By Sasha Wodtke, Heidi Sarna & Ted Scull.
20 Next Generation Expedition Ships in the Pipeline for 2018-2020
In recent years, an unprecedented number of cruise lines have been investing time and resources into building small expedition cruise ships to explore hard-to-reach places around the world. Between 2018 and 2020, we’ll see the debut of more than 20 next-generation expedition ships carrying under 300 passengers. Several more are in the works and we’re busy confirming their launch dates and will update this article periodically.
Whether you’re eager to explore the breathtaking glaciers of Iceland, see polar bears in the Arctic or a waddle of adorable penguins in Antarctica, small expedition ships will take you there. In fact, there are many isolated locales where an expedition cruise is really the only way to go: from hopping around the Galapagos Islands to exploring the Polar Regions and isolated corners of Australia or South Pacific islands.
While some are very cushy and luxurious with fancy spas, plush suites and multiple gourmet dining venues, others are more utilitarian and destination-focused. Either way, expedition vessels are built as transportation for intrepid travelers to reach remote places. Most have ice-strengthened hulls for cruising the Polar Regions and most carry Zodiac boats for excursions.
Trends in next-generation expedition cruise vessels focus on high-tech gear to enhance passenger interaction with the environment — think mini-submarines and helicopters. Some have underwater cameras that a diving staff member uses to take high-definition footage of the undersea world around the ship, beaming the video back to passengers on board. Hydrophones, or underwater microphones, used to catch whale sounds are standard equipment on expedition ships. Increasingly, ships carry a ROV, a remotely operated vehicle capable of diving far deeper than a human Scuba diver to view parts of the undersea world you could otherwise only speculate about.
In terms of environmental impact, the newest expedition vessels are being kitted out with hybrid engines fueled by hydrogen and with hull designs that improve fuel efficiency. Read on for more details.
2018-2020 Schedule of New Expedition Ships Under 300 Passengers
|PASSENGER COUNT||GROSS TONNAGE||DEBUT
|Antarctica XXI||Magellan Explorer||100||4,900||Q4 2019|
|Celebrity Cruises||Celebrity Flora||100||5,739||Q2 2019|
|Coral Expeditions||Coral Adventurer||120||5,000||Q1 2019|
|Crystal Yacht Expeditions||Endeavor||200||25,000||Q4 2019|
|Hapag-Lloyd||Hanseatic Nature||230||15,540||April 2019|
|Hapag-Lloyd||Hanseatic Inspiration||230||15,540||October 2019|
|Lindblad Expeditions||National Geo Venture||100||1,800||May 2018|
|Lindblad Expeditions||Unnamed||126||12,300||Q1 2020|
|Mystic Cruises||World Explorer||200||9,300||October 2018|
|Mystic Cruises||Unnamed||200||9,300||Q1 2020|
|Oceanwide Expeditions||Hondius||180||5,590||Q2 2019|
|Ponant||Le Lapérouse||184||10,038||June 2018|
|Ponant||Le Champlain||184||10,038||September 2018|
|Ponant||Le Bougainville||184||10,038||June 2019|
|Ponant||Le Dumont-d’Urville||184||10,038||September 2019|
|Scenic||Scenic Eclipse||228||16,500||August 2018|
A Brief Snapshot of the Expedition Lines
The pioneering company Antarctica XXI is building the MV MAGELLAN EXPLORER for a late 2019 delivery. The company specializes in offering Antarctica expedition air-cruise combos; flying passengers over the stormy Drake Passage to board their small expedition ship directly in Antarctica. Holding a maximum of 100 passengers, the MV MAGELLAN EXPLORER will have a large, forward-facing observation lounge, a viewing deck, and a dining room that accommodates all guests and expedition staff in a single sitting. Cabins range from 220 to 440 square feet; most have balconies and a handful are dedicated cabins for singles. The ship will be outfitted with a pair of meeting rooms, protected outdoor barbecue area, sauna and gym. Kayaks and snowshoes are carried on board. It’s being built to the latest Polar Code specifications established by the International Maritime Organization and carries a Polar Class 6 ice-class. For comfortable navigation, the ship will have stabilizers as well as bow and stern thrusters.
