By Susan J. Young Nov 28, 2022 11:29am
Today’s expedition cruising is a world apart from the past. So, when luxury travelers head for the Arctic region in 2023, they won’t find their grandfather’s expedition experience. For instance, aboard Scenic Group’s 228-passenger Scenic Eclipse, they can dine at multiple restaurants, among them one of two main restaurants, Koko’s, where in September, Luxury Travel Advisor dined multiple times for top-quality Asian cuisine.
Even better, in the rear of Koko’s is the exclusive “Night Market” experience for just eight guests. It unfolds in a private teppanyaki-style room, with a tasting menu of Middle Eastern, Asian or Indian specialties. That’s certainly an expedition experience that simply didn’t exist decades ago. The ship also has other specialty dining experiences as well.
In another example, last month, Luxury Travel Advisor completed a 12-day voyage on Seabourn’s new 264-passenger Seabourn Venture. On one night, guests at our main restaurant table expressed amazement about the expanse of the eatery, its traditional luxury cruise dining experience, particularly on a ship with Zodiacs, kayaks and a submarine for exploring. They liked the robust menus with “Inspiration” and “Classic” dishes, fine pours of house wines, a robust wine cellar, elegant tables dressed with fine linens, crystal glassware and fresh flowers, and professional, friendly servers, sommeliers and managers always asking guests about their meal quality.
Several guests had been to the full-service spa earlier in the day. Returning to our suite on this luxury expedition ship, we discovered that our two-person housekeeping team had already turned down the bed, provided ice and cleaned to perfection. So, with this kind of pampering in mind, let’s look at these two expedition ships and others headed for the Arctic region in summer 2023-2024.
Sporting a PC6 classification, Silversea Cruises’ new, ultra-luxury Silver Endeavour will soon begin sailing to the ends of the Earth—to Antarctica starting later this month for the winter, and then to the Arctic in summer 2023. This is the former Crystal Endeavor, so it’s an almost new ship. Better yet, it’s now been further updated and enhanced by Silversea. Plus, it has a 1-to-1 crew-to-guest ratio, so guests can expect ultra-luxury service and pampering.
Public spaces are spread over eight public decks, and the ship has multiple restaurants, a choice of bars and lounges and large, luxurious suites, all with a private balcony. The two top suites are the Deck 7 forward two-bedroom Owner’s Suite, No. 701, and the Grand Suite, No. 700, which can be set up in either a one- or two-bedroom configuration.
The 1,868-square-foot Owner’s Suite includes a 737-square-foot private veranda with patio furniture and floor-to-ceiling glass doors. Guests relax in a sitting area, separate dining area, a main bedroom with large walk-in wardrobe with personal safe and a bathroom with double vanity, walk-in shower and whirlpool bath. A second bedroom has a separate closet and bathroom with a walk-in shower. Both bedrooms offer a king-sized bed, convertible to two twin beds, with custom-made mattresses. This suite has three large flat-screen TVs with an interactive media library; a sound system with Bluetooth connectivity, an Espresso machine, writing desk and more.
As for exploration opportunities, an experienced, 20-person expedition team will lecture about Arctic destinations and lead or escort shore adventures. Silver Endeavour will carry 18 Zodiacs and 14 kayaks.
Silver Endeavour’s new summer Arctic schedule will incorporate 24 Silversea maiden calls, including some in the Canadian High Arctic. These include Hudson Bay, and the spectacular Ellesmere Island. Prior to the start of Arctic voyages, this ship will depart from London on May 7, 2023, on two British Isles and Iceland expeditions of 13 and 14 days; maiden calls will include Stranraer, Helensburgh and Loch Eynort (South Uist Island), all in Scotland, and Klaksvik in the Faroe Islands.
Then the ship will operate nine expedition voyages to the Arctic and Greenland. Silver Endeavour’s Arctic inaugural season will include two 14-day Iceland and Svalbard expeditions, departing June 3 from Reykjavik, Iceland, and June 17 from Tromso, Norway. In addition, the vessel will offer three expeditions to South Greenland and Nunavut, Canada, exploring scenic regions in Skjoldungen, Evighedsfjorden, Prince Christian Sound and elsewhere.
Departing July 31, 2023, guests traveling aboard Silver Endeavour will explore West Greenland on a 10-day expedition. There, they’ll become immersed in both the culture and traditions of the Inuit and Greenlandic communities. Most notably, they’ll witness one of the world’s fastest-moving glaciers at Ilulissat Icefjord—a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
On August 10, 2023, Silver Endeavour will sail from the hamlet of Mittimatalik (Pond Inlet) at the northern tip of Baffin Island in Nunavut, Canada, on a 10-day journey through the Canadian High Arctic, exploring the seldom-seen shores of Ellesmere Island, Cape York, and Qaanaaq, among other spots. And rounding out its summer Arctic season, the ship will undertake a 16-day expedition through East Greenland from September 5, 2023.
