See the lines and ships that best represent excellence in ocean, luxury, river and expedition cruising, chosen by Cruise Critic's international team of editors
On Scenic Eclipse II, guests are treated to gorgeous luxury hotel-style public spaces; spacious cabins; excellent and ambitious dining and an outstanding expedition team that works hard to get you outside and into your surroundings as much as possible. Whether you’re traveling to Antarctica, the Arctic and Greenland or Australia’s wild Kimberley, the ship allows you to get the most out of your destination, by Zodiac, kayak, helicopter and submersible – and return to the best in creature comforts.
If you’re looking for true adventure, it’s hard to get more active – in more ways – than you do with Quark Expeditions. The long-time polar specialist in Antarctica and the Arctic has shore excursions that go beyond kayaking and hiking to include paddleboarding, heli-hiking, alpine trekking and camping. A leader in expedition cruising, Quark also has a reputation for attracting quality crew who imbue every trip with a sense of adventure.
Cabins on expedition ships Seabourn Pursuit and Seabourn Venture strike the right balance between luxurious comfort and practical design. From the entry-level Veranda Suite to the two-story Grand Wintergarden Suite, the accommodations boast thoughtful touches like warming closets, heated floors and smart storage space to keep your items in place when crossing rough waters. With in-cabin caviar service to top it all off, what’s not to like?
The highest staff-to-guest ratio in the industry, butlers assigned to every cabin, Maitre d’s that go out of their way to accommodate you, extremely knowledgeable sommeliers, crew that remember your name, outstanding expedition guides, attentive and personable service – the list goes on – and all this in some of the most rugged and inhospitable places on Earth. Silversea Expeditions sets the luxury bar, then keeps raising it higher.
Imagine this: One minute you’re outside completing a polar plunge. The next, you’re sitting down to a multicourse molecular gastronomy meal with wine pairings. That’s the level of dining that Scenic delivers on its two expedition ships, Scenic Eclipse I and Scenic Eclipse II. Even with just 228 passengers, the ships have a strong selection of specialty restaurants – Asian, French and Italian steakhouse – plus two chef's table experiences and an outstanding marketplace buffet, all included in the fare.
It’s hard to find a line that comes close to Silversea when it comes to luxury cruising in harsh terrain. Guests are treated to gourmet cuisine, butlers serving every cabin, heated indoor pools, sumptuous spas, unlimited caviar and Champagne, and all-suite accommodation. Silversea delivers luxury in a way unlike any other expedition line. All of Silversea's expedition vessels have enjoyed recent upgrades, with Silver Endeavour setting the standard in the Antarctic and impeccable Silver Origin in the Galapagos.
There’s no shame in wanting to relax in comfort, even when you’re on an expedition ship. And that’s exactly what Viking provides on its duo of expedition ships. At 378 passengers, the ships are big enough to contain extras like multiple restaurants, a fantastic thermal spa and a state-of-the-art theater. Two submarines and a RIB boat, as well as kayaks, allow for as much active exploration in remote destinations as guests like, accompanied by lectures that help make sense of what they've seen.
Whether cruising in Antarctica or Alaska, Hurtigruten makes science the focus of its expedition sailings. That’s evident upon entering its ships: The state-of-the-art Science Center is the real atrium of the ship, greeting passengers upon entering and becoming a hotbed of activity throughout the sailing. With immersive programs like the Citizen Science Project, the expedition staff encourages passengers to participate in projects that contribute to long-term research.
Forget about utilitarian expedition ships: Viking’s expedition ships come with plenty of spots for pampering, including the impeccable LivNordic thermal spa complex. You'll find a full indoor thalassotherapy pool – with a view – and a large steam room, sauna, snow grotto, cold “dump” bucket shower and experience shower, as well as heated ceramic chairs and padded loungers. Don’t forget the “Badestamp,” a large, sheltered hot tub where you can relax and watch the Antarctic landscape go by.
Affordable and Antarctica? Believe it. With its fleet of small upscale expedition ships, Atlas Ocean Voyages has shaken up the pricing for adventure trips, offering a good level of inclusions at the farthest reaches of the earth. The cruise line even offers reasonably priced fly-and-sail packages, which allow guests to get to Antarctica even faster. As a result, the line is drawing younger passengers, many who are on their very first cruise.
There are plenty of expedition lines that cruise to Alaska, but no one explores The Last Frontier like UnCruise Adventures. The line’s primary focus is on rugged Alaskan expedition cruises that are so remote, it’s common to only see civilization twice – once when you embark, and once when you disembark. In-between, UnCruise crafts its voyages to highlight Alaska’s natural beauty, showcased by an enthusiastic expedition team eager to show off the U.S.'s crown jewel.
With so many new ships entering Antarctica, it’s hard to determine which to choose. Scenic rises to the occasion with a pair of vessels – Scenic Eclipse I and Scenic Eclipse II – that bring a luxurious experience to the most remote continent, in ships that are able to do it all through paddling, submersibles and helicopters. The ships are also sized to maximize time spent on shore landings, while still boasting state-of-the-art stabilizers that make your Drake Passage crossing as pleasant as possible.
With its icebreaker expedition ship, Le Commandant Charcot, Ponant has been breaking new ground with Arctic itineraries – literally. The ship regularly takes passengers to the North Pole, with teams of scientists onboard. It's also the only cruise ship to traverse the globe straight across the poles, sailing from Svalbard to Nome, Alaska. The power of the ship is second only to the luxury onboard. If you’re looking to push the limits northward, this is your ship.
Lindblad virtually created the expedition cruise in the late 1960s, and that depth of experience shows through in its Galapagos program. Not only is Lindblad a family-friendly expedition (its partnership with National Geographic is part of that draw), but the line offers two ships in the Galapagos operating two different itineraries that range from rugged expedition to lavish luxury – always with an educational twist that we love to see.
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