Expedition Cruises – Complete Guide to Cruising Remote Destinations

We have taken a lot of expedition cruises from the Polar regions of Antarctica and Greenland to Costa Rica, Panama, and the Amazon. Having traveled to all seven continents, we have learned that some remote places must be visited on expedition ships. Recently, we toured the Galapagos with HX Hurtigruten Expeditions. With the perfect blend of luxury and adventure, it was an incredible visit to this isolated archipelago in the Pacific Ocean. But there are many places to explore by expedition cruising, and we have personally been to all of them! Today, we will round up not only the best places to take an expedition cruise but also what to expect on a small ship to help you prepare for the adventure of a lifetime.

Everything You Need to Know About an Expedition Cruise

Expedition Cruises What you need to know

Are you ready to embark on an adventure like no other?

Unlike traditional cruising, expedition cruises focus on adventure, exploration, and education. Expedition ships take you to places beyond the reach of ordinary travel with like-minded travelers, expert guides, and fewer passengers making them a a unique way to explore some of the most off the beaten path and remote destinations on the planet.

If you are considering booking an expedition cruise, we are going to give you all the details about what to expect on expedition ships, what the expedition team does to make the most of your adventure vacation, and where the best places to book an expedition to the most remote parts the world.

What is an Expedition Cruise?

What is an expedition Cruise

An expedition cruise is designed for adventure seekers looking to explore remote destinations and immerse themselves in the natural world. These cruises offer a blend of adventure, education, and exploration. Days can be spent exploring the coast in small groups on a zodiac, panga or skiff boat with an expedition team. Evenings entail lectures and presentations o enhance your understanding of the area’s wildlife, culture, and history. Book your expedition cruise here today.

With vessels being smaller ships to accommodate fewer passengers, expedition cruise lines offer intimate experiences. Each expedition ship we’ve been on in the past has anywhere from 35 to 90 passengers.

What are Expedition Cruise Lines Like?

Expedition Cruises Ships

They have zodiac boats on board to search for wildlife or navigate around smaller islands, icebergs, coves and off-the-beaten-path tributaries. Being able to hop aboard zodiacs directly from the ship allows passengers to explore the diverse landscapes of destinations more intimately.

Activities on an Expedition Cruise

Expedition Cruises Activities

You’ll do everything from daily hikes and kayaking to stand-up paddleboarding and snorkeling. Kayaks, zodiacs and SUPs are all stored onboard. When booking your expedition cruise, you can sign up for some activities in advance and others as late as the night before the excursion. All equipment is supplied for guests, from snorkeling gear to kayaks.

Activities, day tours, food, and drinks are all included on expedition cruises. You never need to worry about booking excursions as you’ll have a full day of adventures. Zodiac boats take passengers out in search of wildlife and to cruise past extraordinary landscapes.

Expedition Cruises Zodiac Tours

Onboard, you can expect a casual atmosphere focusing on exploration and education. There is no need to pack a ball gown or suit and tie; travelers can relax in their hiking pants and fleece jackets after they trekked through the rugged environments.

There isn’t traditional entertainment on board like regular cruises, but the days are so packed with adventure you’ll be happy to relax in the evening. At night, you can sit back with a cocktail or glass of wine to listen to lectures, browse their libraries, or take a dip in the hot tub.

Most ships even allow visits to the bridge to visit the captain and learn how the ship is sailed.

What is an Expedition Cruise Ship Like

What expedition cruises are like on board

Some expedition cruise ships are more rugged, offering a traditional expedition experience, while others offer a more luxurious expedition. Each expedition cruise ship we have been on has had a full bar, dining room, sun deck, and hot tubs. Many offer all-inclusive drinks or at least free wine and beer with meals.

Expedition cruise ships prioritize sustainability and environmental responsibility, ensuring that explorers can enjoy the beauty of pristine ecosystems without leaving a significant footprint. Lines like HX Hurtigruten Expeditions are renowned for their commitment to sustainable and immersive travel experiences.

Where to go on an Expedition Cruise

Expedition Cruises Where to Go

Many people immediately think of Antarctica when booking expeditions, but expedition cruises go all over the world. We have been to the polar regions of Greenland, Scandinavia, and Alaska, plus we have taken expeditions through South America from Costa Rica, Panama, Ecuador, and the Amazon.

