These Expedition Ships Take You to the World's Most Remote Regions in Style

New purpose-built expedition ships are sleeker, greener, and more comfortable than anything that’s come before.

A man stands on a zodiac in Greenland, with the National Geographic Endurance expedition ship in the background
National Geographic Endurance. Photo: Courtesy of Lindblad Expeditions

On my circumnavigation of Iceland last summer, there was no shortage of adventure. I hiked to breathtaking waterfalls, creaking glaciers, and the base of a volcano that spat lava into the sky. I kayaked past rocky coastlines as seals popped up to spy on me. I observed puffin and Arctic-tern rookeries in all their cacophonous glory. I gasped as pods of humpback whales dove and surfaced near the ship that had made all these moments possible, the newly launched National Geographic Endurance.

Operated by Lindblad Expeditions (11-day trips from $11,210 per person), the vessel is part of a fleet purpose-built to reach the world's most remote corners, whether a port like Ísafjörður, Iceland, or the Atlantic archipelago of Cape Verde.

Two puffin birds stand in green grass in Iceland
Puffins spotted during a Lindblad Expeditions trip to Iceland. Courtesy of Lindblad Expeditions

In many ways, Endurance is like Lindblad's other ships, staffed as it is by a team of naturalists, historians, geologists, and photography instructors who interpret the world's wild places for passengers. But as the first polar-class vessel built from the keel up for Lindblad, Endurance represents a sea change from its more utilitarian forebears.

"'Luxury' wasn't really the thinking per se," says Sven-Olof Lindblad, the founder of the now 53-year-old company. "We wanted to create a vessel that enhanced polar capacity, with new technology in hull construction that maximized connection with the outside. But since we were building from scratch, we said, 'Let's make it incredibly comfortable.'"

A man stands on a lighted walkway at the Langjokull glacier in Iceland
Iceland’s Langjökull glacier; puffins spotted during a Lindblad Expeditions trip to Iceland. Courtesy of Lindblad Expeditions

Indeed, many of the staterooms on Endurance are larger than my first post-college apartment, and each of the top-tier suites comes with a walk-in closet, a bathroom complete with twin sinks and a tub, and a big balcony fitted with a hammock. Elsewhere on the ship, guests can indulge in spa treatments, enjoy a session in the ocean-view sauna, sip cocktails by the outdoor firepit, soak in either of the two infinity hot tubs, or try any of the four dining venues aboard. Two bookable glass "igloos" at the stern afford the chance to spend a cozy night under the stars.

The Endurance launched last summer, riding a wave of popularity for small-ship cruising. That's touched off a race among expedition organizers — including Abercrombie & Kent and Ponant — which are now competing with one another in both onboard luxury and the adventure quotient of itineraries offered. Lindblad says the new Endurance, and its sister ship, the National Geographic Resolution, will allow the company to run trips to the polar regions earlier in the season, including to places even less visited than the relatively "busy" Antarctic Peninsula.

Meanwhile, the expedition vessels of yore — many of them smoke-spewing repurposed Russian icebreakers — may soon sail off into the sunset, eclipsed by a fleet of new ships that are swifter and greener. The Endurance, for its part, features an X-bow, which reduces fuel burn, and carries no single-use plastic on board; Lindblad also offsets 100 percent of its emissions, company-wide. Now that's progress worth celebrating.

Six More Super-comfortable Ships

Ponant’s L’Austral expedition ship in New Zealand’s Milford Sound.
Ponant’s L’Austral expedition ship in New Zealand’s Milford Sound. Nathalie Michel/Courtesy of Ponant

National Geographic Resolution

Twin sister of the Endurance, the 126-passenger Resolution (six-day trips from $6,580) hits the polar regions, as well as the East China Sea, the Russian Far East, and Pacific Ocean ports such as Easter Island.

Le Commandant Charcot

This hybrid ship, powered by natural gas and electricity — rather than dirtier fuels — is Ponant's latest vessel (11-day trips from $16,090) operating in the polar regions, taking up to 245 guests on trips such as a 25-day navigation of the Northwest Passage.

Viking Octantis and Viking Polaris

These 378-passenger sister ships from Viking (eight-day trips from $5,995) offer plenty of fancy toys, like six-person submarines. One upcoming Polaris trip starts in Fort Lauderdale and ends in Ushuaia, Argentina, while Octantis warms things up with a 10-day Caribbean cruise.

The runs of an Ancient Greek theater in Taormina, Sicily
An Abercrombie & Kent trip in 2022 will take in Taormina, Italy, plus other small ports in the country. Courtesy of Abercrombie & Kent

Seabourn Venture

The Venture (seven-day trips from $5,000) offers 132 balcony suites and adventurous itineraries like a 12-day journey that begins deep in Brazil's Amazon rain forest before crossing the Atlantic to Cape Verde.

Emerald Azzurra

Unlike polar-focused ships, the 100-passenger Azzurra (eight-day trips from $4,330) sticks to warmer-weather destinations such as the Aegean, Black, and Mediterranean seas, hitting smaller ports not often visited by larger vessels.

Atlas World Traveller

The newest ship from upstart line Atlas Ocean Voyages (seven-day trips from $5,040 per person), the 200-guest World Traveller will spend this summer in the Mediterranean before a repositioning voyage to Salvador and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.

A version of this story first appeared in the February 2022 issue of Travel + Leisure under the headline No Compromises.

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