Silversea will search for the perfect conditions for guests on that voyage to view the Northern Lights. Plus, travelers will spend three days in Scoresby Sound, one of the world’s largest and longest fjord systems. They’ll also visit the world’s largest and rarely visited national park, the Northeast Greenland National Park.
Want the grand shebang? Travelers can opt to combine five of Silver Endeavour’s Arctic voyages to discover the best of the region over 82 days, beginning and ending in Reykjavik from July 1 to September 21, 2023.
A Sparkling New Venture
As noted, Luxury Travel Advisor recently sailed on Seabourn’s PC6-class Seabourn Venture, the ultra-luxury line’s first new expedition ship launched a few months ago. Sister Seabourn Pursuit will set sail in 2023. We found the public spaces quite spacious and attractive, and in many ways, inside, the ship seemed “bigger in feel” than we anticipated. The spaces seemed to resonate well with both loyal past guests and new-to-brand travelers on our South America/Panama Canal cruise.
For example, guests absolutely loved The Club on Deck 9, offering live music and fresh “Sushi in the Club” nightly from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.; guests could order as much as they liked. Several guests went their nightly either before or after dinner in the elegant Restaurant and the informal Colonnade with indoor and outside seating.
Another favorite space is the Expedition Lounge on Deck 4. Sporting two realistic, faux fireplaces, it’s the place for comfortable seating and a bar on one side and the ship’s boutique on the other. A central gathering point of the ship, this lounge is also adjacent to a large Discovery Center, the spot for expedition talks, popcorn movie nights and other entertainment and events. This ship also offers such creature comforts as an infinity pool aft and a full-service spa.
As for exploring, Seabourn Venture carries a fleet of double sea kayaks as well as 24 Zodiacs that can accommodate all onboard guests at once. In addition, the ship has two six-passenger mini-submarines; weather permitting and with the permission of local authorities, a pilot will take the submarine down at depths of nearly 1,000 feet for undersea exploration. Make reservations early as the sub slots fill up fast.
As for suites, guests have a number of types from which to choose. On Deck 7, the forward Owner’s Suites (OW), Nos. 700 and 701, offer 1,023 square feet of space including a 484-square-foot veranda. The Signature Suites (SS), (Nos. 832 and 833) offer aft-facing wraparound balconies, each with an outdoor whirlpool.
However, wherever guests stay aboard, every suite onboard Seabourn Venture offers a comfortable living area; private veranda; queen-size bed or two twin beds; extra-large walk-in closet along with a heated locker for expedition gear; personal safe; interactive flat-screen TV with music and movies; fully stocked bar and refrigerator; writing desk with personalized stationery; makeup vanity; spacious bathroom with double vanities, tub and shower, plush robes, slippers, hairdryer and 110/220V AC outlets.
In May 2023, the ship sails several British Isles and Iceland cruises, and then sails a summer season of Iceland and Greenland voyages, roundtrip from Reykjavik, Iceland. For example, a “Greenland and Iceland: Viking and Volcanoes” itinerary departs on June 17, 2023, with a flight from Reykjavik to Kangerlussuaq in Greenland. Upon boarding the ship guests receive a Greenland-intensive experience with visits to multiple spots on that island, the world’s largest. In addition, this cruise calls at Heimaey, Westman Islands, and Akranes, both in Iceland.
In late August, Seabourn Venture will make an iconic 23-day journey across the Northwest Passage, ending in Nome, Alaska, United States on September 17, 2023. During this voyage, travelers will sail around the Northern Hemisphere’s largest icebergs as the ship navigates through one of the world’s most storied passages from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
Among the notable experiences for travelers are exploring small Inuit Towns such as Cambridge Bay; sailing through the challenging geographic gap of the icy Bellot Strait; searching for marine life in the water and on sea ice; visiting Sisimiut, Greenland’s second-largest city; and calling at Croker Bay at Devon Island, the world’s largest uninhabited island in Baffin Bay off the coast of Nunavut.
The ship spends nine days sailing the Northwest Passage, where the expedition team will deploy the kayaks, Zodiacs, and submarines for naturalist-led experiences. Five days are dedicated to sailing along Canada’s Northwest and Yukon Territories via the Beaufort Sea. After the voyage’s conclusion in Nome, AK, Seabourn Venture will then sail through the remote Aleutian Islands and southeastern Alaska, as it heads for Vancouver, BC, and the western U.S. coastline.
Voyages to Discovery
Scenic Eclipse, a Scenic Group expedition vessel described as a “Discovery Yacht,” will be joined by new sister, Scenic Eclipse II, in April 2023. That terminology fits well, as Luxury Travel Advisor just returned from 10 days aboard and Scenic Eclipse is a stunner in terms of its sleek look, much as a large yacht. Yet inside, guests have the luxurious amenities and public spaces that would wow luxury guests on any sailing, plus the cuisine, from our perspective, proved to be exceptional. Scenic Eclipse has an almost 1-to-1 crew-to-guest ratio.
