Expedition Cruises – The Ultimate Guide

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A vivid yellow orange sunset in Antarctica's South George Island. A colony of king penguin occupy the land as a ship floats offshore.
Discover the Falklands, South Georgia & the White Continent in the comfort of luxury

Ever dreamt of exploring the remotest corners of the world in comfort and style? An expedition cruise might be the perfect adventure for you. These unique voyages offer a blend of exploration, education, and luxurious accommodations, allowing you to access remote, hard-to-reach destinations and immerse yourself in diverse cultures.

We are expedition cruise pioneers with decades of experience. Our founder Todd Smith helped pioneer expedition cruises in Alaska and Baja California over 20 years ago. Our in-depth guide has everything you need to know about expedition cruising. Contact our experts to match you with the perfect destination, ship and expedition cruise line for the voyage of a lifetime. 

IN THIS POST – Expedition Cruises
What is an Expedition Cruise
Where Can You Go?
Life Aboard Expedition Ships
Differences from Traditional Ships
Best Expedition Cruise Lines
Expedition Cruise Cost
Expedition Cruise Reviews
Is It Right For You?

What is an Expedition Cruise?

Unlike traditional cruises that focus on luxury and entertainment, expedition cruises prioritize exploration and discovery. They travel to remote destinations inaccessible to larger vessels, such as Antarctica, the Galapagos Islands, Alaska and the Amazon River. Onboard, you’ll find experienced naturalists, historians, and other experts who lead educational talks, shore excursions, and interactive activities away from the ship.

According to Google, searches for the phrase “expedition cruises” have increased 79% in recent years illustrating what we already know. Expedition cruising is one of the fastest growing segments of the travel industry. 

A kayaker on blue water paddling towards a historic expedition cruise yacht with rocky cliffs in the background.

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Where Can You Go?

The possibilities are endless! Luxury expedition cruises take you to all seven continents, from the icy landscapes of Antarctica and the Arctic to the lush rainforests of the Amazon and the vibrant coral reefs of Southeast Asia. You can explore ancient ruins in the Mediterranean, encounter unique wildlife in the Galapagos Islands, and even witness the Northern Lights in the Arctic Circle.

The most popular destinations for expedition cruises are Alaska, the Galapagos Islands, Antarctica and the Arctic.  We call these “gateway” destinations because this is where many travelers first discover the thrill of expedition cruising. View our full list of small ship cruise destinations

Life Aboard a Small Expedition Ship: A Unique and Immersive Experience

Embarking on a small expedition ship is unlike any other travel experience. These vessels, typically carrying fewer than 200 passengers, offer a more intimate and immersive way to explore the world’s most remote and fascinating destinations. View our full selection of expedition ships.  Here’s a glimpse into what you can expect aboard a small expedition ship:

  • Intimacy and camaraderie: Small expedition ships foster a strong sense of community and camaraderie among passengers. With fewer people onboard, you’ll have ample opportunity to get to know your fellow travelers, share meals and stories, and bond over your shared interest in exploration. The crew is also readily available and often goes above and beyond to ensure your comfort and enjoyment.
  • Flexibility and personalized experiences: Small expedition ships are nimble and can navigate into secluded bays and waterways inaccessible to larger vessels. This allows for a more flexible itinerary, with opportunities to adjust plans based on weather conditions, wildlife sightings, and passenger interests. You may find yourself enjoying a spontaneous beach landing, joining a small-group kayaking excursion, or having a close-up encounter with a pod of dolphins.
  • Educational and enriching activities: One of the hallmarks of small expedition cruises is the emphasis on education and enrichment. These ships typically carry a team of experts, including naturalists, historians, and geologists, who offer lectures, workshops, and guided excursions that provide deeper insight into the regions you visit. You’ll have the chance to learn about the local flora and fauna, cultural history, and environmental challenges faced by these fragile ecosystems.
  • Focus on sustainability and responsible travel: Small expedition ships are designed with minimal environmental impact in mind. Operators prioritize sustainable practices like low-emission engines, waste reduction, and responsible wildlife viewing guidelines. As a passenger, you’ll be encouraged to participate in responsible travel practices and learn about the importance of preserving these pristine environments.
  • A sense of adventure and discovery: The very nature of traveling on a small expedition ship evokes a sense of adventure and discovery. You’ll be venturing off the beaten path, exploring uncharted territories, and making memories that will last a lifetime. Every day promises an opportunity to witness something new and exciting, whether it’s encountering a rare animal, witnessing a breathtaking natural phenomenon, or simply appreciating the unspoiled beauty of the wilderness.

