Exploration in Style – the Era of Luxury Expedition Cruises

The luxury expedition market is getting ready to welcome a large number of new vessels. Experienced expedition cruise lines such as Hurtigruten and Silversea are launching new ships alongside a host of new entries into the market from Swan Hellenic, Seabourn, and more.

Why are we seeing this rise in options for the luxury expedition market? For many niche or luxury brands it’s a case of keeping hold of their customer base. Once those with the time and money to take luxury cruise sailings have explored the Mediterranean, Caribbean, and other standard cruise destinations, the desire is there to explore the less-frequented areas of the globe. If a preferred cruise operator also holds a luxury expedition vessel in their fleet, the move to these itineraries is natural for the experienced cruiser.

Expedition operators are also forced by stricter regulations to ensure their vessels and itineraries are environmentally friendly. The Polar Code (or International Code for Ships Operating in Polar Waters), mandatory to follow under both SOLAS and MARPOL, addresses the unique risks present in polar waters in relation to both human safety and environmental preservation. Regulations include a ban on heavy fuel oil, no discharge of oil, sewage, or garbage, and ship construction guidelines. The future holds stricter regulations for ships around the world, to aid in reaching sustainability targets – so building ships that meet regulations such as the Polar Code ensures a longer design life as those ships will require less refurbishment when stronger regulation comes into play.

Silversea and Ponant introduced the first purpose-built luxury expedition ships in the late 2000s, opening a door of possibility for other operators to follow. Since then they have updated and grown their fleets, alongside other operators, with advancements in both technology and hospitality that allow for the best in luxury expedition. Advancements in technology in particular allow for never-before-sailed itineraries, particularly in the harder-to-access Polar regions.

We’ve taken a look at some of the most exciting new luxury expedition ships and what they have to offer below, with stunning images and computer renderings of new facilities and lodgings. I’ve written about new luxury expedition ships once before – almost exactly a year ago, where we covered Crystal Endeavour, Seabourn Venture, Viking Octanis and Polaris, and Silversea Silver Origin. Since then many lines, both experienced and new to the expedition game, have announced ships for the market – take a look below.


Quark Expeditions Ultramarine

Quark Expeditions are now taking bookings for the first sailings of Ultramarine, featuring itineraries such as a 7-day Spitsbergen Highlights trip, a 9-day Greenland Adventure, or a 17-day Northwest Passage journey. Designed with a sense of simple luxury throughout, Ultramarine’s focus is on immersing the cruiser in the best of polar exploration. Read more about Ultramarine in our article.

quark expeditions ultramarine luxury expedition vessel
Dining room on Quark Ultramarine

National Geographic Endurance/Resolution

Endurance launched in 2020, and is a purpose-built ice-class vessel. With a patented X-bow hull with ‘wave-slicing action’, Endurance provides a smoother ride and less spray on the observation decks, adding to the luxury of the cruise. Endurance offers itineraries such as a voyage to Iceland’s west coast, 24 days around Antarctica, South Georgia, and the Falklands, and a 20-day cruise on the shores of the High Arctic. Sister ship Resolution will launch in late 2021.


Victory Cruise Lines Ocean Victory

A new entry to the luxury expedition game, Victory Cruise Lines are known for small-ship cruising on the Great Lakes. Victory Cruise Lines says Ocean Victory is ‘built for exploration in earth’s most fragile places [… using] the cleanest available fuel, [offering] unique access to wilderness waters, and [providing] an unparalleled platform for discovery.’ Current bookable cruises include a 12/13-day Alaska Insider Vancouver to Sitka cruise, a Hidden Coast Vancouver to Seattle cruise, and a 17-day Pacific Paradise San Diego to San Jose cruise.

The Dining Room (L) and Outdoor Restaurant (R) on Ocean Victory

Atlas Ocean Voyages World Navigator

World Navigator will launch in 2021, holding 200 guests for her inaugural itineraries in the Mediterranean, Holy Land, and Black Sea. The U.S brand of Portuguese holdings company MysticInvest (who also own Mystic Cruises, another line in the luxury expedition market), Atlas Ocean Voyages aims to create a new luxe-adventure travel brand providing superior, inclusive, small-ship cruises to bucket-list destinations.


Swan Hellenic SH Minerva

Described by Swan Hellenic as a ‘5 star elegant Scandi-design boutique ship’, SH Minerva will offer a luxury experience upon which to explore the polar regions. SH Minerva offers a wide range of itineraries, from a 16-day Solar Eclipse South America and Antarctic Peninsula voyage, to an exploration of the Pacific Islands of New Caledonia, Vanuata, and the Solomon Islands. Read more about the design of the cabins on Minerva in our article.

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A cabin on SH Minerva

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