Celebrity Cruises is building 100-passenger CELEBRITY FLORA, an all-suite ship with a glass-wrapped Observatory and a library dedicated to the Galápagos. A marina at the stern will make it easy to step into Zodiacs for the frequent nature tours — hiking, swimming and snorkeling — that characterize a Galápagos cruise. A staircase leads from the marina to the Sunset Lounge, an outdoor space with a plunge pool. Inside, Darwin’s Cove is the place where passengers can chat with the naturalists who lead tours and give informative talks. Briefings will be delivered in the Discovery Lounge, where there’s a full bar, stage for entertainment and comfy seating. Besides the Seaside Restaurant, open for all meals, the ship will have a casual alternative, the Ocean Grill, with panoramic views and the opportunity to dine under the stars. The standard “Sky Suites” measure 330 square feet with an “Infinite Veranda” that has doors that can slide to the side to make the veranda a seamless part of the room. When the doors are closed, creating a separate veranda area, the top of a floor-to-ceiling outside window can be lowered to the open air. The Penthouse Suites, at 1,288 square feet, are the top accommodations. CELEBRITY FLORA’s will have dynamic positioning so there’s no need to drop anchor to keep it in a fixed position at sea and an in-suite water filtration system that should cut or eliminate the use of bottled water, reducing plastic waste.
Australia-based Coral Expeditions is scheduled to release the new 120-passenger CORAL ADVENTURER in mid-2019 with another sister ship expected to follow after that one. The design will reflect Coral Expedition’s standard of offering a relaxed and intimate onboard atmosphere. The ship will explore the Kimberley region, Cape York and Arnhem Land (the top of Australia); Indonesia’s Papua New Guinea and Spice Islands; and the South Pacific. Wow-factor features will include multiple indoor and outdoor bars (who doesn’t love sipping a warming or cooling drink while watching the world pass by) and roomy communal areas. The casual dining area will seat all guests at once and more than half the cabins will have balconies.
Crystal Cruises is building the 200-passenger CRYSTAL ENDEAVOR “mega-yacht” for launch in late 2019. Designed for Arctic, Antarctic, and tropical conditions, the megayacht will have a PC6 Polar Class designation for cruising in Polar Regions and also be fitted with state-of-the-art offshore dynamic positioning technology. This means that computer-controlled systems allow the ship to automatically maintain its position with its own propellers and thrusters, so it can float atop coral reefs and historic ship wrecks without using anchors. CRYSTAL ENDEAVOR’s cool exploration “toys” include capacity for two helicopters and a submarine. Eighteen electric amphibious zodiacs are also part of the entourage, plus kayaks, paddle boards, snorkeling and diving equipment, recompression chamber and dive support tender. There will also be SEABOBs, high-tech underwater scooters for exploring what lurks beneath. The onboard vibe will be just as over-the-top in terms of amenities, with six dining venues, an observation lounge with 270-degree panoramic views, and a pool whose floor can be lifted to create a dance floor or alfresco dining area. There will be a “Crystal Life” spa, salon and fitness center. The standard suites will be 400 square feet (including balcony) and all have butler service. Fares are all-inclusive.
The German line Hapag-Lloyd Cruises plans to release two new 230-passenger expedition sister ships: the HANSEATIC NATURE (April 2019) and HANSEATIC INSPIRATION (Oct 2019). The HANSEATIC NATURE will be a German-speaking ship while the HANSEATIC INSPIRATION will be an international ship, with all cruises conducted in both English and German. A blend of adventure and comfort, these ships are setting the bar high with three restaurants, two bars, a lounge, balcony suites, and gym and spa. Both will carry Zodiacs on board for excursions, and ply the waters of the Arctic and Antarctic, as well as the Amazon River and South Pacific.
