Avid Cruiser Voyages: The Expedition Cruise

This week’s Avid Cruiser Voyages highlight is merely the prelude to a larger and more exciting array of destinations, many of which remain untouched and largely unvisited by the vast majority of cruise travelers. We’re talking, of course, about Expedition Cruising.

Expedition cruises offer the chance to explore some of the world’s most remote destinations. © Ralph Grizzle

A few things distinguish expedition cruising from more common cruises and voyages. By its very nature, an expedition cruise is operated on a much smaller ship, carrying anywhere between a few dozen to a few hundred passengers. These ships are normally no longer than 400 feet in length and can vary from spartan, working icebreakers to vessels with all the comforts of a true luxury cruise.

Expedition ships also have some quirks and features not found on more “mainstream” ships. Since they’re built to sail continually throughout all types of weather, it’s likely you’re going to encounter raised door seals, deck obstructions, and the bumps and bruises any hard-driven ship incurs along the way.  Balconies on these vessels may be sparse, and some vessels — particularly icebreakers on seasonal charter — may have basic amenities.

Coming Ashore in San Blas. © Ralph Grizzle

But expedition cruising also has some significant benefits. To start, most ships carry their own fleet of zodiac craft that are capable of landing on almost any shore, anywhere in the world. They’re easy to board and remarkably reliable in terms of operation, even in heavy seas.  Some ships, particularly the icebreakers, take things one step further by offering up one or two onboard helicopters for overland flightseeing or landings in remote locations like Antarctica.

Ship operated by Lindblad Expedition’s partnership with National Geographic even feature underwater cameras.

Coupled with these unique amenities is the fact that most expedition ships operate itineraries that are likely to include ports and places you’ve never even heard of, some of which may not even be inhabited.

Celebrity Expedition is Celebrity’s Galapagos-based expedition vessel. Photo courtesy of Celebrity Cruises

While the crown jewels of the expedition world may well be the spectacular voyages to the far Arctic and Antarctica, expedition cruises also routinely explore the unexplored in popular destinations like Alaska, the Caribbean, Baja California, the South Pacific, South America, the Amazon, Africa, the Mediterranean, and Northern Europe and the British Isles.

Because of their size, expedition ships can squeeze into places where the big ships simply cannot go, and their low passenger counts allows cruise lines to modify itineraries literally on-the-fly to provide their guests with the best possible experiences.

Once you scratch the surface of expedition cruising, you may be surprised to discover that there’s a whole world of breathtaking adventure that exists almost completely outside of the normal cruising realm. Make no mistake about it: These are active voyages designed with the adventurous cruiser in mind. You might have shore landings at 5 a.m. in Antarctica, or late-night tours in Europe. Dining times are constantly shifted to reflect the ashore schedule, and most expedition vessels offer little more than a few bars and lounges by way of entertainment.

But if you’re up for the challenge, few types of cruising are as rewarding.

Expeditions sail to literally every corner of the world, including Greenland (above).

In the coming weeks, we’ll take a look at a few of the diverse destinations you can visit by expedition cruise, and we’ll show you some of our favorite journeys to take on these adventuresome ships.

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