When choosing an expedition cruise you will want to decide if you are seeking ice and snow or rainforest and beaches. Are you interested in wildlife such as seeing a polar bear in person or swimming with sea lions? Or are you happy to relax on zodiacs and spy on whales, from safety and comfort?

We are going to highlight some of the best itineraries in South America, The polar regions and the South Pacific that we’ve taken around the world to help you plan your trip. So, are you ready to start planning your trip of a lifetime today? Let’s get started.

1. The Galapagos Islands

Expedition Cruises The Galapagos Islands

Located off the coast of Ecuador, The Galapagos Islands are a remote archipelago in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. We have visited twice. Once by land and most recently on an expedition cruise with Hurtigruten.

The Galapagos Islands are a living museum of evolution, home to an array of unique wildlife that inspired Charles Darwin. When taking a Galapagos cruise, you can expect to snorkel with sea lions, swim with eagle rays and sea turtles, and walk among the giant tortoises. The Galapagos tortoise is the star attraction of the islands with some giant tortoises reaching 500 pounds and living more than 100 years.

Activities on a Galapagos Expedition Cruise

Activities on a Galapagos Islands Expedition Cruise

It is all about the wildlife here as an expedition cruise to the Galapagos will have you encounter sharks, spy on the endemic marine iguana, see the dance of the Blue Footed Booby, and watch Darwin’s famous finches fleet and flutter. There are even penguins in the Galapagos!

Each island offers something different, from the volcanic landscapes of Fernandina Island to the fun bars of Santa Cruz Island and the white-sand beaches of Española Island.

With strict environmental policies in place, an expedition cruise is one of the most sustainable ways to experience the Galapagos. On a small ship, you’ll sail from island to island and visit different eco-systems and coa

HX Hurtigruten has four itineraries in the destination, starting with two nights in Quito.

2. Antarctica

Expedition Cruises Antarctica

When planning an expedition cruise, the polar regions are usually the first place that springs to mind. Antarctica was our first expedition cruise and we were hooked on the White Continent. We took a cruise to Antarctica with Quark Expeditions. Quark has a diverse fleet of ships throughout the polar regions splitting its time between Antarctica and the Arctic.

Antarctica is the ultimate bucket list destination and a once-in-a-lifetime experience. There is a lot more to the continent than just snow and ice. We had many adventures in the Antarctic from kayaking around icebergs to walking with penguins and we took a hike beside a glacier. Kayaks are onboard and you can book them ahead of time to make sure you have the chance to discover glaciers and sea us in an up close and personal visit.

Activities on an Antarctic Expedition Cruise

Expedition Cruises Activities Antarctica

Antarctica is a place where nature reigns supreme, with vast colonies of penguins, seals lounging on ice floes, and whales breaching in icy waters. We saw several different species of penguins, seals, and whales as well as a surprising number of bird species. Antarctica is a place where the wildlife is as curious of you as you are of them.

When kayaking, we had penguins jumping in front of our vessels, whales surfacing beside us for closer looks, and lazy seals basking on ice flows as we passed close by.

Besides the whales and seals, expedition cruises to Antarctica often include visits to research stations and there are opportunities for polar plunges, zodiac cruising among icebergs, and witnessing the spectacular phenomena of the Southern Lights.

You can extend Antarctic cruises to various destinations from an addition to the Falkland Islands, a long layover in Buenos Aires or to to see the King Penguins of South Georgia Island.

While an Antarctic vacation doesn’t usually involve immersing in the culture of a destination, if you add the Falkland Islands or Buenos Aires, you can experience the distinct cultures of these regions. Antarctica’s cruising season is from November to March. Check out prices here.

Discover more about our Antarctica Adventures

3. The Arctic

Expedition Cruises Arctic

An expedition cruise to the Arctic is a journey to the top of the world, offering unparalleled opportunities to witness wildlife and landscapes that few have seen.

