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11 Incredible Once-in-a-Lifetime Expedition Cruises

From Antarctica to the Galapagos, these expedition cruises are launching new routes and introducing new vessels.

With COVID-induced lockdowns behind us and frazzled consumers making up for the lost time by investing in transformative travel, demand for expedition cruises is booming. With their irresistible promise of remote locations and ever-expanding excursion programs (including heli-flightseeing and submersible sojourns)—it’s easy to see why travelers are opting for these all-inclusive experiences.

From Melanesia and West Africa to the Polar regions, these are the expedition cruises to have on your radar.

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Secret Atlas

Secret Atlas burst onto the expedition cruising stage in April 2022 with its low-impact, expert-led “micro cruise” program centered on Norway’s wildlife-rich Svalbard archipelago, best known for its polar bears. Accommodating a maximum of 12 guests, with a guide-to-guest ratio of 1:6, its cruises promise a more intimate experience than those of its polar region competitors.

Standouts include its nine-day Natural Wonders of Svalbard Photo Tours, offered in May 2023. Acclaimed Arctic wildlife photographer Chase Teron, will be on board to lead excursions, run workshops, and generally whip passengers’ images into shape. Between May to September, groups can also charter the operator’s vessels for private cruises of the Svalbard region, lasting between eight and 15 days.

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Swan Hellenic

The recent rebirth of former U.K. cruise line Swan Hellenic, is one of the biggest feel-good stories in the expedition cruise space. Now under new management, headquartered in Cyprus, Swan christened its first expedition vessel, Minerva, in Helsinki, Finland in December 2021 before she promptly set sail for the Antarctic.

Clearly, not one to hang about, the reinvigorated line will launch a second ship, SH Vega, in September 2022. Vega, like Minerva, will feature 76 suites and staterooms, most with balconies, while its maiden voyages for late 2022 include a pair of tasty-looking 18-day sailings to the Falklands, South Georgia, and Antarctica, departing the Argentinian ports of Buenos Aires and Ushuaia on October 19th and November 5th, respectively. Proving that good things really do come in threes, Swan will debut its third vessel, SH Diana, in early 2023, featuring 96 staterooms and suites.


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Silverseas Cruises

Upscale cruise line Silversea began 2022 in epic fashion by waving Silver Cloud off on its 167-day Uncharted World itinerary, billed as the first-ever expedition world cruise. Christening new ship Silver Origin, the Galápagos-based vessel is its first destination-specific ship. Known for its inventive itineraries, Silversea’s latest cruise program is an absolute stonker, featuring more than 60 maiden ports in 2023 alone, including remote destinations such as the Comoro Islands.

Among the ships tasked with delivering that program is Silver Wind, relaunched in May 2022 with a hot new look, having been repurposed as an ice-class expedition ship. Speaking of ice, Silversea is at the vanguard of the “fly-cruise” trend. According to the operator, its two-hour Antarctica Bridge flight service from Punta Arenas, Chile to King George Island in the South Shetlands (set to run into 2023) should save Silver Explorer passengers two sea days each way.

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Heritage Expeditions

The hot news at New Zealand-based small ship expedition cruise specialist Heritage Expeditions is the summer 2022 launch of its new flagship vessel, the 140-passenger Heritage Adventurer. Originally set to sail a maiden summer season of voyages in Russian waters, Adventurer will now service a series of expedition cruises around the U.K. operated by Noble Caledonia, such as the 13-day Atlantic Island Odyssey.

The ship will now sail its first proper expedition cruise for Heritage, Indonesia Explorer, in October 2022. Looking further ahead to 2023, Heritage Adventurer will set sail on a tasty trio of voyages in its New Zealand home. Top picks include The Best of New Zealand, a 15-day voyage from Queenstown to Auckland, departing on March 6th.

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Hurtigruten Expeditions

New for 2022-23, Hurtigruten Expeditions has dramatically transformed its expedition cruise offerings in the Galápagos, having partnered with local operator Metropolitan Touring. Hurtigruten plans to make good use of the Ecuadoran operator’s products, not least its recently upgraded flagship, the 50-cabin vessel MS Santa Cruz II, whose new Science Corner space will underpin Hurti’s program of citizen science projects.

Looking further ahead, 2023-24 will see Hurtigruten Expeditions sail its biggest ever expedition cruise program. Standouts include a program of West African small ship cruises out of Dakar, Senegal aboard MS Spitsbergen, taking in destinations such as Guinea-Bissau and the Bissagos Islands. Plus, thanks to its generous Northern Lights Promise, the venerable Norwegian line should also be a shoo-in for anyone looking to catch spectacular sightings of the Aurora Borealis.

