Expedition cruising: Why 2023 is all about 'small-ship' adventure – The Australian Financial Review


Love the view from a Zodiac, observing wildlife while you kayak, or a spot of polar diving? Then be sure to book on one of these new vessels.
It’s hard to think of a bigger year for luxury expedition yachts hitting the market than over the past 12 months, starting with Ponant’s PC2 luxury hybrid-electric icebreaker Le Commandant Charcot for 270 passengers, with 190 crew.
Expedition voyages put the credibility into cruising with hard-core activities on offer; a strong focus on wildlife spotting, conservation, and generally using travel to foster a desire to better protect the environment. Don’t expect black tie gala evenings and poolside gossip – rather pack your thermals, binoculars, and a guide to bird spotting.
The Owner’s Suite (840) aboard Ponant’s Le Commandant Charcot puts extreme luxury into expedition cruising. 
Ponant has just released its 2024 Arctic season for Le Commandant Charcot, comprising five itineraries that follow after the great polar explorers of Greenland’s east coast to the Geographic North Pole.
The oceans have also welcomed Scandinavian-design Polar Class 6 Viking Octantis (378 passengers, 256 crew), and Aurora Expedition’s Sylvia Earle (132 passengers, 100 crew), named in honour of acclaimed 87-year-old American marine biologist and conservationist, Dr Sylvia Earle.
A quick shout out for Celebrity Cruises′ Celebrity Flora too (100 guests, 81 crew), which focuses on the Galapagos archipelago. The ship began cruising in January 2019 before the pandemic hit, so is virtually still new – and back in the Galapagos, with guests on the lookout for blue-footed boobies and manta rays.
Hurtigruten’s MS Fridtjof Nansen is no-nonsense comfort. 
Hurtigruten’s custom-made MS Fridtjof Nansen (530 passengers, 130 crew) experienced similar disruption after first entering service in 2020, before being put on ice. Built by Kleven Verft shipyard in Norway, the battery hybrid-powered ship is now in action, sailing remote waterways, including Greenland.
The “new breed” expedition ships, such as Seabourn Venture, put the comfort – and credibility – in cruising. 
Life & Leisure was among the very first onboard Seabourn Venture’s maiden voyage, before the ship heading for Antarctica.
L&L will also soon be embarking on PC6 polar class Silver Endeavour (200 guests, 200 crew) for the six-day King George Island return trip, taking in the Antarctic Peninsula and South Shetland Islands. Endeavour’s godmother is Felicity Aston, the first woman to ski solo across Antarctica (in 2012).
Scenic Eclipse’s sister-ship, Eclipse II, is scheduled to start cruising from April next year. 
Finally, one to watch out for: Australian-owned Scenic’s second ultra-luxury discovery yacht, Scenic Eclipse II (228 guests, 176 crew) is in the final stages of construction. The yacht’s inaugural voyage is scheduled to be the 11-day Incredible Iberian Discovery, from Lisbon to Barcelona, departing on April 13 next year.
Explorer itinerary tips
Seabourn’s Head of Expeditions, Robin West, has been in the game a while. “My favourite place is Antarctica, including the Falklands and South Georgia,” he tells L&L. “All three areas offer scenery and wildlife experiences like nowhere else on earth – in the Falklands, standing next to a black-browed Albatross colony and watching the young ones learn to fly; then coming ashore in South Georgia, Salisbury plain – seeing and hearing 250 pairs of king penguins.
“Then you have Antarctica, with its dramatic mountains, glacier, penguins, seals and whales.”
A Verandah Suite on Seabourn Venture. 
Another of his top picks for 2023 is the 15-night Greenland & Iceland: Vikings & Volcanoes itinerary on Seabourn Venture, departing Reykjavík on July 29, including visits to Norse archaeological sites and Heimaey, the “Pompeii of the North”. Priced from $21,499 a person, based on twin share in a Verandah Suite, excluding airfares.
Don’t forget about three-masted yachts
Ready your sea legs: Le Ponant is heading for Western Australia. 
If you’re more into wind power, Le Ponant (32 guests, 32 crew) has undergone a full renovation before its inaugural Kimberley season, which starts in April next year in Western Australia. The 16 staterooms are located across four decks and the 60-square-metre Owner’s Suite is on the upper deck. Include a private scenic flight onboard one of Paspaley’s vintage Grumman Mallard flying boats. For more information on the 24 cruises available during Le Ponant’s Kimberley season, see: au.ponant.com. For a full review of the experience, see The Australian Financial Review Magazine’s Summer issue, available on Friday, December 9.
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