A Must-Read Guide to Luxury Expedition Cruises


Embarking on a luxury expedition cruise is not just a journey; it’s an odyssey into the heart of untouched landscapes, wildlife wonders, and cultural richness. Beyond the adventure, it’s about embracing the uniqueness of the world we live in. 

In this guide, we will navigate the essentials you need to know before setting sail on these extraordinary voyages, as well as introduce you to some of the most remarkable destinations and luxury expedition cruise lines redefining the meaning of luxury in the context of exploration.

What is an expedition cruise?

A luxury expedition cruise is certainly unlike any other traditional cruising experience. Rather than focusing on onboard entertainment and lavish amenities, they prioritize exploration, education, and an intimate connection with nature. Small ships with limited passengers allow for more personalized experiences, expert-led excursions, and landings in remote areas inaccessible to larger vessels.


What to know before embarking on a luxury expedition cruise

While the concept of a luxury expedition cruise may sound like a bucket list experience to most – and in fact, it is – these types of itineraries are not just limited to the adventurous types. As the niche grows bigger, it has become much more accessible to all types of travelers. From multigenerational families to solo travelers and even those with limited mobility, top luxury expedition lines are making these types of journeys more, and more accessible to all, even those who have never even boarded a cruise before. 

Solo travelers, for example, will enjoy the communal experience provided by sailing onboard smaller ships, where meeting new people and creating lasting connections is made easier, while even the most independent adventurers will certainly appreciate the variety of onshore experiences available and the ease of all-inclusive voyages. 

While expedition cruises tend to have more active programs than regular cruising, they are not only meant for the adventurous types.

From zodiac boat rides to get up close to nature, to more relaxed walks focused on flora and fauna, short guided hikes or bus rides to historic locations, and even silent meditation – without of course excluding the more active kayaking, biking, or scuba diving trips – more and more lines are including less-intense options for travelers with limited mobility, or whom simply enjoy a more relaxed pace. 

Look for cruises with knowledgeable expedition leaders and naturalists. Luxury expedition cruise lines stand out for their onboard programs offering interesting lectures and activities led by scientists, historians, explorers, and even local inhabitants, offering their insights to transform your journey into a learning experience, deepening your appreciation for the destinations.

For those not willing to leave relaxation behind on sea days, some expedition ships offer full-service spas and fitness facilities on board. Ponant’s Le Commandant Charcot, for example, has its own temperate indoor pool to relax as you sail through glaciers in the Arctic, while Viking’s recently released Octantic Ship comes with a Nordic spa including saunas, massage rooms and a snow grotto. 

When booking your luxury expedition cruise, an expert travel advisor will be of great help in choosing both the correct line and destination, making sure you enjoy your experience as much as possible.  


Best expedition cruise destinations

As you may tell by now, the beauty of these types of voyages comes through their focus on destination, often exploring remote and ecologically sensitive areas. Research and choose an itinerary that aligns with your interests, whether it’s wildlife, culture, or breathtaking landscapes.

Opt for smaller ships that can navigate narrow channels and reach remote locations. This not only enhances your experience but also minimizes the environmental impact. Choosing cruise lines committed to sustainable and responsible travel ensures that these awe-inspiring destinations remain untouched for future generations.

Galapagos Expedition Cruises:

The Galapagos, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a living laboratory of evolution. A luxury expedition cruise here unveils the wonders that inspired Darwin. Encounter unique wildlife, from giant tortoises to blue-footed boobies, and snorkel alongside playful sea lions. The isolation of the islands ensures an intimate connection with nature.

Reach the incredible Galapagos Islands onboard Aqua Expedition’s Aqua Mare, Hurtigruten’s MS Santa Cruz II, or Silversea Cruises’ Silver Origin.


Antarctica Expedition Cruises:

Antarctica, the last untouched wilderness, beckons those seeking unparalleled natural beauty. Witness towering icebergs, vast colonies of penguins, and breaching whales. The luxury lies in the pristine silence, interrupted only by the sounds of nature. Smaller ships allow for landings on the Antarctic Peninsula, where you can walk among penguins and seals.

Discover Antarctica onboard Ponant’s various luxury expedition cruise ships, with itineraries led by highly qualified expedition teams, or Silversea’s lavish Silver Endeavour, designed specifically for polar expeditions. 

Expedition Cruises To The Arctic:

The Arctic offers a different but equally mesmerizing polar experience. Svalbard, Greenland, and the Canadian Arctic showcase a stark yet captivating landscape. Luxury expedition cruises here provide opportunities to witness polar bears, walruses, and the elusive Arctic fox. Sail through icy fjords and experience the magic of the midnight sun.

Viking’s expedition cruise Octantis provides all the comfort and elegance of their award-winning fleet with this expedition ship built specifically to explore these remote locations up close. Quark Expeditions, on the other hand, covers destinations from Spitsbergen, the largest island in the Norwegian Archipelago of Svalbard, to Russia’s Arctic territory, while Hurtigruten can take you anywhere from Norway to witness the Northern Lights, to Greenland and the Northwest Passage as you follow on the routes taken by some of history’s greatest explorers. 


