Expedition Central: Far-Flung Destinations and Upscale Perks

New expedition ships are introducing global adventures that seem right out of an Ian Fleming novel rather than a vacation brochure. Travelers will soon sip their favorite martini (à la James Bond) in an underwater lounge watching marine life. They’ll descend into the ocean by submarine to get close to sharks, fish, sea turtles and whales. Or, they’ll take helicopter flights above stunningly gorgeous — often totally inaccessible — landscapes.

Simply put, the expedition cruising “seascape” is awash with changes. It’s more luxurious, more adventurous, more culinary-focused and more eco-friendly than in the past. Itineraries are also expanding, and travel to even more remote places, such as the geographic North Pole, are now a possibility.  

Ultra-Luxury Plus an Expedition Bent  

While Crystal Cruises hadn’t yet announced (at press time) its 2020 itineraries for its first expedition ship, the 200-passenger Crystal Endeavor, luxury travelers are salivating. At 19,800-GRT, this new polar-class vessel will have robust luxury amenities, spacious public areas and large suites, yet will sail to off-the-beaten-path places the line’s classic ships can’t. Named after Captain James Cook’s research ship HMS Endeavour, the new ship’s PC6 ice rating will enable it to traverse icy waters and the vessel’s offshore dynamic positioning capabilities will help ensure comfort and safety.

All 100 elegant suites will have private verandas and butler service. Other creature comforts? Each suite will have king-sized beds, walk-in closets, heated storage for drying parkas, spa-like bathrooms with adjustable heated floors, dual vanities, anti-fog mirrors and rain-showerheads, and such techno-amenities as interactive streaming TVs and bedside iPads.

For the ultimate in luxury and space, two Crystal Penthouse Suites will range from 985 square feet to 1,130 square feet. The larger of the two will have a two-bedroom layout, while the other one-bedroom plan connects to an adjacent Deluxe Suite through an adjoining entry. Both Crystal Penthouse Suites offer dining areas and butler’s prep space for in-suite dining from any of the ship’s fine-dining restaurants. Penthouse Suites and 90 additional Deluxe Suites, spanning 304 square feet, offer separated sleeping and sitting areas, plus desk vanity areas. 

Crystal Endeavor will offer 100 suites. Shown above is the living room of a Penthouse Suite.

Crystal has a very loyal past guest group, and thus Crystal Endeavor will offer restaurants and public spaces that veteran cruisers expect, plus new spaces designed for the expedition product. Specialty restaurants will include Prego for traditional Italian fare and hosting Crystal’s signature “Vintage Room” winemaker dinners; and Umi Uma, serving signature sushi and specialties from Master Chef Nobu Matsuhisa. Other restaurants include Waterside, the main dining venue; the Asian-inspired Silk Kitchen & Bar, located in the two-story solarium during the evening; and Bistro Café, offering full-service breakfast and lunch along with espresso and teas.  

With floor-to-ceiling windows, the elegant Palm Court will host afternoon tea, cocktails and dancing, as well as evening entertainment, enrichment lectures and classes. Crystal Endeavor will also have a Connoisseur Club cigar lounge, Crystal Cove (another gathering spot for guest lectures, pre-dinner cocktails and late-night entertainment) and a casino. Other public spaces will include the Captain’s Lounge, the Expedition Lounge, the Helicopter Lounge and the Library. Stretching from Crystal Cove to Waterside, the Promenade will be an intimate space for cocktails, conversation and views. Shoppers can check out designer creations and fine jewelry at Apropos and Facets.

Active travelers who don’t want to give up their daily exercise or wellness regimen can use the fitness center and book services at the Crystal Life Spa & Crystal Life Salon; it will offer three treatment rooms, separate men’s and women’s steam and sauna facilities, a relaxation room and full-service salon services. For guests desiring to swim, even in cooler polar regions, Crystal Endeavor’s two-story solarium pool deck will be enclosed under a glass-domed roof.

Among Crystal Endeavor’s “toys” for exploring? We’d head underwater in either of the two seven-person submarines that can dive deep below the ocean surface. Two helicopters will also be carried onboard for flights over inaccessible eco-sites or gorgeous places when viewed from a bird’s- eye perch. Other options include zodiacs, jet skis, kayaks and more; a mud rooms will allow guests to prepare for adventure ashore. Yes, the line will clean guests’ boots and equipment when they return. 