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VIVA Cruises

VIVA is a river cruise specialist that, much like Viking Cruises, chose 2022 to cross over into the expedition cruise space. For now, its program centers on the 82-cabin Seaventure, its first expedition ship, which is sailing a program of itineraries for the April to October 2022 season, focused on Northern and Western Europe as well as the Arctic.

Showstopper itineraries include Eternal Ice of the Arctic, a 24-day round-trip voyage from Bremerhaven, Germany, with one departure apiece set for July and August 2022. Other selling points include the line’s comprehensive VIVA All-Inclusive offering, helping ensure passengers keep their eyes on the scenery and sightings rather than their onboard spending.

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Aurora Expeditions

The big news at Australian-owned Aurora Expeditions is the launch of its seriously sexy and new purpose-built expedition vessel, the 71-cabin Sylvia Earle. Set to debut in late 2022 — and named for the eminent marine biologist, conservationist, and oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle — Aurora’s latest launch will feature a state-of-the-art Citizen Science Center and a surprisingly strong wellness offering, backed by the two jacuzzis and a swimming pool on the top deck.

Fresh from celebrating its 30th year of operation in 2021, Aurora has some sorely tempting treats in store for late 2022, including its inaugural program of Northwest Passage cruises aboard its other vessel, the Greg Mortimer. Other pearls among its bumper 2022-23 cruise program include Across the Antarctic Circle and an expedition to the Canary Islands, Cape Verde, and the Azores.

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Scenic Luxury Cruises and Tours

Expedition cruise ships don’t come any more sleek than Scenic Eclipse II. Set to launch in 2023, this tantalizing temptress, the second in luxury line Scenic’s Eclipse series of “discovery yachts,” comes complete with onboard helicopters and Triton submarines for spiriting passengers beneath the waves to better glimpse the life aquatic.

At launch, the new vessel’s packed 2023-24 season features 85 itineraries, spanning more than 50 countries and all seven continents. This includes a first foray into the South Pacific region for Scenic’s “discovery voyages” program and a strong focus on Australia for 2024.

Scenic is also driving the current craze for expedition fly-cruises. Its 2023-24 Antarctica program, for example, features three new Antarctica fly-cruises to King George Island, including Beyond the Antarctic Circle.

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Quark Expeditions

Expedition cruise lines are renowned for offering exceedingly experiential excursion programs and Quark is a fantastic example. Take the latest ship, Ultramarine, the gorgeous, purpose-built, Polar-class vessel it launched last year, whose pair of twin-engine helicopters offers flightseeing, heli-hiking, and helicopter-supported alpine kayaking excursions.
Other cool new excursions featuring in Quark’s 2022-23 Arctic season include Tundra to Table, an Inuit Culinary Experience. Available on select Arctic voyages, it’s hosted by Inuit chefs and showcases the cuisine of Inuit communities such as Nunavut, Canada. Passengers on cruises such as Northwest Passage: Epic High Arctic can also join Inuit chefs on wild foraging excursions. Photography fans are in good hands too, with offerings such as the 14-day Spitsbergen Photography: In Search of Polar Bears voyage aboard Ultramarine.
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Atlas Ocean Voyages

Luxury line Atlas sure hasn’t let the seaweed grow under its feet since launching its first vessel World Navigator in the summer of 2021. Second ship World Traveller will make its grand debut in October 2022 with three additional ships, World Seeker, World Adventurer, and World Discoverer, set to swell the fleet to five by year-end of 2024.

Selling points include the “luxe-adventure” operator’s “All-Inclusive All the Way” offering, the butler service suites, its solo suites with no single supplements, and its charter flight offering to/from Ushuaia, Argentina for its Antarctica voyages.

World Traveller will sail her inaugural season in Antarctica during the 2022-23 winter season with World Navigator also set to return to the white continent for her winter 2022-23 season after completing a program of Central and South America sailings in the autumn and a program of Western Europe voyages in the summer.

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Ultra-luxe ocean cruising stalwart Seabourn is to launch the first of a pair of new PC6 Polar Class expedition ships in July 2022. With Seabourn Venture set to waves first, Seabourn Pursuit will follow in 2023. The sister ships will feature 132 oceanfront veranda suites and all manner of fun stuff, each carrying 24 Zodiacs and kayaks aplenty.

The stars of the show are the two custom-built submarines that can each carry six guests and even come fitted with Champagne chillers. Other selling points include the all-inclusive tariffs and onboard educational programs centered on the Discovery Centre theatre. Among the Venture voyages to seek out is Volcanoes, The Kuril Islands & The Western Pacific, departing Kobe, Japan on September 3rd, 2023, and arriving in Brisbane, Australia on October 10th, 2023. Hot Pursuit sailings include a Northwest Passage voyage, set to sail from Kangerlussuaq, Greenland to Nome, Alaska, in August 2023.