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Luxury Expedition Ships

Written by  Lillian Africano

CruiseTo me the words “luxury” and “expedition ships” don’t quite match. I have always believed that an expedition cruise should reflect the “roughing it” elements experienced by “real” explorers. (My favorite expedition was to Antarctica was aboard the no-frills Explorer I (aka “the little red boat”), which sank in Antarctic waters in 2007.
The luxury market disagrees and wants no part of “roughing it.” So instead we see extravagances galore, like infinity pools, French restaurants and spas on ships sailing to places like Antarctica and the Northwest Passage.

Scenic Eclipse
Leading the charge into over-the-top luxury expeditions is Scenic’s 228-passenger (200 on Arctic itineraries) Eclipse, the company’s first ocean cruise vessel, set to debut in 2018. With the sleek profile of a luxury super yacht, the 10-deck all-suite Eclipse will have an aft marina with a fleet of Zodiacs, two helicopters and a seven-person submarine. Luxurious interiors will be designed by Karen Moroney and the staff to guest ratio will be almost one-to-one. The Eclipse’s highest passenger ship ice-class rating -- 1A Super will allow it to sail deep into the Arctic and Antarctica, where it will spend three months of the year.
All 114 cabins are suites with private verandas and separate living rooms. All will have butler service. The smallest suites start at 344 square feet; the owner’s penthouse suite measures 2,507 square feet. There are six dining options and onboard dining will be included in the ticket price.The ship’s heated pool will have a retractable roof and fitness facilities will include a gym and a yoga and Pilates studio. The spa will feature a range of high-end treatments, plunge pools and indoor and outdoor Jacuzzis.
All shore excursions, as well as scuba and snorkeling activities will be included, with extra charges to view wildlife in the helicopters or submarine. The Eclipse will sail its maiden voyage from Istanbul to Venice on August 31, 2018.

Crystal Endeavor
Also debuting in August, 2018 is Crystal Cruises’ first expedition mega-yacht, the 200-passenger Crystal Endeavor, named after Captain James Cook’s research ship “HMS Endeavour.” The new vessel will be designed for expeditions in Arctic, Antarctic and tropical conditions.
The Endeavor will be the first purpose-built Polar Code compliant yacht in the world with a PC6 Polar Class designation. That means the vessel will be able to cruise in Polar Regions during the summer and autumn in medium “first year” ice, which may include old ice. The ship will also be fitted with offshore dynamic positioning technology, with computer-controlled systems to automatically maintain the ship’s position with its own propellers and thrusters. This will enable the Endeavor to float atop coral reefs and other underwater wonders without utilizing anchors, which can damage the terrain or other underwater elements.
Crystal Endeavor will cruise in the Arctic, then follow the route of migrating whales along the coast of the Americas and Europe to Antarctica during the winter. Along the way, she will visit remote islands in the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans, which other ships cannot access. With a Remote Operated Vehicle, expedition cruises will also be organized to see sunken galleons, warships and passenger ships, such as the Titanic at 12,500 feet. Scuba and snorkeling equipment will be available. Extreme adventures will be offered with helicopters and landing pads for flightseeing expeditions; seven-person submarines, electric amphibious zodiacs, a recompression chamber, a multi-person ATV and SEABOBs, technically advanced and powerful underwater scooters.
Standard suites will measure 400 square feet (including balcony) and the two Owners Suites at 3,122 square feet. Butler service will be available to all guests and the crew-to-guest ration will be one to one
The Endeavor will feature Crystal’s signature Palm Court, which will offer 270-degree panoramic views for whale-watching and viewing other wildlife. A combined spa and conservatory space will include a full-service spa, yoga, Pilates, salon and wellness center, jacuzzis and an infinity pool whose base can be lifted to be a dance floor. Six dining options will be available, and fares will be all-inclusive. Booking will open later this year.

The French-flagged line has an order of four new luxury expedition ships, each about 429 feet in length with 92 staterooms and crews of 11. They will be Ice Class ranked, equipped with the latest environmental preservation technology--and able to reach sites that larger vessels cannot access. Delivery of the first ship is expected in 2018.
PONANT continues to focus on the growing expedition niche while bringing their expertise in the polar regions, developing a blend of luxury and exceptional destinations. On the company’s four new ships, Blue Expeditions will focus on exploring Oceania, its lagoons and secret islands, while Green Expeditions will take passengers to South America’s best preserved sites, the Orinoco River in Amazonia, Costa Rica, Papua New Guinea or the Indian Ocean. The end result will be a variety of unusual itineraries that get as close as possible to local cultures, rare and exceptional flora and fauna, during excursions on a unique fleet of Zodiacs with naturalists on board.

Silversea’s Silver Cloud
Starting in August 2017, the Silver Cloud will be converted into an ice-class ship during an extensive refurbishment; she will be moved to the line’s luxury expedition fleet in November 2017. The all-suite Silver Cloud will accommodate 260 guests and sail on itineraries to both polar and non-polar regions. When sailing Arctic and Antarctic itineraries, the guest number will be limited to 200. The ship will add expedition staff and a fleet of 18 Zodiac watercrafts for exploration.
Silver Cloud will offer five dining options, and the staff-to-guest ratio will be almost one to one.

Hapag-Lloyd’s Hanseatic
Until the newest luxury ships come online, the 184-passenger Hanseatic, with the highest ice class for a passenger vessel, retains its standing as the world’s only 5-star expedition ship (2016 Berlitz guide). The ship carries 14 Zodiacs and has a swimming pool, sauna, whirlpool and fitness center. The Hanseatic was the first passenger ship to sail the Northwest Passage and is now the only cruise ship in the world to do that itinerary.

Hurtigruten is upgrading four of its 11 Norwegian Coastal ships and has added a new expedition ship, the MS Spitsbergen. The extensive refurbishment of the first two--MS Kong Harald and MS Polarlys has been completed; the makeovers of the MS Nordkapp and MS Nordnorge will be completed in April and November, respectively. The new design theme, named the “New Artic Interior,” includes the replacement of the cruise interior with a modern Scandinavian interior, drawing inspiration from nature outside the panoramic windows. To transform its restaurants, Hurtigruten has partnered with local food suppliers to develop the Coastal Kitchen concept. With seasonal ingredients, guests will be served the freshest and best Norwegian food available.
Hurtigruten purchased and performed a near-complete reconstruction of the MS Spitsbergen, adapting her for polar waters; upgrading the cabins, suites and public spaces for the 320 guests, as well as the power plants and emissions. The ship joined the fleet along the Norwegian Coastal Voyage route in May of this year.

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