Expedition cruising has come a long way since the days of embarking on spartan Russian ships for arduous explorations of the world’s most far-flung regions. Although that type of hardcore travel is still very popular, the scope and style of expedition cruising has expanded to include luxury “soft-adventure” cruising.
Today there are several lines that specialise in the best luxury adventure cruises, offering voyages in small ships to all points around the globe – particularly to destinations that aren’t accessible to larger, mass-market ships. While ships vary in terms of creature comforts, all soft-adventure cruises focus on discovering remote places in the company of like-minded fellow travelers and specialist expedition teams.
Onboard expedition leaders and guest lecturers add another dimension to this style of cruising. Experts in fields such as marine biology, geography, ornithology, ecology and history take groups of passengers ashore (often in Zodiacs) and back on the ship they present recaps of the day’s adventures and briefings for the next day. Expedition cruises don’t necessarily follow strict schedules; if the captain spots a pod of whales, he might sail off course so passengers get a closer view, or if conditions in a planned Antarctica stop are rough, he will divert to a safer haven.
French company Ponant has four nearly identical, new luxuriously appointed expedition ships – the latest, Le Lyrial, launched in May this year. They accommodate between 224 and 264 passengers in balcony cabins, boast stylish, contemporary interiors and are built to ice-class certification standards for navigating polar and sub-polar regions. One of the highlights of a Ponant cruise is the mix of formal and casual dining, with a range of French and international dishes on the menu.
Ponant sails virtually everywhere you can imagine, from cold-climate regions such as Alaska, the Arctic and Baltic Sea to tropical Africa, Latin America, the Mediterranean and Caribbean. Antarctic voyages are in big demand and in the 2015-16 season all four ships will operate a variety of itineraries there. The volcanic Kamchatka Peninsula in Eastern Russia is another hotspot that’s high on adventure-cruisers’ wish lists, while closer to home, Ponant offers luxury expedition cruises in French Polynesia, Melanesia and the Pacific.
Silversea Expeditions is part of the Italian-owned ultra-luxury Silversea line. It has three ships in its fleet: the 132-passenger Silver Explorer, 120-passenger Silver Discoverer and 100-passenger Silver Galapagos. Life on board is exceedingly comfortable – all-inclusive fares cover world-class wining and dining, butler service and beautifully appointed ocean-view suites.
As you’d expect from its name, Silver Galapagos operates seven-day adventure cruises year-round in the Galapagos archipelago, the world’s second-biggest marine reserve. Kayaking, snorkeling and hiking trips are led by local naturalist guides who know everything about the terrain and its famously unafraid wildlife.
Silver Discoverer and Silver Explorer offer luxury expeditions in all corners of the globe. There’s a strong emphasis on immersing yourself in the cultures you visit, whether you’re exploring the rainforests of South America, sailing to remote islands in South-East Asia or learning about Australia’s indigenous people in the Kimberley.
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