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).
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.
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.
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.
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.