What do first time Expedition Cruisers need to know?
Taking an expedition-style cruise for the first time can be an exciting and rewarding adventure. These cruises offer a unique opportunity to explore remote and often untouched destinations while immersing yourself in nature and wildlife. Here are some important things to know before embarking on an expedition cruise:
Itinerary and Flexibility: Expedition cruises often have flexible itineraries due to weather, wildlife sightings, and other unpredictable factors. Be prepared for changes and trust your expedition team’s decisions, as they prioritize safety and maximizing your experience.
Small Ship Experience: Expedition cruises typically use smaller ships designed for navigating remote waters and reaching unique destinations that larger vessels can’t access. This allows for a more intimate and immersive experience.
Wildlife and Nature Focus: Expedition cruises are centered around exploring and appreciating nature, wildlife, and ecosystems. The guides on board will provide insights into the flora, fauna, and geology of the areas you visit.
Expert Guides: Expedition cruises are accompanied by experienced naturalist guides who are knowledgeable about the destinations and the wildlife you’ll encounter. They offer lectures, guided hikes, and informative talks to enhance your understanding of the environment.
Limited Passenger Capacity: Small ships mean fewer passengers, which fosters a sense of camaraderie among travelers and allows for a more personalized experience.
Remote Destinations: Expedition cruises often take you to remote and pristine areas, away from typical tourist routes. This offers a chance to experience nature in its purest form.
Clothing and Gear: Depending on your destination and activities, pack appropriate clothing and gear such as comfortable hiking shoes, waterproof and windproof clothing, sun protection, and binoculars for wildlife viewing.
Physical Fitness: Some activities, like hiking and snorkeling, may require a certain level of physical fitness. It’s a good idea to be reasonably fit to fully enjoy the experience.
Respect for the Environment: Expedition cruises emphasize eco-friendliness and responsible travel. Follow the “Leave No Trace” principle and adhere to the guidelines provided by your guides to minimize your impact on the environment.
Seasickness: While modern expedition ships are equipped with stabilizers to reduce motion, seasickness can still be an issue for some. Consider bringing motion sickness remedies if you’re prone to discomfort on the water.
Social Interaction: Expedition cruises encourage interaction with fellow travelers, fostering a sense of community among passengers who share a passion for exploration and nature.
Booking in Advance: Expedition cruises can fill up quickly due to their limited capacity and high demand. It’s advisable to book well in advance to secure your preferred travel dates and cabin type.
Photography: Bring a good camera or smartphone with a decent camera to capture the stunning landscapes and wildlife you’ll encounter. Remember to respect wildlife by maintaining a safe distance and not disturbing them for a photo.
Traveler photographing a Giant Tortoise on Santa Cruz Island in Galapagos – Diego Toapanta
Local Cultures: Expedition cruises often include interactions with local communities if the itinerary permits. Be respectful and open-minded when engaging with local cultures.
Expedition cruising offers a chance to connect with nature, explore remote destinations, and gain a deeper understanding of the world around us. By keeping these important points in mind, you can make the most of your first expedition-cruise and create lasting memories of a unique and enriching journey.
How is an expedition cruise different from the traditional cruises that have been around for decades?
There are some key differences between expedition cruises and traditional cruises:
Size – Expedition ships are much smaller, usually under 250 passengers compared to traditional cruise ships that can have thousands of passengers. This allows expedition ships to access more remote locations.
Arctic landscape in Svalbard with small sail ship – deposit photos
Destinations – Expedition cruises visit more adventurous destinations like the polar regions, Alaska, the Galapagos, remote islands, etc. Traditional cruises tend to visit more populated ports and cities.
Here are some of the top expedition cruise destinations that have growing in popularity throughout 2023 and most likely will be only getting more attention in 2024 and beyond:
Antarctica – Antarctica cruises continue to be highly sought after for the chance to see majestic icebergs, penguins, whales and polar wildlife up close. The Antarctic season runs from November to March. Voyagers Travel has released its 2024 offerings for Antarctica.
Arctic – Cruising around the Arctic regions of northern Norway, Greenland, Iceland and Canada allows passengers to see glaciers, fjords and potential northern lights. Peak season is June to August. Quark Expeditions is one of the leaders in this area.
Galapagos Islands – This unique Ecuadorian archipelago with its abundance of wildlife and bird species remains a bucket list destination for many cruisers. The best time to visit is typically December to May. Voyagers Travel has many cruise options for the Galapagos.
Kimberley Coast, Australia – Remote and rugged, the Kimberley region in northwest Australia is known for its stunning, untouched landscape. Expeditions cruise here from April to October. The local expert is Coral Expeditions.
Alaska – Cruising along Alaska’s coastline and glaciers is a popular way to see majestic sights like Glacier Bay, Denali and the Inside Passage. The main cruising season is May to September. Many larger liners also offer exploring Alaska, you can find small ship offerings with Limblad Expeditons
West Africa – Expedition cruises traveling along the coasts of West African countries like Ghana, Ivory Coast and Gabon are on the rise. The dry season from November to April is the ideal time. Hurtigruten offers itineraries around West Africa and Cape Verde.
South Pacific – Remote island nations like Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Fiji that offer stunning beaches and exotic cultures are increasing in popularity as expedition destinations. The dry season from May to October is best. Here you can go all out in luxury with Seabourn yachts.
Activities – Expedition cruises have activities like kayaking, hiking, polar plunges, Zodiac excursions, and hands-on educational experiences. Traditional cruises focus more on entertainment, dining, pools, shows and relaxation.
Cost – Expedition cruises are generally more expensive due to the smaller ships, more staff, landing fees and advanced specialty gear needed. Traditional cruises can be very affordable, especially Caribbean itineraries.
