Expedition Cruises: Things to Know

The Expedition cruises sector has seen a significant growth over the last few years so why should you book an expedition cruise now?

What are expedition cruises?

“An expedition cruise is not a cruise.”

Peter Shanks, Silversea

Expedition cruising is a whole new concept that regular cruise lovers may not be familiar with. It should be approached as an expedition rather than a relaxing holiday, all be it on a ship.

The main attraction of an expedition cruise are the destinations it enables you to explore. Places like Antarctica, the Arctic and the Galapagos Islands, which cannot be accessed by ‘normal’ cruise ships. These specialised ships allow passengers to get to the heart of these iconic destinations and some that you didn’t even know existed (or how to pronounce).

Antarctica expedition cruises
Antarctica expedition cruises

Celebrity Cruises has three vessels based in the Galapagos Islands, known for their large number of endemic species. Celebrity’s expedition cruises can give people the rare opportunity to get close to nature.

Expedition cruises take you to places that other cruise ships cannot access. The ships are specifically designed to navigate the waters in some of the world’s most remote destinations. For example, Silversea’s Silver Explorer has a strengthened hull with a Lloyd’s Register ice-class notation (1A) to enable it to push through ice floes with ease.

What do you do on an expedition cruise?

Typically, on an expedition cruise you are up early for breakfast before attending a briefing about the morning’s shore visit. Onboard experts are on hand to tell you about the wildlife you are likely to see and where you are going. As the destinations don’t usually allow for port docking, zodiacs are used to transport passengers to land. It’s likely that you will return to the ship for lunch but strict cleaning protocols are in place to protect the environment.

In the afternoon you may choose to go on a second exploration visit before an end of day debrief about everything you have experienced. It’s not uncommon to be very tired at the end of every day on an expedition cruise. The focus is definitely on the destinations rather than the onboard entertainment or facilities.

Who should book an expedition cruise?

Aishling McLoughlin from Hapag Lloyd stressed that expedition cruises are perfect for people who are enthusiastic to visit hard-to-reach places in search of nature and wildlife. Seeing animals such as penguins in their natural habitat is a big draw to people looking for those once in a lifetime moments.

In reality, it is mostly adults onboard expedition cruises but Hapag Lloyd does have a Young Explorers’ programme for children as young as 10 years old to help encourage the curiosity of young explorers. The programme is available on selected sailings during school holidays for young people to enjoy age-appropriate activities that combine geography, geology and oceanology.

Hapag Lloyd expedition ship
photo: Hapag Lloyd

You should book an expedition cruise if you are looking for a more intimate cruise experience. Robin West from Seabourn sees a greater level of involvement from guests on an expedition cruise.

“…there’s a bond formed on smaller expedition ships… on a expedition ship, guests are brought into the operations, guests are allowed to go up to the bridge and get involved in how the ship is navigated.”

Robin West, Seabourn

Silversea has noticed that people who opt for long-haul travel to places like Vitenam, North America and Australia are more open to expedition cruises. They want to do something different and not just a cruise.

See what it’s like to take a cruise to the Galapagos islands

Expedition cruises attract groups of friends who want to share the experience together. It might be to celebrate a special occasion such as an anniversary or milestone birthday.

Are expedition cruises expensive?

Expedition cruises are generally more expensive than other cruises due to a number of factors.

Expedition cruises tend to be longer because of the location of the destinations. These are far flung places that cannot be easily accessed and therefore are suited to those who have more time on their hands.

Expert guides are on board ships to enhance the experiences of passengers. They bring with them huge amounts of knowledge and expertise about the destinations that the cruise is visiting. Individual specialists can add a huge amount of value to the experience to learn and understand more about the destinations.

It’s also important to note that there is an element of exclusivity to expedition cruising. These are unique trips that aren’t available to the masses. These opportunities bring with them an element of rare and unparalleled moments to remember.

