Expedition Cruises are for those who are ready to discover
Even if you’ve visited before, expedition travelers experience new aspects… The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page. Not all those who wander are lost.
Cruising has long been a favorite mode of travel. But as travelers focus more on where they are going, less on how they're getting there, a new breed of traveler is finding that smaller ships with fewer passengers, more active excursions that focus on nature, and environmentally friendly practices are the experience they’re really after. Welcome to expedition cruises. Wondering what they are and how they differ from an ocean cruise or a river cruise?
The presence of fewer passengers also means the opportunity for more activities. Most expedition cruise lines can accommodate two different landings a day, so people are spending more time off the ship and in the environment. (If you have 4,000 passengers, it takes additional time and manpower to organize everyone and get them off the ship.) The smaller passenger size makes for a more intimate vibe on the ship, too: you generally form close relationships with people on expedition ships, because you’re with the same ones each day.
Another big part of expedition cruising is the focus on education on the ship. While luxury may be a component for some expedition lines, broadly speaking, lounging by the pool with a drink in hand comes second to lectures from guest scientists, naturalists, and historians. Travelers on expedition cruise ships want to know about the nature and history of where they’re going, and the ships also offer easy access to get outside for wildlife viewing.
Expedition cruises have long been popular in Antarctica and The Arctic. Recently many more exciting and unique destinations are being visited in a whole new way. Even if you have visited Europe, South & Central America’s, Australia & New Zealand and others, you’ll experience these areas with a very different lens. Visit our Destinations for a full description of what is available.
A lot of travelers used to envision the concept of an expedition cruise as being as beyond their reach, or extreme, but these days expedition cruises are more accessible, yet still cachet and is seen of as status symbol for many. Often, guests are over 40,and there's also increased interest among younger travelers, including women booking solo trips to Antarctica. We are seeing increased business from upscale travelers and “people who are ‘soft adventure’ travelers.”
Clearly, expedition cruising is not for everyone. One keystone of expedition cruising is the extensive use of Zodiac inflatable crafts instead of conventional tenders. Not only does this require more agility transferring to and from the ship, but often the destination is a beach or rocky shoreline lacking any sort of a pier, necessitating a "wet landing" (having to jump over the side into the water and wade to shore).
When it comes to expedition cruising, smaller is better. Most agree that 200 passengers or less is the ideal size. Smaller ships allow access to ports and areas not accessible to larger ships. “An expedition ship can respond nobly to changes in weather or to make the most of wildlife opportunities,” says Susan Adie, expedition operations manager for G Adventures. That means that the ship doesn’t have to adhear to a strict itinerary the way that large ocean liners do. If there is a group of humpback whales spotted in Antarctica or polar bears are seen off in the distance in the Arctic, the ship can change its course to get closer to the action—optimizing the experience for guests.
We believe a certain group of travelers are looking more for adventure, true exploration, and candid wildlife encounters—especially in very remote, seldom visited regions. While large ocean liners may offer more than 100 shore excursions on a one-week itinerary, expedition cruises offer fewer options, but focus on active adventure or an immersive nature experience.
Along with changing demographics, there has been a shift in expedition ships with an unprecedented level of comfort and luxury. This trend started almost 10 years ago as the expedition industry transitioned from former Russian research vessels into more dedicated expedition vessels. Today’s expedition ship is more likely to have fine dining, luxury suites, and even helicopters and submersibles aboard - think of it as "glamping at sea."
Most expedition cruises are seasonal. For example, summer in Antarctica is over the winter months in the northern hemisphere - December through March. Alternatively, summer in Alaska or The Arctic would be the traditional summer months, May through September. Every destination has its own unique characteristics and so you’ll want to make sure you travel at the right time to have the best experience. Our team is dedicated to making sure you find the best times based on your preferences.