5 Best Expedition Cruise Lines

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Expedition cruising is cruising for adventurers. Seeking out remote regions of the world, crossing passages only accessed by ship, and learning of endemic wildlife, flora and fauna are all part of expedition cruise experiences.

More cruise lines are offering their own spin on this cruising option, from luxurious ships to rugged and ready vessels, each bringing you closer to the destinations themselves.

Antarctic expedition cruise

But which expedition cruise should you choose? Here are some of the best expedition cruise companies to pick from if you’re considering one of these bucket-list adventures for yourself.

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1. Silversea

One of the first cruise lines to offer expedition cruising, Silversea has been in this industry for well over 10 years. Silversea brings a wide range of destinations for expedition travel as well as one of the biggest fleets of expedition ships to choose from.

Silversea is constantly working to expand the fleet and bring new ships to guests, including Silver Origin which first launched in 2020 for the Galapagos Islands, and Silver Endeavour, a ship bought from Crystal Cruises.

The cruise line is one of the best due to its luxury standard of life on-board as well as the experiential inclusions and amenities. Expedition guides, Zodiac tours, kayaks, personalized exploration gear – these are all parts of what you can come to expect while sailing on an expedition cruise with the line.

Silversea expidition cruise

Silversea Expedition Ships

There are four ships to choose an expedition cruise with Silversea: Silver Endeavour, Silver Origin, Silver Wind and Silver Cloud. Silver Cloud and Silver Wind are long-standing ships in the Silversea fleet, and there was a fifth ship – Silver Explorer – that left the fleet in November 2023.

Silver Endeavour is the latest ship, which joined in 2022 and is designed for polar exploration. The ship has space for 220 guests, with a 207 crew capacity. Silver Wind and Silver Cloud are both classic ocean cruise ships converted into ice-class vessels, allowing them to sail in polar regions. Silver Cloud can hold 254 guests with a 212 crew capacity, while Silver Wind can hold 274 guests with a crew capacity of 239. Silver Origin is the smallest ship in the fleet – she can host just 100 guests and 90 crew.

Silversea lounge deck

Silversea Destinations

Silversea has one of the widest ranges of expedition destinations. The most popular choice is the polar regions including the Arctic, Antarctica, Iceland and Greenland.

To sail here, the ships need to be refurbished or built to an ice-class specification which allows them to handle extreme conditions and weather. Ships that sail here include Silver Cloud, Silver Wind and Silver Endeavour.

Other destinations include exotic regions such as Africa and the South Pacific, as well as the tropical regions of the Caribbean and Australia. South America is another popular region due to the Galapagos Islands and Chilean Fjords which feature on many itineraries.

If you’re interested in luxury expedition cruises, Silversea is one of the best choices.

Silversea polar expedition

2. Scenic Ocean

Scenic Ocean is one of the more recent cruise lines to offer expedition cruises. The flagship, Scenic Eclipse, was dubbed the ‘world’s first discovery yacht’ by the cruise line when it launched in 2020. Bringing with it submarines, helicopters and butler service, it’s definitely a luxurious option for expedition travelers.

The cruise line prides itself on offering an all-inclusive experience while sailing with them, with world-class dining, incredibly comfortable suites and exclusive excursions to knit together the perfect expedition adventure to numerous destinations.

Scenic Ocean Cruise

Scenic Ocean Ships

Currently, there are two expedition cruise ships in the Scenic Ocean fleet – Scenic Eclipse I and Scenic Eclipse II. Both ships are identical, offering a guest capacity of 228, reducing to 200 guests in the Polar regions.

The ships are built to a Polar Class 6 rating, allowing smooth sailing through all waters, alongside GPS dynamic positioning which allows the ships to drop anchor without damaging the sensitive sea beds.

Scenic Eclipse lounge area

Scenic Ocean Destinations

Scenic Ocean offers a breadth of destinations to sail to. These include the usual Polar regions and South America, as well as North and Central America, Europe, Siberia & Russian Arctic, and Japan.

Antarctica brings the Chilean Fjords and the historical Falkland Islands, while Japan boasts visits to South Korea, Busan and Tokyo.

Scenic Eclipse helicopter - helicopter deck

3. Seabourn

Seabourn Expeditions is proud to be curated by ‘Mother Nature’, encouraging guests to become active participants in the natural world during their ultra-luxury expeditions.

With elements of these sailings including Zodiac tours under cliffs and along jungle rivers; kayaking through icebergs and tropical islands, as well as hiking through ancient Incan sites and Amazon villages – you can see that the natural world has a great influence on the itineraries Seabourn offers for expedition guests.

The cruise line offers an ultra-luxury level of service, accommodation, dining and more. Complimentary caviar, luxuriously appointed suites and all-inclusive amenities are just some of the things to look forward to during your sailing.

