Expedition essentials

Alice Chambers asks eight senior executives from expedition cruise lines how they use specialised ship designs, equipment and solutions to deliver safe, adventurous and environmentally friendly voyages 

Expedition essentials

Doug Gimesy

By Alice Chambers |

Expedition cruising is on the rise. According to the Expedition Cruise Network’s (ECN)’s Insights Report 2023/2024, 71 per cent of expedition cruise operators recorded an increase in business in 2023, and 94 per cent expect it to grow further in 2024. The network attributes this to the post-pandemic realisation that it is unwise to put off bucket-list trips. This surge in interest underscores the necessity for operators to invest in specialised systems and equipment to ensure safety and sustainability when taking guests to remote regions of the world.  

“To provide an exceptional expedition experience, guest safety must always be a top priority,” says Akvile Marozaite, CEO of ECN. “Some of the highest-rated expedition cruise experiences, such as kayaking and snorkelling, expose guests to the elements. Specialist equipment, that meets various safety specifications and standards, needs to be available, especially in remote regions with limited or non-existent specialist supplies.” 

As part of Cruise & Ferry’s new partnership with the ECN – which will, beginning in our next issue, which will see the introduction of a dedicated expedition section in our next issue – we ask eight senior executives from its member lines to provide their insights into how specialised systems and designs help them to achieve optimal nautical performance, onboard experiences and excursions.  

How do ship design, safety tools and navigation technology contribute to the nautical performance of an expedition vessel?

Søren Rasmussen, founder and chairman at Albatros Expeditions: Sister ships Ocean Albatros and Ocean Victory are rated Ice Class 1A, meaning they can operate in difficult ice conditions without icebreaker assistance. Dynamic positioning systems enable the ships to moor without an anchor and zero-speed stabilisers, and this, combined with Ulstein’s X Bow hull design, ensures a comfortable and safe onboard experience for our guests.

Frederic Guillemard, general manager for Europe & Asia at Australis: As a Chile-based expedition cruise line, we designed our ice-strengthened expeditions ships to navigate the country’s intricate fjords in Tierra del Fuego and Chilean Patagonia. The 100-cabin passenger sister ships Ventus Australis and Stella Australis have shallow draughts, allowing them to access the remote corners of the Strait of Magellan and navigate the tidal fjords.

Aaron Russ, commercial director and expedition leader at Heritage Expeditions: Finland’s Rauma Marine Constructions shipyard purpose-built our 140-passenger flagship Heritage Adventure for polar exploration. It has an Ice Class 1A Super rating and an impressive history of polar exploration. Heritage Adventurer holds records for the most northern and southern Arctic and Antarctic sailings. Marcel Perkins, managing director at Latin Trails: The design of the 16-passenger catamarans Galapagos Seaman Journey and Petrel optimises their nautical performance and they are also equipped with modern navigation systems, stability controls and eco-friendly engines. This allows us access to remote locations in the Galapagos Islands without disturbing marine life.

Franklin Braeckman, antarctic programme manager at Oceanwide Expeditions: Our fleet of ice-strengthened vessels enables us to adapt our itinerary programme and routes to meet customer demand. For instance, the 108-passenger ship Ortelius is rated equivalent to Ice Class 1A, which means it can navigate through solid one-year sea ice and loose multi-year pack ice.

Expedition essentials-2

Cruise guests can hike in the Antarctic with snowshoes and climbing gear provided by Oceanwide Expeditions (image credit: Oceanwide Expeditions/Georgina Strange)

Stephen Winter, international sales director for EMEA at Ponant: Ponant has never ceased to innovate in the design of its ships. With a fleet of 13 small exploration ships, all sustainably certified by Bureau Veritas, Ponant enables its guests to get as close as possible to nature and ancestral cultures, far from the crowded maritime routes. Le Commandant Charcot features low-impact polar navigation tools including a hybrid-electric engine powered by LNG to sail in protected areas.

Sarah Schlederer, business development manager for the UK and Ireland at Quark Expeditions: When it comes to polar expeditions, a cruise line is only as good as the ships that it operates. And our fleet of small polar vessels, including icebreakers and expedition ships, takes guests to places where larger ships can’t navigate. Our micro-auto gasification system onboard our latest vessel Ultramarine converts waste into energy, allowing us to operate with reduced emissions.

Carly Perkins, senior marketing manager for the UK and Europe at Seabourn: Seabourn has two purpose-built ultra-luxury expedition ships with a Polar Class 6 rating, ice-strengthened hulls and advanced manoeuvring technology for superior stability, safety and comfort. Plus, the modern hardware and technology onboard Seabourn Venture and Seabourn Pursuit extends their global deployment capabilities.

How do your onboard facilities enhance the expedition cruise experience?

SR: We combine exploration with indulgence onboard our ships, offering everything from lecture lounges, libraries and mudrooms to speciality restaurants, spa and gym facilities. The outdoor BBQ Decks on Ocean Albatros and Ocean Victory immerse guests in the destinations while they’re eating, and the observation lounges offer floor-to-ceiling windows so they can admire views from inside the ship. 

