What is Expedition Cruising?

The amazing growth of adventure and expedition cruising.

antarctic cruising
One Ocean Expeditions in Antarctica

Is it ‘cruising’ – or ‘adventure by ship’? By Roderick Eime

For those with a yearning for natural, cultural and outdoor experiences, there’s a type of cruising just for you. Most commonly known as ‘expedition cruising’, you will also hear the term ‘adventure cruising’ or a combination of both.

The idea for this type of travel has been around for decades, but has only really gained mainstream popularity in the last ten years or so. Traditionally, passengers came not from the regular cruise segment of big, ocean-going vessels like Cunard or Carnival, but from adventurous travellers such as ‘grown-up’ backpackers, hikers, mountain climbers and those who may have spent time in universities as lecturers or students studying some discipline of ecology or biology.

Today it’s a much different affair. Having seen the growing popularity of this type of travel among regular folks spurred on by David Attenborough’s famous BBC documentaries and tales of heroic explorers like Shackleton and Mawson, cruise companies like Silversea, Ponant and now Crystal have launched their own mini-fleet of ships dedicated to bring their own specific brand of luxury cruising to the adventure market.

Once the domain of the sturdy but dated former Soviet vessels, this new wave of high-class ship is bringing champagne and caviar, sumptuous cabins and fine dining to those who wish to experience remote destinations like Antarctica and Greenland in style and comfort.

Many will tell you that it was cruises to the Antarctic Peninsula from South America all those years ago that kicked off this type of adventure travel among people who craved to see these destinations for themselves and wonder at the incredible wildlife and scenic beauty just like they saw in National Geographic magazine. But as these excited travellers develop a hunger for more, the cruise companies must find new destinations and experiences to quell this seemingly insatiable thirst for exploration.

Now we have polar bear expeditions in Svalbard, remote river cruises in the Amazon, scuba diving adventures in the mid-Pacific and visits to once-forbidden lands in Africa, Russia and South America. But still the quest for more continues and it is now possible to take an adventure cruise somewhere new and exciting every year for the rest of your life.

Shore excursion in the Kimberley with Coral Expeditions

Are you ready for expedition cruising?

If you are asking questions like “how many polar bears might I see?” or “when is the best time to visit a King Penguin colony?” then you are probably the right person for adventure. If you are more concerned about the brand of champagne, the type of spa treatments available or the thread count of your cotton sheets, then perhaps you might be best suited to a more conventional luxury cruise.

That said, it is now very possible to combine luxury shipboard experiences just like you would find on the world’s top-rated cruise ships with a dash of adventure as you sail among the Arctic ice floes. Now the choice is yours.