Expedition cruises for a wild & remote adventure

Visiting far-flung places in the world has, for most of us, only been a pipedream and often left to those who are genuinely daring and who take the meaning of being adventurous to a whole new level.

But not anymore.

Numerous expedition cruises offer unique vacations to remote locations that will leave an indelible mark on your life experiences.

An expedition cruise is a fantastic way to explore the world’s most spectacular destinations. It allows travelers to embark on an expedition ship instead of a more conventional cruise ship. You explore remote places in style and comfort with knowledgeable guides at your service.

Expedition cruises are often associated with polar expeditions to reach the top of the world or journeys across untouched wildernesses. But there are plenty of opportunities for having memorable expedition experiences in warmer climates, such as the Amazon.

The expedition cruise ships are smaller vessels, sleeker in design, allowing everyone to enjoy the whole expedition experience in comfort. Their small size means they can reach smaller, remote, lesser-known beaches and ports. You get closer to nature, giving an authentic travel experience.

What can you expect on an expedition cruise?

An expedition cruise ship offers many of the same facilities – albeit on a much smaller scale – as larger cruise ships. Expedition tours are in small groups led by specialized guides such as marine biologists. There are ample opportunities for you to experience the environment you are visiting.

Special expedition team members are onboard these small ships to help you fully enjoy your surroundings, whether in the water or on land. The ships are equipped with special excursion crafts, RIBs (rigid inflatable boats), submarines, kayaks, boots, and binoculars.

Imagine spotting arctic foxes in their natural world or sea lions and polar bears from your cruise ship. Your expedition team makes these intriguing destinations possible through shore excursions you will talk about long after you are home.

And like other regular cruises, your vessel will have comfortable accommodations, good cuisine, and a variety of activities onboard, although all low-key compared to traditional cruise ships.

You can be sure you will get a personalized experience, from learning about select destinations with experts to small group sizes and activity options.

You will undoubtedly have a more intimate experience than a traditional cruise line. An expedition vessel will typically carry between 100 and 300 passengers. Cabins are usually smaller but have everything you need.

Small ship cruising, big exotic destinations

The most popular destinations on an expedition cruise include Antarctica, Alaska, Norway, Iceland, the Great Lakes in North America, the polar regions, and the Galapagos Islands. Some cruise lines even offer trips to the Chilean Fjords, Cape Horn, and the Brazilian coastline.

Expedition vessels generally attract older passengers than other types of cruises using larger ships, with very few families or young guests.

Is there entertainment onboard an expedition cruise?

Entertainment on an expedition cruise includes lectures by naturalists and historians and films provided by onboard expedition staff describing wildlife behavior or historical events relating to your destination.

Onboard seminars tailored to small ship cruising provide content that helps connect daily experiences with planned expedition programs. Lecturers range from global experts to local personalities who wish to share their unique perspectives about specific destinations.

Additional entertainment options for expedition ship guests include enrichment lectures on board. These cover topics ranging from photography to cultural insights into societies encountered during stops on your itinerary.

What is an ice-breaker ship?

An ice-breaker ship is a specially designed vessel to break through ice-covered waters. These expedition ships can navigate polar regions in conditions other cruise ships cannot.

A few different cruise lines offer expedition cruises onboard ice-breaker ships. One such line is Quark Expeditions, which operates expedition cruises to the Arctic and Antarctic regions.

Which cruise lines offer cruises onboard expedition ships?

These companies offer cruises on purpose-built expedition ships designed to navigate challenging waters. Guests can explore off the beaten path, often in a lesser-known destination, a unique feature of small ship cruising. Knowledgeable, expert guides lead excursions.

Viking Expeditions

In 2022 Viking River Cruises and Viking Ocean Cruises introduced their Viking Expeditions brand. Viking has long been top of the class regarding quality for the ocean and river cruises.

Viking’s expedition cruises will carry 378 guests and be custom-built for expedition cruising to remote destinations. There are currently two planned expedition ships taking guests on itineraries to Antarctica, The Artic, and North America’s popular destination of the Great Lakes. Itineraries range from 10 to 47 days at sea, so there will be something to suit you.

The Viking Octantis and the Viking Polaris will allow you to travel in style, and onboard you will find elegant facilities, including a spa and wellness center, a gym, an auditorium, and observatory lounges.

Celebrity Cruises

Celebrity Cruises offer small ship adventures on Celebrity Xpedition, the only expedition ship in their fleet.

This ship explores the wildlife, flora, and fauna of only one destination, the Galapagos Islands. The nature around the shoreline of the islands is stunning, much of which is only accessible by boat. The small ship ensures you get close up to the wildlife – in style! The boat carries only 49 passengers, so a true luxury, small ship experience.

