Expedition Cruises Fleet Comparison
What are the differences between Crystal Endeavor, Lindblad, Ponant, Seabourn Quest, Scenic Eclipse & Silversea Expeditions?
In our expedition cruises fleet comparison, we seek to differentiate between the growing number of ships cruising to remote regions, that is, the expedition cruise ships.
Expedition ships are always much smaller than the average modern cruise vessel. Most expedition ships have a passenger capacity of less than 250. We’ll see later why size does matter.
The chart below details many of the features that you will find on expedition ships. Those features range from balcony accommodations to restaurants to submersibles for underwater exploration to helicopters that will allow you to soar above glaciers.
Perhaps in no other segment of the cruise industry is the old adage more applicable, “Luxury is in the eyes of the beholder.” For some expeditions cruisers, cabins with windows will suffice; others want balconies so that they can step out of their staterooms to breathe in the landscape. Some want haute cuisine, even in remote regions while others are fine with basic food. As for helicopters and submersibles, some care little for such equipment; to others, though, these may be important features that allow for more meaningful experiences on expedition cruises. Unarguably important is whether or not the vessel is ice-class rated, particularly for those ships operating in the Polar regions.
Then there are the intangibles, such as the expedition leaders that can make or break a trip. There’s a lot to consider when booking an expedition cruise. Study our chart below for starters, and keep returning to this page as we continue to update it. Also, sign up to receive our new newsletter to stay informed about expedition cruises. Exciting times are ahead for this segment of the cruise industry, and no one is more eager than we are to show you the way to exploring some of the most beautiful regions of our world.
Expedition Chart | Fleet Comparison
|Operator | Ships||Built/refurb||Pax||All Verandah Suites||Restaurants||Zodiacs||Submersible||Helicopter||Ice Class|
|NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC EXPLORER||1982/2008||148||2|
|NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ORION||2003||102||2|
|NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ENDEAVOUR II||2005||96||1|
|NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ISLANDER||1995||48||1|
|NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC QUEST||2017||100||1|
|NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SEA BIRD||1982||62||1|
|NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SEA LION||1982||62||1|
|°NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC VENTURE||2018||100||1|
|NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ENDURANCE||2020||126|
|°DUMONT D'URVILLE (ex LE KERGUELEN )||2019||180||2|
|PONANT 5 (Explorer Series)||2020||180||2|
|PONANT 6 (Explorer Series)||2021||180||2|
|°SCENIC ECLIPSE II||2020||200||10|
Expedition Company Overviews
The concept of a luxury expedition cruise used to be a thing of fantasy. Expedition cruises, historically, were serious voyages operated aboard serious ships. Ex-research vessels, former icebreakers and the like were pressed into service because of their technical abilities, particularly in the world’s polar regions, where rough weather and ever-shifting ice were a constant concern. They offered few creature comforts, with cabins that could politely be described as “spartan.”
That’s all changing. Between now and 2020, no fewer than half a dozen companies are building new expedition cruise ships with features unimagined even half a decade ago. Luxurious suites, multiple dining venues, submersibles and helicopters are all coming to a new series of expedition vessels designed to explore some of the most remote – and pristine – areas of the world.
While Crystal Cruises will launch its first true expedition vessel in 2020, the Crystal Endeavor, the company has operated expedition-style cruises on its 62-passenger yacht, the Crystal Esprit, and on Crystal Serenity, which has done two Northwest Passage crossings (in 2016 and 2017).
The 200-guest capacity Crystal Endeavor will offer extreme adventures by air, sea and land with a complete range of expedition equipment that includes two helicopters and two landing pads for flightseeing expeditions, as well as two, 7-person submarines, eight electric amphibious zodiacs, jet skis, wave runners, kayaks, fishing facilities, paddle boards, snorkeling and scuba equipment, recompression chamber, dive support tender and a multi-person ATV. See our stories featuring Crystal Endeavor.
In 1990, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises entered the world of luxury expedition cruising by adding the Bremen to its fleet, followed a couple of years later by adding the Hanseatic. Currently, two new, luxurious ships are under construction, the Hanseatic Nature (April 2019) and Hanseatic Inspiration (October 2019).
The new expedition ships – both of which feature an identical construction – will each accommodate up to 230 passengers (or up to 199 passengers on Antarctic expeditions). Alongside the highest ice class for passenger ships, they each boast three restaurants and an extensive wellness and fitness area. There is also a marina for water sports.
Hanseatic Nature will serve German-speaking markets while Hanseatic Inspiration will server German-speaking and international markets.
Hurtigruten was founded more than a century ago when the Norwegian government sought to develop a reliable maritime lifeline along the spectacular Norwegian Coast. Carrying cargo and passengers, Hurtigruten’s 12-day coastal cruise is billed – and arguably so – as “the world’s most beautiful voyage.”
With its experience of sailing in challenging seas, Hurtigruten began in 2002 to offer expedition cruises in Antarctica aboard Nordnorge, one of its coastal vessels. Based on Nordnorge’s success, Hurtigruten build a dedicated expedition ship, the Fram. In 2016, another “explorer” ship joined the fleet, the Spitsbergen. In 2018, Roald Amundsen, the first of two (or possibly four) new highly advanced expedition ships will enter service. They will be the first hybrid ships for the Polar Regions, running on electricity in sensitive areas. See our stories featuring Hurtigruten.