When we cruised with Quark Expeditions, we were able to discover untouched fjords by kayak, we explored the West coast of Greenland and were in awe of massive icebergs and calving glaciers. What makes an Arctic cruise different from Antarctica is how you can immerse and learn Indigenous peoples of the Arctic. As we cruised its coast, we stopped at different villages to learn about their way of life. Travelers had the chance to sample local cuisine, learn about the impacts of tourism, and spend an afternoon with a local family.

Activities in an Arctic Expedition Cruise

From the majestic polar bears of Svalbard to the ice-filled fjords of Greenland, the Arctic is a region of stark beauty and fragile ecosystems. The Canadian Arctic and Svalbard are itineraries where you can spot a polar bear or visit Greenland to discover some of the largest icebergs on Earth.

Quark vessels split their time between Antarctica and the Arctic. They were the first expedition cruise to take passengers through the Northeast Passage to the North Pole and have branched out to all different areas of the polar regions. The Arctic is best visited from June to September. Check out prices and availability here.

Discover more about our Arctic Adventures

4. Alaska

Expedition Cruises in Alaska

Alaska’s rugged wilderness is a prime destination for traditional cruises which we have taken ourselves. But we have also visited Alaska while expedition cruising, offering us a unique chance to explore remote fjords, glaciers, and wildlife.

From the awe-inspiring Glacier Bay National Park to the historic towns of the Inside Passage, Alaska is a land of beauty and adventure. We have been to Alaska four times and each time we visit, we discover something new and fall in love with it all over again.

Activities on an Alaska Expedition Cruise

Activities on an alaska expedition cruise

Whale watching, bear spotting, and glacier trekking are just a few of the activities that make an Alaskan expedition cruise unforgettable. This destination invites adventurers to witness the calving of glaciers in Glacier Bay, encounter grizzly bears in their natural habitat, watch black bears feed on salmon, and kayak through the serene waters of Prince William Sound in search of sea lions, whales, and sea otters.

Besides the unique flora and fauna of Alaska, you’ll have the opportunity to visit remote Alaskan towns and view some of the highest mountains in North America.

The blend of native culture, pioneering history, and the raw beauty of nature delivers an unforgettable experience, emphasizing conservation and respect for the wild.

Discover more about our Alaskan Adventures

5. The Amazon – A River Through the Lungs of the Earth

Expedition Cruises Amazon river

An expedition cruise on the Amazon River immerses you in the heart of the planet’s largest rainforest, a treasure trove of biodiversity. This voyage is not just about observing; it’s about experiencing the Amazon’s immense ecosystem, from the pink dolphins swimming alongside your boat to the symphony of sounds in a rainforest teeming with life.

Visits to local communities offer insights into the rainforest’s cultural significance and the challenges of conservation. It’s an adventure that connects you deeply with nature’s intricacies and the importance of preserving such a vital ecological haven.

Activities on an Amazon Expedition Cruise

Activities on an Amazon Expedition Cruise

We explored the Amazon with International Expeditions which has been taken over by Exodus Travels. We have also traveled with Exodus Travels so we know they are in good hands.

There are plenty of activities on an Amazon cruise. Instead of Zodiac boats, guests explore the river on skiff boats which are hard metal boats that can handle the rushing water. Cruising through small tributaries, there are chances to spy on animals such as sloths, parrots, monkeys, and pink dolphins. You’ll have the chance to go fishing for piranha, head out on jungle hikes and have some evening local entertainment.

Discover more about our Amazon Adventures

6. Panama and Costa Rica

Expedition Cruises Panama and Costa Rica

Many luxury cruises pass through the Panama Canal but to cruise the famous canal on an expedition cruise is truly unforgettable. We started in Panama and cruised through the engineering marvel of the Panama Canal. It was then along the coast of Panama to Costa Rica which is lined with dense rainforests, pristine beaches, and indigenous communities.

From rainforest hikes to spot exotic birds, snorkeling in coral reefs, and visits to Emberá villages to learn about traditional ways of life we had an exhilarating trip of a lifetime balancing cultural experiences with adventure tourism and nature.

Activities in Panama and Costa Rica

We took a South American vacation from Panama to Costa Rica with UnCruise and had plenty of opportunities to go snorkeling with sea lions, sea turtles, and sharks, kayaking through mangroves, and relaxing on remote white sand beaches.

