Expedition cruising might sound like something that’s reserved for intrepid solo travelers or adventurous couples who have descended from the likes of Christopher Columbus—especially if you’re thinking you’ll have to tackle daring feats, endure rough seas or fend off wildlife with your bare hands. But, as it turns out, expedition cruises are actually designed for curious individuals who are looking to whet their adventurous and intellectual appetites with like-minded travelers, sans the crowds often associated with mainstream cruising.
One of the biggest differences that separates expedition cruises from others is that they involve smaller ships that can travel to more remote destinations. The ships also carry a number of sturdy inflatable boats called Zodiacs, which can whisk you to the shore for land-based excursions or to isolated spots in the water for activities such as deep-sea snorkeling or diving. Smaller ships also allow you to disembark more frequently (expect two or three landings or shore excursions per day, depending on the itinerary). And the best part: You’ll be at nature’s beck and call, meaning that impromptu excursions and unexpected sightings are always possible, making the experience that much more memorable for your dream vacation or the ultimate honeymoon.
One of the biggest differences that separates expedition cruises from others is that they involve smaller ships that can travel to more remote destinations.
Smaller ships also translate to fewer guests, which means not only will you avoid crowds, you can also get one-on-one interaction with the onboard specialists (such as marine biologists, historians or geologists) who share their knowledge and passion about the region you’re exploring.
Yet even though adventure is the name of the game, you are always in charge of your itinerary, which means you can do as much or as little as you’d like. And when you book with Vacation, you can rest assured that you will be in the hands of expert travel agents who are experienced in traveling remote and sometimes challenging conditions, knowing that safety is always the No. 1 priority.
So where might your adventurous spirit take you? Nowadays, expedition cruises visit destinations spanning all seven continents. The following is just a sampling of the many itineraries available.
Engage in New Activities and Unexpected Adventures in Alaska
There’s no place more synonymous with the natural world than Alaska, and expedition cruise ships are often small enough that they can position themselves in remote regions, providing you with the opportunity to see wildlife from your ship’s deck or your own cabin. Imagine, for instance, your captain turning off the ship’s engines in a small cove, so you can marvel at a pod of approaching humpback whales.
Cruising in Alaska often involves the Inside Passage, a narrow waterway that stretches for 500 miles along the coast of Southeast Alaska where calls to cities such as Juneau, Ketchikan and Skagway are common. Yet for many expedition cruises, these ports are the sideshow, and the bulk of itineraries take you through less-traveled waterways like Stephens Passage and Chatham Strait.
Cruising in Alaska often involves the Inside Passage, a narrow waterway that stretches for 500 miles along the coast of Southeast Alaska...
Some cruise ships carry kayaks, paddleboards and other sporting equipment, offering numerous chances for exploration. Activities include paddleboarding through Stephens Passage to spot Steller sea lions, kayaking through Thomas Bay past shimmering glaciers, and hiking along the Cleveland Peninsula, where black bears, eagles and mink roam free. And novices are always welcome to try new activities, as a guide will always be there to teach you the ropes.
Some cruise lines combine Alaskan cruises with land-based tours, tacking on a few days before or after the water-based portion of the itinerary. With Crystal Cruises’ Northwest Passage itinerary, you can add five nights to discover inland Alaska’s Denali National Park, allowing you to wander trails, participate in some of the park’s programs or simply relax in the great outdoors outside and enjoy the views. Crystal Cruises also takes expedition cruising to another level with its Unexpected Adventures program, where expedition leaders announce unplanned explorations 12 to 24 hours before they happen.
The Arctic and Antarctica
Name the one spot folks would be most likely to define as the ultimate expedition, and no doubt they would point to one of the polar regions—the Arctic in the north and Antarctica in the south.
Arctic cruises, many of which depart from Norway, Greenland or Iceland, are defined by their picturesque itineraries through mountains, glaciers and fjords. One of the more interesting places you might visit is Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago that consists of numerous national parks and nature reserves, offering the perfect environment for polar bears, walruses, reindeer, Arctic foxes and seabirds to thrive.
