What's Small, Scrappy, and Super High End? The New Breed of Expedition Cruise Ships

·3 min read
Photo credit: THIERRY AMELLER
Photo credit: THIERRY AMELLER


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"We do 9-to-5 adventure," says Francesco Galli Zugaro, founder and CEO of boutique cruise line Aqua Expeditions. Indeed. On the Aqua Blu in Indonesia, I swam with giant black manta rays; on the Aqua Nera in the Peruvian Amazon, I ogled pods of pink dolphins and had close (really close) encounters with piranahs; and then returned at day's end to the mothership's cooly sophisticated suites, star-chef menus, massages, and hot tubs. Here are some of the new expedition ships we love—and the things you'll see. (Please note: Many of the examples below are from Antarctic sailings because Antarctica is new safari—the adventure everyone wants to have. But these cruise lines have varied and global expedition itineraries.)

From Aqua Expeditions:

Photo credit: Afsin Celik
Photo credit: Afsin Celik

The waved albatross lays a single egg yearly and breeds, from April through December, in the Galapagos , on Espanola island. See the goings on courtesy of the new Aqua Mare (its maiden voyage was this month). Will there be a stampede to get ashore? There will not. This superyacht of a ship has just seven suites and is serviced by two tenders. Other than time-traveling back to Darwin's days, there is no more intimate way to ponder the peculiarities of evolution.

From Scenic:

Photo credit: Courtesy of Scenic Eclipse.
Photo credit: Courtesy of Scenic Eclipse.

The Modernist mood of the 228-passenger Scenic Eclipse was inspired by Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen's superyacht Octopus ("Why can't we all sail like billionaires?") So were its amenities, which include eight restaurants, nine bars and lounges, suites up to 2,659 square feet, two helicopters, and an onboard submarine. All-weather gear abounds. On Antarctic sailings (you will see orcas!) stand-up paddleboarders can go forth amid ice floes, then toast the achievement at a whiskey bar with more than 100 selections.

From Seabourn:

Photo credit: Courtesy of Seabourn.
Photo credit: Courtesy of Seabourn.

King penguins are remarkable for their beauty and their vast breeding colonies on South Georgia Island—one of the stops on the December 2022 Antarctic sailing of the Seabourn Venture. Designed in "explorer" style by Adam Tihany, it launches this July with trips up north, followed by cruises around the Caribbean and Central and South America. On board: two submarines and a 26-memeber expedition crew with naturalists and a photo team to help you capture the memories.

From Silversea:

Photo credit: LUCA LOCATELLI
Photo credit: LUCA LOCATELLI

Yes, you'll have a butler on the Silver Cloud, and en suite dining—it's an expedition ship, but it's still Silversea! And if a polar plunge is on your bucket list (no, not watching a seal or penguin do it, but you, in a bathing suit, in Antarctic waters), Silversea will be at your service for that, too. They provide a safety harness and, once you're back on board, a heated bathrobe and glass of champagne. Bragging rights forever.

From Lindblad Expeditions:

Photo credit: Michael S. Nolan
Photo credit: Michael S. Nolan

Polar bear cubs emerge from their dens in April, when Arctic nature is at its most mesmerizing. But before the arrival of the pioneering Lindblad company's two new 61-cabin ships—National Geographic Endurance and Resolution, both the highest ice category—only researchers could witness these babies, and the early Arctic spring's "magic hours." The experience is sweetened on board by a large spa, camp-out glass igloos (with room service), and a science hub, where experts will answer questions."

T&C Tip:
For unbiased guidance on which ship to book, contact travel advisor Ashton Palmer, of Expedition Trips. Before specializing in all things expedition-cruising related, he was an expedition leader, guide, and naturalist. He has been to Antarctica more than 50 times, spent three months in the Amazon, and knows the ins and outs of every expedition ship and itinerary. ashton@expeditiontrips.com

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