Last week we looked at the new wave of luxury expedition cruise vessels entering the market. Ships promising the utmost in comfort while taking passengers to the farthest reaches of the globe are expected in the coming years from tried and tested brands such as Quark Expeditions and National Geographic, as well as newcomers to the industry like Victory Cruise Lines and Atlas Ocean Voyages.

This article will look at traditional expedition cruise vessels, sailing since before ‘luxury expedition’ was a market. Some of these ships are still sailing, braving the passage to the North Pole and exploring the less-seen regions of the Earth. Some have had their day, replaced by newer, more comfortable and environmentally friendly ships. All of them have a tried-and-tested sense of adventure, harking back to an age of weathered explorers embarking on dangerous scientific expeditions.

While some may still be used by scientists, these ships were either built for or adapted for the cruise tourism market. Explore the original cruise expedition vessels below…

Hurtigruten MS Nordstjernen

Nordstjernen, named for the North Star, was built in 1956 and still takes passengers around the waters of Spitsbergen, an archipelago between mainland Norway and the North Pole. Although modernised in 2000 to ensure safety in Arctic sailing, Nordstjernen still has the aura of a classic Atlantic ship, with wooden interiors, brass details, and the same art collection as she launched with. Nordstjernen offers a classic small-ship exploration experience with a passenger capacity of only 149 and itineraries designed around the Arctic scenery and the chance of seeing polar bears.

Quark Expedition 50 Years of Victory

50 Years of Victory is a Russian Arktika-class nuclear-powered icebreaker, named for the victory of the Soviet Union in World War II. Having taken almost 20 years to build from the start date of October 1989, 50 Years of Victory missed the 1995 50-year anniversary of victory and took her maiden voyage in 2007. The ship features an experimental spoon-shaped bow, which is capable of breaking through 2.5m of ice. The vessel, acquired by Quark Expeditions in 2008, takes up to 128 guests on voyages to the once-in-a-lifetime destination of 90 degrees North, and is complete with sight-seeing helicopter, pool, library, sauna, and sports court. Quark Expeditions also hold claim to the first ever tourist transit of the Northeast Passage, with a different chartered Russian icebreaker, in 1991.

More interested in the luxury life? Take a look at these new luxury expedition ships

Lindblad MS Explorer – the first cruise vessel to sail the Antarctic Ocean

MS Explorer was the first cruise vessel used specifically for sailing the icy waters of the Antarctic Ocean, taking its first expeditionary cruise to the Antarctic in 1969. As luck would have it, MS Explorer is also the first cruise ship to sink in the Antarctic Ocean, making its final journey in 2007 (all passengers and crew were rescued). MS Explorer carried 118 passengers to destinations then-untouched by tourism, including Easter Island, the Galapagos, Alaska, and the Amazon.

Hapag-Lloyd MS Bremen

Expedition cruising saw a period of significant growth in the 1990s, with the founding of Quark Expeditions and Aurora Expeditions, and Hapag-Lloyd turning their attention on the market. MS Bremen and MS Hanseatic were both launched under the Hapag-Lloyd name in 1993. MS Bremen has room for 155 guests, making it small enough to visit ports less frequented by tourists. In 2003, a previously uncharted island in the Antarctic was discovered by MS Bremen, and subsequently named Bremen Island. For Hapag-Lloyd, Bremen is sadly a victim of the pandemic, with the cruise line accelerating her retirement. The ship has however been sold to Scylla, a Swiss river cruise company looking to make the move into the ocean market.

All the major decision-makers in the expedition cruise market attend Cruise Ship Interiors Expo. Are you exhibiting?