Let’s face it, the word ‘cruise’ often conjures up images of middle-aged and retired couples sipping champagne aboard a luxury ship somewhere in the Mediterranean or Caribbean. Whilst this is absolutely fine, it doesn’t exactly scream excitement for the adventure-lovers out there. However, lurking in the shadows is another type of cruise, a cruising experience that laughs in the face of such mundane and stereotypical cruise packages. Enter expedition cruising.
Expedition cruising offers an ultimately different type of cruise experience. Forget the sun-bathing, sauna-sweating, robe-wearing antics found on the most popular cruises, expedition cruises take you to part of the world few have ever witnessed. It is here you encounter the unexpected and sail through landscapes that are often unforgiving.
A fairly new player on the cruise scene, expedition-style cruising is only now beginning to take a foothold. Notable cruise brands such as Silversea, Aurora, One Ocean Expeditions and Lindblad Expeditions / National Geographic have become big players in the industry as expedition cruises continue to push the boundaries of exploration.
Although not quite insulting, to call an expedition cruise simply a ‘cruise’ is certainly misleading. I would go as far as to say that expedition-style cruising is purely about discovery, exploration, adventure and unforgettable experiences. To give you a little taste of what I mean, I have listed what I believe to be the top 5 most adventurous cruises on earth.
The remotest land on earth, Antarctica is a landscape of extremes. It is the coldest, driest and windiest place on earth, yet it’s also the most unforgettable. Many people don’t even realize that reaching Antarctica on a cruise is possible, however, over 30,000 people journeyed to the frozen landscape just last year.
It’s easy to see why the White Continent is becoming more and more popular. It’s harsh environment plays host to a wide array of stunning wildlife including many species of penguins, whales, seabirds and seals. Where else on earth can you experience the spray from a whale’s blowhole or have a curious penguin waddle over your feet?
The landscape is often described as ‘alien’. Giant glaciers, sculptured icebergs and oceans of ice greet passengers as they sail past mountains of ice three times the height of the cruise ship. Adventure-lovers are given the chance to camp ashore on the ice, take sea kayaks out and even do a polar plunge!
Cruising in Antarctica is not cheap though and the minimum price tag is over $500 per night with the average being nearer to $1,000. Cold weather gear is required and on most itineraries and you’ll have to cross the infamous Drake Passage to reach the Antarctic Peninsula.
Western Australia’s Kimberley Region
A rugged and remote land, the Kimberley Region of Australia is perhaps the last place you would expect a cruise. None the less, adventure cruises are popular in the region due to the wealth of activities and sites on offer.
There are a number of itineraries, but I would suggest one that combines both the local Buccaneer Archipelago – home to over 800 islands – and an inland river expedition. This combined itinerary gives you the best of both worlds. You’ll experience the magnificent coastal islands and coral reefs whilst also experiencing the rugged inland landscape which is home to stunning waterfalls, Aboriginal rock art and towering red rock formations.
Adventure addicts will be delighted to know that Kimberley cruises often include high speed boat trips, crocodile watching, diving, hiking, white-water rafting and several helicopter trips over the outback!
I would personally do this cruise sooner rather than later as recent oil and gas exploration in the region has cruise operators biting their fingernails. Local infrastructure will be greatly affected if oil companies do decide to stay. Prices start from around $500 per night.
The Northwest Passage
Until recently, the Northwest Passage was believed to be impassable a myth designed to tempt foolish adventurers. Over the last several hundred years, many explorers have died in the attempt to cross the fabled Passage. Not anymore.
With the onset of global warming, the passage can now be crossed in relative safety and expedition-lovers will be enthralled with the landscape on offer! Even today, few ships have the capability to make it through the passage. Your cruise will be one of exploration, wildlife and history.
As you navigate the ice-floes, you’ll visit ancient ritual sites, graveyards and shipwrecks. You’ll be given expert on-board lectures that will really bring the history of the region to life. You’ll learn about the previous explorers and discover native Inuit communities, you may even get the chance to take a helicopter ride over some of the glaciers!
Perhaps the highlight for most people is encountering the imperial polar bear. Excellent hunters, you’ll witness these sublime creatures foraging on the desolate ice as they seek to feed themselves and their cubs.
The cruise is truly unforgettable and not many people on earth can say they have sailed this particular passage! Prices start at around $600 per night.
Cape to Cape
A fairly recent addition to the expedition cruising agenda, the Cape to Cape journey is one of the most adventurous and incredible cruises on earth.
The cruise is roughly 22 days long and sets off from Ushuaia, Argentina and concludes in Cape Town, South Africa. On your journey you’ll discover three of the most isolated islands in the world – Gough Island, Tristan da Cunha and Nightingale Island, not to mention Argentina’s mythical Tierra del Fuego and the wildlife-rich islands of South Georgia and the Falklands!
The cruise is for adventure and wildlife lovers. You’ll visit beaches with over one million seals and penguins, walk over UNESCO islands with some of the world’s largest seabird colonies and take zodiac trips to view humpback and killer whales.
The cruise is continually fascinating because of the ever-changing landscapes you encounter. You’ll see huge glaciers and icebergs, visit active volcanos, walk on black sand shorelines and take in the 3,000 ft flat-topped Table Mountain in South Africa. Make sure to bring some top-notch binoculars and camera filters! Prices start from $400 per day.
The North Pole
The North Pole is unchartered territory. Often described as one of the one of the least explored destinations on the planet, you’ll certainly be one of the select few that can say that they have stood where every direction is south.
Whilst there are numerous cruises around the Arctic region such as the Svalbard region and Greenland, there are very few cruises that actually reach the North Pole. Expedition cruise operators have only recently started offering the North Pole as an actual destination. The cruise vessel needs to be a nuclear-powered icebreaker and the weather often makes a laughing stock out of the set itinerary.
For adventures willing to take the cruise on, you can expect to witness an austere and expansive wilderness of ice where only the bravest of explorers have ever ventured. Once at the North Pole you’ll have the opportunity to take a helicopter ride or hot air balloon journey. This has to rank as one of the most unforgettable experiences possible!
If the North Pole is perhaps a bit ambitious, then there are several other popular Arctic adventure cruises in the region. Most notable would be the Lofoten Islands and the northernmost fjords of Norway. Both itineraries offer exceptional landscapes, Northern Lights and a wide array of wildlife including Polar bears, walruses and sea birds! For the North Pole itinerary, prices start from around $1,800 per night.