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What Is Expedition Cruising? Why Is It Being Called The 'Breakout Travel Trend of The Decade'?

These cruises sail in remote areas that are especially known for their natural beauty and wildlife.
UPDATED JAN 22, 2024
Cover Image Source: Pexels | Samson Bush
Cover Image Source: Pexels | Samson Bush

The world of expedition cruises is one of the fastest-growing segments in the cruise industry. Expedition cruises feature small and intimate ships, where you won't find any kind of waterslides or magic shows. The main attraction is instead the tranquil experience that expedition cruises offer.

"Expedition cruises are often the last bastion of novelty for wealthier travelers," says Jeff Galak, an associate professor of marketing at Carnegie Mellon University's Tepper School of Business.


These cruises sail in remote areas that are primarily known for their natural beauty and wildlife. Some of the most popular expedition ships sail in Alaska, Antarctica, the Galápagos Islands, the Amazon, and also Canada's Northwest Passage.

Expedition ships are smaller than an average ship, and some of these ships are particularly made to stay in certain locations. These ships often have reinforced hulls to protect the ships from ice and also have shallower drafts than regular cruise ships so that they can pass through small inlets and also shallow harbors.

Pexels | Matthew Barra
Pexels | Matthew Barra

According to CNBC, US based Lindblad Expeditions started taking travelers to Antarctica and the Galápagos Islands in the mid-1960s.

The company specializes in expedition cruises, which differ from traditional ships and focus on exploring lesser-known locations. Smaller ships come with the advantage of itinerary flexibility, which means you can stop to observe polar bears or penguins if you want.

Aurora Expeditions has been plying Antarctica's frozen waters since the cruise line first leased Russian icebreakers to reach the icy continent in the early 1990s.

"Bathrooms were shared, and we’d string our clothes across the cabins to dry,” said Bronwyn Stephenson, a veteran Aurora expedition. 

Today, there are cruise ships that are a far cry from these original expedition cruise ships. Greg Mortimer is one such ship that boasts of spacious cabins, a plush library, and a lecture theatre.

There's also stiff competition today among expedition ships to launch more and more technologically advanced vessels. 

Pexels | Pixabay
Pexels | Pixabay

Aurora Expeditions' chief marketing officer Hayley Peacock-Gower said that there has been a shift to immersive, wholesome, and yet experimental travel since the pandemic. As more and more travelers are gravitating towards expedition ships, cruise lines are having the call with more flexible and varied itineraries.

Noah Brodsky, a chief commercial officer of Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic, describes expedition cruising as the "breakout travel trend of the decade."

"There’s something truly special and transformative about experiencing remote destinations alongside a small group of like-minded people," he told CNBC.


Lindblad recorded its biggest-ever booking day on January, 3, on which they made a whopping $5.6 million in sales, as per the company spokesperson.

The spokesperson also said that this year's top destinations include, Alaska, the Galápagos Islands, the Arctic, and Antarctica while interest in Costa Rice has also increased by 54% from 2019.

Due to the demand, the company also decided to launch new routes that include, Greenland, French Polynesia, and Western Australia's Kimberley region.

“An increasing number of people no longer want run-of-the-mill holidays. People crave adventure,” James Cole, founder of the UK-based cruise agency Panache Cruises, said.  

Yes, these cruises have faced criticism for polluting oceans and also introducing microbes to sensitive environments along with colliding with large mammals like whales.

To resolve these issues the luxury agency Abercrombie & Kent is chartering the luxury icebreaker Le Commandant Charcot for a North Pole expedition next year.

"To reduce emissions to the lowest possible level, this Ponant ship uses LNG as a fuel,” said the company’s product development and operations vice president Stefanie Schmudde. “The vessel also uses hybrid operation, with batteries to handle load fluctuations."

Extremely comfortable ships, fewer passengers, luxury stay and experts onboard obviously mean higher fares. These expedition cruises often start at around $1,000 per person per day. Trips can range from eight to 30 days. Most of those boarding the expedition cruises belong to the over-55 age group, who have the time and money to splurge.