Amazon River Expedition Cruises:

For a tropical expedition, the Amazon Rainforest is an unparalleled destination. Cruise along the mighty Amazon River, venturing into remote tributaries. Encounter diverse flora and fauna, from colorful macaws to elusive jaguars. Luxury in the Amazon lies in the comfort of your expedition vessel, providing a haven after days of exploration.

The award-winning Aria Amazon by Aqua Expeditions has been custom-built to explore the Peruvian Amazon in absolute comfort and luxury, with minimal impact on such a delicate environment, while Seabourn Cruises’ Seabourn Pursuit can take you on routes as specific as the Amazon Delta down to the coast of Brazil, or a more extensive Amazon to Ushuaia journey. 

The Kimberley Region, Australia:

The Kimberley region in Australia is a rugged and remote destination, known for its striking landscapes and indigenous rock art. A luxury expedition cruise here allows you to navigate through ancient gorges, witness the iconic Horizontal Falls, and experience the rich cultural history of the region.

When it comes to exploring The Kimberley Region, Australian-owned Scenic provides various itineraries to enjoy the most out of the region onboard the luxurious Scenic Eclipse II, one of the world’s most advanced expedition ships. Ponant’s environmentally conscious ships also cover the Kimberley Region, providing a unique experience onboard a modern super yacht with a French flair. For even more luxury onboard, Silversea Expedition’s cruises take you to the region onboard Silver Cloud – adding a few stops in remote Indonesian islands on the way. 


Best Expedition Cruise Lines And Their Luxury Ships

The best luxury expedition cruise lines take maritime travel to an art form, combining cutting-edge design, impeccable service, and unparalleled adventure around the world’s most incredible destinations. 

Seabourn: The Pinnacle of Ultra-Luxury Expedition Cruising

Seabourn stands as the epitome of ultra-luxury expedition cruising, with a fleet that covers itineraries such as the Amazon River, and Kimberley Region. The Seabourn Pursuit, purpose-built to offer an immersive and adventurous experience takes advantage of its small size to access remote destinations and areas where larger ships cannot go to. 

Equipped with Zodiacs, kayaks, and a team of experienced expedition leaders, its itineraries cover everything from Greenland and Iceland, to the South Pacific and the Kimberley Region. With 132 oceanfront suites, you will savor the comfort of a personal veranda from which to view the surrounding natural beauty upfront. Meanwhile, a rotating selection of unique culinary experiences at intimate lounges, and fine-dining restaurants will complement your travels, offering an overall journey into the world’s most amazing destinations. 

Silversea Cruises: Polar Luxury Expedition

For Silversea Cruises, an expedition journey is not just about the incredible landscapes, but immersing guests into the culture, and habitat of a region. Their expedition ships sail to all seven continents, allowing guests to visit everything from the polar extremes of the world to the equatorial Pacific. 

The Silver Cloud expedition ship cruises Antarctica with 20 Zodiacs, and four restaurants onboard, allowing only a limited number of guests which, as a result, provides one of the highest crew-to-guest and space-to-guest ratios in expedition cruising. Purpose-built for polar exploration, this and the Silver Explorer provide the utmost comfort in the harshest terrains. The Explorer Lounge, with its panoramic views, becomes a hub for guests to relax and exchange tales of their day’s adventures.

Silver Origin, on its part, is probably the most elegant ship to ever sail the Galapagos. Their all-suite accommodations and butler service will transform your idea of luxury expedition travels, while its floor-to-ceiling windows, Horizon Balconies, and interactive basecamp provide a view like no other onboard. 

Silversea’s attention to detail extends to their curated shore excursions, where expert guides lead you through the wonders of each destination. The line’s commitment to environmental responsibility is evident in its efforts to minimize its ecological footprint, ensuring that guests can explore these pristine locations with a clear conscience.


Ponant: French Flair in Expedition Cruising

Ponant, a French cruise line, brings a touch of French sophistication to luxury expedition cruising. Le Laperouse and Le Champlain, among their sleek fleet, showcase modern design and elegance. What sets Ponant apart is its commitment to eco-friendly cruising. The ships incorporate cutting-edge technology to minimize their environmental impact, aligning with the spirit of exploration and preservation.

Ponant’s commitment to immersion goes beyond destinations; it extends to cultural experiences and gastronomy. Onboard, guests can savor French-inspired cuisine crafted by skilled chefs, creating an authentic culinary journey.

Aqua Expeditions, Luxury River Expedition Cruises

Aqua Expeditions stands at the forefront of luxury river cruising, crafting unforgettable journeys aboard their exquisite cruise ships. The Aqua Nera, Aqua Mare, Aqua Mekong, and Aqua Blu take you to a variety of destinations, redefining elegance on the water.

These intimate vessels host a limited number of guests, ensuring a personalized experience. Each suite features floor-to-ceiling windows for immersive views of the passing landscapes. Culinary delights take center stage with gourmet meals curated by top chefs, showcasing the flavors of the regions traversed.