Ambiance – The atmosphere on expedition ships is casual, laid-back and centered around the destination adventures. Traditional cruises have a more formal vibe with entertainment and dining as the focus.
Comfort – Expedition ships offer comfortable but not lavish accommodations. Traditional cruises have larger staterooms, multiple restaurants and ample lounging areas.
Itineraries – Expedition itineraries are flexible to adapt to changing nature and weather conditions. Traditional cruise itineraries are usually very port-focused and consistent.
So in short, expedition cruises are more adventurous and destination-focused, while traditional cruises offer more amenities, dining, entertainment and a fixed itinerary.
Why are travelers drawn to expedition cruises ?
There are several appealing factors that draw travelers to expedition cruises:
Adventure – Expedition cruises offer the chance to explore remote polar regions, jungles, islands and other hard-to-reach destinations in an adventurous way. Activities like hiking, kayaking and polar plunges add excitement.
Learning – There is a major educational component with lectures from experts and naturalists as well as shore excursions that focus on nature, wildlife and culture. Passengers gain new knowledge.
Unique Wildlife – Seeing Antarctica’s penguins, the Arctic wildlife like polar bears and whales, the Galapagos’ endemic species, etc. is a major draw for many. It’s a way to see rare animals.
Remoteness – The lure of traveling to somewhere off the beaten path, like Antarctica or Papua New Guinea, intrigues travelers. It’s a totally different experience from regular vacations.
Flexibility – Expedition ships can change course and take advantage of wildlife sightings or weather. This spontaneity and flexibility is part of the adventure.
Scenery – Dramatic landscapes like icebergs, fjords, rugged coasts and turquoise lagoons provide stunning and ever-changing scenery.
Small Groups – Expedition ships have under 200 passengers for a more intimate, immersive experience with expert guides leading the way.
Sustainability – Many expedition companies highlight sustainability, conservation, and responsible travel. This appeals to eco-conscious travelers.
Bucket List – For some travelers, visiting Antarctica or seeing the Amazon is a once-in-a-lifetime trip and worth the splurge. It’s a bucket list achievement.
Things to take into account before deciding on an expedition cruise
Expedition cruising is on the runway and everybody has their eyes on it, but it is important to take into account several considerations before booking the same trip the Jones’s took last month.
Are insurance requirements more stricter for expedition cruises?
Yes, insurance requirements tend to be more strict and comprehensive for expedition cruises compared to traditional cruises. There are a few reasons for this:
Remote locations – Expedition cruises often travel to very remote areas like the polar regions, deep in the Amazon, distant islands, etc. If an emergency occurs, rescue or medical care may be days away.
Activities – The activities on expedition cruises like kayaking, hiking and Zodiac excursions tend to be more physically demanding and risky than on typical cruises. This increases chances of injury.
Weather conditions – The weather can be unpredictable and extreme in some expedition destinations. Things like storms, swells, ice and snow can disrupt plans.
No ports – Weeks may pass without stopping at a port on some expedition itineraries. This limits the ability to evacuate someone who needs urgent care onshore.
Limited infrastructure – Remote destinations often lack developed infrastructure for medical care, hospitals, etc. This is especially true in the polar regions.
For these reasons, evacuation insurance, medical/travel insurance, medical air transport coverage and trip cancellation/interruption insurance tend to be requirements for purchasing an expedition cruise. The insurance provides an added safety net. You can find comprehensive policies by World Nomads.
Do you need a travel advisor to help you book an expedition cruise?
Booking an expedition cruise directly with the cruise company is certainly an option. However, there are some potential benefits to using a travel advisor:
Expertise – A good travel advisor specializes in expedition cruises and remote destinations. They can provide guidance on the best options for your interests, budget, experience level, etc.
Savings – Travel advisors can sometimes access promotions, discounts or added perks that aren’t available to the general public booking directly.
Objectivity – Rather than just selling you on a specific company’s cruises, an advisor can offer more impartial advice across multiple expedition lines.
Experience matching – Advisors help ensure the cruise you book matches your personal abilities/fitness level, interests and expectations.
Handling issues – If any problems come up pre-trip or during the voyage, a travel advisor can help manage changes, cancellations or concerns.
Planning – Advisors assist with all aspects of planning like flights, pre/post hotels, packing lists, documentation and more.
While not absolutely mandatory, agents can simplify the booking process, get you the best value and make sure an expedition cruise is a good fit. But do your research to find an advisor truly specialized in expedition travel.
Are you ready for an expedition cruise?
Seaman journey catamaran sailing between islands in Galapagos – Latin Trails
Here are some ways to “know your limits” when booking an expedition cruise:
Physical limits – Be realistic about your physical health, stamina, mobility and susceptibility to seasickness. Expedition activities like hiking, kayaking or wet landings can be strenuous. Be sure you meet the cruise’s guidelines.
Adventure limits – Assess your appetite for risk, adventure and flexibility. These trips often involve changeable weather, close wildlife encounters and basic amenities. Keep an open mind but know what you can handle.
Social limits – Small ships mean less privacy. Understand your preferences for social settings, groups, sharing meals and activities with strangers. Can you handle constant social interaction?
Independence limits – You’ll be part of a group guided by experts. Those wanting complete autonomy may get frustrated. Be okay with following instructions and guides.
Comfort limits – Don’t expect luxury. Understand these are working expeditions with potential rough seas and basic cabins. Lower your creature comfort expectations.
Budget limits – Know what you can realistically afford after costs like flights, gear, insurance, etc. Destinations like Antarctica carry hefty price tags.
Health limits – Disclose medical/dietary issues upfront. Access to doctors is limited. Chronic conditions may preclude going to extreme locations.
By honestly assessing your limits across these areas, you’ll know if an expedition cruise is the right type of travel for you. An experienced advisor can also guide you in choosing the best option tailored to your personal limits and comfort level.