Because it’s always winter in the Arctic, ships must be capable of cruising in a polar region. G Adventures’ vessel, the G Expedition, for instance, is designed to sail through sea ice and carries cold-weather survival suits for every passenger and crew member. It also features a heated mud room where you’ll change into gear for shore excursions. During these adventures, you might hop into a Zodiac on a quest to spot Arctic wildlife, kayak through icy waters or step onshore to visit an Inuit village.
During these adventures, you might hop into a Zodiac on a quest to spot Arctic wildlife, kayak through icy waters or step onshore to visit an Inuit village.
With help from an expert travel agent, you can explore Antarctica, a travel destination that beckons travelers who want to trade North America’s winter for the Austral summer months, which take place November through March. During this time, marine wildlife is abundant, days are long, and the weather, in spite of Antarctica’s location, is surprisingly mild.
Cruise lines such as Seabourn and Celebrity Cruises offer journeys to this vastly unexplored area, which is also one of the most carefully managed tourism locales on the planet to ensure that the disruption to the natural environment is minimal. Ships also cooperate with one another in order to avoid being in the same places at the same time, leading guests to truly feel they are exploring a place that very few people ever get to visit.
Antarctic whales take on much of the spotlight, as species such as minke, humpback, blue and sperm feed in the waters. And, of course, you can’t forget the penguins. Antarctica is the permanent home of the emperor penguins, the only animal to spend the winter on the region’s ice. From Deception Island, an active volcano with a center through which you can actually sail, to the Lemaire Channel, which often gets blocked by icebergs, Antarctica is truly a unique, albeit unusual, place to visit.
Russia and the Far East
The Russian Far East lies on the Bering Sea, which supports almost every form of Arctic life. It’s also home of the Kamchatka Peninsula, an ice- and snow-covered land mass with volcanoes, including the largest active volcano in the Northern Hemisphere. More bears live here than anywhere else in Russia, and it’s quite possible you could see them feeding on salmon. You might also spot red foxes, reindeer, lynxes and sables as well as over 1,000 plant species. Ports of call include Tyuleniy Island, where thousands of northern fur seals and Steller sea lions breed; Yankicha Island, home of one of the area’s most active volcanoes; and Atlasov Island, where you’ll land on a black-lava beach to start a guided hike.
The experience is vastly different in Asia’s Far East. Here, you’ll see the contrast between today’s technological world and the world of rice paddies and tea plantations. With Silversea Expeditions, you’ll be completely immersed in your surroundings thanks in part to its exclusive partnership with the Royal Geographical Society, which provides scientific and historical information throughout your cruise. On a sailing through Japan, even touching part of South Korea, you might visit Onuma Quasi-National Park and see a dormant volcano; visit a park where the Crested Ibises, a once-endangered bird, has been successfully reintroduced; and visit the largest open-run fish market in the East. Meanwhile, if you’re traveling from Singapore to Phuket, you might hike through a park with more than 120 species of mammals, including the Sumatran orangutan and eight other primate species; take a jungle walk on an island inhabited by elephants, monkeys and hornbills; and perhaps see male Sufi dancers perform a traditional dance where they hit their hands on their bodies to create unique sounds.
... visit Onuma Quasi-National Park and see a dormant volcano; visit a park where the Crested ibises, once-endangered bird, has been successfully reintroduced; and visit the largest open-run fish market in the East.
No matter where you go, you’ll undoubtedly return a changed individual. Expedition cruising, after all, has a way of tugging on the soul, taking you on a journey into the natural world to experience some of the most remote places and cultures on earth. In addition to Alaska, the Arctic/Antarctica and Asia, popular expedition cruise itineraries include the Galapagos Islands, the Sea of Cortez, Iceland and the South Pacific. It’s best to work with a specialist agent from Vacation.com who can help you choose the expedition cruise that best suits your interests and abilities—and gives you plenty of fodder for cocktail party conversations once you’re home.
Inspired by this article and want to speak with an expert travel agent about how you can plan an unforgettable expedition cruise to explore Alaska, the Arctic, Antarctica, Russia or the Far East? Let one of Vacation’s on-call travel experts match you with an expert travel agent to customize an itinerary you’re gonna love.