Cruise Industry

Six new trends in expedition cruise ship design

Radical design thinking is pivotal in for the new generation of expedition ships taking adventurous cruise passengers closer than ever before to the remote wonders of the world, according to YSA Design, a leading naval architect firm.

It’s only through innovative expedition cruise ship design that the cruise line can deliver truly life-changing experiences. Here we look at five of the top new trends in the design of expedition cruise ships, with the overall theme being luxury – gone are the days of an expensive, bare-bones experience in the most remote regions of the world.


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Nowadays, the modern cruise passenger wants to get up close to collapsing glaciers in the Arctic and frolicking Emperor Penguins in Antarctica and still be able to retreat to a warm and comfortable cruise liner, where evening cocktails are served in an elegant bar, where gourmet cuisine is available every day, and where the staterooms are on-par with those of the mainstream luxury cruise fleet.

Closer to nature

Whether the ships are bound for polar seas, the Galapagos Islands, the Amazon or the Mekong Delta, the designer’s job is to allow cruisers to get as close as possible to wildlife without distraction, or to focus on the spectacle at hand rather than the aesthetics of the viewing platform, according to YSA Design.

“The expedition cruiser will be a seasoned traveller who sets out in search of an experience of a lifetime, or even a life-changing experience, and part of that is delivered by proximity to the elements and nature, or even ‘touching’ the water,” says Trond Sigurdsen, chairman, YSA Design.

“For the designer, this means that the area for the launch and recovery of tender boats and Zodiacs is a significant feature. Again, passengers who come to see wildlife want to get close, which calls for open promenades low in the ship’s structure that do not block balcony views and provide access to the observation deck via stairs running under or behind the bridge wings, to follow creatures as they pass by.”

Expansive views

In previous decades, expedition cruise ships were often converted auxiliary cruisers or research vessels from various navies. The prime focus of the ship’s design was practicality, with small portholes and high freeboard to protect the ship from the elements.

Nowadays, expedition cruise ships are not nearly so rugged, and as a result are much more passenger-focused.

Consider these two ships side-by-side – the first is MS Expedition operated by GAP Adventures, a rugged yet comfortable expedition cruiser capable of taking on almost any seas. The second is the new expedition cruise ship from Hurtigurten, intended for use in the same locations, but with all the bells and whistles of a mainstream cruise liner.

Bells and whistles

Which leads to the third new trend in expedition cruise ship design. More and more of the new expedition cruisers being commissioned feature infinity pools, balcony cabins and retractable marinas, which were previously found only aboard boutique, luxury cruise ships intended only for hopping between the ports of the Mediterranean.

YSA Design has developed a series of features for ongoing projects that mean expedition cruise passengers can make the most of their surroundings. They include the ‘infinity pool’, installed low down at the ship’s stern and featuring a reinforced glass-side panel so that swimmers can take in the view close to the water level. Again, retractable marinas have quickly become expedition ship ‘must haves’.


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“Luxury is a given, but these features also have the potential to change lives, because getting up close and personal with nature can bring home the effect of global warming,” says Sigurdsen. The exhibition ship passenger also has expectations on authenticity. “They want to feel that they are on board a ship following the route of illustrious names in exploration, not floating on a self-contained holiday destination.”


Yet these vessels still need to be designed to withstand the rigors of operating in some of the harshest and most extreme seas in the world, and the spaces on-board will also reflect that.

On one level, a passenger might need the space to get into a polar suit, either in his/her cabin or in a specially-designed mud room. On another, passengers buy into the concept of the ship’s voyage, on board a rugged vessel designed to instil confidence in its ability to handle rough weather.

A pioneering ‘look and feel’ is rendered by YSA Design in its selection of materials for interiors. “Where technical elements are prominent, we enhance the technical details as a decorative motif,” says Sigurdsen.

“We also use tactile and sustainable materials, or design elements such as sails and rigging if the intention is to amplify the relationship between man and nature,” he adds.

Research at sea

YSA Design has also been helping owners and shipyards to include shipboard laboratories to research surrounding waters, with results shared first with those on board.


“These are inquisitive cruise passengers entertained by intellectual stimulation,” says Sigurdsen. “They are best served by crystal clear acoustics in the lecture theatre, or perhaps multiple web-page browsing of wildlife species shown on immersive LED surround-walls, as already used to good effect on larger cruise ships.”

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