Both Discovery Yachts are polar-class, and sail to remote areas including the Arctic. For example, the ships will sail 15-day Arctic Islands itineraries in 2023—visiting the three “bucket-list” destinations of Greenland, Iceland and Svalbard, an island in the Norwegian Arctic. Remote Svalbard is home to glaciers, frozen tundra, polar bears, Svalbard reindeer and Arctic foxes.
In addition, in 2023, Scenic Eclipse will sail a 22-day “Northwest Passage” expedition cruise from Nome in Alaska to Kangerlussuaq in Greenland, where guests then will board a flight to Copenhagen, Denmark to begin their journey home. Along this remote route, guests will encounter wild and remote fjords, glaciers, harbors and uninhabited islands that dot the archipelago of Canada’s High Arctic. Up to a 20-member polar expedition team will lecture, assist guests, pilot Zodiacs and accompany guests on shore excursions.
Fascinating sites await. For example, Prince Leopold Island is known for its prolific bird life—more than 400,000 nesting birds and limestone cliffs that are 870 feet high. As the winter camp of the ill-fated 1845 Franklin Expedition, Beechey Island is the final resting place of three of Sir John Franklin’s crew and has served as the base camp for many Northwest Passage journeys. Scenic guests who so desire will go ashore with the ship’s Discovery team.
Guests, who will receive a complimentary expedition parka, water bottle and use of special polar boots, will explore the Arctic in many ways. How about paddle boarding among Arctic icebergs, taking a sub dive in a six-guest submarine or flying above the remote Arctic landscape on a helicopter tour? Travelers can also head out via Zodiac, kayaks or on Arctic treks.
For those travelers not familiar with expedition cruises and specifically those on Scenic, Luxury Travel Advisor offers these additional tips, based on our recent experience. Take advantage of the butler services. Our butler happily delivered breakfast to our cabin each morning, so we could just sit on the balcony and soak in the morning sunshine. Butlers will also refill the suite’s minibar and make dining reservations, either on the ship or at a local restaurant. Be sure to let your butler know about any special occasion as well.
Another tip for Scenic’s expedition ships? While spacious in feel inside, dining venues can fill up quickly. So, we’d suggest checking in with the restaurant manager right after boarding. Some eateries require reservations, and while Scenic says it tries its best to accommodate guests whenever possible, seats are limited at some venues, so it’s a good idea to put your name in early.
For relaxation aboard, we’d suggest visiting the 5,920-square-foot Senses Spa. Open to all guests and included within the cruise fare are use of saunas, plunge pools, infrared heat chairs and steam rooms. Spa treatments, of course, are at an added cost. The ship also features a dedicated yoga and Pilates studio.
New features are also coming to the Senses Spa on Scenic Eclipse II? Look for an expanded steam room area with aromatherapy, an integrated ice fountain and experience showers. In addition, Scenic will introduce KLAF’s custom salt therapy lounge with heated beds enhanced with aromatherapy scents. Since past guests have liked the KLAF’s Infrared chairs on Scenic Eclipse, the new sister vessel will have an expanded, dedicated infrared oceanview lounge with color light therapy.
Also new on Scenic Eclipse II will be a Deck 10 bar with indoor and outdoor seating as well as a large oval-shaped pool and relaxation space. Scenic Eclipse II will sail in many regions of the globe. Among the voyages is a 12-day “Exploring the High Arctic” voyage from Reykjavik to Copenhagen, departing August 2, 2023.
As for getting a good night’s sleep, Scenic Eclipse and Scenic Eclipse II offer accommodations that start at 344-square-foot Verandah Suites and extend upward in space to a 2,632-square-foot, two-bedroom Penthouse Suite. One perk for all suites is the Scenic Slumber Bed, complete with a pillow menu and electronic control to adjust the mattress for the guest’s most comfortable sleeping or lounging position.
Ponant launched its first high-polar exploration vessel, Le Commandant Charcot, the 13th ship in its fleet, in late 2021. As the industry’s first luxury hybrid electric polar ship, the 245-passenger vessel is also an icebreaker so it can cut through an ice floe up to seven feet thick. That means it can reach rarely visited places like Peter I Island, where fewer people have visited than have set foot on the moon.
Certainly, though, the Polar Class PC2 ship’s crowning achievement occurred when this luxury icebreaker became the first such passenger vessel with guests aboard to reach the true “geographic North Pole” on July 13, 2022. That’s the most northerly point of the Earth’s axis of rotation.
