Global adventures: six reasons to book an expedition cruise

Lesley Bellew explores the boom in expedition cruising and discovers six reasons why you should book the trip of a lifetime in 2023.

Read more

Passengers, still predominately over 50s, are often seeking to become citizen scientists, putting great value on educational activities and research – while learning alongside teams of experts in the fields of geology to marine biology, with environmental issues a cornerstone of studies.

Recently traditional cruise lines have been adding Polar-class vessels, with ice-breaking hulls, to their luxury offering, ready to compete against established and new adventure fleets.

More than two dozen expedition ships have launched in the last three years and there are many more set to come into service over the next few years.

Expedition cruise fares are of course higher than mainstream cruises but with so many ships coming to market there is room for healthy competition, which is good news if you’re looking to book your dream expedition cruise.

But it’s not just price that’s fuelling the popularity of expedition cruising. The following six factors are also making it very attractive to adventure-seeking travellers.

Scenic Eclipse is equipped with two state-of-the-art Airbus H130-T2 helicopters. Credit: Scenic Eclipse

1. Smaller ships
Expedition ships are far smaller than their ocean counterparts as the ecosystems of the destinations they travel can be very fragile. So you’ll find that the capacity for passengers on the ship you sail on will range from 100 to 400 guests with very high guest-to-crew ratios.

This means that not only will you get to enjoy the company of your fellow cruisers but you’ll also get to pick the brains of the onboard experts too. So if there’s a question (or 10) you’ve always wanted to ask about penguins or polar bears, now’s the time to do it!

2. Super sustainability
Saving the planet is on the top of everyone’s agenda these days so many expedition passengers are now choosing who to cruise with depending on their commitment to sustainable travel.

Typically, guests want to engage with nature, culture, science, and history at every destination while also wishing to mitigate their carbon footprint.

So which line will get your vote? Ponant was first out of the traps after the pandemic leading the way with its 270-guest ship Le Commandant Charcot, a hybrid electric vessel that runs on LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas). This PC2 Polar Class ship is also fitted with laboratories as a platform for observation, research, and analysis.

Meanwhile, Hurtigruten, one of the longest-established expedition fleets in the world, recently launched its first environmentally upgraded battery-hybrid powered ship, MS Richard With.

This is the first of seven ships in its Coastal Express fleet to be upgraded, and now features technology that will significantly reduce both CO2 and Nitrogen oxides emissions.

Find your ideal cruise

Search for the best expedition cruises

3. School at sea
Most expedition cruise lines offer extensive onboard enrichment programmes, such as collecting data to contribute to international scientific research organisations’ work from monitoring weather patterns to water sampling and logging wildlife sightings.

Viking launched their first two expedition ships Viking Octantis and Viking Polaris this year. Both ships feature an in-ship marina, The Hangar, where guests can board zodiacs inside the ship before launching down a slipway each ship has two yellow submarines which offer 270-degree views and can dive to a depth of 1,000 feet.

The line is also keen to make the most of the opportunity to offer guests the chance to learn about the environment while on board.

4. The adventure factor
One of the most alluring factors in expedition cruising is its ‘access all areas’ ability to get close to wildlife with the chance for cruise guests to explore exciting, challenging landscapes.

Apart from complimentary zodiac and kayaks, many expedition ships also provide those on board with the chance to try out a helicopter or submarine ride. But check the small print before you book as costs for these amazing aquatic toys can be around £500 per person per experience.

You’ll need the right gear for your expedition cruise too (especially if you’re taking a trip to the Poles) so look out for the lines which offer complimentary expedition clothing as part of your ticket price. The jackets are especially covetable and will be a great souvenir of your amazing voyage.

Octantis is Viking's first ship dedicated to adventure cruising. Credit: Viking

5. Life-changing experiences
Expedition cruises also offer you the chance to step away from your day-to-day life and witness wonders above and below the ocean which can prove to be a life-changing experience. After all, it’s not every day you get to stand close to Emperor penguins, see whales breach or see Polar bears in the wild.

You’ll also get a life-changing kick on expedition cruises to hotter regions including the Galapagos and the Amazon. So look out for Swan Hellenic’s three ships SH Minerva, SH Vega, SH Diana which offer cruises that focus on nature and biodiversity in destinations such as the Raja Ampat islands, Indonesia, and the West Coast of Africa plus G Adventures, Quark Expeditions and Aurora Expeditions, which all offer guests the chance to hike and snorkel in some of the most remote regions in the world.

The awe-inspiring and vibrant Galapagos Islands. Credit: Shutterstock

6. Luxurious ships
In the past, expedition cruise passengers often found themselves traveling on very basic ships but now lucky guests can choose to travel to the most remote destinations in the world in five-star style, enjoying butler service and delicious dining on beautifully designed and furnished expedition ships.

If you can afford it, you should book your bucket-list trip on one of the luxury lines including Silversea, Viking, Scenic Eclipse, or Seabourn.

Seabourn entered the expedition ship market in summer 2022 with their first purpose-built expedition ship Seabourn Venture, built to PC6 Polar Class. The ship combines Seabourn’s established luxury and comfort with a 26-strong expedition team of wilderness experts, scientists, historians, and naturalists while the ship’s marina houses Zodiacs, kayaks and two submarines.

Equally desirable is Scenic’s sleek yacht-like expedition ship Scenic Eclipse. Onboard its 228 guests, enjoy an almost 1:1 staff-to-guest ratio, butler service, and a 15-strong onboard discovery team. Flights, transfers, fine dining, premium drinks, and excursions are included except for helicopter rides which start from £550. And watch out for its sister ship Scenic Eclipse II, which launches in spring 2023.

New ship Silver Endeavour is also one to watch. Silversea bought 200-passenger Crystal Endeavor to strengthen its position in the ultra-luxury expedition cruise market and its maiden voyage to Antarctica in November cut out the Drake Passage by flying passengers to the ship at King George.

Of course, the upside is that their ship will be awash with creature comforts from spas, pools and saunas to the finest dining alongside cosy onboard viewing points.

Most recent articles