Travel writer Louise Goldsbury has sailed to remote locations around the world. Here she explains some of the extraordinary experiences on offer from expedition cruise lines in unspoilt destinations across the globe.
In the pursuit of ultimate travel experiences, expedition cruising has emerged as one of the smartest options. Sailing on spacious ships to remote regions, this cruise style was already ahead of the game. In these less populated destinations, travellers can enjoy an incredible array of outdoor adventures, unspoilt landscapes, abundant wildlife and rich cultures.
Expedition cruise lines are also environmentally conscious, leading the travel industry with eco-friendly initiatives. Ponant recently introduced Le Commandant Charcot, a polar vessel with hybrid-electric engines powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG), which significantly reduces emissions. The line is also developing a sailing ship that will use wind power via a 300m² sail.
In November 2022, Aurora Expeditions unveils Sylvia Earle, named after the renowned marine biologist and equipped with a Citizen Science Centre dedicated to education, conservation and sustainability. The carbon-neutral vessel’s streamlined design and high fuel efficiency consume less energy and reduce emissions.
In the same month, Silver Endeavour is set to join the Silversea fleet. Named in honour of Captain Cook’s Endeavour, it aims to capture a similar pioneering spirit on Antarctic and Arctic cruises. With an industry-leading Zodiac-to-guest ratio, the polar-class ship’s cutting-edge navigation technology includes a remote gimbal camera system, which can take high-quality images from 5km away.
This year, Seabourn debuted its first ultra-luxury expedition ship, Seabourn Venture (above), for a maiden season in the Arctic, Greenland, Iceland and the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Staffed by a 26-person expedition team, the ship has two submarines for exploring shipwrecks and natural wonders underwater, kayaks and Zodiacs, a bow lounge where guests can watch marine life while enjoying complimentary cocktails, and a discovery centre for history and cultural sessions.
Australian company Scenic is set to launch Scenic Eclipse II in early 2023, with a seven-seater submarine, helicopter, a 550sqm spa, new dining options, and suites with butler service. Itineraries will include the Mediterranean, Scotland, the Americas, the Caribbean, Antarctica and the Arctic. In 2024, the state-of-the-art ship will also visit Australia, Polynesia and Indonesia.
The most popular and picturesque polar and tropical destinations are located in hard-to-reach places that are best accessed by expedition ship. Here are a few highlights of the key regions.
This vast, frozen kingdom is unlike anywhere else on the planet. With no other humans in sight, the total isolation and serenity will transport you to another world. Ice-covered mountains, calving glaciers and pristine ocean dominate the scene, which is home to thousands of penguins, seals, whales and sea birds. Longer voyages extend to the Falkland Islands and South Georgia, the greener home of king penguins, where the wildlife is even more plentiful.
Kayaking brings you closer to the animals and the towering icebergs, but a guided Zodiac ride is just as fun. Skiing, snowboarding, camping, hiking, snorkelling and scuba diving are other possible activities with top adventure companies such as Aurora Expeditions. Quark Expeditions’ Ultramarine offers alpine heli-trekking using its helicopter, as well as landings on an exclusive polar site where no ships can navigate. Scenic Eclipse will also offer helicopter flights and submarine rides for an unparalleled viewing experience. For classic luxury, Silver Endeavour and Seabourn Venture are top picks.
The diverse and breathtaking landscape ranges from beautiful fjords, icebergs and glaciers to inland tundra and wetlands. Polar bears are the stars of the show, supported in summer by reindeer, moose, walrus, whales, seals and Arctic foxes. Meeting the locals, especially the indigenous Inuits, and learning how they live in the harsh conditions of these remote communities is another interesting highlight.
Experience the natural wonders of the Midnight Sun in summer or the Northern Lights in winter. Among the various Arctic cruises offered by Silversea, Seabourn, Ponant, Aurora and Quark Expeditions are sailings to the North Pole, Greenland, Spitsbergen in Norway, Churchill in Canada, and the Northwest Passage.
The ultimate outback odyssey is the Kimberley in Western Australia. Indigenous rock art, sandstone gorges, waterfalls (including the phenomenon of the Horizontal Falls) and the tidal spectacle of Montgomery Reef are the most memorable attractions. Spot crocodiles, sharks, turtles, rays, dugongs and exotic birdlife.
Local operators include APT, aboard the 99-passenger Caledonian Sky, and Coral Expeditions, which has an all-Australian crew on three modern ships. The most luxurious lines are Ponant, Silversea and Seabourn. New Zealand’s family-owned Heritage Expeditions will also operate its inaugural Kimberley cruises in 2023.
If swimming, snorkelling and diving are priorities, head to the South Pacific’s reefs and secluded beaches. Be welcomed by friendly locals, whose vibrant cultures are fascinating. Coral Expeditions’ itineraries include Raja Ampat and the Spice Islands, Japan and the Philippines, New Guinea and Micronesia, as well as Australia’s west coast, south coast, Arnhem Land and the Torres Strait islands. APT also offers Cape York and Great Barrier Reef cruises. Ponant and Scenic have upcoming expeditions in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, New Caledonia, Vanuatu and the Solomons, while Silversea will explore Melanesia, Micronesia, Polynesia and Easter Island. Heritage Expeditions has a Philippines and Indonesia cruise and a Grand Pacific Odyssey that island-hops from New Zealand to Japan.
Africa and the Indian Ocean
One of the hottest destinations for expeditions is East Africa's Indian Ocean islands such as the Seychelles, Madagascar and Tanzania. Check out the new programs offered by Coral Expeditions, Silversea and Ponant.