Underwater Gazing & the North Pole 

Fast-paced fleet expansion is underway at Ponant, the luxury French-flagged expedition line, which will have a 12-ship fleet by 2021. Highly anticipated is this month’s launch of the 184-passenger expedition ship, Le Laperouse, the first of six new Explorer-class expedition vessels. To follow are sister ships Le Champlain (late 2018), Le Bougainville and Le Dumont d’Urville (both in 2019) and the recently ordered Le Surville and Le Bellot (both in 2020). 

Each luxurious vessel will offer 92 staterooms and suites, plus warm, contemporary interior design by Jean-Philippe Nuel; he’s also incorporated destination-related and ethnic touches. Suites will range from 296 square feet to 484 square feet with bay windows and lounge areas opening to the outside. Designed for polar exploration and exotic travel, Le Laperouse has a reinforced hull, ice class rating and will comply with Bureau Veritas’ international CLEANSHIP label, which should appeal to luxury travelers passionate about the ecology. 

That said, the ultimate “wow factor” will likely be the “Blue Eye,” a multi-sensorial underwater lounge that James Bond would love. Travelers can order their favorite cocktail and gaze at the seabed through two massive underwater portholes shaped akin to a cetacean (whale, dolphin or porpoise) eye. Architect Jacques Rougerie’s strong passion for the sea is expected to show through in his design that will invoke cetacean and jellyfish imagery. In addition, through bionic and biomimetic concepts, the lounge will enable guests not simply to view, but also to hear and “feel” what’s beneath the sea: Guests can relax on “listening” sofas for a sensory experience.

Mural décor will disappear to make way for integrated digital screens, which will show images being filmed “live” by three underwater cameras. Guests might see schools of colorful fish or dolphins playing in the waves at the ship’s bow. Underwater, the line will use non-intrusive lighting and hydrophones integrated into the keel to retransmit deep-sea sounds. 

We’d opt for the most spacious accommodations on the Explorer-class vessels, which are the Owner’s Suite, No. 621 on Deck 6 and the Grand Deluxe Suites, Nos. 534, 535 and 620, on Decks 5 and 6. With slightly less square footage but plenty of luxury amenities are the Prestige Suites on the same decks.

Le Laperouse has several adventures in Southeast Asia and the South Pacific. On January 5, 2019, for example, the new expedition ship sails from Singapore to Bali for a nine-night “Expedition to Borneo and Beyond” voyage. Calls include Indonesia’s Tembelan Islands, Tanjung Puting National Park (on Borneo), famed for its orangutans, as well as Tanjung Wangi (on Java), Badas, Sumbawa and Mojo. Two days are spent at Komodo Island, Indonesia, with calls at both Pink Beach and Loh Liang and an opportunity to see huge Komodo dragons in the wild. 

Another Le Laperouse itinerary, the 17-night “Macquarie and the New Zealand Subantarctic Islands,” sails roundtrip from Dunedin, New Zealand on February 23, 2019. Collectively, the islands are a UNESCO World Heritage site and guests might spot albatrosses, elephant seals, fur seals and penguins; more than half the world’s penguin species reside in these isles. 

And just when you thought that expedition ships couldn’t travel to any more remote spots, Ponant is building the world’s first luxury icebreaker for 2021 delivery. The line believes this ship can actually go to the geographical North Pole (not just in the general Arctic vicinity) and will sail in such regions as northeastern Greenland or Antarctica too. It features a reinforced polar class hull (PC2), an extremely high ice rating that certifies year-round operation in moderate, multi-year ice conditions. The ship’s hybrid electric propulsion is powered by eco-friendly liquified natural gas (LNG).

Adventurous guests can stay in 135 upscale cabins and suites with a balcony; 68 of those will have patio doors and a private balcony. Public spaces include two panoramic restaurants, a grill restaurant and a spa and wellness center. When it’s time to explore, 16 Zodiacs and two helicopters will await.

Prego, a specialty restaurant on Crystal Endeavor will serve Italian fare.

Discovery Yachting Expeditions

On August 31, Scenic Eclipse, Scenic’s first luxury oceangoing expedition ship, or “Discovery Yacht,” will begin service. It’s the first of two 228-passenger (200-passenger in polar regions) oceangoing vessels ordered. With a guest-to-crew ratio of nearly one-to-one, it’s safe to say that guests will sail in the lap of luxury. Luxurious suites will range from 345 square feet to 2,659 square feet and all will have private verandas and butler service. 

