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 Saturday, 25 November 2017
Cruising: Small Ship Cruising - Expedition Cruising PDF Print E-mail
Written by Roderick Eime   
Saturday, 06 February 2010

Committed adventure cruiser, Roderick Eime, shares some insight on one of the fastest growing travel sectors.

Sure, everybody knows the irresistible, fairytale allure of the South Pacific, Caribbean and Mediterranean, but what about the frozen reaches of the Antarctic, the wilds of the Kimberley or the tiny atolls of Melanesia? Within this huge category of ‘cruising’ there exists a sometimes overlooked subset generally referred to as “adventure and expedition cruising”.

Once almost a secret society among wealthy adventurers and well-heeled thrillseekers, this type of travel has ignited the imagination of those looking beyond regular, packaged products. Travel marketers and advertising pundits are calling this emerging genre “experiential and transformational” travel where the journey is all about delivering uplifting and life-changing experiences.

Ships plying these waters can vary enormously too. They range from luxury pocket cruise-liners, replete with every creature comfort and a “quick response” crew ready to fulfill your every whim, through to refurbished ex-Soviet spy vessels. These Russian vessels are the ones largely responsible for opening up the frozen extremes of our planet and include mighty icebreakers and hardy oceanographic ships built to operate in the most challenging conditions.

At the softer end, vessels like the Australian-based Orion and Oceanic Discoverer, world-travelling Seadream I and II and Seabourne are examples of ships constructed to deliver a high, even opulent, level of luxury and still retain the flexibility and versatility of an expedition yacht. Orion, for example, not only cruises the rich tropical backwaters of PNG and the Kimberley, but ventures to the most remote reaches of Antarctica, well below the ‘circle’ and into the exclusive realm of Emperor Penguins and historic explorers.

What is ‘Expedition Cruising’?

The term ‘expedition’ has been more recently attached to cruise products in an attempt to give them a romantic, out-of-the-way appeal. The danger is that the original, authentic expedition cruise concept is being diluted and misconstrued.

A true expedition cruise consists of a voyage plan and itinerary that has inbuilt flexibility and redundancy. In the capricious Antarctic waters, all activities and sight-seeing is weather and ice dependent. Passengers are reminded of this time and time again and it is quite common for completely unscheduled landings to take place in fallback planning. The same exists in tropical waters.

As weather, currents and tides play out in the dense South Sea archipelagos, an expedition leader and his/her captain must ‘massage’ the itinerary constantly to capitalise on emerging opportunities and avoid those closing out.

If you are a devotee of the well-managed, big cruise ship experience, you may find adventure and expedition cruising unsettling. Others will crave that element of the unexpected.

A proper expedition vessel is more than just a smaller ship with zodiacs piled up on deck. A true expedition vessel is designed for the intended conditions and equipped to deliver the experience upon arrival, whether it be weaving through disintegrating pack ice or creeping past vivid coral atolls.

Passengers aboard expedition vessels have come to expect expert guides and lecturers to help them interpret the rich cultural and natural histories these exotic destinations deliver. Academics, researchers and authors are common both as lecturers and passengers, adding to healthy discussions and enrapturing dinner conversation.

Examine your intended product carefully and ask lots of questions, your consultant will be able to answer them.

Popular Adventure Cruising Destinations


This iconic destination is the epitome of the adventure destination. Sailing “off the map” and to areas only discovered within the last hundred years, makes Antarctica the must-do itinerary for all serious expedition cruisers.

Expeditions to the Great Southern Land take several forms. The simplest are short itineraries of perhaps a week to ten days to the Antarctic Peninsula from Ushuaia at the very bottom of South America. More ambitious journeys will be by icebreaker, way below the Antarctic Circle to places like McMurdo Sound and Commonwealth Bay.

Companies offering Antarctic itineraries include Adventure Associates, World Expeditions, Orion, Explorer and Heritage Expeditions.

The Arctic

A perfect complement to your southerly expedition, a trip to the Arctic can be as simple as a cruise to Iceland or Greenland or as heroic as a nuclear icebreaker to the North Pole itself.

Recent tales about retreating glaciers and thinning ice pack have created some urgency for visitors to this region as they attempt to see the great Polar Bear in its diminishing natural environment.

Apart from the North Pole, the great North-West Passage across the top of Canada is a true odyssey only a few will ever experience.

Companies offering Arctic expeditions include, Quark Expeditions, Oceanwide,, Peregrine and World Expeditions

The Galapagos Islands

Charles Darwin’s evolutionary playground is a great drawcard for those with a penchant for warmer climes. A short flight from Ecuador, most visitors will spend about a week cruising amongst the many islands in this unique archipelago.

Following in the footsteps of David Attenborough, visitors will discover the crazy wildlife that makes this place so special. The sinister marine iguanas, the fierce land iguanas, the delightful giant tortoises and the many strange birds and plants make this place a naturalist’s wonder.

See Ecoventura or for a list of accredited oprators.

The Kimberley and Top End

The rugged and remote regions of Western Australia’s Kimberley and NT’s Top End were the ideal choice for expedition cruising in our region. Incredible rock formations, abundant birdlife, rich Aboriginal culture and weird natural phenomenon like the horizontal waterfalls attract thousands of visitors every year. Most cruise companies book out a year ahead, such is the popularity of this northern region.

True North, Orion and Coral Princess are the acknowledged experts in the Kimberley.

Papua New Guinea

Often the subject of bad publicity, the sublime islands of the Bismarck and Solomon Seas exhibit none of the rough lawlessness found elsewhere on the mainland. Expedition cruise companies are falling all over themselves to create itineraries in this region and the PNG Tourism authorities are extremely supportive of these initiatives.

New Ireland, New Britain, the legendary Trobriands and the mighty Sepik River are the key destinations on most itineraries. The wild frontiers of PNG, so close by, perfectly fit the description of “transformational” travel.

The growing list of operators include True North, Orion and Coral Princess.



Consider the supremely relaxing Gordon River cruises that explore the incredible and remote UNESCO World Heritage areas of Western Tasmania. Currently no overnight products are available, yet day trips leave regularly from Strahan.

See Orion for comprehensive live-aboard itineraries


This huge river can accommodate cruise ships many hundreds of miles upstream. See the disappearing Amazon Basin jungles, visit remote indian tribes and mourn the vanishing landscapes.

For a wide range of vessels and options, see Adventure Associates

Russian Far East

Several companies are experimenting with itineraries in the area immediately north of Japan through to the Bering Strait in Siberia. Characterised by isolated ecosystems and volcanic activity on the western perimeter of the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, these voyages will always be exclusive.

Heritage Expeditions, Aurora and Quark offer exclusive itineraries in this seldom visited area.

Great Barrier Reef

Another threatened eco system, Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef has attracted millions of visitors over the years and continues to do so. Be quick, the reef will never be as good as it is now.

Coral Princess Cruises of Cairns deliver the widest range of Great Barrier Reef itineraries. Captain Cook Cruises are also prominent in the region. Further south, Fantasea Cruises operate from the Whitsundays.

New Zealand

The brilliant scenery and harbours all around New Zealand are attracting adventure cruise companies with ambitious itineraries, including Coral Princess’s semi-circumnavigation and Bay of Islands products.

Orion will join Coral Princess operating in New Zealand beginning 2008.

More information:
Expedition and Adventure Cruise Operators

About the Author

Professional freelance journalist and travel writer.

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 04 July 2017 )
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