Polar Journeys: Sailings to the Ends of the Earth

Almost midway through 2023, traveler interest in luxury expedition cruising to the Arctic region or Antarctica is soaring. New-to-cruise guests and younger travelers are looking to expedition cruising for a vacation that’s different or more active, while high net-worth, experienced cruise travelers are seeking new options in more far-flung destinations. Many consumers are also ready to splurge, thanks to pent-up demand created during the pandemic.

Also stoking demand is the publicity surrounding new ships, many launching with eco-friendly design and technology to protect the world’s most remote, pristine places. So, here’s a look at travel to the ends of the Earth.    

Smoothing the Journey

One fact about polar itineraries is that simply reaching the ship embarkation point can be a long-haul, multi-day journey. To help smooth the Arctic region process, ultra-luxury Silversea Cruises, recently introduced new direct private charter flights for 28 Arctic and Greenland sailings in 2023 and 2024. So, guests sailing on select Silver Endeavour, Silver Wind and Silver Cloud voyages will benefit from a more seamless journey via London, New York, Montreal, and Oslo to some of the Arctic’s most remote destinations—such as Longyearbyen, Svalbard, Norway; Kangerlussuaq, Greenland; Pond Inlet, Baffin Island, Canada, and more.

Whether guests on those select sailings choose Silversea’s door-to-door inclusive fares or more basic, port-to-port offerings, they’ll fly to the Arctic on private charter flights. They’ll have enhanced service throughout—such as an enhanced inflight culinary offering, premium beverages and in-flight entertainment. When required by the itinerary, overnight luxury accommodations will be included as standard with both door-to-door or port-to-port fares. Once in the Arctic, guests will be transferred to their luxury vessel.

Silver Endeavour, the line’s newest ultra-luxury expedition ship, recently exited a major drydock revitalization. New spaces were added including two new classes of suites. Luxury Travel Advisor would opt for the two new 1,163-square-foot Master Suites, providing large living areas and 270-degree views from a 312-square-foot veranda. Starting on June 3, 2023, that expedition ship’s inaugural Arctic season will include nine cruises to such remote spots as Canada’s Pond Inlet as well as Cape York and Qaanaaq, Greenland.

Smoothing the Antarctica experience with a new “Fly and Cruise Expeditions” product is small-ship Atlas Ocean Voyages, which recently increased its fleet capacity by adding a third Explorer-class expedition yacht. The 198-passenger World Voyager, a sister to World Traveller and World Navigator, will begin its inaugural 2023-2024 Antarctica season following an October 2023 christening ceremony.

Silver Endeavour
Silver Endeavour's inaugural Arctic season will include nine cruises to such remote spots as Canada’s Pond Inlet as well as Cape York and Qaanaaq, Greenland. (Silversea)

Originally delivered in 2020, World Voyager has been sailing since its launch for Nicko Cruises, a German cruise line. Both Nicko and Atlas are owned by Mystic Invest Holding. Before beginning service for Atlas this fall, it will be refreshed. Interior design reflects Nordic chic with light ash wood tones and marble accents throughout accommodations and social spaces.

So, with three expedition yachts operating in Antarctica for the first time, Atlas will debut new “Fly and Cruise Expeditions” as an option for guests. These include air departures from Punta Arenas, Chile, replacing the ocean voyage crossing of the Drake Passage with direct charter flights to Chile’s Eduardo Frei Montalva air base on King George Island, Antarctica. With that option, Atlas will offer two new five-day roundtrip voyages from King George Island and four new one-way Drake expeditions of seven nights from King George Island or Ushuaia, Argentina.

The one-way expeditions include charter flights from Punta Arenas to King George Island and Buenos Aires to Ushuaia. Plus, guests will receive a complimentary pre-cruise hotel night on all expeditions and a post-cruise hotel night on all journeys that end in Punta Arenas. In addition to the “Fly and Cruise Expeditions,” Atlas will also offer a series of nine- to 11-night expeditions from Ushuaia.

Enhanced Connectivity

As consumer demand increases for expedition cruises, luxury lines that operate ships in polar regions are seeking ways to enhance their onboard Internet/Wi-Fi. Guests desire to stay connected with loved ones as they explore some of the most interesting and remote destinations in the world. In mid-May, Seabourn recently announced that its two 264-passenger expedition ships are now being equipped with next generation Wi-Fi connectivity with SpaceX’s Starlink, which offers upgraded Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite technology.