On board the Celebrity’s expedition ship, there are four different suite categories, so you can choose the style and price point that suits you best. Passengers opting for true luxury choose the penthouse suite. In addition to the suites, there are premium staterooms, all having a window with a sea view.

Our favorite cruise comparison site to find the best cruise ship and itinerary is CruiseDirect. Find out why here.

Silver Seas

Silver Seas offer four expedition ships that sail worldwide on 35 different itineraries. Regions include South Pacific Islands, Russian Far East, South America, Central America, Australia, New Zealand, Galapagos Islands, the Arctic and Greenland, and Antarctica.

A small ship expedition cruise with Silver Seas, with each ship accepting under 300 guests, is an All Inclusive cruise. And it means that transfers, excursions, flights, and pre-and post-cruise hotel nights are all included in your cruise price. Now that’s the ultimate way to travel in style on this luxury, once-in-a-lifetime journey.

Quark Expeditions

Quark Expeditions offer expedition cruises to some of the world’s most beautiful remote regions. There is something for the explorer in you, from the polar ice caps to the lush rainforests.

Known for their expertly guided polar expeditions, the Ultra Marine is their largest and newest vessel, with a guest capacity of 199 passengers. It also has two twin-engine helicopters and 20 zodiacs. Onboard is suite accommodation, a restaurant, a bistro, a spa, and gym, and an auditorium for listening to experts in their field on the environment, landscapes, and wildlife you will see.

Seabourn Expedition Cruises

Seabourn Expedition Cruises, a member of the Carnival Corporation, specializes in sailing in the northern and southern polar regions. The Seabourn Venture is their expedition cruise ship that takes you to places with few people and no crowds.

You can visit the best wildlife viewing, fishing, and beach destinations in French Polynesia’s Tuamotu Archipelago. Hike with an expert guide through the virgin rainforest. You can also enjoy some of the most beautiful beaches in the world while enjoying complimentary water sports like kayaking, snorkeling, paddle boarding, surfing, and more!

This is an excellent opportunity for travelers who want to experience untouched paradise. The Seabourn Venture is brand new, with its sister ship Seabourn Pursuit due to be launched in 2023. You feel like traveling in a private club with all amenities at your fingertips. Polar cruising has never been so luxurious.

Lindblad Expeditions

Lindblad Expeditions is a world-renowned adventure travel company specializing in unique and intimate cruising experiences. Explore some of the most breathtaking and exotic destinations on earth.

Whether looking for an awe-inspiring safari cruise or an adventure through the Arctic Circle, Lindblad offers outstanding quality and luxury.

With a 50-year history, Lindblad Expeditions is a leader in providing guests with informative and up-close trips into the wild and wonderful. There are 15 expedition ships, the newest being National Geographic Resolution. Together with its sister ship, National Geographic Endurance, each has space for 126 guests. It’s expedition excellence with outstanding comfort.

Are expedition cruises for you?

If you’re looking for a different kind of holiday experience, a cruise holiday onboard an expedition ship may be what you had in mind. Here are a few things to consider which are important factors:

  • Expedition cruises are typically more expensive than traditional cruises.
  • The ships that sail on expedition cruises are smaller. The focus is on lectures, talks, and presentations. Low-key live music is on board some vessels.
  • The destinations that expedition cruises visit can be more remote and challenging. You should be prepared for this and have a well-prepared mindset for adventure.
  • The fact you are visiting remote places means risks increase. Safety is paramount. Some expedition cruises require fitness or medical certificates from your doctor saying you are fit to travel and participate in an expedition cruise. You must strictly follow directions during excursions to keep everyone safe. For example, you may have to walk specific paths or not get too close to wildlife.
  • Expedition ships generally have goals rather than a timetable. Daily programs are only a guideline of what to expect. Itineraries can vary while onboard, depending on weather conditions. The captain can also divert the journey to follow, for example, humpback whales if spotted.
  • Packing guidelines are issued; you must bring specific clothing items to join the tours. For example, high waterproof boots if you step into shallow water.
  • It would help if you were relatively fit. You will be active on these cruises – everything from climbing in and out of zodiacs to keeping up with the group tours.
Expedition cruises on small ships are a unique and rewarding experience. They allow you to explore some of the most amazing places on earth through expertly arranged shore excursions. If you're interested in expedition cruising after considering all these factors, then start your search here to find you next big cruise adventure.

Meet the author: Sarah has created and booked hundreds of travel itineraries for thousands of customers during a career in the travel industry that spans 20 years. Having worked hand in hand with cruise lines, hotels, airlines and tour operators worldwide, she offers inspiring & detailed insights in the world of travel and tourism.

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