Aqua Expeditions specializes in unique destinations, navigating the mighty Amazon and the enchanting Mekong. The Aqua Mekong sails through the heart of Southeast Asia, immersing guests in the vibrant cultures of Vietnam and Cambodia. Meanwhile, the Aqua Amazon offers an unparalleled exploration of the Amazon rainforest, where guests embark on skiff excursions to uncover the rich biodiversity of the region.

Onboard, the ships boast top amenities, including a spa, plunge pools, and observation decks. Aqua Expeditions’ commitment to luxury, coupled with their exploration of some of the world’s most captivating waterways ensures a seamless fusion of elegance and adventure for even the most discerning traveler. 


Hurtigruten Expeditions, Adventure Up-Front

Hurtigruten Expedition cruise ships redefine the notion of exploration at sea, seamlessly blending adventure with comfort. Among their remarkable fleet, the MS Roald Amundsen and MS Fridtjof Nansen are pioneers in eco-friendly, hybrid propulsion vessels.

These state-of-the-art ships boast amenities designed for modern-day explorers. The Science Center on board provides an immersive learning experience, allowing guests to engage with experts and understand the environments they traverse. The ships also feature panoramic lounges, wellness areas, and outdoor hot tubs, ensuring a perfect balance between relaxation and adventure.

Hurtigruten’s expedition itineraries span the globe, from the Arctic to Antarctica. The ships navigate remote waters, offering unparalleled access to stunning landscapes and wildlife. From the icy wonders of Svalbard to the untouched beauty of the Antarctic Peninsula, Hurtigruten provides an authentic and sustainable exploration experience.

Guests can partake in thrilling activities like kayaking and hiking, led by expert expedition teams. The commitment to sustainability is evident in every aspect, making Hurtigruten Expedition cruises a choice for those who seek not only adventure but also a conscientious way to explore the world’s most remote and pristine destinations.

Quark Expedition, A Unique Way To Explore Polar Regions

Quark Expeditions elevates polar exploration to extraordinary heights with purpose-built cruise ships. The Ocean Diamond and the Ultramarine redefine adventure at sea, providing unparalleled access to the world’s polar regions.

Onboard, these vessels are floating havens of comfort and innovation. The Ultramarine, in particular, sets a new standard with its two helicopters and helipads for aerial excursions, making remote landings and wildlife spotting an integral part of the experience. The ships also feature a marina for easy access to kayaks and Zodiacs, allowing guests to explore the icy wilderness up close.

Quark’s expedition itineraries focus on the Arctic and Antarctic, immersing guests in the pristine beauty of these remote landscapes. From the towering icebergs of Greenland to the vast expanses of Antarctica, Quark Expedition cruises take intrepid travelers to the ends of the Earth.

Experienced expedition teams lead activities like camping on the ice, mountaineering, and wildlife photography, ensuring a truly immersive experience. Quark’s commitment to sustainable and responsible travel further enhances the allure of these expeditions, making them a choice for adventurers seeking not just thrills but also a profound connection with the polar wonders of our planet.

Viking Expeditions, Purpose-Built Ships To Redefine Polar Exploration

Viking Cruises, known for its river cruises, has seamlessly extended its excellence to expedition cruising with the Viking Octantis and Viking Polaris. These purpose-built ships blend Scandinavian design with cutting-edge technology to redefine polar exploration.

The Explorer Suites feature panoramic views, and the Nordic Balcony allows guests to transform their living space with the push of a button, bringing the outside in. Viking’s LivNordic Spa and infinity pool add all the relaxation you need amidst the polar landscapes.

Viking’s expedition itineraries focus on the Arctic and Antarctica, taking guests to the ends of the Earth with a sense of purpose and discovery. Helicopter and submarine excursions enhance the experience, providing unique perspectives of these remote regions.

The ship’s innovative design includes a marina for easy access to kayaks and Zodiacs, ensuring intimate encounters with nature. Viking’s commitment to sustainability and cultural enrichment further distinguishes its expedition cruises, offering discerning travelers a thrilling adventure and a responsible and enlightening exploration of the world’s most remote and awe-inspiring destinations.


Ready to embark on a luxury expedition? Contact your travel advisor now

Embarking on a luxury expedition cruise is an invitation to explore the untouched corners of our planet. In these destinations, luxury is about the privilege of being in the presence of the extraordinary. So, set sail on these transformative journeys, where the real luxury lies in the raw, unfiltered beauty of the world. As usual, our expert travel advisors are prepared to guide you to the perfect itinerary. Contact them now and take the opportunity to check that bucket-list destination off your list. 

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Mavi Parra is a journalist, content creator, and traveler with over 10 years of experience in various communications fields. Specializing in digital media and advertising, her work focuses on the relationships between travel, culture, and destinations. Currently, she is Luxury Cruise Connection’s content writer, developing engaging content to educate and promote luxury cruise travel.