On July 10, 2023, the ship will sail a 17-night “Geographic North Pole” itinerary. The trip starts with a flight from Paris, France, to Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen, Norway, where the ship sails roundtrip. Along the remote route, guests will possibly spot polar bears, birds, seals and whales. Plus, they can go kayaking, hiking, snowshoeing, take a polar plunge and participate in scientific activities. Three other 15-night “Geographic North Pole” departures in 2023 are slated for July 27, August 12 and August 26.
Eco-friendly, Le Commandant Charcot is the cruise industry’s the first luxury hybrid electric polar ship—powered by battery and LNG (liquified natural gas). When in battery mode, the ship is able to sail for up to eight hours at a time without producing any emissions. It’s a Certified Cleanship by Bureau Veritas.
The vessel also serves as a floating research center with dedicated onboard laboratories, allowing scientific research teams access to remote polar regions. Under the supervision of naturalist guides and onboard scientists, guests can participate in citizen science experiments, helping set up a research station on an ice floe or deploying an Argos transmitter, a satellite-based system which collects and shares environmental data.
Off-ship excursions in polar regions range from ice fishing and snowshoeing to polar diving and ice floating. But inside, as with the other ships mentioned above, Le Commandant Charcot feels more akin to a mega-yacht than a traditional expedition ship. How so? It features 123 staterooms and suites, chef-crafted meals designed by Alain Ducasse, a wellness area in partnership with Biologique Recherche, and amenities like a snow room—chilled to 14 degrees Fahrenheit with fresh powder snow—as well as heated blue lagoon baths.
The Big Picture
Many other lines with upscale expedition-style vessels cruise the Arctic region, among them Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic, Aurora Expeditions, Quark Expeditions, Hurtigruten Expeditions, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises and Atlas Ocean Voyages with its 196-passenger, mega-yacht-style World Navigator and newly launched sister, World Traveller.
Lindblad’s options include a 2023 “Northwest Passage” voyage. For those who want to see wildlife, marine life, birds and Norwegian Svalbard’s glaciers and tundra, Luxury Travel Advisor suggests Lindblad’s 10-day “Arctic Land of the Ice Bears: An In-Depth Exploration of Arctic Svalbard” itinerary on multiple dates in May and June 2023. It’s operated by two new ships, the 126-passenger National Geographic Endurance, a PC5 Class (Category A) ship and sister National Geographic Resolution; they’re the first polar new builds in Lindblad’s 50-year history.
Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ luxury expedition ship, the 230-passenger Hanseatic Inspiration, will sail four Canadian Arctic and North Greenland itineraries in summer 2023. That’s the line’s expedition vessel with both English and German as official languages.
In addition, a new player with a familiar name has two new ships. Pioneered in the 1950s and relaunched in 2020, Swan Hellenic Cruises offers cultural expedition cruising with two new PC5-class expedition ships. With ice-strengthened hulls, the 152-passenger Minerva and Vega offer 76 spacious suites and staterooms, the majority with large balconies. Building on its British roots, the cruise line has a global cultural cruising outlook. Its ships sport elegant Scandi-design interiors, extensive outdoor spaces and dedicated expedition facilities. A slightly larger PC6 ice-class vessel for Swan Hellenic, Diana, will arrive in early 2023.
Increasingly, as expedition cruising evolves, guests can expect more in the way of elevated dining, spa services, comfortable onboard lounges, enrichment talks and even Wi-Fi enhancements. One good example of the latter? Hurtigruten Expeditions and its long-time connectivity partner, Speedcast, began initial testing and integration of Starlink’s LEO service onboard the fleet in March. At press time, roll-out of the high-speed, low-latency connectivity was imminent. Also, Speedcast is integrating SpaceX’s Starlink connectivity into the multi-path, multi-orbit service to help keep guests reliably connected to Wi-Fi at sea.
Couple of other points? Keep in mind that despite the ship capacity figures provided above, for many polar region itineraries, the lines limit capacity to 200 or fewer passengers. Also, not all luxury ships journeying to some parts of the Arctic, specifically the southern areas, are, in fact, expedition ships. For instance, Viking’s 930-passenger Viking Saturn, Viking Neptune and Viking Star sail a 15-day “Iconic Iceland, Greenland and Canada” itinerary in summer 2023.
In another example, Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ 482-passenger Seven Seas Navigator departs July 11, 2023, on a 28-day Reykjavík-to-Copenhagen sailing with an overnight port call at Torshavn in the Faroe Islands, located in the Arctic’s West Nordic region. Heading out on the four-hour “Vestmanna Sea Cliffs” excursion (one of many “included” shore trips), guests can gaze at thousands of nesting sea birds including puffins and guillemots; they’ll also cruise through a steep-walled notch in the cliffs and into a grotto void of light.
Increasingly, luxury cruise guests have more Arctic cruising options. On upscale expedition ships, they’ll also discover more voyages headed above the Arctic Circle, atop North America and even to the geographic North Pole. Now that’s an adventure!