Among the many ways to explore the world, I’m most excited about the evolution and growth in the category of expedition cruising. While purpose-built expedition passenger vessels have been around since the 1960’s, today there are myriad new vessel and destination opportunities. So, why consider expedition cruising now?
Firstly, modern cruising overall has grown immensely over the past decade with many new, large ships being launched every year with remarkable amenities and services. For some travelers, these ships can be a great vacation choice for many good reasons.
But the concept of expedition type cruising is a different experience than mainstream cruising; one that typically focuses primarily on the destination rather than the vessel and can provide an elevated degree of adventure, accomplishment, discovery and personal enrichment. Vessels tend to be smaller with capacities in hundreds (or less) rather than thousands, and containing all the provisions, gear and personnel to operate independently for an extended period. That means great accessibility and flexibility, visiting those off-the-beaten-path ports around the world that have limited infrastructure or even pristine places with no infrastructure whatsoever. Spontaneity is key; expedition cruising is often compared to a safari experience, with the vessel serving as the base camp with daily cultural or wildlife exploration in the company of expert guides and like-minded guests. On-board activities focus on learning about upcoming itinerary stops and the on-shore activities cater to different levels of managed activity and adventure, with many guests successfully trying new things such as kayaking or snorkeling.
As with safaris, expedition cruising has evolved to offer a broad range of options, from more basic-but-comfortable to true luxury. In the past few years, luxury cruise line such as Crystal Cruises, Silverseas Cruises and Seabourn Cruises have either built or converted vessels and oriented their services to serve the expedition cruise market in destinations such as the Arctic, Antarctica, the South Pacific South America or the Russian Far East. A lesser-known but excellent expedition cruise operator, the French cruise line Ponant, has built a fleet of luxury expedition ships over the past decade serving remote corners of Asia, Europe and the Caribbean. Seattleites like me often think of Alaska cruising as a mass market affair, but the local and aptly-named company, UnCruise Adventures, uses a fleet of small ships to purposely avoid ports and other ships, providing a unique platform for activities and wildlife viewing that reveals the authentic Alaska. The net result of all these new vessels and itineraries is the opportunity for a relaxing, very personally fulfilling travel experience that can often re-center one’s worldview.
With that in mind, expedition cruising is beautifully suited for inquisitive travelers of any age. Each of the companies is fully prepared to help all travelers, including solo travelers, participate and engage rather than just observe. In my own family, I have been lucky to share expeditions with my elderly parents as well as my children and it has fostered new outlooks, created enduring bonds and built memories for all of us that few other travel experiences could have achieved. Ultimately, isn’t that what travel is all about?