An expedition cruise, for those who haven't taken one, is quite simply a taste of exploration and adventure in destinations that are off the beaten track. The emphasis is more about the ports and experiences ashore than the actual ship, and itineraries often offer once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.
Is expedition cruising right for you? It's the ideal choice for those who care more about their experience at the destination than on the ship. Expeditions appeal to those who want to visit destinations rarely seen by man, who want to get up close with a colony of penguins on a remote Antarctic beach, or who simply want to experience the true meaning of adventure in some of the harshest yet most incredible places on Earth.
It's not for everyone, but if you're the adventurous sort who can go with the flow when your group needs to adapt to changes on the ground, then go for it! Here are some tips to make your experience go smoothly.
Get to know your expedition leader
Each expedition voyage is accompanied by an expedition leader. Cruise passengers will notice that the expedition leader is responsible for many components of the trip, including the day-to-day scheduling of time ashore. It is not uncommon for the expedition leader to change plans at the last moment in order to take advantage of things like sea conditions, weather and wildlife sightings. After all, an expedition voyage is all about the adventure and an adventure is exactly what you'll get.
Where you will cruise
Expedition cruises visit Antarctica, Alaska, the Amazon, Arctic, Galapagos Islands and the South Pacific, including Bora Bora, Tahiti and Fiji. You can cruise to one pole or the other (or both), or from a tropical climate to the coldest regions on earth. That's part of the reason why in recent years expedition travel — sometimes called adventure travel or exploration travel — has become increasingly popular.
The terrain and what you will see
Regardless of which region you want to explore, guests will be immersed in the local way of life. Keep in mind that some locations are uninhabited, except for the local wildlife. Expedition cruise passengers will discover what it must have been like for early explorers when they set foot upon a strange and untouched land for the first time. Catch a glimpse of a polar bear, walk along the beach with penguins and even come across locals in remote villages — expedition cruising really does allow you to see the world from a different point of view.
Nearly all expedition vessels use Zodiacs instead of tenders to get passengers ashore. They're inflatable and much lighter so are able to move at greater speeds and land you on the beach if need be, a beach that may well have been undisturbed by tourists. Zodiac boats are not to everyone’s liking, but when it comes to adventure travel you want the opportunity to get to where you need to be quickly and they do the job.
When luxury meets expedition cruising
In recent years expedition cruising has been injected with a touch of luxury. Several high-end cruise lines offer stunning voyages that encompass everything the avid explorer would desire, along with stunning, luxurious onboard touches, allowing you to return after a day of exploration and simply relax.
Cruise lines offering expedition cruises include:
- Silversea: Silver Discoverer and, after a refurbishment in August 2017, Silver Cloud
- Celebrity Cruises: Celebrity Xpedition and the new Celebrity Xperience and Celebrity Xploration
- Lindblad Expeditions' National Geographic-branded ships
- Ponant: Le Boreal, Le Lyrial, L'Austral, Le Soleal, Le Laperouse (coming in June 2018) and Le Champlain (arriving in September 2018)
- G Adventures: Expedition and Evolution
- Hurtigruten: Fram and most of the cruise line's other ships.
Have you taken an expedition cruise? Please share a story, tip or discovery. What was the highlight for you? I'd love to know!
Updated in July 2017. Help improve this article! See anything wrong? What did we overlook? Be a co-creator!