Travelers can choose from 10 dining options, including Asian fusion, French fine dining and poolside buffet fare. Up for a relaxing massage or facial? The ship’s 5,920-square-foot spa will offer a range of treatments; plus, Scenic Eclipse will have a fitness center, separate yoga and Pilates studios, and indoor and outdoor plunge pools. Lectures and entertainment will unfold in a 240-seat theater.

Just announced, Scenic has hired onboard veteran wildlife biologist Kara Weller, an experienced expedition leader and naturalist lecturer for the Arctic/Antarctica, to lead the ship’s 16-person onboard Discovery Team. Her team comprises a marine biologist, glaciologist, historian, ornithologist and geologist, as well as a fisheries and underwater expert, dedicated kayaking guides and Zodiac drivers. They’ll organize Zodiac and kayak excursions, guide onshore explorations and host lectures. 

As for Scenic Eclipse’s hardware, it has a Polar Class 6 (Ice Class 1A Super) ice rating and innovative zero-speed stabilizer fins. Translation? They’re 50 percent larger than the norm, so guests should benefit from greater stability for a smoother ride. Given the planned remote routes, there also are redundancies in propulsion, navigation, safety systems and food refrigeration. 

The vessel’s inaugural season begins in the Mediterranean, then heads transatlantic. It does two Cuba cruises from Miami, then heads to South America and on to Antarctica for the winter season. For the 2019 season, Scenic Eclipse will sail to such regions as Antarctica, the Mediterranean, Norwegian Fjords and Atlantic Arctic, and it will have several 2019 cruises to the Canadian Maritimes and the U.S. East Coast. 

A 10-day East Coast itinerary departs New York City on September 29, 2019 and heads south to Baltimore, Norfolk, Wilmington (NC) and Charleston before ending in the Bahamas. Guests interested in doing the entire coast can start earlier on September 20 in Halifax, Canada and see additional New England and Canadian ports. In addition, the vessel will return to Cuba, the Caribbean and South America’s coastline.

A sister ship will launch in 2020, and then the expedition line-up will expand. Among the highlights planned are Northwest Passage and Russia’s White Sea itineraries.  

Ponant’s Explorer-class expedition vessels will have 92 staterooms and suites, plus interior design by Jean-Philippe Nuel. // Photo courtesy of Ponant/Sterling Design International

More Journeys to Adventure

Launching this month is Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic’s new 100-passenger National Geographic Venture. Founded by the legendary adventure pioneer, Lars Eric Lindblad, the line has, in recent years, further honed its adventure pedigree via a National Geographic partnership. The new ship is a sister to the National Geographic Quest, launched last year. Nearly half of staterooms have step-out balconies. Have a family or group? The new ship also has six sets of connecting cabins and all Category 5 staterooms can accommodate a third guest. 

Upcoming voyages will focus on Pacific regional voyages such as Baja California, the Sea of Cortes, Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. With a shallow draft, National Geographic Venture can navigate to places many other ships can’t reach. Twin expedition craft landing platforms allow the line to rapidly take passengers on and off the ship for wildlife sightings. One feature we particularly like is the redesign of the ship’s bow so multiple rows of guests can have unobstructed views of wildlife and marine life.   

Guests will explore via Zodiacs, stand-up paddleboards and 24 kayaks. They’ll also head out hiking so the ship has a designated mudroom. We envision that the Sun Deck bar will likely be the spot for post-expedition story sharing (or tall tales). Techno-features include a remotely operated vehicle (ROV), video microscope, electronic charts, hydrophone and underwater ship cams for hearing and filming humpback whales and seeing bow-riding dolphins 

Another polar trailblazer is Quark Expeditions, which launches the new, 176-passenger World Explorer later this year. Seaview accommodations either have a full exterior balcony or Juliet-style balconies. The most spacious are the Owner’s Suites, Nos. 519, 521, 607 and 609. We can’t wait to see the glass-domed Observation Lounge. While the ship will offer Zodiac rides, hiking and, on some cruises, snowshoeing, guests can also set up mountaineering, sea kayaking and even cross-country skiing (early in the Antarctic season), possibly accompanied by the sounds of penguins.