FG: Our onboard facilities are designed to deliver comfort without compromising on the expedition experience, ensuring a blend of luxury and adventure. The lounges on both our vessels feature large windows to provide uninterrupted views of the scenery. Onboard dining combines the best local ingredients for guests to taste dishes from the destinations that they visit. 

AR: We run a number of citizen science programmes onboard our vessels where guests can assist with water sampling and collecting penguin eggshells for analysis in Antarctica. Lectures about our scientific work are delivered in our lecture room and presentation theatre to help passengers understand more about the animals and geography they see during their cruise. 

MP: The Galapagos Seaman Journey features practical amenities, including spacious cabins with panoramic views, indoor and alfresco dining areas, and a sun deck. The onboard library adds an educational touch, enhancing passengers’ understanding of the Galapagos Islands.  

FB: Oceanwide Expeditions provides dedicated space for lectures and workshops on all topics related to polar travel, from history to glaciology and citizen science. We host these in our large observation lounge or separate lecture room. Our ships are elegantly designed with stylish mid-century modern decor, creating a distinctive cosy and informal atmosphere.  

SW: Ponant offers a unique style of exploration travel, with small capacity ships in an intimate and elegant atmosphere. Expedition leaders, naturalists and enthusiastic experts organise safe disembarkation, shore excursions and culture, scientific or historical conferences onboard. Le Commandant Charcot particularly reflects this with outstanding gastronomy in collaboration with Alain Ducasse, relation in the indoor pool surrounded by its winter garden and the outdoor Blue Lagoon, which offers views of scenery.  

SS: Our vessels offer a wide range of options in terms of capacity, cabins and style. Guests may be attracted to the classic wooden decor of Ocean Adventure, the world-class spa on World Explorer, or the outdoor viewing space on Ultramarine, which is more expansive than on other expedition ships of the same size. Onboard facilities across our fleet include a sauna with full-length windows, spa facilities and rooms to prepare for expedition trips.  

CP: Both our vessels have ocean-front suites with a private veranda and a total of 30,000 square feet of open deck space in public areas to optimise opportunities for viewing scenery and wildlife. We also have 4K Gyro-Stabilized Systems Cineflex cameras capable of broadcasting imagery from up to five miles away on monitors located throughout our ships so guests don’t miss out on seeing wildlife, even if they are inside.  

Outdoor activities are a key part of any expedition cruise. What equipment and amenities do you have onboard your ships to ensure these excursions run smoothly?

SR: We have multiple Zodiac-loading locations onboard Ocean Albatros and Ocean Victory to make it easy to access the water for adventures. For example, when we visit the Antarctic Peninsula on ‘The Epic Antarctica and South Georgia Adventure’, we offer a Zodiac cruise in Paradise Bay for guests to marvel at the icebergs and penguins nurturing their eggs.

Albatros Expeditions

Albatros Expeditions’ ships have multiple Zodiac-loading locations for easy access for shore excursions (image credit: Christian Kruse)

FG: Our vessels are equipped with Zodiacs, which grant us access to the remote corners of Tierra del Fuego. We’ve also integrated mobile ramps to facilitate embarkation and disembarkation directly onto the beaches, eliminating the need for docks that could disturb the natural surroundings. This eco-friendly approach aligns with our commitment to conservation and sustainability.

AR: We have a fleet of 14 Zodiacs on Heritage Adventurer and two on Heritage Explorer to ensure each guest can join every excursion. Our itineraries, excursions and landings are all developed through our long-standing relationships with government agencies, conservationist programmes and remote tribes and villages.

MP: Zodiac boats, kayaks, paddleboards and snorkelling gear facilitate close encounters with marine life. Expert naturalist guides lead daily excursions, highlighting the diverse ecosystems of each island in the Galapagos. Activities such as hiking volcanic terrains, snorkelling with sea lions and observing unique flora and fauna are integral aspects of the adventures we provide.

FB: Our vessels are all equipped for real expeditions and have a gangway or shell door for easy Zodiac boarding. In addition, we have kayaks, dry suits, snowshoes, climbing gear, and even camping equipment to enable guests to spend a night outdoors in Antarctica.

SW: From landing on a deserted beach in the South Pacific to observing seals on the ice pack, Zodiacs enable guests to get as close as possible with nature and gain access to remote destinations.

The Ponant Explorers have a modular marina, allowing a swimming access directly from the ship, as well as a submerged mini-port facilitating numerous nautical activities such as kayaking and paddleboarding. Regarding our exclusive Nordic skiing polar trek, we provide guests with Nordic skis and sleds called pulkas.


Ponant provides all the equipment needed for guests to explore destinations (image credit: Oliver Touron)

SS: Ultramarine is equipped with two twin-engine helicopters, which are used for flightseeing excursions for all guests, as well as 20 quick-launch Zodiacs that can be accessed via four embarkation points, including a water-level hangar. We also offer the largest portfolio of off-ship adventure options in the cruise industry including sea kayaking, paddling excursions, stand-up paddleboarding, camping and helicopter-based activities.

CP: Seabourn has a 24-person expedition team that delivers immersive experiences and guides guests throughout their entire journey. Some of the inclusive guided expedition experiences take place on kayaks and custom-built, six-guest submarines to offer greater ocean exploration.

This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2024 issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed. Subscribe for FREE to get the next issue delivered directly to your inbox.

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