TOP EXPEDITION AND LUXURY YACHT CRUISES

Discover the Exciting World of Active Edutainment

In this article you will find:

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Welcome to the World of Edutainment

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It’s a Changing Cruise World

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The New Active Cruise Traveler

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It’s All About Unique and Authentic Experiences

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Most Popular Expedition Destinations

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Best Expedition and Exploration Cruises Lines

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The Luxury Side of Expedition Cruises

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Life-Changing and Environmentally-Friendly Travel

Just how adventuresome are you when it comes to ocean travel and exploring relatively remote places? Are you the first one on the zodiac at 8am to shoot polar bears, penguins, and whales with your powerful telephoto lens? Do you like telling or listening to “war stories” about expedition experiences? Are many of your heroes explorers and adventure-seekers? Do you have renewed appreciation for nature, wildlife, and climate issues? Would you prefer an expedition experience from an older ship with small cabins and limited public areas or do you prefer spreading out in a high tech suite with a large balcony? Are you itching to join a helicopter adventure, follow underwater cameras and drones, interact with noted scientists, or dive hundreds of feet in a submarine to see an amazing underwater world? 

Perhaps you’re a “green traveler” intent of minimizing your environmental impact by booking a new hybrid electric cruise ship (check out Ponant’s and Hurtigruten’s revolutionary ships). Are your best travel memories and stories tied to life-changing expedition cruises to polar regions, tropical jungles, and other exotic locations?

Welcome to the old and new worlds of expedition cruising. This is a very different way of seeing the wonders of the world. Expedition cruises attract curious and adventuresome travelers who want to interact with the environment and hang out with cruise mates, scientists, and professionals who share their values. They relish participating in new and exciting outdoor experiences that are often unpredictable. Most important of all, they seek what Hurtigruten increasingly refers to as “edutainment” – education as entertainment (no more loud and flashy late night song and dance routines of large traditional cruise ships).

It’s a Changing Cruise World

With over 30 million people cruising each year, expedition cruising is a small (2%) but fast growing niche market of over 300,000 cruisers (expecting to grow to nearly 600,000 by 2027 when a total of 39 million people are expected to be cruising). Ironically, expedition cruise companies are leading the way with many technological advances for making cruise ships more environmentally-friendly and passengers healthier.

Welcome to the World of Edutainment

With over 30 million people cruising each year, expedition cruising is a small (2%) but fast growing niche market of over 300,000 cruisers (expecting to grow to nearly 600,000 by 2027 when a total of 39 million people are expected to be cruising). Ironically, expedition cruise companies are leading the way with many technological advances for making cruise ships more environmentally-friendly and passengers healthier.

The New Active Cruise Traveler

Within the past two decades, a new class of “active cruise traveler” has been attracted to smaller and more luxurious ships that explore unique destinations and organize unusual travel experiences. These cruisers want active adventures rather than passive leisure. Instead of heading to popular Caribbean sea-and-sand destinations, such as Puerto Rico, St. Maarten, and Barbados, where the young leisure, family, and party crowds congregate, these cruisers are more active, adventuresome, curious, bucket-list, adult/senior travelers. They want to explore exotic places less traveled, such as Antarctica, the Arctic, the Northwest Passage, Greenland, Northeast Passage (Arctic Russia), Galapagos, Amazon, Costa Rica, Panama, West Africa, Indonesia, Andaman Sea, Australia (Kimberley), Papua New Guinea, South Pacific (French Polynesia), Bering Sea, and ports that are only accessible by small ships. 

The luxury-end of expedition cruising includes all-suite, all-inclusive yachts of under 200 passengers. While many are equipped with kayaks, zodiacs, and underwater cameras and drones, helicopters, and a select few (Scenic Eclipse, Crystal Esprit, Seabourn Venture) also come with submarines – everything active cruise travelers could imagine to fulfill their adventuresome dreams at $1,000 to $5,000 per person per day! These ships appeal to the ultimate money-is-no-object travelers in search of new and exciting experiences.