Discover more about our Panama and Costa Rica Adventures

7. Australia, New Zealand, and the South Pacific

Expedition Cruises South Pacific

Expedition cruising can also take you from Australia to the South Pacific. We took a Holland America cruise through Australia, New Zealand, American Samoa, and Fiji to Hawaii. This was an amazing way to cruise through the South Pacific. While we traveled on a traditional cruise ship with excursions booked to explore the islands, there are several companies offering tours around Australia, New Zealand, and the South Pacific Islands.

Lindblad Expeditions has cruises to French Polynesia to explore the Pacific Islands. The South Pacific can be very expensive and with so many islands to explore, a cruise is one of the best ways to enjoy this remote corner of the planet.

Activities from Australia to New Zealand

Activities on a Australia New Zealand Expedition Cruise

Not only will you have the chance to go snorkeling, sailing, and kayaking, but there are plenty of stops to see cities, villages, and nature in Oceania. From taking part in sailing a yacht that won the America’s Cup and visiting Hobbiton in New Zealand, to snorkeling in Fiji, kayaking in Australia, and basking on the beach in American Samoa, there are countless adventures to be had in the South Pacific.

Discover more about our South Pacific Adventures

Who To Book an Expedition Cruise With

Expedition Cruises Companies
  • Hurtigruten
  • Quark Expeditions
  • UnCruise
  • Lindblad Expeditions
  • Viking

More about Hurtigruten Expeditions

HX Expedition Cruises
  • HX cruises to the Galapagos are carbon neutral, and the MS Santa Cruz II was fully refurbished ahead of the 2022 launch
  • With a guest capacity of 90 passengers, it is one of the largest vessels in the destination, affording guests intimacy yet more space to explore, including a locally inspired restaurant, Science Center, Panorama bar and lounge, panorama bar & lounge, sky deck, expedition lounge, Science Corner, library, fitness center, outdoor hot tubs and Discovery Room with movies and board games.

How Much Does an Expedition Cruise Cost?

Expedition Cruises Cost

Embarking on an expedition cruise is an investment in a once-in-a-lifetime experience, with the average cost varying widely depending on destination, duration, and the level of luxury offered onboard.

Typically, prices for these adventure-packed voyages start from around $3,000 per person for shorter trips to more accessible locations and can soar up to $30,000 or more for extensive journeys to remote corners of the globe like Antarctica or the Arctic.

These costs reflect the all-encompassing nature of expedition cruises, covering not just accommodation and meals, but also expert-guided excursions, educational programs, and the use of special equipment like kayaks, zodiacs, snorkeling equipment, and even rubber boots to enhance the exploration experience.

The price also accounts for the specialized design and operation of the ship, aimed at providing safe and environmentally responsible access to some of the planet’s most protected and pristine environments.

What type of Traveler should Consider an Expedition Cruise?

Expedition Cruises Traveler Type

Expedition cruises are tailor-made for the curious and adventurous traveler, eager to delve beyond the surface of traditional tourist destinations.

Ideal for those in relatively good shape with a thirst for knowledge and an appetite for exploration, these cruises appeal to nature enthusiasts, wildlife photographers, history buffs, and cultural explorers alike.

That said, people with injuries or mobility issues may find expedition cruises taxing as there is a lot of activity from something as simple as getting on a zodiac boat bouncing in the waves on a beach, to hiking uneven terrain. Before booking, make sure to tell your operator about any issues you may have to see if an expedition cruise is right for you.

If you’re someone who seeks a deeper connection with the natural world, values educational experiences led by expert guides, and relishes the opportunity to venture into the heart of remote landscapes, then an expedition cruise is for you.

Whether it’s navigating the icy waters of Antarctica, trekking through the lush rainforests of the Amazon, or encountering the unique wildlife of the Galapagos, expedition cruises offer a unique blend of adventure, learning, and personal growth.

We have noticed that these cruises attract like-minded individuals, making them a perfect choice for solo travelers or those looking to connect with fellow explorers.

So are you ready to set sail on the trip of a lifetime?

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