Is “expedition cruising” for you?

by Ned Levi on January 28, 2013

Ashore at Neko Harbor, an inlet on the Antarctic Peninsula on Andvord Bay, situated on the west coast of Graham Land, with the Silver Explorer (Silversea Cruises, Ltd.) anchored in the harbor. by NSL Photography

Perhaps you’ve taken cruises to the typical Caribbean, Mediterranean, Baltic, Bermuda, and Alaska destinations, but are looking for something different. Perhaps you’ve avoided cruising because you find too many of the destinations not particularly stimulating. Perhaps you prefer a more comprehensive, longer tour of each destination than available by cruising.

Then again, perhaps you desire to visit some of the more remote destinations of the world, which can only be reached via a small expedition style cruise ship.

If so, “expedition cruising” just might be for you.

What is an expedition cruise?

It’s sailing to remote, “off the beaten path,” difficult to reach destinations, where the destinations are the sole focus of the cruise, not the ship. It is a sea adventure to see compelling, far-away locations and their panoramas of life.

For some cruisers, the ship is their destination. For other cruisers, it’s the mix of the “typical” cruise ship plus its destinations, drawing them to cruising.

For many cruisers, it’s the combination of shows, the endless food, the variety of dining options, gambling, drinking, dancing, music, shopping, spas, fitness centers, cinema, pools, hot tubs, clubs and other shipboard activities, and the destinations of famous city centers, beaches, and shopping.

For those cruisers, expedition cruising will likely be a disappointment. But, for those whose focus is the destinations themselves, those who carefully choose their shore excursions and choose to travel via ship, mainly due to its convenience, expedition cruising may be an exciting, adventurous alternative.

Expedition cruise ships get you to locales and specific destinations where travelers can go ashore where “typical” cruise ships are unable to sail.

Blue Footed Booby sitting on egg in trail on Espanola Island, Galapagos, Photo by NSL PhotographyExpedition ships get you to destinations most people only read about in the pages of National Geographic Magazine.

Expedition cruises take their passengers to the Arctic and its archipelago of Svalbard, which is further north than Alaska or even frigid Siberia, and to the Antarctic of Shackelton and Byrd, and to the Galapagos Islands made famous by Darwin, along with many other remote, difficult to reach locations.

If you think expedition cruises and their destinations are your cup of tea, it’s important you know something of the life on an expedition cruise.

Expedition ships are small. I just came back from an Antarctic cruise. The ship holds only 132 passengers. It has a single dining room, a small theater, a tiny library, a self-service launderette, a small shop where I bought a couple of extra pairs of heavy woolen socks, a fitness center for four, a few computers in the Internet cafe, and a small lounge with a great view of the sea. The ship had a single tiny elevator which was largely unused. My ship is considered a luxury expedition ship. Some have fewer amenities.

We had no pools, no casino, no ice skating rink, no long row(s) of shops, no AquaSpa, no shows, no lawn club, no specialty dining rooms, no cafes, no movie theaters, no surfing pool.

The theater is for lectures and presentations by the expedition staff and, on some cruises, guest lecturers, speaking about history, geology, geography, biology, ecology, anthropology, etc. These lectures aren’t for “enrichment,” but are at the core of expedition cruises. It’s about knowing and understanding where you’re going and what you’re seeing.

At your destinations, there are rarely any docks or shopping. They have little or no “civilization.” You don’t travel to shore in big covered life boats, but in small rigid inflatable boats with outboard motors, known as Zodiacs. You can get wet while cruising around in these. Many landings are “wet.”

Gentoo penguin flying through the air while swimming in Cierva Cove, Antarctica. Photo by NSL PhotographyAt your destination, you might cruise around in your Zodiac, guided by an expedition team member who might be a marine biologist, geologist, historian, environmentalist, glaciologist, ornithologist, etc., filling you in on the details of what you’re seeing.

Once ashore you’ll be hiking. It might not be far, but you’ll be on your feet. There won’t be a tour bus meeting you as you disembark from the Zodiac. As when cruising on the Zodiac, you’ll be led on your hike by members of the expedition team.

The sights you’ll see are often breathtaking and unlike any you’ve seen elsewhere in your travels. You’ll view spectacular landscapes and amazing wildlife not seen elsewhere.

In Neko Harbor on the Antarctic Peninsula, a scene as shown in the top photo, my ship sat in an iceberg-filled harbor where several hundred penguins greeted us as we came ashore.

Expedition ships visit Espanola Island in the Galapagos to see a Blue Footed Booby sitting on an egg, like the one in the photo above on the right.

At Cierva Cove, Antarctica, cruising in a Zodiac visitors see a Gentoo penguin flying through the air while swimming, as in the photo above on the left.

If these kinds of destinations and sights are in your travel dreams, then an expedition cruise may be just right for you.

(Next week I’ll have some expedition cruise tips for you to consider.)

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  • Carchar

    This is my kind of cruising! In fact, I don’t consider this actual cruising. I think of this as getting to somewhere you can only access by sea.

    My ship to the Ross Sea area of Antarctica was filled to its maximum capacity of 48 passengers. We saw 8 species of penguin, albatross tending their chicks on nests, elephant seals and hookers sea lions raising their pups in the forest. What a learning experience and I got to see a few Australian/New Zealand-made movies on movie nights. (We were 31 days on the ship.) No frills, but plenty of good conversation and simple but excellent meals.

    My trip to the Galapagos was on a 16-passenger boat. It was also no-frills and simple, but tasty fare. The excursions were very personal, with no waiting to access our guide with questions. We passed by some bigger ships run by National Geographic. I don’t think they could debark their passengers all at once. Loved the boobies, penguins, tortoises and the splendid vegetation.

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