Lindblad wrote the book on small-ship expedition cruising, when it pioneered Antarctic and Galapagos expeditions a half-century ago. In May 2018, Lindblad is introducing the new 100-passenger NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC VENTURE, a sister to the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC QUEST, to Alaska, the Inside Passage and the Pacific Northwest. The new ship will have 22 of 50 cabins with step-out balconies and six sets of connecting cabins for families and groups. There is a Sun Deck Bar and a dedicated mudroom for storing your expedition gear. Guides and naturalists are excellent, and the ship comes equipped with twin expedition landing craft, Zodiacs, kayaks, paddleboards, undersea video camera, hydrophone, glass bottom boat, video microscope, snorkeling gear and a crow’s nest camera. The line has an open bridge policy.
Bigger news is the recent announcement that the line is building its first new ocean-going ice-class polar vessel, for delivery in early 2020. A core design feature of the 126-passenger vessel is the distinctive X-BOW that provides fuel efficiency while significantly improving passenger comfort in rough seas. The X-BOW, designed by Norway’s Ulstein Group, is found on numerous non-passenger vessels, but is just breaking in to the some of cruising’s next-generation expedition ships. The impressive exploration toys range from kayaks and cross-country skis, to a remotely operated vehicle (ROV), hydrophones, a video microscope, underwater video cameras and a helicopter landing platform. Amenities include two dining venues, multiple observation decks, and suites and cabins include a dozen designated for solo travelers. You’ll find a spa, gym, yoga room and a pair of infinity Jacuzzis. Read more details in a recent QuirkyCruise news piece.
Running on an energy-efficient Rolls Royce hybrid propulsion system, the 200-passenger WORLD EXPLORER will be introduced by Mystic Cruises in October 2018. This ship is the first vessel in a series of as many as 10 ships in total, with three more réplicas of the WORLD EXPLORER slated for delivery first quarter 2020, 2021 and 2022. Each will have a Bureau Veritas Ice Class 1B rating. Amenities will include a bow observation deck, theater/lecture hall, main lounge, observation bar, restaurant, library, small casino, fitness room, outdoor pool and jogging track. For the expedition itineraries, the mudroom and lockers for passenger gear will come in handy. Most cabins are 280-square-foot balcony suites, with two dozen “infinity” cabins having a sea-facing glass wall. The ship is chartered to Quark Expeditions for two Antarctica seasons (2018/19 and 2019/20) and the rest of the year to Germany’s Nicko Cruises, a company owned by Mystic Invest, for sailings to the Arctic, Norwegian Fjords and Mediterranean.
A leading polar cruise company since 1993, Oceanwide Expeditions is building the new 180-passenger HONDIUS to ply the Arctic and Antarctica. Launching in the spring of 2019, it will be rated Polar Class 6. A speedy zodiac embarkation is guaranteed, with two separate gangways and an indoor platform that can be used for outdoor activities such as kayaking. The line’s goal is to offer a comfy, informal atmosphere onboard, with the main focus placed on the nature and wildlife programs and related shore activities, from camping to snowshoeing, and zodiac excursions. Accommodations range from twin cabins and quads, to spacious suites — a total of 14 have balconies. The propulsion system consists of two medium speed main engines and one adjustable pitch propeller. The environmentally-friendly system, which features a shaft generator instead of a diesel-driven generator, allows the lowest possible fuel consumption and CO2 emission. The vessel will also use biodegradable lubrication oils; certifiably hazardous-free coating and paint; steam for onboard heating; LED interior and exterior lighting (reducing power and fuel needs); and waste heat (such as cooling water for the main engines) reused for the production of fresh water.
