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Half a dozen top cruise lines are changing the face of luxury expedition cruising.

Once a niche for aspiring adventure seekers, the expedition cruise market is rapidly catching up with the mainstream trends of luxury and service. Technology is having a big impact. Submersibles, reliable wi-fi, stabilisers and new polar-class designs are putting wild destinations within comfortable reach. The increase in passenger capacity is also putting downward pressure on fares.

Scenic

The 30-year-old Australian cruise company caused a stir when it announced “the world’s first discovery yacht”, Scenic Eclipse, would hit the water in August 2018. Scenic’s ultra-luxury megayacht will carry 228 guests in 114 verandah suites, along with two helicopters and a seven-seat submarine. It will have specially designed stabilisers to improve comfort in rough seas. scenic.com.au

Crystal Cruises

Within months of Scenic announcing Eclipse, Crystal unveiled its plans for the “world’s largest megayacht”, Crystal Endeavor. It pips Eclipse by 15 metres, but will carry 28 fewer guests. It will be built to tough Polar Class 6 standards and will carry two seven-person submarines, two helicopters, jet skis and Zodiacs. crystalcruises.com

Lindblad Expeditions

This pioneering expedition cruise company has traditionally relied on more modest vessels to reach exceptional destinations, with arguably the best staff in the business. But it is now building two new 100-passenger ships, due to launch in the second half of 2017 and 2018. The line has also acquired the 96-passenger Via Australis, which is undergoing a $10 million refit and will be rechristened with a National Geographic name before replacing the stalwart National Geographic Endeavour in the Galapagos. au.expeditions.com

Hapag-Lloyd

With minimal fanfare, Hapag-Lloyd has continued to collect the top ratings from Berlitz for its older – but impeccably maintained, expedition vessels, Hanseatic and Bremen. Even so, the pendulum has swung and parent company, TUI Group, has embarked on a program to build two new five-star polar-class expedition ships
for delivery in 2019. The ships will be 138-metres long and carry up to 230 guests in 120 suites and cabins. hl-cruises.com

Hurtigruten

Another historic company moving with the fast-paced times is the Norwegian coastal shipping company Hurtigruten. The first two of possibly four new vessels are due for delivery in 2018 and 2019. These 140-metre, 530-passenger vessels will have ice-strengthened hulls and innovative Rolls-Royce hybrid technology to reduce emissions. hurtigruten.com

Ponant

The French luxury expedition line is introducing a new series of four yachts called the Ponant Explorers. The first two will be launched in 2018 and the next two in 2019. Le Lapérouse, Le Champlain, Le Bougainville and Le Kerguelen will be 131-metres long, carry 184 passengers and be built to a lighter ice class. en.ponant.com

And another…

A recent announcement by Croatian shipyard Brodosplit trumpets a contract for a 108-metre, 196-passenger polar expedition vessel. The client was not named, but delivery is slated for 2019.