You no longer have to forego travel luxuries to explore remote destinations. The newest expedition cruise offerings provide cruise conveniences and the authentic, up-close experiences you seek.
By Lesley Tkaczyk Miller
An expedition cruise isn’t your typical cruise. To start with, your ship will be a fraction of the size of most ocean cruise liners with an average capacity of only 214 guests. Also, you won’t spend as much time on board as there’s a more poignant focus on delving deeper to explore remote places that can’t be accessed in another way. This intimate access is possible thanks to the use of small Zodiac boats for most excursions. These agile, fast vessels are inflatable crafts with shallow drafts that let you explore harder-to-navigate passages.
As travelers have become more focused on authentic encounters with lesser-traveled destinations, these cruises have become more and more popular. Here are just three of the extraordinary destinations you can explore on an expedition cruise.
There’s no destination more remote than traveling to the literal end of the earth. Antarctica is a frozen wilderness, but it’s also filled with fascinating animals. Seeing whales, penguins and seals in their natural habitat is truly special. Aside from research expeditions, the entire continent is uninhabited by humans, so traveling here takes special knowledge and equipment. Hurtigruten has been exploring this southern continent since 2002. In 2016, they doubled their capacity to accommodate excitement about this unspoiled land.
Kayaking past icebergs, whale watching on the freezing ocean, watching thousands of breeding pairs of penguins — this cruise is packed with memorable experiences. To make sure all of your landings and small boat cruises are educational and safe (for you and for the nature you’re venturing into), each Hurtigruten cruise includes an Expedition Team. These teams are comprised of experts who, together with scientists and guest lecturers, provide safety briefings, first-hand knowledge, interesting facts about the wildlife and sustainability guidance.
Each day, travelers can participate in escorted landings to one of 22 possible sites. You’ll be comfortable while adventuring thanks to complimentary jackets and the loan of boots and other equipment needed for all activities. Landing sites can include Half Moon Island, which is distinguished by its colony of chinstrap penguins and striking creviced cliffs. Access to the mainland of the Antarctic Peninsula can be found in Neko Harbour or nearby Paradise Bay, two of the few locations where venturing onto the spectacular terrain is possible. Small Zodiacs get you up close to giant, frosty ice formations that sweep and curve in enigmatic ways. On board, the ship’s Science Center offers more in-depth learning to enhance the Expedition Team’s lectures.
For a warmer, even more creature-packed experience, head to the fabled Galapagos Islands. Imagine splashing through the shallows as you land on the beach in Barrington Bay. You look out to the ocean and see a sea lion surfing the waves off the coast of Santa Fe Island. Once on land, be on the lookout for Galapagos hawks, Santa Fe land iguanas and the Galapagos snake. That’s all on only one island in this chain of extraordinary lands that are also home to the famed blue-footed boobies, giant tortoises, frigate birds and more.
This bucket-list voyage is made even more remarkable by exploring the islands aboard the Celebrity Xpedition, a 48-passenger ship that uses every inch of space to create an indulgent atmosphere. Guests can unwind from a day of exploring in their complimentary plush robes and enjoy in-suite dining. Relax further with massage services, then enjoy nightly lectures from Galapagos National Park certified naturalists who remain on board the entire voyage to share knowledge that will enhance each fascinating encounter.
Excursions are led by these naturalists who add context and history to each destination, like in Post Office Bay, where pirates used to leave their mail to be picked up by other ships. In Elizabeth Bay, they’ll point out the wildlife while navigating this sheltered inlet aboard a Zodiac alongside mangroves. Snorkeling equipment and wet suits are provided, making it a breeze to see the dramatically colorful fish of Santiago Island where you may also spot sea turtles.
Iceland’s volcanic landscapes may make it seem otherworldly. However, this unique land of fire and ice is easily accessible thanks to the Scenic Eclipse. This 228-passenger ship features innovative amenities for explorers, including a submarine, two helicopters, e-bikes, Zodiacs and more tools to enable travelers to discover each part of Iceland in depth.
A cruise around the island provides magical sights, but journeys into its fjords reveal even more splendor, such as the Dynjandi waterfall. Found deep within the Westfjords peninsula, the fall’s terraced cascade of water is a wonder to behold. You can also hike in the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, stroll to watch for birds or kayak. If crossing the Arctic Circle is a travel dream, simply walk across Grimsey island, which straddles the Arctic Circle.
Husavik is a prime location for spotting whales. You can board a traditional fishing boat for a whale-watching cruise. Iceland is also home to puffin colonies and other captivating species of birdlife.
Check off your bucket list adventure to one of the amazing destinations above. Call 800-750-5386 or visit AAA.com/Travel and start planning!
(Traveler Spring 2020)