An Interview with Aurora Expeditions CEO Monique Ponfoort

All Things Cruise recently caught up with Monique Ponfoort, CEO of Aurora Expeditions. Based in Australia, Aurora has been in the expedition cruise business for over 30 years, specializing in trips to the Arctic and Antarctica. Ms. Ponfoort’s career spans more than 25 years in the travel and cruise industry – including eight years in expedition cruising, managing the Asia-Pacific market. She was named CEO of Aurora last year.

Tell us a little about the history of Aurora Expeditions — your ships and where they are based, and what ports/destinations you visit.

Aurora Expeditions is a pioneering expedition travel company with three decades of experience in both polar regions — the Arctic and Antarctica — as well as warm-water destinations in some of the most remote corners of the planet.

Australian-owned and based in Sydney, the business was co-founded in 1991 by renowned mountaineer and explorer Greg Mortimer and his wife, Margaret.

Over the past 30 years, we have become the global leader in small-ship, expedition-style travel to unique and extraordinary destinations, including Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falkland Islands, the High Arctic, Alaska, the Northwest Passage, Russian Far East, Costa Rica, Baja, California and West Papua.

We have two new, purpose-built and ultra-modern small expedition ships in our fleet. The Greg Mortimer, launched in 2019 and named after our founder, is being readied for its next expedition voyages program which we are very excited to announce soon.

Our newest ship, the Sylvia Earle, is currently being built to the highest standards and specifications.

And on the eve of our milestone 30th anniversary, Aurora Expeditions was named The World’s Leading Polar Expedition Operators at the prestigious World Travel Awards in 2020.

The Sylvia Earle is your newest ship. Talk about the significance of the name and the features that stand her apart from other expedition vessels.

We’re beyond excited to launch our second expedition ship, the Sylvia Earle, named after renowned American marine biologist, oceanographer, explorer and conservationist Dr. Sylvia Earle, and paying tribute to her outstanding conservation work.

In keeping with Sylvia’s own vision and achievements, the new ship will focus on marine education and conservation, offering a unique opportunity for our passengers to learn about the extraordinary biodiverse marine habitats we visit in situ and, as a result, become ambassadors for protecting them.

Our goal is to ignite the curiosity and passion of the people who travel with us, and do it with the greatest respect for the places we travel to and the people who live there.

We have an extensive, highly educated and experienced expedition team, including naturalists and historians, who bring our voyages to life and we’re working hard to create an inspirational ship that will make a difference and embrace Dr. Earle’s own conservation values.

The Sylvia Earle features the revolutionary inverted Ulstein X-BOW® – delivering faster, more comfortable and fuel-efficient travel with reduced emissions – a unique Citizen Science Centre inspired by Dr. Earle; premium staterooms; panoramic observation areas; custom-built hydraulic viewing platforms; Zodiac docks, and activity preparation areas making shore and water expeditions much easier.

The new ship also features a two-level glass atrium in the bow offering extraordinary views from the front of the ship. In polar regions, passengers are able to witness the majesty of icebergs and whales immediately as they appear on the horizon.

In recent years, expedition cruising has taken off, and now it’s one of the industry’s hottest sectors. Why do you think that’s the case?

We believe the expedition space is like no other form of travel. At the very least it’s life-enhancing, and in many cases transformative. It’s an emotional connection; it touches people’s hearts and souls and creates lasting impressions, lasting memories.

Expedition travel is about engaging with the real world – nature and all of its wonders. An Aurora Expeditions voyage is like a David Attenborough or Sylvia Earle documentary come to life, engaging all of our senses.

It’s also a shared experience between our expedition team and equally passionate expeditioners. Our two purpose-built small expedition ships are uniquely Australian, with a relaxed, informal and fun, on-board vibe.

Travelers are looking for big adventures on small, intimate ships and we believe we are leading the way in expedition travel.

Describe the typical guest who books a cruise with Aurora, and the experience they get on your ship they might not get with one of your competitors.

An Aurora Expeditions voyage is like a close-knit family traveling on a once-in-a-lifetime, next-level adventure, as well as a unique opportunity to learn about conservation, sustainability and the well-being of the planet.

Our passengers are generally in the 50+ age range; physically active, socially progressive and very well-travelled; concerned about climate change and the environment; respectful of nature, wildlife and conservation; worldly and passionate with an innate spirit of adventure.

Our expeditioners can choose from a range of inclusive and optional activities including Zodiac cruises, wildlife encounters (think polar bear-spotting in the Arctic), guided hikes, nature photography, scuba-diving, ice-camping, snow-shoeing, alpine trekking, sea-kayaking, rock-climbing and polar plunges.

This sense of freedom and flexibility, along with our relaxed and informal onboard atmosphere, make for truly immersive and life-enriching adventure experiences. Exploration, curiosity, discovery and knowledge are foundation stones of the company. We are passionate about exploring the planet and helping to protect and preserve it for future generations.

There are concerns with so many new expedition ships entering the market, the fragile eco-systems being visited could be endangered. How is Aurora addressing that?

Polar expedition travel, conservation and sustainability has been in our DNA for three decades and we are deeply concerned about, and committed to, the environment and well-being of the planet.

We are working closely with Dr. Earle to develop a world-class Citizen Science Centre on board the new Sylvia Earle as well as voyage programs that will visit, showcase and celebrate her iconic ‘Hope Spots’ — a global network of marine protected areas.

The decks of our new ship are named after seven other leading ocean and coastal conservationists, and we will carry their powerful and important messages of concern and hope around the world.

Ever since our first Antarctic voyage in 1991, our mission has been to travel respectfully and responsibly, to connect people with the natural world, and to deliver once-in-a-lifetime adventures. Through personal experience and education, our goal is to enrich people’s lives, so they in turn become ambassadors for the planet.

Aurora Expeditions is a founding member of IAATO, the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators, which created the environmental protocols for all commercial visitors to Antarctica and is also a member of the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO).

What plans/projects are coming next for Aurora Expeditions?

With the safe resumption of cruising, we can’t wait to get back to doing what we do best, and the health and safety of our passengers, crew and expedition team is our number one priority.

We care about people as much as the planet, and we want our passengers to have full confidence in our ever-evolving health and safety program.

We have partnered with Respond Global, a world-renowned health crisis management agency, to develop our prevention and response system that is among the most comprehensive in the world.

These carefully considered measures will be precisely followed while also ensuring our passengers will continue to have every opportunity to fully experience the joys of expedition cruising.

A key component of this industry-leading Health & Safety Program is the adoption of break-through rapid onsite PCR testing, the highest level of pre-cruising preventative measures, and a robust Response Plan and protocols on board designed to bring peace of mind to all of our guests and crew.

We’re incredibly excited to be returning to Antarctica in the coming months, and we are continually enhancing our world-class health and safety protocols; customer experience; exciting new voyage programs, as well as our ongoing conservation, sustainability and citizen science initiatives.

Cover photo: Monique Ponfoort, CEO of Aurora Expeditions, courtesy Aurora Expeditions

For more information and to book a cruise on Aurora Expeditions please email us at







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