Gone are the days of uncomfortable Russian icebreaker ships and bunk beds in wardrobe-sized cabins. Expedition cruises have become an important part of the industry with major advancements in ship technology to allow cruisers not just to explore in style, but also take part in important scientific research.

Lines like Hurtigruten, Ponant, Scenic Ocean, Viking Cruises, Celebrity Cruises, Silversea and Seabourn have ventured into this space, offering not only luxurious surrounds, but the opportunity for guests to visit far-off destinations and remote regions.

Without traditional cruise ports, expedition cruise ships need to be self-sufficient and capable of long-range cruising and should be environmentally friendly. They are designed to sail through ice-laden waters but have a draft shallow enough to glide over coral reefs without damage. 

These ships are small, designed to tick off bucket-list trips for the most seasoned cruisers, or for first-timers who are looking to reach regions such as Antarctica, the Kimberley or the Northeast Passage.

Bear in mind, expedition cruising is not for everyone. The weather can be unpredictable and rough. You will be travelling in some of the most remote destinations in the world so be prepared for the unexpected. 

There is no guarantee that you’ll see pods of whales and gentoo penguins, or the Northern Lights. Everything is dependent on Mother Nature.

Don’t expect to see waterslides and Broadway theatres – ships have been fitted with science labs and hangers filled with submersibles and landing pads with helicopters. 

These types of cruises are educational and informational and, in lieu of a cruise director and staff, expedition ships are led by an expedition team with a staff of naturalists and science-oriented guest lecturers. They will speak on a range of subjects including the culture, history, geology, biology, ecology or anthropology of the destination. 

On Hurtigruten’s Expedition ships such as the Roald Amundsen, there are laboratories on board where guests are encouraged to partake in scientific research. Programs include surveying the Antarctic Peninsula and looking at how seabirds use different habitats in the area. 

Hurtigruten’s Roald Amundsen in Paradise Bay

Ponant’s Le Commandant Charcot has an expedition team of 19-23 experts that includes biologists, naturalists, engineers, glaciologists and geologists. The expedition team will provide key insights to help guests get the most out of encounters with fauna flora and local populations in regions such as the Arctic and Antarctica. But what else is astounding about Le Commandant Charcot is its mission to give guests an insight into the profession of a scientific researcher. Guests have the opportunity to take part in citizen science workshops. The ship is a PC2 polar-class vessel, designed to take cruises well inside the polar circles and deep into the middle of the ice.

Silversea, Seabourn and Celebrity Cruises also have expedition vessels, with Celebrity offering Galapagos explorations. Like Hurtigruten and Ponant, there is a dedicated team of researchers who use the line’s Celebrity Flora as a base for gathering information. 

Celebrity Cruises in the Galapagos
Celebrity Cruises in the Galapagos

On modern-day premium to luxury expedition ships, guests will find all the amenities, spacious suites and fantastic cuisine. Lines such as Viking have translated the high quality of service from their ocean-going vessels to their expedition ships. The Scandinavian-style vessels have the eatery Mamsen’s which features Nordic recipes from the mother of the line’s founder and owner, Torsten Hagen.

The Scenic Eclipse and Eclipse II are both designed to provide the optimal luxury experience. Each suite comes with a butler, so after a day of exploring the ice, you can luxuriate as your attendant fetches your favourite cocktail and helps clean down your expedition gear.

HOT TIP: There are lots of different destinations and ships. Make sure you do your research on the experience you want. It’s important to note that there is also a great array of warm adventure itineraries, such as a cruise down the Amazon River or the nature-rich coastline of Baja California.