The newest luxury expedition cruise ships have more ways than ever to explore remote places -- and one of the most interesting and exciting trends is submarines. Holding from two to six cruise passengers, these submersibles can dive almost as far as 1,000 feet below sea level and can offer up to nearly 360-degree views of undersea scenery few ever get to see.
That's if you're lucky. Among the cons of submarines are that only a handful of destinations allow the cruise lines to use them. In the places where you can use them -- Antarctica is one bucket list itinerary where they are allowed -- what you actually see is negligible. Think a handful of plankton and perhaps some starfish. Not everyone is mobile enough to board a submarine and if you have any amount of claustrophobia, this is not the experience for you. And finally, most sub excursions come with a hefty extra fee of several hundred dollars for less than an hour of going down below.
Having submarines on expedition ships has proved so problematic that Silversea removed the feature from its ship Silver Endeavour when it bought the expedition vessel from Crystal.
Still, when the stars align, a submarine ride in Antarctica, Greenland or even in the Caribbean is thrilling and definitely gives you bragging rights. If you'd like to be part of that world, here's what you need to know about the submarines on different expedition cruise lines.
Scenic's two yacht-style expedition ships each have one six-passenger submarine (a U-Boat Worx Cruise Sub 7) that's capable of diving up to 984 feet below sea level. They come with names -- Scenic Neptune on Scenic Eclipse I and Scenic Neptune II on Scenic Eclipse II. Seats rotate 280 degrees and participants can take in the underwater view from every direction through the dual acrylic sphere windows.
Tours in the sub -- up to eight a day, in destinations that permit them -- cost $795 for a 40 minute ride. (If you're prefer to head up in the air, both Scenic Eclipse I and Scenic Eclipse II also have two helicopters.)
Named for the Beatles -- John and Paul are housed on Viking Octantis, while George and Ringo are on Viking Polaris -- Viking's yellow submarines are also made by U-Boat Worx and seat six passengers, plus a pilot. The surprisingly comfortable subs have rotating seats, so you can always get a good view of what's not only in front of you but above and below as well.
When the subs first debuted, they were notable because Viking included a ride in the fare, but for bookings made after April 1, 2023, the excursions will be optional and cost $499 per person. We took a ride on George during a Viking Polaris sailing in Antarctica, and while we didn't see much besides a few starfish, it was a thrill to submerge deep into beyond-icy waters to the Southern Ocean floor.
Seabourn Venture and its twin ship Seabourn Pursuit, the first two expedition-specific vessels for Seabourn Cruises, also has two of the U-Boat Worx subs. Just like other lines, the battery-powered subs carry six passengers, plus a pilot, and will be able to dive to depths of up to 984 feet below sea level while offering 280-degree unobstructed views.
However, these subs will also be outfitted with special technology, including a 4K underwater video camera that will record the seas outside and an internal video recording system that will capture and film passenger reactions to their surroundings. There are also custom leather upholstery, a Bluetooth stereo system and -- of course -- a Champagne chiller. All this luxury comes with a price tag: Seabourn charges $500 to $900 per person for a 45-minute dive.