So who are these major expedition and luxury yacht players? Where do they go, for how long, and for how much? What’s their cruising world like? What kinds of cruise stories do they tell?

Remember, these cruises are in a class of their own, catering to a well-heeled audience in search of exceptional and meaningful travel experiences minus the trappings normally associated with travel to popular and crowded cruise destinations. Many of these cruisers are part of the green revolution– ecotourists concerned with sustainability, protecting the environment, and seeing firsthand the negative impact of climate change, global warming, and plastic pollution on wildlife and the environment. Expedition cruise companies such as French-based Ponant and Norwegian-based Hurtigruten, which recently launched the first two hybrid hydroelectric ships, are leading the sustainability movement within the cruise industry in their quest for zero emissions and carbon neutral cruising. Expedition cruisers tend to accumulate some of the most interesting stories about the seas-less-traveled, the ports-less-visited, fascinating nature and wildlife, and the great crews and passengers they encounter. They have bragging rights about an often fascinating cruise world little known to other cruisers.

It’s All About Unique and Authentic Experiences

Most Popular Expedition Destinations

According to Expedition Cruise Specialists and several other expedition cruise experts, today’s most popular expedition destinations are:

  1. The Galapagos Islands
  2. Antarctica
  3. Alaska
  4. The Arctic (North Pole)
  5. Iceland/Greenland/Northern Lights
  6. Northwest Passage (Canada)
  7. Kimberley Coast (Australia)
  8. Papua New Guinea
  9. Indonesia Archipelago
  10. Kiribati’s Southern Line Islands

Other popular destinations include:

  1. The Amazon
  2. British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest
  3. Costa Rica and Panama
  4. Baja California/Sea of Cortez
  5. South Pacific (Australia, New Zealand, Melanesia, Micronesia)
  6. Russian Far East
  7. Canadian Arctic
  8. French Polynesia
  9. Patagonia
  10. Mekong River and Delta (Vietnam/Cambodia)

Best Expedition and Exploration Cruises Lines

Today’s best expedition and exploration cruises are offered by more than a dozen companies. For a quick overview of each company and an inside view of their operations, be sure to visit t heir video libraries, which appear on their websites and on their YouTube channels. Start with these 13:

  • Lindblad Expeditions/National Geographic. (11 ocean ships, 2 river boats). Operates in Costa Rica, Panama, Alaska, Amazon, Arctic, Antarctica, Russian Far East, Galapagos, Patagonia, Vietnam/Cambodia, Pacific Northwest, South Pacific/French Polynesia, and elsewhere. Be sure to visit Lindbald’s wonderful travel video library, which includes more than 250 videos on Lindbald expedition cruise experiences around the world.

  • UnCruise Adventures. (9 ships, 22-86 guests each). Operates in Alaska, Columbia & Snake Rivers, Pacific Northwest, Galapagos, Hawaiian Islands, Sea of Cortez, Costa Rica, and Panama. Check out their video library of expedition cruises on YouTube.

  • Quark Expeditions. (6 small expedition ships; 2 icebreakers, each carrying fewer than 200 passengers). A leader in polar adventures with major operations in Antarctica and the Arctic (North Pole). You can explore their operation by viewing their extensive video library, which is also available on their YouTube channel.

  • Hurtigruten. (15 small ships including 2 new hybrid-powered ships). Operates in Norway, Antarctica, Alaska, Greenland, Iceland, Northwest Passage, and elsewhere. U.S. operations headquartered in Seattle. Check out their extensive video library, which appears on their YouTube channel. For an overview of the world’s first hybrid cruise ship and Hurtigruten’s revolutionary new hydro-powered ships, see their ship video on sustainability

  • Aurora Expeditions. (2 ships, 138 passengers). Primarily operates in Antarctica, the Arctic, Costa Rica, Panama, Alaska, Australia, Greenland, Iceland, Patagonia, Russia, Kimberley, and Indonesia. View Aurora’s video library by visiting their YouTube channel.

