A series of exciting new custom-built yachts is set to revolutionise the expedition cruising landscape, discovers Nick Walton.
The expeditionary cruise industry has never been as buoyant (if you’ll excuse the pun); once the realm of small, specialist companies who used existing ice breakers and ice-strengthened vessels, often leased or chartered from governments and research organisations, to reach the world’s farthest corners, expeditionary cruising offered adventure but at the cost of comfort. No longer. Today’s expeditionary cruiser is a little more discerning, leading to major cruise lines and specialists alike scrambling to build custom vessels to keep up with demand. While the lines are keeping many details under wraps until closer to launch time, here’s what to expect in the coming 24 months.
Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic
Lindblad is one of the oldest names in the expeditionary cruise industry. Founder Lars-Eric Lindblad and his son Sven Lindblad led tourists far from their comfort zones through the 1950s, 1960s and into the 1970s, when they created Special Expeditions to cater to an increasingly adventurous traveller, often with specialist vessels designed to battle the elements at the world’s most inhospitable reaches. So, it’s fitting that the company is the latest in a series of expeditionary cruise lines to develop new state-of-the-art vessels so that the spirit of adventure can continue.
The company, today known as Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic after a ground-breaking alliance with the acclaimed natural sciences magazine, launched the National Geographic Quest last July and will follow it with the National Geographic Venture in June this year. Both purpose-built vessels were designed and built in the US and cater to 100 guests across 50 cabins, 22 of which boast step-out balconies. Each will also boast remotely operated vehicles (ROV), hydrophones, underwater cameras, a fleet of 24 sea kayaks, and a complement of eight military-grade Mark V Zodiacs for shore excursions. Both vessels will ply the waters of Alaska and British Columbia, periodically passing through the Panama Canal to reach Costa Rica, Panama and Belize.
In addition, Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic is presently developing an as-yet-named polar vessel; catering to 138 passengers, and with a price tag north of US$134 million, it’s hoped the ship will launch as soon as November 2019 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the company’s first purpose-built expedition ship, Lindblad Explorer. The sleek new vessel is being built by Norwegian firm UIstein and will feature innovative sustainability technology, cutting-edge zero speed stabilisation, an ice-rated hull, and an eye-catching X-Bow design, making it ideal for exploring the polar regions so popular with Lindblad cruisers.
Another cruise company with a rich heritage of adventure, Hurtigruten has its origins as Norway’s vital mail boat fleet. However, the company has evolved with the times, increasingly taking adventurous cruisers to Antarctica and the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, home of the polar bear. The company will launch its newest purpose-built vessel, the MS Roald Amundsen, later this year. The state-of-the-art vessel will combine eco-friendly sustainability technology with reduced fuel consumption and ground-breaking hybrid propulsion. The first of two hybrid ships planned by the line, the MS Roald Amundsen will represent a 20 percent reduction in emissions on current vessels.
However, the MS Roald Amundsen is more than just green credentials; dressed in natural Scandinavian materials, from naked oak and birch to fine wool and granite, the ship features spacious lounges, elegant suites, some with private jacuzzis; a fleet of specialised explorer boats for shore visits and coastal cruising; and an advanced Activity Centre, which doubles as a lecture theatre, photo lab, and interactive exhibition space. You’ll also dine well, with three onboard restaurants including Nordic fine dining eatery Lindstrøm.
Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises
A new entry to the expedition cruise scene, luxury cruise line Crystal Cruises will launch Crystal Endeavor, the ‘world’s first purpose-built polar-class megayacht’ and the first of three new vessels under its sub-brand Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises, in 2019. The 25,000-ton, 183-metre long megayacht will be among the first purpose-built Polar Code compliant yachts in the world, and with its PC6 Polar Class designation will offer cruises deep into the Arctic and Antarctic for just 200 guests across 100 suites, including two Owners Suites, at 290sqm a piece.
The Crystal Endeavor will also be fitted with state-of-the-art offshore dynamic positioning technology, with computer-controlled systems to automatically maintain the ship's position with its own propellers and thrusters, enabling the megayacht to float atop coral reefs and other underwater wonders without utilising anchors. The ship will boast a complete range of ‘toys’, including two helicopters, two seven-passenger submarines, eight electric amphibious zodiacs, jet skis, wave runners, kayaks, SEABOB underwater scooters, and a fully-equipped scuba diving school. Look out for Palm Court, with its 270-degree panoramic views; the ship’s six restaurants and bars; as well as the 929sqm combined spa and conservatory space.