Differences from Traditional Cruise Ships:

While traditional cruise ships offer luxurious amenities and entertainment options, they often lack the intimacy and flexibility of small expedition ships. Take a deep dive into the difference between small ship and big ship cruising.  Here are some key differences:

  • Passenger capacity: Small expedition ships carry significantly fewer passengers than traditional cruise ships, creating a more intimate and personalized experience.
  • Destinations: Small expedition ships cruise close to shore to access remote and off-the-beaten-path destinations inaccessible to larger vessels. They linger longer when wildlife is spotted. 
  • Activities: Small expedition ships focus on educational and enriching activities, including lectures, workshops, and expert let guided excursions such as shore hikes, kayaking, snorkeling or stand-up paddle boarding.
  • Focus: Small expedition ships are focused outward on nature and culture while traditional ships are focused inward on restaurants, swimming pools and shopping. Expeditions prioritize sustainability and responsible travel practices.
  • Atmosphere: Small expedition ships foster a strong sense of community and camaraderie among passengers, the crew and local inhabitants.
A small ship seen cruising near a big cruise ship in a calm Alaska cove.

Best Expedition Cruise Lines

An expedition to the far reaches of the globe such as Antarctica or Greenland is not to be taken lightly. It requires a careful blend of the right equipment, the best crew and years of experience in remote locations.

Expedition cruises are our specialty. We partner with the biggest names in the industry and smaller partners off the radar of most travelers.

Our experts are here to match you with the perfect trip. Learn why to book with AdventureSmith Explorations. Trust your travel to our list of the best expedition cruise companies:

How Much Does an Expedition Cruise Cost?

Cruise expeditions are typically more expensive than traditional cruises due to their unique itinerary and smaller size. The average price for an expedition cruise is about $5000 per person but prices can vary depending on the destination, length of the cruise, and amenities offered.

For example, a weeklong cruise in the Greek Islands starts at under $3000 per person or a four-day Galapagos cruise can start under $2000. A 12-day expedition to the Antarctic Peninsula can cost $10,000 per person or an epic 23-day luxury expedition cruise through the Arctic’s Northwest Passage can cost over $30,000 per person. The immersive experience and once-in-a-lifetime opportunities make it a worthwhile investment for many travelers.

A male traveler in a green jacket standing with arms raised on a mountain top overlooking green lakes and a blue fjord with snowcapped mountains in the arctic.

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Expedition Cruise Reviews

If you have done your research, you’ve undoubtedly found countless expedition cruise reviews on the internet. Many offer honest advice and insight, but some need to be taken with a grain of salt. Use cruise reviews as a guide, but don’t rush to judgement if you encounter a poor review.

We have found that negative reviews are often the result of a mismatch between the style of the traveler and the type of cruise they were on.  Even more reason to book with an expert like AdventureSmith Explorations. Browse all our expedition cruise reviews for in depth insights from travelers and exploration cruise experts. 

The best type of review is a referral from a previous traveler. Ask our Adventure Specialists to put you in touch with someone who has experienced the cruise you are interested in. 

Expedition cruises are ideal for adventurous travelers who are curious about the world and enjoy active exploration. They are also perfect for those who appreciate nature, wildlife, and diverse cultures.

These trips are active and require a certain amount of mobility. Some travelers do spend the entire voyage aboard the ship, but most want to get out and explore.

Expect to step off the ship into a Zodiac or similar small inflatable craft, sometimes in choppy seas. Once ashore there can be wet and dry landings where guests climb over the side of the zodiac into the water or onto a rocky beach. Crew and guides are always on hand to assist transferring in and out of expedition craft. 

Hiking explorations may be on well-maintained paths or encounter rocky, uneven, snowy or even icy terrain. Hikes can vary in length with options for a wide variety of interests and abilities. 

If you are uncertain about your ability to enjoy this style of travel. A quick conversation is worth a dozen blogs posts.  We have accommodated many travelers with mobility issue who still enjoy the activities aboard expedition cruises, even if they encountered some challenges. A sense of accomplishment is often the greatest reward for going on an expedition. 

If you are looking for a unique and unforgettable vacation experience, an expedition cruise is definitely worth considering.

Ready to Go?

Are you ready to embark on your own expedition adventure? Start researching different cruise lines and destinations to find the perfect trip for you. Remember, an expedition cruise is more than just a vacation; it’s an opportunity to learn, grow, and connect with the world around you. So, pack your bags, grab your sense of adventure, and get ready to explore!

If you’re looking for an unforgettable and adventurous vacation, a small expedition ship cruise may be the perfect option for you.

A female traveler in sunglasses and a blue jacket leans against the railing of a ship in Antarctica with the calm ocean and white-capped mountains behind her

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Expedition Cruises

The Largest Selection of Expedition Cruises

Ready to get aboard? AdventureSmith Explorations pioneered expedition cruises more than 20 years ago.  We offer expedition cruises worldwide, aboard ships carrying 8 to 250 guests. Start exploring our best expedition cruises below, then let our Adventure Specialists be your ultimate guide to selecting and booking your route. Our team is known for our personalized service, unbiased knowledge and personal experience on cruise expeditions. Come explore with us!

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