhile, Viking will be sailing the opposite way, with three grand voyages lasting between 65 and 71 days from Antarctica to the Great Lakes.

Coral Expeditions is also setting off on circumnavigations, including a 35-night New Guinea voyage, while operators such as AE Expeditions and Poseidon are taking guests on two-week in-depth explorations of Svalbard, land of polar bears.

2. Extra convenience

Once, reaching Antarctica meant enduring a long and infamously rough sea crossing via the Drake Passage.

But now Antarctica21 – the original fly-cruise experts – are being joined by Silversea, AE Expeditions and Quark in offering direct flights to the White Continent.

Silversea is also seeing an increased interest in all-inclusive, door-to-door services, whereby guests are chauffeured from their home to London Stansted for a direct flight to Narsarsuaq, Greenland.

Also, exploring remote areas doesn’t have to mean you’re out of touch with the wider world. To help you send those jaw-dropping pictures home, Hurtigruten Expeditions has installed the Starlink broadband service across its entire fleet.

3. Bigger choice, smaller ships

While there are some sizeable vessels now heading for the poles, those who prefer small ships have plenty of options too. Newcomer Secret Atlas offers ‘micro cruises’ with just 12 guests to Svalbard, as well as small-ship voyages in the Arctic and Antarctica.

The largest in the fleet, the 48-passenger Polar Pioneer, is setting off on two Antarctic photography cruises in 2024.

Established operator UnCruise has a fleet of ships ranging from 22 to 86 passengers, while Galapagos-bound cruisers can opt for G Adventures’ 16-guest Reina Silvia Voyager or the former Crystal Esprit, which has found a new life as Lindblad’s 48-guest National Geographic Islander II.

Explore the landscape of Greenland and you may get a chance to spot some wildlife. Credit: Shutterstock

4. New destinations

Traditionally, expedition cruises have concentrated on Arctic Norway, Antarctica, the Galapagos and the Amazon.

But Greenland is increasingly featuring as a destination, with Quark offering a 12-day in-depth exploration in 2024. Silversea is also seeing strong demand for its Greenland and Canadian Arctic cruises, and AE Expeditions is going to Greenland’s northernmost tip in August – the same month in which Seabourn Venture begins a 23-day journey through the Northwest Passage.

Australian operator Coral is offering island-hopping trips in the Indian Ocean, as well as voyages to the Philippines and Japan.

Scenic has also added a Japan season this year, while Swan Hellenic guests can look forward to exploring northern Australia’s wild Kimberley coast, seeing surfing hippos in Gabon and encountering lowland gorillas in the Republic of the Congo.

Seabourn has released details of some exciting new expedition voyages for summer 2024 and winter/spring 2025 on its two new purpose-built expedition vessels, Seabourn Venture and Seabourn Pursuit.

Both ships will explore remote corners of the globe, from the South Pacific and Antarctica to the Arctic, Greenland, Iceland and more. The programme also includes Australia’s stunning Kimberley region, where Seabourn Pursuit will travel between June and August 2024.

5. Authentic experiences

It’s one thing to admire scenery and wildlife from the comfort of a ship, but cruisers are now looking for closer engagement with the destinations they visit.

The expedition lines have been quick to respond, and Ponant is pioneering a three-day ‘Polar Raid’ where guests ski across east Greenland, pulling sleds packed with supplies.

Alternatively, Quark Ultramarine uses its helicopters to drop guests ashore for hiking, mountain biking and experiencing Inuit food and culture, while Hurtigruten Expeditions’ customers can camp in Antarctica.

Silversea offers activities ranging from polar bear and whale-watching to immersion in local communities.

Not to be outdone, AE Expeditions offers snowshoeing, skiing, snorkelling, scuba diving, camping on ice and even a three-day trek across South Georgia, that remote outcrop some 800 miles southeast of the Falkland Islands.

6. More sustainability

Expedition cruisers tend to be highly aware of environmental issues, and Polar Routes founder Martin Johnson says: ‘Sustainability is definitely forming part of the conversation we’re having with clients when they’re choosing their cruise line.’

Hurtigruten Expeditions is a pioneer of greener cruising, with new ships Roald Amundsen and Fridtjof Nansen using hybrid power and energy-saving solutions such as taking engine heat to warm the infinity pool.

Elsewhere in the industry, the X-bow ships used by Albatros, AE Expeditions and Lindblad increase fuel efficiency, while Coral Expeditions is testing electric motors on its tenders and Zodiacs, and Viking has received the highest certification for quiet propulsion, minimising underwater noise pollution.

Ponant’s Le Commandant Charcot can already sail silently in sensitive areas using battery power, and the line has announced its aim to build an emission-free ship by 2025.

Scenic Eclipse II is Scenic’s newest ‘Discovery Yacht’ features two battery-powered subs on board. Credit: Scenic

7. A younger crowd

The time and expense involved in sailing to the ends of the earth used to mean that expedition cruising was dominated by the over-55s. But Polar Routes’ Martin Johnson sees the pattern rapidly changing. ‘Our customers are getting younger,’ he says. ‘Over 30 per cent of the clients we book on Antarctic cruises are aged 25 to 40. There’s no doubt that the much bigger variety of prices and ship types has attracted a younger audience.’

Record numbers of passengers are booking, too, with Lindblad Expeditions recently reporting its most successful sales day since 1979. ‘Adventure travel is proving to be the break-out travel trend of the decade,’ says the line’s chief commercial officer, Noah Brodsky.

8. Science at sea

Expedition ships aren’t just about the joys of travel to distant destinations. Increasingly, they are also contributing to important research.

This year, Lindblad Expeditions is hosting 23 visiting scientists on visits to Antarctica aboard its ships National Geographic Endurance and National Geographic Resolution, where the researchers will be studying subjects such as whales, penguins, kelp, algae and microplastic pollution.

Coral Expeditions’ guests get to help survey the Great Barrier Reef, while Ponant, Albatros, Swan Hellenic, Hurtigruten Expeditions and Polar Latitudes are among other lines allowing their guests to interact with onboard researchers.

9. James Bond-style gadgets

As well as onboard helicopters, today’s expedition ships come equipped with more and better submarines.

Scenic Eclipse II will take to the seas this year with a submersible able to carry up to eight people to depths of 650ft.

Seabourn Venture and Seabourn Pursuit have two battery-powered subs on board, each with a Bluetooth stereo system, leather upholstery and a champagne cooler (very 007).

Viking’s expedition vessels are built with an in-ship hangar to launch Zodiacs while keeping passengers sheltered from the elements, and Silver Endeavour has a camera system that can capture high- quality images at a range of three miles.

Viking's the Penthouse Junior suite is a sophisticated option. Credit: Viking

10. Luxury all the way

Expedition ships are no longer the sturdy, functional vessels of old. Now they’re more like beefed-up superyachts, with some – such as Seabourn Pursuit and Silver Endeavour – offering all-suite accommodation.

Swan Hellenic’s cabins have sophisticated espresso machines and faux fireplaces, while every stateroom on Viking’s expedition ships comes with a ‘Nordic Balcony’ – a sunroom that turns into an alfresco viewing platform.

Wellness areas are expanding too. Albatros Expeditions’ Ocean Albatros offers a panoramic sauna, while Scenic Eclipse II has a Vitality Pool with water jets to simulate the experience of swimming laps, plus a spa with steam room, salt therapy lounge, and even an ice fountain.

Any visiting penguin should feel immediately at home.

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