Another new player in the adventure cruising market is Scenic, which already plies the world’s major waterways as a river cruising specialist. Dubbed the ‘world’s first discovery yacht’, the Scenic Eclipse also follows the ultra-luxury megayacht model and will feature Ice Class 1A Super and Polar Class 6 ratings when it launches in August of this year.
Designed by Finnish marine architects Foreship and catering to 228 guests (restricted to 200 on polar cruises), Scenic Eclipse will have a cruising speed of 17 knots and a length of 165.7-metres. A marriage of sleek design and expedition credentials, the new vessel will boast spacious veranda suites (including 14 specialist wellness suites), the largest of which has an area of more than 232sqm; a mud room for easy zodiac boarding; a theatre; boutique; excursion centre; library; and a choice of restaurants, including a pan-Asian eatery and a steakhouse.
After a day exploring remote locales by ship’s helicopter, a fleet of six-seater submarines, or by zodiac, head to the 465sqm spa sanctuary, the plunge pool, or the expansive sun terrace on deck ten, or retire to your Karen Moroney-designed suite, which comes complete with floor-to-ceiling windows, a pillow menu, minibar, and HD television.
Another Australian cruise line with decades of experience cruising the world’s farthest flung corners, Aurora Expeditions expects delivery of its new purpose-built expedition ship in time for the 2019/2020 Antarctic season. The as-yet-named 104-metre vessel is being developed by US marine yard SunStone Ships and will feature an Ice Class 1A hull and unprecedented levels of safety and environmental protection, meeting the latest polar code specifications.
The new Aurora vessel will feature a patented, fuel-efficient X-Bow design, allowing for increased stability during open sea journeys – including Antarctica’s dreaded Drake Passage – as well as a custom-designed platform to cater to additional numbers of kayakers and divers, and a mud room for easier preparation for climbers and skiers. A dedicated sea-level platform will be used for zodiac boarding.
Creature comforts of the new ship will include private bathroom facilities, cabin balconies, a 180-degree observation deck, wellness facilities, a fitness centre, and additional outdoor deck space.
Also look out for…
New comer, Portugal-based Mystic Cruises, has teamed up with Rolls-Royce to create its first eco-friendly, hybrid propulsion expedition cruise ship, the MS World Explorer. The ship, which will launch in October, will accommodate 200 guests and will feature a strengthened hull and propellers for traversing ice. The MS World Explorer is being built by WestSea Yard, and will be chartered by Quark Expeditions for the Antarctic season and Germany company Nicko Cruises for the remainder of each year.
Hapag-Lloyd are also developing two new ships for the expedition cruise market; Hanseatic Nature will be an exclusive German speaking ship, while the Hanseatic Inspiration will serve a global cruise market. With launch dates of April and October 2019 respectively, the new ships will each accommodate up to 230 passengers (or up to 199 passengers on Antarctic expeditions). Alongside the PC6 ice rating, they each boast three restaurants, extendible glass balconies, a fleet of 16 zodiacs, and an extensive wellness and fitness area.
If you like the brand’s hotels you might love Ritz-Carlton’s new ship. Part of the new Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection, and created in collaboration with maritime experts Douglas Prothero and Lars Clasen, the first of three luxurious cruising yachts will take to the sea in the fourth quarter of 2019. The specially designed small-capacity vessels will measure 190-metres, accommodate up to 298 passengers, and feature 149 suites, each boasting its own private balcony. Each yacht will also feature two 138
square-metre lavish duplex penthouse suites, with modern craftsmanship and interior finishes jointly designed by The Ritz-Carlton and leading cruise ship design firm Tillberg Design of Sweden. Guests will be able to enjoy world-class dining, a signature Ritz-Carlton Spa, and a Panorama Lounge and wine bar that hosts live entertainment.
French cruise line Ponant has also ordered its first electric hybrid icebreaker, which will be propelled by natural gas. Featuring just 135 staterooms, the vessel will be Clean Ship-certified and will offer itineraries to truly remote locales, including the true geographic North Pole, the Weddell Sea, and Peter I Island. The new icebreaker will be built by Norwegian ship yard Vard, with consultation from icebreaker designers Aker Arctic, and will be delivered in 2021.
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A Kiwi-born, Hong Kong based journalist, photographer and editor who specialises in travel, food and living. Nick has so far visited nearly 80 countries on 7 continents.