Highly anticipated is Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ new Hanseatic Inspiration, a luxury expedition ship with a PC6 ice rating. It will serve international guests so English and German will be the prime onboard languages. On October 14, 2019, it will sail a 15-day maiden voyage from Antwerp, Belgium to Tenerife, Canary Islands, with calls at Honfleur, France; Guernsey, Channel Islands; and destinations on the Iberian Peninsula, in Morocco and in Madeira.   

One stand-out feature? It’s the retractable glass balconies on the Sun Deck, which should give guests the feeling of hovering directly above the water. Cruisers can learn more about the destinations they’re visiting at the ship’s Ocean Academy. Dining choices will include a 178-seat main restaurant; a bistro restaurant with a bit more seating, both indoors and al fresco, plus a barbecue and a show kitchen; and a specialty restaurant that will feature dishes reflecting Japanese and Peruvian influences. 

The ship’s staterooms and suites range from Panoramic Cabins at 226 square feet to the Grand Suite at 764 square feet. All accommodations are outside, and most have a private balcony or French balcony to get as close to nature as possible.

Also eagerly awaited for eco-buffs is the 100-passenger Celebrity Flora, a new build for Celebrity Cruises’ Galapagos expedition fleet. Debuting May 26, 2019, this all-suite, energy-efficient ship will operate year-round from Baltra. The Marina will accommodate up to three Zodiacs, thus reducing guests’ transport time to and from land, and through anchorless technology, it will maintain its position yet protect the sea floor. 

Celebrity Flora’s all-suite accommodations will have personal suite attendants, oversized bathrooms and either full balconies or Infinite Verandas, in which the outside glass window drops down halfway to form an interior balcony. Two Penthouse Suites will offer up to 1,268 square feet of space with separate indoor and outdoor living areas, customizable lighting and shades, and a telescope. 

For 360-degree island views, the open-air Vista is a hideaway with cocoon-style loungers and private cabanas. Guests can unwind in the Sunset Lounge; stargaze from an open-air platform; or cozy up with a book or take in the views at the Observatory, a library with floor-to-ceiling windows. Guests can dine at the Seaside Restaurant; enjoy the casual Ocean Grill for panoramic views and “dinner under the stars;” or order room service.  

And the list goes on for 2019 expedition ship launches; among them: Oceanwide Expeditions’ new Hondius, Coral Expeditions’ new Coral Adventurer, Aurora ExpeditionsGreg Mortimer and Hurtigruten’s Roald Amundsen. More new expedition vessels will likely follow as ever-experienced cruisers and luxury travelers with a passion for adventure seek new eco- and active options in ever-more far-flung destinations. 

Scenic Eclipse’s Owner’s Penthouse Suite has a terrace with sun loungers and a Jacuzzi.

10 Years and Counting

It’s a special birthday month for Silversea Expeditions, which is celebrating 10 years of ultra-luxury sailing to the ends of the Earth. Highlights of the line’s decade-long journey include the initial 2008 voyages to Norway’s Svalbard Archipelago and Antarctica; new voyages in 2012 to the Russian Arctic and Africa’s west coast; the acquisition of Silver Galapagos and Silver Discoverer; and Silver Explorer’s successful Northwest Passage navigation in 2014. 

Perhaps the biggest step, though, was last year’s conversion of Silver Cloud from a Silversea Cruises’ classic fleet vessel into an ice-strengthened expedition ship. It became the expedition line’s visible flagship and allowed it to add such new destinations as the Philippines, where guests can visit rice terraces, explore ashore by jeep or snorkel with whale sharks. 

What’s ahead? Starting in August and into 2019, Silversea Expeditions will operate seven special “Explorer’s Collection” voyages on Silver Cloud, Silver Explorer and Silver Discoverer. They’ll follow famous historical expedition routes such as those of Sir Ernest Shackleton and Henry the Navigator. Silversea Cruises will operate an additional two Explorer’s Collection voyages on Silver Muse

What’s special? Besides hearing expert onboard lectures by historians, archaeologists and Royal Geographical Society VIP speakers, guests will peruse a collection of documentation from the iconic historical voyages, which are on loan from the society. Designated expeditionary voyages carry Zodiacs and an expedition team for close-up views and immersion into local culture, history, ornithology, marine biology and more. 

In addition, Silver Explorer will operate the line’s first 25-day “Northeast Passage” polar expedition to Greenland and the Arctic, sailing from Nome, AK, to Tromso, Norway on August 10, 2019. 

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