Recently, expedition cruising has experienced a boom in new luxury ships that means it’s easily possible to spend £8,000 to £12,000 on a cruise. One example is Celebrity Flora, a full-suite ship based in the Galapagos Islands. It offers a choice of excursions, fine dining restaurant and the chance to take a luxury expedition cruise.

Celebrity Flora
Celebrity Flora, photo: Celebrity Cruises

That being said, there are older Russian vessels such as Quark Expeditions’ Kapitan Khlebnikov that can still take you to these unique destinations for a lower price. Take a look at a complete cost breakdown of an Antarctica cruise.

Do you need to be fit to do an expedition cruise?

There are certain things that you should be physically able to do to get the most out of an expedition cruise. One of the main things is the ability to get in and out of a zodiac boat. These smaller boats enable passengers to access hard to reach places.

Age should not be a factor if you are mobile. Peter from Silversea has met a 93-year old lady on an expedition cruise – it’s more about a fitness of the mind.

When is the best time of year to take an expedition cruise?

In the summer months, the Arctic is a good choice and is easier to access from the UK. The wildlife in the Arctic is not as abundant as Antarctica but you can see bears.

For Antarctica cruises, the best time to book is winter, particularly December and January. This allows passengers to see untouched snow before the penguins make their mark!

You can book reasonably far in advance; I have seen these cruises available up to three years in advance. Some cruise lines offer flights and accommodation packages as most of the destinations are less accessible for tourists.

Information and answers to common questions about expedition cruises.  Expedition cruising is a growing in popularity, find out more.


  1. August 30, 2020 / 5:04 am

    I have never been on an expedition cruise but have always wanted to go mainly because I’m dying to see the type of destinations they go to (Antarctica and Galapagos being my two big bucket list desires). I didn’t know there was a young explorer’s program though. That’s really cool!

    • cruiselifestyle
      September 1, 2020 / 8:01 am

      The young explorers programme is definitely innovative, I think it’s a great way to get younger children in the environment.

  2. August 31, 2020 / 2:37 am

    An expedition cruise would be awesome to see off-the-beaten-track places. While I would consider going to Galapagos on my own, Antarctica would be perfect for such a cruise as it is nearly impossible to reach otherwise. Of course, the costs are high, but as a I hope and guess it’s worth as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And the good thing is that it wouldn’t give me this feeling of being on the same ship with 5000 other tourists, as these expeditions are much more exclusive.


  3. August 31, 2020 / 9:19 pm

    My only issue with expedition cruises is the cost and how inflated they are. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the whole concept as my wife and I researched several organizations for a possible Antarctica adventure. We knew that it would be a bit pricey to sail on a small expedition boat and zodiacs from Ushuaia, Argentina but at the time it would have costed us between $7K – $10K USD just to have the privilege of being able to disembark sometimes. I get that they have to maintain their smaller sized boats and have limited capacity but to be honest, it feels like a racket sometimes.

    • cruiselifestyle
      September 1, 2020 / 7:59 am

      It’s definitely a cruise that’s a once in a lifetime trip given the costs involved.

  4. September 1, 2020 / 10:10 pm

    We absolutely have expedition cruises on our travel wish list. We are definitely looking for the hard to reach places. So good to find this blog post. I love the fact that there are some real experts on these ships. And love the idea of getting close to the sights with zodiac boats. Now we just need to find a time to book one!

    • cruiselifestyle
      September 2, 2020 / 8:18 am

      Yes it’s definitely a different type of trip and the experts onboard really help passengers understand the environment. Book as far in advance as possible to get the cabin you want (and save the money)

  5. September 3, 2020 / 4:34 pm

    Regular cruises have never appealed to me because I hate the idea of just sitting on a boat, eating and relaxing, for a week – I’m much more of an active traveler. But I would love to take an expedition cruise! Antarctica is SUCH a bucket list destination of mine. These cruises are just so expensive! Hopefully on day I’ll be able to take one, but probably not anytime soon lol.

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