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World’s best luxury expedition cruises

Welcome to the fifth annual Luxury Cruise Awards. 19 Australian cruise and travel industry experts cast their votes on the world’s best luxury expedition cruises.

What is the Signature Luxury Travel & Style Cruise Awards?

Signature Luxury Travel & Style’s Luxury Cruise Awards recognises the world’s finest ocean, river, expedition, family and tall-ship cruising. This year, our fifth annual awards celebrate the top cruise lines, ships and operators in the industry.

How are the Luxury Cruise Awards judged?

Our annual Luxury Cruise Awards are judged by a panel of 19 leading luxury cruise experts and travel advisors who rate major cruise lines across 11 key categories, including suites, service, dining, wellness, itineraries and shore excursions. Each cruise line is awarded points that are tallied to determine the overall winners.

a polar bear
© Ophelie Bleunven / Ponant

World’s best luxury expedition ships

1. Silversea Expeditions

Silversea Expeditions takes guests deep into some of the world’s most remote locations while adhering to principles of sustainability and responsible exploration. Silver Endeavour is a standout of the fleet, boasting one of the highest ice-class ratings in the industry.

2. Seabourn

Designed specifically for luxury travellers while boasting all the cruising tech required for Antarctic exploration, Seabourn’s expedition ships are built to master any environment. Travellers looking for a submarine experience should consider sailing on Seabourn Venture, which has two custom-built submarines on board.

3. Ponant

No round-up of expedition cruise lines is complete without mentioning the French line, Ponant. Dedicated to taking passengers on incredible tours through almost inaccessible places, Ponant boasts some of the finest expedition vessels in the industry. Of particular note is Le Commandant Charcot, the world’s only luxury icebreaker.

Finalists: Swan Hellenic, True North, Viking Expeditions

Seabourn Venture’s sauna provides stunning vistas
Seabourn Venture’s sauna provides stunning vistas

World’s best four-star expedition ships

1. Quark Expeditions

While Quark Expeditions’ ships are suitably equipped for a variety of destinations and provide onboard amenities that appeal to the luxury traveller, it’s the excursions, activities and experiences that sets it apart. For example, Ultramarine is the newest ship in Quark Expeditions’ fleet and boasts two helicopters for passenger flights.

2. Lindblad Expeditions

Lindblad Expeditions seamlessly fuse a sustainable expedition with luxury accommodations. In particular, National Geographic Endurance features a patented X-Bow design that eliminates bow impact to ensure a smooth and quiet ride in all conditions.

=3. Aurora Expeditions

With environmental initiatives informed by partnerships with industry experts and conservation leaders, Aurora Expeditions has always been committed to sustainable tourism. The newest ship, Sylvia Earle, features an Ulstein X-Bow design that reduces noise, vibration and fuel consumption for a smooth and luxurious journey.

=3. Hurtigruten Expeditions

Taking adventurous souls to Antarctica, Galapagos, West Africa and many more amazing destinations, Hurtigruten Expeditions has long been a pioneer of sustainable cruising.

Finalists: Antarctica21, Aranui Cruises, Coral Expeditions, UnCruise Adventures

Quark’s Ultramarine glides through icebergs © Michelle Solex
Quark’s Ultramarine glides through icebergs © Michelle Solex

World’s best luxury operator

Travel Companies that specialise in chartering ships, then add in exclusive offerings.

1. Abercrombie & Kent

Specialising in luxury tours across more than 100 countries on all seven continents, Abercrombie & Kent is a premier travel operator of expedition, river and ocean cruises on the finest vessels in the industry.

2. Tauck

Tauck has been family-owned for 98 years and consistently delivers elevated cruise and tour experiences that take travellers on enriching adventures.

3. Captain’s Choice

Captain’s Choices makes reaching impossible destinations effortless with its excellent selection of ships and itineraries.

Finalists: Latitude 33 Luxury Tours

Live the high life at sea on Ponant, chartered by Abercrombie & Kent © Nicolas Matheus
Live the high life at sea on Ponant, chartered by Abercrombie & Kent © Nicolas Matheus

World’s most sustainable expedition cruise lines

These cruise lines have a commitment to not only showcasing the amazing destinations they visit but also take high measures to protect them.

Hurtigruten Expeditions

The ships of Hurtigruten’s fleet boast eco-friendly functionality such as hybrid power, heat-recovery systems and cutting-edge hull designs. MS Fridtjof Nansenis is the newest addition and has comfortable cabins with Scandinavian design, three restaurants and a science centre.


As the producer of the world’s first luxury hybrid electric polar exploration ship powered by liquified natural gas, Le Commandant Charcot, Ponant continues to uphold its high standards of sustainability.

Fridtjof Nansenis embodies clean cruising © Andrea Klaussner
Fridtjof Nansenis embodies clean cruising © Andrea Klaussner

What is an expedition ship?

An expedition cruise isn’t a standard vacation sailing. An expedition ship is smaller than a traditional ocean cruise ship and is purpose-built for navigating difficult environments, such as the Antarctic. Expedition ships can respond to changing weather quickly, and move more nimbly through difficult routes.

While expedition ships are primarily designed for exploration, the interior of the ship is crafted to ensure guests can relax in comfortable accommodations. Most vessels have cabins with private balconies, and communal spaces that facilitate conversation and the development of a community. Others may have restaurants, spas, gyms, pools and other luxurious features.

What is an expedition cruise?

An expedition cruise is governed by two simple goals: to learn and explore. An expedition cruise takes passengers to remote and pristine destinations, such as Greenland, the Arctic, the fjords of Northern Europe, Costa Rica, the Great Barrier Reef and beyond. These voyages are usually led by conservation, wildlife, science and adventure experts who educate guests on the flora, fauna, geology and culture of their destination through hands-on experiences, tours and wildlife encounters.

What types of excursions and activities happen on expedition cruises?

The types of activities undertaken on expedition cruises are largely dictated by the destination and the cruise line with which you choose to sail. That is, a tropical locale means snorkelling, scuba diving, swimming with whales and stand-up paddleboarding are all on the table. In an icy zone, Zodiac tours, kayaking, or guided tours of a significant site may be more appropriate. Hikes and wildlife watching are other possible inclusions, and some vessels are even equipped with submarines and helicopters.

sea lion on ice
© Morgane Monneret / Ponant

Signature Luxury Travel & Style Luxury Cruise Awards

Read more: 

The world’s best luxury river cruises
The world’s best luxury cruise ships and cruise lines
The world’s most energy-efficient ship

This article originally appeared in volume 46 of Signature Luxury Travel & Style magazine. Subscribe to the latest issue today.

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