Expert Aboard: Expedition Ship Review

October 21, 2019 • Arielle Lightcap

AdventureSmith Adventure Specialist Arielle Lightcap was recently aboard the 134-guest Expedition in the Arctic and writes this detailed Expedition ship review. While her insights come from her time aboard in Svalbard, her review can also apply to the experience aboard the Expedition on an Antarctica cruise.

My First Impression of the Expedition Ship

For me, the Expedition stood out immediately as a small ship of her size due to the lack of cabins with balconies, which is actually a bonus because this allows for viewing areas all the way around the ship on all decks. Because there were so many places to stand and sit throughout the outside decks, it never felt crowded during my cruise. The ship also had a noticeably smooth and fast ride, and I was told by the captain that the ship had just received two new engines after her previous Antarctica season.

Choosing Your Cabin Aboard the Expedition

I was in Category 3 Cabin 333. All the cabins have ample storage with a three-closet wardrobe and two cubbies with shelves. This was plenty of storage for me and my roommate. The bathroom was comfortable for an average-sized person and the hot water never ran low. Each cabin also has individual thermostats so you can set the room to your comfort level.

For solo travelers choosing between a Category 3 cabin and a Category 4 cabin, know that there is more space between the beds in the Category 3 cabin. The twin beds in the Category 4s are much closer together, but the view window is larger.

The Category 2, 3 and 4 double-occupancy cabins are the same size but vary by window vs. porthole and location on the ship. The Category 2s are on the lowest cabin deck and can experience some noise from the mudroom and engine. The Category 5 cabins are by far the most spacious with a separate living room and a larger bathroom and shower.

The Food Aboard the Ship

The buffet options during breakfast and lunch were plentiful and everything was labeled so you knew right away if something did not adhere to your dietary needs. Dinners were plated and offered meat, vegetarian and fish options, in a mix of European and international flavors. We had one vegan on board who always had a special dinner made for him. The servers were friendly and efficient, many of them having worked aboard the ship since it started expedition cruise operations in 2008.

In fact, that is a hallmark of this ship: the crew, guides and entire operations are led by a single outfit vs. being owned and staffed by one company and the guides being staffed by another (fairly common among other polar vessels sailing in the Arctic and Antarctica). This lends a seamless expedition cruise experience, from the hospitality inside the ship to outside with the shore excursions. There is also an air of fun aboard, as I encountered the first costume box I’ve ever seen on an expedition ship. An Embrace the Bizarre night is often hosted aboard, with guests encouraged to pick a piece of flair from among the masks, wigs, capes and boas.

My Review of the Guides, Education & Adventure Aboard Expedition

The guest-to-guide ratio is 10:1 which was great during our Zodiac cruises. We didn’t have a full ship (only 127 passengers vs. a full ship’s 134) and we had a large group of Germans who had a dedicated translator/guide on their excursions, so this might have added to Zodiacs never being full. We didn’t use the kayaks during my cruise, but they looked new/well kept, and I was proud to be among the passengers who participated in a “Clean Seas” outing to collect more than 500kg of trash on remote beaches.

Our off-ship excursions were 2-3 hours and we did these twice each day. Pair that with the time we had to eat, and the day was easily full. Also, the guide’s preparation for our shore landings was easily 30 minutes. Before dinner there was a recap of the day (including a photo of the day by the photographer) and the agenda for the next day. Every other night, live music took place in the Polar Bear Pub after dinner. Lectures during my cruise were limited because the guides seemed to be busy a lot of the time we were on the ship, but we still had about three evening lectures. I would imagine there to be more on the ship’s Antarctica sailings.

Bonus: A Mudroom & Large Gym

Having not had a mudroom during my Antarctica cruise, I really appreciated this about Expedition. It was nice to be able to leave my boots and waterproof pants outside of my cabin. I can see how this would be even better on an Antarctica cruise because the boots can get a marked smell of guano from being ashore among the penguins, despite having to disinfect your boots upon re-entering the ship from each excursion. The mudroom is a simple problem solved and adds a feeling of cleanliness and tidiness throughout the ship. The gym aboard was also a standout as it’s quite large, with a variety of equipment (stationary bikes, treadmills, free weights, stretching mats). Some of my fellow passengers would also utilize the gym, but it was always possible to find space for myself.

My Expedition Ship Review Takeaways

Expedition has a way of feeling large, but not empty. There are enough common areas throughout the ship to allow passengers the opportunity to find a little privacy even when the ship is at, or nearly at capacity. Between the lounge, the library, the reception area and all the outside decks it’s easy to settle in and take in the views, have a good conversation with other passengers, or simply read a book or edit your photos. The comfortable common areas encourage you to enjoy the ship outside of your cabin. Even the bridge is a great place to hang out, especially if it’s cold outside, as you get the captain’s view with the bonus of heating!

As if there’s not enough happening during the day, you can start your day at the ship’s sauna and gym (my personal morning go-tos) or end your evening with live music in the Polar Bear Pub. All three of these features were added bonuses to my polar cruise experience, and make the Expedition one of the more well-rounded polar ships I’ve had the pleasure of sailing aboard.

Use the AdventureSmith team’s Antarctica cruise reviews and small ship cruise reviews for insights to inform, inspire and book your next trip aboard a small cruise ship.

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