  • Windstar Cruises. (Primarily a leisure cruise line with small ships, including some large motorized sailing ships, which also offers a few expedition cruises). Operates expedition cruises in Costa Rica, Panama, Tahiti, Indonesia, and Australia. While Windstar does not maintain a video library, you can find a few Windstar videos on YouTube.

  • Variety Cruises. (8 ships and 3 yachts). Covers Costa Rica, Panama, Middle East, Black Sea South Pacific, West Africa, Cape Verde, Seychelles, Red Sea, and more. Check out their video library on YouTube.

  • G Adventures. A budget expedition cruise and travel company especially popular with young travelers. Primarily operates in Antarctica, the Arctic, and Norway.  You can review their video library on YouTube but somewhat difficult to locate their cruise videos.
  • StarClippers. The tall sailing ship company with 3 large ships under sail and power. Primarily operates in Thailand, Indonesia, the Mediterranean, and the Caribbean. View their tall ship video on YouTube. You can search for several other Star Clippers videos on YouTube.
  • Adventure Canada. (2 ships, including a 3-masted motorsailer). Operates in the Arctic, Antarctica, Costa Rica, Panama, Greenland, Iceland, Pacific West, Canadian Coast. Includes a limited video library on YouTube.

  • Celebrity Cruises. (2 ships dedicated to Galapagos operations – Celebrity Xpedition and Celebrity Flora). Operates in all 7 continents, but only does expedition cruises to the Galapagos. Its 3,000 passenger/crew Celebrity Infinity does visit Antarctica three times a year during January and February. Several other large Celebrity ships visit Alaska. Be sure to check out Celebrity’s video of their pioneering Galapagos cruises and Alaskan cruises.
  • American Cruise Lines. (5 cruise ships mainly designed for rivers and coastal areas). Columbia and Snake River, Alaska, Puget Sound, Mississippi River, and elsewhere. Be sure to review ACL’s video library that features their unique cruises.

Being “best” in this category has little to do with luxury and comfort. “Best” is defined in other ways and relates to special experiences. In fact, many of these ships only use stationary docks when leaving or returning to their initial departure point. The rest of the cruise disembarkation/embarkation process is usually by inflatable boats (Zodiacs, skiffs). The best such expedition cruises have excellent reputations for their destinations, adventures, educational programs, safety records, food, and onboard specialists and professionals familiar with exploring challenging but interesting places.

The Luxury Side of Expedition Cruises

The traditional expedition ship is very functional, with small and utilitarian cabins, limited views, some bunkbeds, and lack comfort features. It’s an expensive form of roughing it on the water. In fact, many expedition cruisers have never cruised on the more luxury-oriented mainstream leisure cruise lines and thus few are aware of what they may be missing. 

While the luxury lines Hapag-Lloyd, Silversea, and Ponant have been in the expedition business for several years, within the last three years the number of luxury expedition cruises has increased dramatically with the entry of such esteemed lines as Crystal, Seabourn, Scenic, and Viking. These companies boast new state-of-the-art luxury yachts, including Scenic which is fully equipped with a helicopter and submarine that can explore 1,000 feet below the surface! From now on, expedition cruising will never be the same since these companies have significantly raised the luxury bar. 

The major cruise lines that specialize in luxury expedition cruises are:

  • Hapag-Lloyd Cruises. (3 Hanseatic expedition ships – Nature, Inspiration, Spirit). Antarctica, South and Central America, Pacific and South Seas, Russian Far East, Alaska, the Arctic, South Africa, and elsewhere. This German-owned and operated cruise line (parent — the huge Hapag-Lloyd international shipping company) is often ranked as the world’s #1 cruise line. Since Hapag-Lloyd Cruises (hl-cruises.com) does not maintain a video library, you’ll have to search for individual videos on YouTube, such as this informative video that reviews the year 2019.