Zodiac boat in front of a glacier in Greenland

Seabourn Ships

There are two ships in the expedition fleet for Seabourn: Seabourn Venture and Seabourn Pursuit. Previously, Seabourn had other ships that offered expedition-type itineraries, but the cruise line has recently launched its own purpose-built expedition ships for the first time that solely concentrate on expedition experiences.

Seabourn Venture launched in April 2022 and was the first expedition ship for the line, holding up to 264 guests with all-veranda, ocean-front suites. Seabourn Pursuit is the second-in-line for expedition sailings, launching in 2023, and she is a mirror of the expedition flagship.

Seabourn Venture ship

Seabourn Destinations

Seabourn expeditions’ destinations are well varied, with over 160 expedition ports across five continents. The cruise line explores some of the most remote places in the world including Antarctica, the Amazon and the Arctic.

There are also trips to South America, voyages across the Northwest Passage – a sea corridor close to the Arctic – and the Far East and the Kuril Islands, featuring Japan, Alaska and parts of Russia.

Penguins jumping in the water

4. Quark

Having spent three decades taking travellers to the most remote parts of the Polar Regions, Quark is one of the most experienced expedition cruise lines.

Since launching in 1991 with the first tourist transit of the Northeast Passage, the cruise line has developed as an industry leader in Arctic and Antarctic expedition sailings. They’re certainly one of the best options for polar expedition cruises.

Guests can expect helicopters, wraparound decks and Zodiac transport, all the while bringing them closer to some of the most remote parts of the world. The fleet is built up of purpose-built ships and icebreakers which are designed to withstand freezing temperatures and icebergs, ideal for the Polar Regions.

Polar bears

Quark Ships

Quark has the largest and most diverse fleet of ships in the Antarctic and was the first consumer led expedition company to visit the North Pole. The cruise line has five ships in its fleet, four of which offer expeditions: Ultramarine, Ocean Adventurer and World Explorer.

Ultramarine is one of the newer additions, joining in November 2021, and can fit up to 140 guests and crew on-board. Ocean Adventurer joined the fleet in 2017 for up to 87 guests and staff, while World Explorer joined in the fleet in 2019 to fit up to 130 staff and guests.

Quark Antarctic expedition
Photo: Gary Bembridge, CC-by-2.0

Quark Destinations

The cruise line was founded by two adventurers and has since grown into an expert polar specialist. The innovations of the company have led Quark to achieve a number of firsts for the industry for polar explorations.

Quark charters an extensive portfolio of expeditions to Antarctica, Svalbard, Iceland, Greenland, Arctic Canada, Russia and the North Pole, accompanied by seasoned expedition experts and guides.

Svalbard
Svalbard

5. Ponant

Another upscale expedition line, Ponant is a luxury expedition specialist. Offering a fully five-star setting with a travel experience that is authentic and high-end, the cruise line is a great option for those seeking indulgent expedition cruises.

The fleet is small-scale, meaning there are opportunities to dock in private ports and hidden locations. Guest capacity is much smaller, so life on board is comparative to that of a private yacht, where everyone can enjoy special moments.

Penguins-Antarctica Expedition

Ponant Ships

There’s only one ship in the Ponant fleet which is an expedition vessel and it only joined in 2021. Le Commandant Charcot is the line’s first hybrid-electric polar exploration ship powered by liquefied natural gas. It’s an icebreaking cruise ship rated as a Polar Class 2, meaning it is capable of reaching remote destinations across the Polar Regions, including the North Pole.

The ship can fit up to 245 guests with a choice of 123 staterooms or suites. There’s a spa, two restaurants, theatre and a blue lagoon pool on the top deck.

Le Commandant Charcot ship

Ponant Destinations

The expedition ship in the Ponant fleet, Le Commandant Charcot, sails to the Polar Regions. Itineraries feature the Arctic, Antarctica and Alaska, sailing from Spitsbergen, Reykjavik, Ushuaia and other remote locations.

Due to its popularity, there are many more cruise lines to offer expeditions, but all of them will take you off the beaten track to remote locations across the globe.

A great tip is to choose the one that visits the destinations you’d most like to explore and go from there. Main destinations of choice include the Galapagos, Antarctica, South America and the Arctic.

Fur seals at Punta Carola beach, Galapagos islands Ecuador
Galapagos

Book Your Expedition Cruise

I recommend Panache Cruises as the ideal expert to help you book your perfect expedition cruise.

  • Panache Cruises are specialists in expedition cruises
  • Their expert Cruise Connoisseurs will tailor your trip to your exact requirements
  • I love their motto – “Nothing is too much trouble”

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Cruise Mummy

Jenni Fielding is the founder of Cruise Mummy. She has worked in the cruise industry since 2015 and has taken over 30 cruises. Now, she helps over 1 million people per month to plan their perfect cruise holidays.

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1 thought on “5 Best Expedition Cruise Lines”

  1. Thank you. A very well formulated review and full of useful insights. Enjoyable read too

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