It's exploration, but on cruise control

Seafaring exploration, tradition deems, is neither easy nor comfortable. Long and arduous days, meagre rations and unyielding bedding was staple fare for intrepid expeditions led by the likes of Cook, Flinders and Dampier.

Nowhere in their manifest was white-glove service from a personal butler, five-star meals, luxurious suite accommodation and a pool to lounge by. That's what guests on “expedition” ships run by cruise line Silversea can expect –and more.

The Italian-based ultra-luxury firm announced this month it has added an eighth ship to its global fleet. Of those, three – including the newly minted Silver Discoverer – are designated expedition ships, meaning smaller vessels that eschew the staple cruise routes favoured by holidaymakers to ply seas less sailed and visit destinations largely unseen or touched by human hands.

The Silver Discoverer's signature destination, when it begins sailing next year, will be the Kimberley Coast, in the remote north of Western Australia. Other luxury cruise lines, such as True North and Orion, operate in the area, but Silversea claims it will lift the bar.

It hangs that claim on the 11 expedition leaders that will accompany each cruise, including marine biologists, dive masters, historians and naturalists, as well as being the only operator in the area to leverage the assets of the Royal Geographical Society.

Additionally, the ship can deploy 12 Zodiac inflatable boats to explore the region's spectacular island-strewn coastline, canyons and rivers.

“You're surrounded by experts who can tell you everything about where you are and what you're seeing, but in a very understated way. You can take what you want from it,” says Silversea's president of Europe and Asia Pacific, Steve Odell.

“Our owner, Manfredi LeFebvre, is a great believer in expedition, and he sees an enormous potential for this part of the market. It's attracting a different kind of customer and a more adventurous kind of customer.”

The maximum number of paying passengers on board the Silver Discoverer will be 128, whose every whim will be catered for by 80 staff.

Apart from the promise of bringing unparalleled luxury to Australia's remote north-west, Odell says another selling point over rivals is the onboard swimming pool – standard fitment on cruise liners, but rare indeed on smaller expedition ships.

“We're spending a lot of money on refurbuising the ship to turn it into a Silvesea standard of ship, with new bathrooms, new furniture, soft furnishings and improved dining facilities,” he says.

“The other big advantage of this ship is that it has a swimming pool. Most of the expedition ships operating in the Kimberley region don't have swimming pools. So guests no longer have to swim with the crocodiles.”

Silversea sales and marketing director for Australia and New Zealand, Karen Christensen, has trialled the Kimberley route and says the Silver Discoverer will open up a section of Australia that is one of its most beautiful, unspoilt and – until now – inaccessible.

“You can fly over it, but you're not going to get the same experience. You certainly can't reach it by coach tour,” she says.

“For me, it really showed me Australia at its best. What we have as a country is so amazing.”

When not ferrying wealthy eco-tourists – the majority of whom are expected to be Australians - from Darwin or Broome to the Kimberley Coast, the Silver Discoverer will range through destinations as varied as northern Russia and Alaska to the Pacific islands of Micronesia, Polynesia and Melanesia, and south to New Zealand and the sub-Antarctic region.

“These are places that cruise ships don't normally go,” Christensen says.

The newly refurbished Silver Discoverer will kick off in March with 10-day cruises running between Broome and Darwin, and longer trips from Broome to Cairns and Bali. Fares are expected to start from $9950 for the Broome-Darwin cruise.