The first thing you notice as you approach Scenic Eclipse is the helicopter. Super-sleek with an all-black finish, the six-passenger Airbus H130 sits atop the vessel like a gleaming trophy.
Another helicopter is tucked away in a specially designed onboard hangar, ready for use at a moment’s notice, and the 228-passenger “discovery yacht,” as Scenic describes it, also has its very own submarine on board capable of taking six people at a time to depths of nearly 1,000 feet below the water’s surface.
As AFAR saw over the weekend during a sneak peak of the vessel, the first ocean-going ship from Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours—to be christened Tuesday in New York by actress Helen Mirren—is like a bigger version of the billionaire-owned mega-yachts you see along the French Riviera, complete with all the toys. The only difference is you don’t have to be a billionaire to sail on it.
A dream that has finally become a reality for Scenic founder Glen Moroney, Scenic Eclipse was designed to set a new luxury standard for expedition-style cruising (the kind of cruising that involves landings by Zodiac boats in remote, hard-to-reach places), and it’s been a long time coming. Its debut originally was scheduled for 2018 and has been delayed three times. But for well-heeled vacationers who want to explore off-the-beaten-path corners of the world in extreme style, it may well have been worth the wait.
Scheduled to spend more than half the year in the two great expedition cruise destinations, Antarctica and the Arctic, the 551-foot-long vessel boasts accommodations that have rarely been seen on an expedition ship. Every one of its 114 cabins is a sizeable suite, and some are enormous. The biggest among them, the two-bedroom penthouse suite, measures 2,659 square feet—nearly as big as the average American home (even the much-ballyhooed mega-suites on Celebrity Cruises’ new Galápagos vessel, Celebrity Flora, are just half that size). It also has a price tag to match. The complex goes for more $10,000 a night when the ship sails in Antarctica.
Other standout features include eight eateries, an unprecedented number for an expedition vessel (there usually are one or two); a cooking classroom where you can whip up a banana-infused spring roll under the tutelage of an on-board chef; and a swanky spa with a maze of his-and-her steam rooms, saunas, and plunge pools. The ship also has its own yoga and Pilates studio and separate fitness room.
Such a range of amenities is unusual for an expedition ship. The niche until recently has been made up of mostly older vessels that lacked upscale touches. While that’s been changing in the past few years with the debut of new expedition ships from higher-end lines such as Ponant and Hapag-Lloyd Cruises, there hasn’t been anything quite like Scenic Eclipse.
Scenic Eclipse is the first expedition ship to have helicopters, which will be used to take passengers on airborne explorations of natural wonders such as the ice fields of Greenland. The submarine will let passengers ogle everything from unusual underwater creatures to shipwrecks. In addition, the vessel carries a dozen motorized Zodiac boats for exploring, along with a fleet of kayaks.
Scenic Eclipse’s culinary offerings are a big part of the experience. The eight dining venues range from an elegant French restaurant where the dishes are presented as high art, to a sushi bar where all the fish is flown in from Japan. There’s also a stylish Asian-fusion outlet where you can satiate your nasi goreng fix; a teppanyaki room; an upscale restaurant serving handmade pastas, plus steaks and seafood; and Chef’s Table, a venue overlooking the main galley—the latter serving insanely elaborate, 12- to 16-course meals.
The culinary program is run by German chef Tom Goetter, who came from luxury leader Seabourn and is a bit of a star in Germany, thanks to a near-winning stint this year on the country’s version of Top Chef. None of the eateries, notably, come with an extra charge (which isn’t always the case; the top dining experience on Silversea expedition ship Silver Cloud charges $60 per person). In fact, almost everything on board, from the top-shelf whiskeys at the signature Whiskey Bar (you’ll find more than 100 choices) to shore excursions, is included in the fare. Among the few exceptions are helicopter tours, which start at a hefty $500 per person for a 20-minute outing. Submarine rides start at $250.
While Scenic Eclipse is all about luxury, it’s built to be tough, too. Constructed with a strengthened hull and backup propulsion, navigation, and safety systems, it holds what’s known as a Polar Class 6 ice-class rating. That means it can venture deep into icy polar regions without the assistance of a secondary, ice-breaking vessel. It also has a purposely oversized stabilizer system, which should result in a smoother ride.
The vessel does have a few quirks. There’s surprisingly little top-deck space devoted to pool and lounge areas, in part because the ship’s helicopter pad hogs so much available real estate. Indeed, the main pool is jammed awkwardly into the same space devoted to a casual buffet eatery. And the glass-lined Observation Lounge at the front of the vessel sits so low that, for the most part, the view of the ocean is blocked by the bow for those who are seated.
Still, if you’re looking for a new way to explore not just on but above and below the water in high-end style, Scenic Eclipse is, no doubt, the new queen of luxury expedition cruising.
Fares start at $6,395 per person, based on double occupancy (for an eight-night Mediterranean sailing), but polar trips cost far more. Eleven-night Antarctica voyages start at $14,895. Additional information is available at scenicusa.com.