  • Silversea Expeditions. (5 ships). Antarctica, Galapagos, and all 7 continents. Silversea Cruises maintains a nice video library on YouTube.

  • Ponant Expeditions. (12 yachts and expedition ships. New ships include an innovative multi-sensory underwater lounge and an electric hybrid polar expedition ship, Le Commandant Charcot). Antarctica, the Arctic, Alaska, Australia, New Zealand, Northwest Passage, and other areas. Ponant offers a limited number of videos on its website.

  • Abercrombie & Kent. (8 all-balcony, exclusively chartered mega-yachts). Antarctica, Arctic, Northwest Passage, Japan, Greece, Australia, and Italy. Check out the cruise videos on their website.

  • Crystal Expedition Cruises. (Crystal Endeavor, 2020; second ship in 2022). Alaska, Antarctica, Western Africa, Northeast Passage, Russian Far East, and Southeast Asia. Crystal offers several cruise videos on their website.

  • Seabourn. (Seabourn Ventura – 2021). Antarctica, Greenland, and South America. Includes two submarines on its expedition cruises. Check out their videos.

  • Scenic. (Scenic Eclipse “Discover Yacht” 2019, plus a second ship coming soon). Eclipse includes a helicopter, submarine, and kayaks). Antarctica, the Arctic, the Baltics & Fjords, Maritime Canada, and more. Check out this YouTube video for a tour of the Eclipse.

  • Viking Expeditions. (2 expedition ships launching in 2021 and 2022 — Viking Octantis & Viking Polaris). Antarctica, the Arctic, Great Lakes & Canada, and Galapagos. Check out this video that features Viking’s two new expedition ships.

Unlike the more traditional and less comfortable expedition ships, this new class of expedition ship boasts roughing it in grand style – every creature comfort you might think possible is wrapped into state-of-the-art high tech yachts.

At the same time, a few luxury cruise lines are also focusing on the leisure cruise market along with the expedition market. They offer luxury yacht cruises to several locations in the Caribbean, Mediterranean, and Northern Europe. A new one – Atlas Ocean Voyages – plans to venture into Antarctica’s increasingly crowded expedition waters:

  • Atlas Ocean Voyages. Building and launching 5 new luxury yachts for 2021-2023. In 2019 Mystic Cruises rebranded itself as Atlas Ocean Voyages. Will focus on the Mediterranean, Holy Land, South America, Transatlantic, Black Sea, and Antarctica markets. For an overview of its first ship for 2021 – World Navigator – go to this video.

  • Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection. Launching 3 custom-built yachts for 2021-2022. Will focus on the Caribbean, Mediterranean, and Northern European markets. See a video of their ships.

  • Emerald Azzurra. New (2020) 100-passenger super yacht built by one of Europe’s leading river cruise companies (Emerald Cruises). Will primarily cruise Eastern and Western Mediterranean, Adriatic Coast, and the Red Sea. See this video of the super yacht.

  • Vantage Deluxe World Travel Ocean Odyssey. Two luxury ships (Ocean Explorer and Ocean Odyssey) explore Bali, Montenegro, Croatia, U.S. Great Lakes, Colombia, Southeast Asia, Arabian Peninsula, Antarctica, Arctic, Amazon, Brazil, and more. See Vantage videos.

Life-Changing and Environmentally-Friendly Travel

Whatever your interest in cruising, be sure to include the new world of expedition cruising on your travel planning and cruising radar. The thousands of people who take these types of cruises each year have achieved what many travelers desperately seek – travel with a purpose. Their purpose is to engage in meaningful and life-changing adventures that become important life stories. Their focus is on conserving the environment and preserving nature, wildlife, and natural resources. In many respects, expedition cruises are transforming the traditional cruise industry, which has a bad reputation for leaving nasty carbon footprints (most still use toxic heavy fuel oil – the dirtiest of all) – from plastic and water pollution to air and noise pollution. It’s about time!