That can provide faster service, better connectivity and more reliable Wi-Fi wherever Starlink’s services are available. Seabourn Venture received the new Starlink technology during a mid-May 2023 voyage, just in time for the Arctic summer season. Between June and August 2023, Seabourn Venture will sail on a series of 14- and 15-day voyages to Greenland and Iceland, as well as a 23-day adventure through the Northwest Passage. The ship will then head down the West Coast of the Americas before reaching Antarctica, where it will sail between November 2023 and February 2024.

Next up to receive Starlink? That’s Seabourn Pursuit, which will offer the enhanced Wi-Fi connectivity after its launch this summer. Luxury Travel Advisor experienced Starlink last year on a Silver Endeavour’s Antarctica voyage and found it to be very good in terms of reliability and speed in that region.

Both Seabourn expedition vessels are PC6 polar class, so they’ll also both sail a robust portfolio of voyages to Antarctica in winter 2023-24 and 2024-25. Some Antarctica voyages will explore the Falkland Islands and rugged South Georgia, home to elephant and fur seals, a half million pairs of King Penguins, more than one million Macaroni Penguins, and many other bird species.

Luxury travelers can get out and explore via each vessel’s fleet of 24 Zodiacs and kayaks, as well as two custom-built submarines. But guests don’t have to leave the ship to see incredible polar landscapes, seascapes or wildlife. The two vessels sport nearly 30,000 square feet of deck space, as well as indoor/outdoor guest areas with 270-degree views. Plus, a mast-mounted 4K GSS Cineflex Camera can capture images of nature from up to five miles away, which in turn, are broadcast for guest viewing on monitors throughout the ship.

A wandering albatross couple seen nesting on Prion Island, South Georgia.
A wandering albatross couple seen nesting on Prion Island, South Georgia. Some of Seabourn’s Antarctica voyages will explore South Georgia.  (Getty Images)

Fleet Growth

Scenic Luxury Cruises and Tours’ second, new ultra-luxury Discovery Yacht, the 264-passenger Scenic Eclipse II, will sail the Mediterranean early this summer, before heading north to Norway for a series of Arctic expeditions in Scandinavia as well as Greenland, Iceland and Canada. Then the ship will sail to the Caribbean and southward, beginning Antarctica cruises (carrying fewer than 200 guests for the “White Continent” sailings) in winter 2023-2024.

With suites spanning 345 square feet to nearly 2,600 square feet, the new yacht is nearly identical to Scenic Eclipse. But guests will discover a few significant enhancements. One is the sumptuous 5,920-square-foot spa sanctuary. Its expanded SPA steam room offers aromatherapy, an integrated ice fountain, experience showers and a KLAFS custom salt therapy lounge with heated beds. In addition, an expanded infrared, ocean-view lounge includes color light therapy to energize and reinvigorate skin cells.

Luxury Travel Advisor is particularly eager to see the new Sky Deck with 270-degree views and a new Sky Bar with indoor and outdoor seating plus six private cabanas. Also new, a large, oval-shaped pool incorporates special jets allowing guests to swim “laps.” One chic touch? Italian design house Paola Lenti created the pool area’s lounge furniture. Also new is a Chef’s Garden @ Epicure, a culinary masterclass and presentation area; the executive chef’s team will prepare local dishes and share cooking techniques with guests. When it’s time to explore, Scenic Eclipse II’s guests will head out via Zodiacs, kayaks, two helicopters and an eight-passenger electric submersible.

Seeking an unusual Antarctic itinerary? Check out the 24-day “Mawson’s Antarctica: Along the East Coast,” journey by Scenic Eclipse II, departing December 15, 2024, from Milford Sound fjord on New Zealand’s South Island to Hobart, Tasmania. A highlight for guests is sure to be the visit to the Mawson’s Huts complex at Cape Denison, Commonwealth Bay, in the far eastern sector of the Australian Antarctic Territory. The buildings here were built and occupied by the Australasian Antarctic Expedition of 1911–14, led by geologist and explorer Dr. Douglas Mawson, a close friend of Sir Ernest Shackleton. This site is one of just six still surviving from the so-called “heroic era” of Antarctic exploration.

More Expedition Options

Leading the first civilian expedition to Antarctica in 1966, Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic continues to create robust "White Continent" options. In particular, Luxury Travel Advisor suggests checking out the upcoming 34-day “Epic Antarctica: From the Peninsula to the Ross Sea and Beyond” itinerary. That’s operated by two pampering, upscale ships, the 138-passenger National Geographic Endurance or National Geographic Resolution.

Not the typical Antarctica itinerary, those voyages will operate between Ushuaia, Argentina via Antarctica’s western coast to Dunedin, New Zealand. Look for two departures this coming winter season—westbound on December 29, 2023, and eastbound on January 29, 2024. Two more voyages will set sail in winter 2024-2025. A bonus for photography enthusiasts is that Nick Cobbing, a National Geographic photography expert, will sail with guests—providing photo tips and lecturing—on the December 20, 2024 westbound departure.

