For the more adventurous traveller who wants to discover destinations off the beaten track, expedition cruising is an ideal way to spend a holiday. Expedition cruising typically offers itineraries and destinations that are less frequented by tourists, often in untouched and remote corners of the world. It gives travellers the chance to experience Mother Nature and wildlife in all its natural beauty, without excessive crowds and the need to spend certain days docked in specific locations with other tourists. The most popular types of expedition cruise are those that cover the Arctic Circle and Antarctica.
Expedition cruises may offer an experience that gets you closer to nature, but that doesn’t mean that you have to scrimp on luxuries, quality facilities and accommodation. The level of luxury on board an expedition cruise ship is usually exactly the same as any other ship. The only difference is that the ship itself is smaller. If anything, staff on board the ship are able to give each passenger a more attentive service, as there are fewer travellers on board.
Alaska and the Arctic Circle are two of the most popular destinations for expedition cruises. Travellers choose these destinations to witness nature at its finest – with majestic polar bears roaming free, epic mountainous landscapes, glaciers and islands made of ice.
Alaska in particular has 34,000 miles of coastline and plenty of active volcanos such as Mount Shishaldin, which only add to the dramatic landscape of this part of the world. Expedition cruises touring Alaska typically cruise the Alaskan fjords, covering destinations such as the Tongrass National Forest and Glacier Bay, before exploring the various islands surrounding the Alaskan peninsular. Some even stop in to a major city such as Vancouver for the day for a change of pace.
The Arctic Circle
The Arctic Circle remains an ever-popular destination for expedition cruising, covering multiple countries in Scandinavia. This is a land of extremes – from the midnight sun in summer, to all-day darkness in winter. Witness local wildlife such as arctic foxes in their natural environment, and marvel at the ice caps that move around with the tide. Cruises taking place in winter allow for fantastic views of the Aurora Borealis (the Northern Lights). Many cruise itineraries track the weather in advance so that passengers can have the best possible chance of witnessing the Northern Lights from the ship.
Antarctic cruises run from November through to March, during the southern hemisphere’s summer season. There’s plenty to see, including stunning icy landscapes, penguin chicks, whales and seal pups. Weather in this part of the world is completely unpredictable, and can change in just a couple of hours, so being prepared and having the correct warm clothing is essential. Expedition cruises to Antarctica frequently depart from Ushuaia, at the very bottom of South America. Many itineraries include the Falkland Islands too, and well as South Georgia, which is home to large penguin colonies. Very long itineraries will even involve travel to New Zealand.
Expedition cruises also cover hot and humid destinations. A common destination is the Galapagos islands, which are situated off the coast of Ecuador. This is a great itinerary for those who prefer a warmer climate. There is plenty of wildlife to spot for nature lovers, as the islands are strictly protected to preserve the nature that calls them home. Keep an eye out for native penguins, bottle-nosed dolphins and Galapagos tortoises. Many cruise lines operate smaller vessels in their fleet for this type of expedition cruise in order to offer a more personalised experience.
What to pack for expedition cruising
It’s always important to come prepared for an expedition cruise to ensure comfort throughout your trip. Many cruise companies will be able to provide items that you have forgotten.
- Ordinary shoes (for wearing on board)
- Rubber boots for on land (these can often be provided or loaned from your cruise ship operator)
- Extra shoelaces
- Plenty of pairs of socks
- A waterproof backpack
- Hand sanitiser/wipes
- Sun cream
- Sunglasses with UV protection
- Warm, thick clothing and thermal underwear
- Lip balm
- Money in the right currency for your destination (some ships also accept credit cards)
- Medications (especially for travel or sea sickness)
- A water resistant coat
- Clothing that can be layered (as temperatures can dip in the evenings)
- Flip fops, sandals or shoes that are water resistant
- Sun hat
- Sun cream
- A light jacket
- T-shirts with a UV filter
- Mosquito repellent with DEET
- After-bite cream