French-owned Ponant, known for its sophisticated international atmosphere, is scheduled to release four new 184-passenger “Explorer” sister ships in the span of two years, all named after French explorers: LE LAPEROUSE (2018), LE CHAMPLAIN (2018), LE BOUGAINVILLE (2019), and LE DUMONT-D’URVILLE (2019). The Explorer series will have an Ice Class 1C rating with reinforced hull for polar navigation. Inside, elegant cabins will have private balconies and public rooms are being designed with light woods and lots of blues and beige. The ships will have cool pools with wake-facing views and also a counter-current system. Each will sport a 188-seat state-of-the-art theatre, sauna with ocean views, and two restaurants. The innovative “Blue Eye” lounge located under the water line will immerse passengers in the undersea world with two porthole windows and three underwater cameras projecting images on big screens. A stern marina allows easy access to swimming, kayaking, diving and other watersports, as well as Zodiacs for excursions. These vessels will offer cruises to Iceland and the Arctic Circle as well as Norway, the Greek Isles and Indonesia.
Known for its large fleet of river boats, Scenic is entering the expedition world. The line is building a new 228-passenger luxury expedition yacht called SCENIC ECLIPSE to debut in August 2018. After inaugural voyages in the Mediterranean and Cuba, it will head to Antarctica for the winter, then back through the Mediterranean to the Arctic region. Marrying luxury with adventure, SCENIC ECLIPSE will have heated indoor and outdoor pools, a spa, gym, and yoga and pilates studio. Choose from nine different dining venues, ranging from casual to fine dining. The all-suite accommodations have balconies and butler service. All-inclusive fares cover all drinks, laundry service and wifi. For exploring on shore, two helicopters and a submarine are carried on board, plus Zodiacs, kayaks and snow shoes.
Seabourn has offered an expedition-style program in Antarctica with the Seabourn Quest since 2013, and will continue to do so until the arrival of the purpose-designed pair of 264-passenger expedition vessels expected to debut in 2021 and 2022 Seabourn Cruise Line introduced a trio of ships that offered a new high standard of luxury accommodations beginning with Seabourn Pride in 1988 with 208 passengers, the identical Seabourn Spirit the following year, and slightly larger Seabourn Legend 1996. When these ships were sold to Windstar Cruises, Seabourn’s new, much larger fleet exceeded QuirkyCruise’s passenger limits, with Seabourn Odyssey (2009), Sojourn (2010), and Quest (2011) taking up to 458 passengers and Seabourn Encore (2016) and Ovation (2018) with 600 passengers. So now that Seabourn is entering the expedition ship business, as have other upscale lines, with passenger capacities falling below our 300-passenger limit, we’re back reporting on Seabourn and their new builds.
The largest tonnage provider of expedition vessels to the cruise industry, Miami, Florida-based SunStone Ships is releasing four new sister ships within the span of the next two years, and has an option to build additional six vessels. The ships are being designed with inverted bows, which are thought to mitigate vertical motion from waves to create a smoother ride. The first delivery will be in September 2019, with one vessel to follow every six months afterwards. SunStone’s new ships are being planned to accommodate between 130 and 200 passengers. They’ll be rated Ice Class 1A or Polar Code 6. The vessels’ interior will be created by Florida-based design firm Tomas Tillberg Design International, one of the most sought after names in the business. The vessels are being built in China (by China Merchants Heavy Industry, near Shanghai,) with the design, equipment and management supplied by Norway’s Ulstein Design & Solutions. The plan is for the fleet to be chartered to other companies within the expedition world. The first vessel has been chartered long-term to Aurora Expeditions in Australia. This vessel’s technical operations will be managed by Cruise Management International (CMI) and the hotel operations, by sister company CMI Leisure.
QuirkyCruise Intern Sasha Wodtke recently graduated high school in Singapore and is looking forward to studying English and Communication Studies at Northeastern University in fall 2018. In the meantime, she’s exploring and experiencing the startup world, interning, and dreaming of traveling to Greece, France, and Greenland in the near future.
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