One plus along the route? The wildly beautiful subantarctic islands of New Zealand are a birder’s delight, with birds often outnumbering people by a million to one. Eleven percent of the world’s seabirds breed in these remote islands. On the Snares Islands, the closest subantarctic islands to South Island, more than 99 species of breeding birds have been recorded, including albatross, Antarctic terns, and Snares crested penguins.

Antarctica South Georgia
South Georgia is home to a half million pairs of King Penguins and more than one million Macaroni Penguins. (Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic)

Another reason for bird lovers to consider this itinerary is that the ships also call at remote Macquarie Island, a subantarctic island owned by Australia. Penguins rule here, as the isle is home to four different species including 850,000 endemic royal penguins, gentoo and southern rockhopper penguins. Also found on Macquarie are 100,000 pairs of king penguins, the world’s third largest colony.

Having recently formed a new partnership with The Explorers Club for onboard speakers and scientific research collaboration, small-ship expeditionary Ponant will offer 12 expeditions for 2024 through 2026 in Antarctica and the Arctic as well as in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Those will be operated by Ponant’s luxurious, state-of-the-art icebreaker, Le Commandant Charcot. Sailing with no more than 199 passengers in polar zones, that first luxury hybrid-electric polar exploration ship is powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG).

With the new partnership, scientists will be present on five out of those 12 polar expeditions to share their findings across the disciplines of glaciology, oceanography, and geology. In addition, the club will offer a speaker series on the Ponant ship. Established more than a century ago, The Explorers Club will also offer a speaker series aboard the ship. Such iconic explorers as Neil Armstrong, Edmund Hillary and Roald Amundsen were past members. Current members include Jane Goodall and Buzz Aldrin.

On July 10, 2024, Abercrombie & Kent will exclusively charter Le Commandant Charcot, for a journey northbound to 90 degrees north latitude—the geographic North Pole. Capacity will be limited to fewer than 200 passengers. Sailing with A&K’s expedition team, guests on this 18-day “North Pole Expedition Cruise: The Ultimate Frontier” itinerary will traverse the marginal ice zone, a far-flung Arctic realm of elusive blue rorqual and beluga whales.

After A&K’s guests overnight at the top of the world, the ship’s captain will seek out a nearby ice floe suitable for a gangway landing onto the ice’s surface. Guests will have a once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunity, and if they so desire, perhaps a polar plunge.

Starting October 29, 2023, Viking is offering a new 19-day “Antarctica & South Georgia Island” itinerary between Buenos Aires and Ushuaia, Argentina. Five separate departures of this itinerary will be offered in 2023, 2024 and 2025 by the 378-passenger Viking Octantis. Another new option is the 43-day “Antarctic Explorer and the Americas.” This grand voyage, departing February 20, 2024, from Buenos Aires to Fort Lauderdale, FL, will be operated by sister expedition ship, Viking Polaris.

Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ luxury expedition ship, the 230-passenger Hanseatic Inspiration, will sail an 18-day voyage, departing on September 9, 2023, which offers a unique combination of destinations. Sailing from Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, to Toronto, Canada, they’ll experience life in Greenland’s Arctic region, plus enjoy a different type of adventure in traveling through the Canadian locks along the St. Lawrence Seaway. This ship is the line’s “international” expedition vessel, attracting a diverse mix of guests from various countries, with English and German spoken as the official onboard languages.

This past March, Swan Hellenic Cruises took delivery of its newest, largest ship, the 192-passenger Diana. This elegantly designed PC-6 class polar ship offers dedicated expedition facilities and is outfitted with both large tender boats and expedition Zodiacs. Inside, guests will find elegant Scandi-design, 96 spacious staterooms and suites, most with private balconies, plus three dining venues—the Swan Restaurant, Club Lounge and Pool Bar & Grill.

In addition, Diana has a dedicated presentation and lecture theater overlooking the lounge, plus a state-of-the-art gym, spa, panoramic sauna, and swimming pool with poolside grill. The new ship is now cruising the Scandinavian fjords and operating a full Arctic season.

Aurora Expeditions’ 2024-2025 Antarctic program is packed with 25 voyages of nine to 23 days that visit the Antarctic Peninsula, Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the Chilean Fjords. Some of those for early 2025 are fly/sail or sail/fly combinations. Particularly noteworthy for Aurora is a new, 20-day “In Shackleton’s Footsteps” itinerary. Departing roundtrip from Ushuaia, Argentina, on March 16, 2025, Greg Mortimer will take guests on a journey that retraces the historic voyage of the Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship, Endurance.