Lindblad is named after its Swedish founder, Lars-Eric Lindblad, arguably the pioneer of modern expedition cruising. In the 1960s, Lindblad chartered space on Chilean or Argentine navy ships to bring passengers to Antarctica. Fuelled by that success, he decided to build his own expedition vessel, the Lindblad Explorer, delivered in 1969. It was the world’s first modern expedition ship.
After Antarctica, Lindblad continued his pioneering role by bringing travellers to some of the most remote parts of the world, including Svalbard, Galápagos, Easter Island, the Amazon, and more. When Lars-Eric Lindblad passed away in 1994, his son Sven-Olof was operating a company called Special Expeditions, which eventually became Lindblad’s Special Expeditions then simply Lindblad Expeditions.
Probably no company has changed names no frequently than Lindblad. In 2004, Sven-Olof formed a commercial alliance with National Geographic, and today the company is known as Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic. Whew!
Fifty years later Lindblad Expeditions operates a fleet of a dozen intimately-scaled expedition ships worldwide. In 2018, Lindblad introduced an eighth ship to its fleet, the National Geographic Venture, carrying only 100 guests. See our stories featuring Lindblad Expeditions.
Based in The Netherlands, Oceanwide Expeditions is an offshoot of the former Arctic Centre of the University of Groningen, which conducted research on Dutch whaling in Spitsbergen. Tourism came as an after-thought as spare cabins not needed for scientists were sold to tourists.
Since 1996 Oceanwide Expeditions has offered polar expeditions on both sides of the globe, first with chartered Russian hydrographic research vessels. Today, the company has a fleet of two expedition vessels, the Ortelius and Plancius. The latter was a sturdy Dutch naval hydrographic vessel, rebuilt for expedition cruising. Cabins and onboard facilities can be compared with an inexpensive but good hotel. Service is high, and a lot of attention goes into delivering a high-quality, intense expedition experience.
Oceanwide has ordered a newbuild, the Hondius, expected in 2019.
Founded in 1988 by a group of maritime businessmen and merchant marine officers, Ponant started as a one-ship passion project. Now nearly three decades later, the company has built a solid reputation as an international, luxurious, small-ship, expedition and yachting cruise company, with a strong French identity.
Ponant operates four modern, elegant expedition yachts, and one three-mast sailing yacht. Next year will see the arrival of the first of four new yachts, named after famous French explorers. Le Lapérouse and Le Champlain will join the fleet in 2018, followed by Le Bougainville and Le Dumont-d’Urville in 2019. Guests will be able to enjoy new travel experiences, such as tropical expeditions.
Since 1991, Quark Expeditions has specialized in expedition cruising — often extreme — to the Arctic and Antarctica, on ships with ice-strengthened hulls or on icebreakers. Quark Expeditions’ first voyages were scuba diving trips in Indonesia in 1985. The company also operated in Murmansk, Russia, with the nuclear powered icebreaker Sovetskiy Soyuz.
Today the company operates a fleet of ten ships, none with a passenger capacity of more than 200. Unique are the two nuclear icebreakers 50 Years of Victor and the legendary Khlebnikov, which can go where few other ships can.
In August of 2019, Australian-based tour and river cruise line Scenic will debut its Scenic Eclipse, a 228-guest luxury expedition vessel that looks like a private yacht and carries nifty toys like a pair of helicopters and its own submarine. Not only is this Scenic’s first foray into ocean cruising, it’s also the company’s first luxury expedition product, which will blend the same level of inclusiveness currently found on the line’s luxury river cruises.
Scenic Eclipse will feature 10 onboard lounge and dining options. All beverages – including beer, wine and premium spirits – are provided on a complimentary basis, along with all gratuities, excursions ashore, Wi-Fi, and even onboard butler service that pampers guests with a favorable guest-to-staff ratio. Check out the video below and see our stories on Scenic Eclipse.
Seabourn currently has only one ship operating expeditions, Seabourn Quest. Retrofitted with Zodiacs in 2013 so that it could operate expeditions, Seabourn Quest carries up to 450 guests, making it among the largest vessels (capacity-wise) operating in Antarctica. Nonetheless, Seabourn performed quite well in rotating guests so that they would have time ashore on the White Continent. See In Video, Antarctica: Exploring The White Continent On Seabourn Quest
In July of 2018, Seabourn announced that it will build two new expedition vessels to enter service in 2021 and 2022. The 170 meter, 23,000 gross ton vessels will add new capacity for Seabourn in Antarctica, the Arctic, and other exotic destinations around the world while meeting PC6 Polar Class standards. Each will feature 132 oceanfront veranda suites, which will be home for up to 264 guests.
Silversea Cruises pioneered the concept of the luxury expedition cruise back in 2007 when it launched Silver Explorer. A decade later, the company operates four expedition ships Silver Discoverer, Silver Explorer, Silver Galapagos. and Silver Cloud. With the latter, the company took a unique approach when it converted the 296-guest ship into an ice-strengthened luxury expedition ship carrying 254 guests and a crew and Expedition Team of 223.
Though the company has made no official announcement, it’s clear that Viking intends to enter the expedition market. Viking has two ships on order with Norwegian shipbuilder Vard, a specialist in expedition and ice-class vessels. The vessels are scheduled to be delivered in 2021 and 2022, with options for two additional ships. Earlier in 2018, Vard delivered Ponant’s Le Lapérouse.