Aurora guests will sail into the Weddell Sea to spend a day at Elephant Island. That’s the desolate outpost where Shackleton and his crew finally made landfall in small boats after drifting for months on ice floes (after the Endurance had been trapped and crushed in pack ice.) Subsequently, Shackleton and two crew members sailed 800 miles to South Georgia seeking help; they were successful and ultimately, the entire crew was rescued. So, Greg Mortimer will also sail across the Scotia Sea so guests can explore South Georgia for four days.

Another highlight is Aurora’s 13-day “Spirit of Antarctica” itinerary. In particular, we’d opt for the November 12, 2024, sailing, as that’s a dedicated photography-themed voyage. So, professional photographers will lecture, show guests their photography secrets, tips and tricks, plus lead off-ship explorations.

Many other expedition lines also offer new options for polar regions. For example, Hurtigruten Expeditions is expanding its 2023 Arctic Summer season with seven new adventures. Spanning 11 to 19 days, they’re designed to take guests closer to local people and communities, and deeper into the northern wilderness above the Arctic Circle.

Operated by the 570-passenger Maud, which was refurbished in 2021, the new itineraries will depart from either Dover, United Kingdom, or Reykjavik, Iceland, and will take guests to Greenland and Svalbard in Arctic Norway, plus the British Isles, the Faroe Islands and Iceland. With the addition of that vessel to the Arctic region for summer 2023, Hurtigruten Expeditions will have five different ships exploring the Arctic.

Silver Endeavour
Silver Endeavour recently exited a major drydock revitalization. Shown here is the Explorer Lounge. (Silversea )

Beyond Expedition

Not all ships sailing to polar destinations are expedition or polar-class ships. For example, Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ 696-passenger Seven Seas Mariner will sail a 168-day “Navigate the World (Away in Wonder),” a World Cruise sailing roundtrip from Miami on January 7, 2025. While top suites were sold out, at press time, Concierge Suites D and E were still showing availability. This extravaganza itinerary includes three days of enjoying Antarctica Peninsular views.

In addition, Viking has taken delivery of its new oceangoing 930-passenger Viking Saturn. During its inaugural season, the all-veranda ship is sailing two new Viking itineraries that touch the Arctic. One is the 15-day “Iceland & Norway’s Arctic Explorer” itinerary between Reykjavík and Bergen, Norway. The latter includes a call at Longyearbyen on Svalbard, a Norwegian island north of the Arctic Circle. While six shore trips are included in this itinerary, in Longyearbyen, we’d opt for the optional “RIB Safari to Fuglefjella” where cruisers can venture into Isfjorden’s waters and see nesting seabirds by the thousands.

The new Explora Journeys’ first vessel, Explora I, will sail a 15-night “Maiden Journey into Epic Fjords and the Arctic Circle” on July 17, 2023, from Southampton, U.K., to Copenhagen, Denmark. Among the calls are Zeebrugge, Belgium, as well as Geiranger, Trondheim, Molde, Leknes, Bronnoysund, Flam, Bergen and Stavanger, all in Norway, plus Skagen, Denmark.

What’s the polar connection? Leknes is on Vestvagoy, one of Norway’s six Lofoten Islands, which are north of the Arctic Circle.

Longyearbyen on Svalbard
A Viking itinerary between Reykjavík and Bergen, Norway includes a call at Longyearbyen (above) on Svalbard, a Norwegian island north of the Arctic Circle. (Getty Images)

The new ship is designed by Explora to foster an “Ocean State of Mind,” and has a high guest-to-space ratio. Explora I’s 461 luxurious oceanfront “Homes at Sea” will average 452 square feet and include many more spacious, sumptuous accommodations too. Onboard the ship, travelers will discover11 different culinary experiences, six restaurants and 12 bars and lounges.

Other cruise ships may not cross the Arctic Circle but come close as they sail to certain ports in Iceland or Greenland. Geographically, the Arctic Circle does cross Greenland, with ports both above and below that circle. Iceland’s mainland is just a few degrees south of the Arctic Circle, and the circle passes through that nation’s Grimsey Island, just 25 miles off Iceland’s northern coast.

The new Crystal Cruises’ newly revitalized, 740-passenger Crystal Serenity will sail a nine-night voyage roundtrip from Reykjavik, Iceland, on August 30, 2023, with multiple calls within Iceland and the Faroe Islands of Denmark. One call is at Akureyri, Iceland, just 62 miles south of the Arctic Circle.

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