Adventure Cruises

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Adventure cruise in Antarctica.

Midnight buffets, Vegas-style revue shows, nonstop entertainment, and gourmet dining don't appeal to every traveler, and adventure cruises are a wonderful cruise travel alternative. These unique cruises are an exciting vacation experience, but before booking a voyage, passengers should educate themselves about how they differ from mainstream cruises to be sure they will have the best ocean-going getaway.

What are Adventure Cruises?

Adventure or expedition cruises are unique sailings that typically visit remote destinations and offer more in depth, vigorous activities than standard cruises. Whether the ports of call lie in icy waters or jungle rivers, passengers are treated to unique and stunning experiences viewing wildlife and becoming involved in isolated cultures. The level of activity varies according to destinations and the specific cruise line; light adventure sailings are often available that only involve mild or moderate exertions, while more intensive voyages may require vigorous physical activity.

Why These Aren't Mainstream Cruises

Unlike standard cruise images of tropical waters, relaxation, and luscious dining, adventure cruises are built on the idea that the passengers prefer a more interactive, hands-on voyage. Adventure and expedition ships are typically smaller than mainstream vessels, usually serving a maximum of 150-200 passengers per voyage, and the shipboard atmosphere is more casual than most vessels. Expedition cruise passengers will not find formal nights, elaborate entertainment, or gala buffets on board. Furthermore, the ships may ply more difficult waters than the silky calm Caribbean, and passengers are often expected to be involved in a wide range of related activities including lectures, hikes, and post-visit discussions.

Itineraries and Destinations

Galapagos tortoise.

Because adventure ships are smaller than most vessels, they are able to visit more isolated and remote destinations than standard cruise ships. Depending on the cruise line, voyages may visit any of these exotic locations:

  • Antarctica, including crossing some of the planet's roughest waters
  • Galapagos Islands to explore unique wildlife
  • Iceland for Arctic passages and fjord cruising
  • Marquesas Islands of the South Pacific
  • Amazon River or Nile River for interior jungle cruises

To take advantage of optimal weather and wildlife conditions, most adventure cruises are seasonal and change itineraries based on what the best experiences will be for the passengers. In order to fully explore a remote location, voyage lengths may be two weeks or longer, though some cruise lines may offer shorter options with fewer ports of call without shortchanging passengers who desire an in-depth experience.

Cruise Lines

There are many small cruise lines that offer adventure and expedition itineraries. Some of the better known adventure cruise lines include:

  • Clipper Cruises
  • Cruise North Expeditions, Inc.
  • Wilderness Travel
  • Quark Expeditions
  • Glacier Bay Cruises
  • Galapagos Cruises
  • Ecotour Expeditions

Because of the intensive nature of adventure voyages, most lines only offer a limited range of destinations in order to provide passengers the best possible experience with expert guides and experienced crews. Several mainstream lines, however, do offer a selection of light adventure sailings, including Princess Cruises, Celebrity Cruises, Radisson Seven Seas Cruises, Crystal Cruises, and Silversea Cruises.

The Adventure Cruise Lifestyle

Passengers interested in expedition cruises are often affluent, experienced cruisers with great interest in environmental awareness and conservation. They may travel as a group; environmental groups, alumni associations, and other organizations often arrange adventure voyages together, possibly as fundraising ventures. Environmental discussions and debates over the voyage's casual dinners are commonplace.

Despite the fact that adventure cruises do not offer the same amenities and elaborate comforts of mainstream and luxury voyages, prospective passengers do not need to fear rowing duty shifts or scrubbing down the galley. Cabins are often comfortable, though they may be a bit smaller than on mainstream ships. The dress code is casual, but meals are still delicious and often themed in accordance with the ship's itinerary. On sailing ships such as the Windjammer Barefoot line, passengers may be invited to help tend the sails and learn finer points of ocean navigation.

In place of standard poolside games and casinos, activities range from educational lectures to vigorous shore excursions such as jungle canopy tours, all-day kayaking trips, and hikes to isolated villages. Passengers may have a recommended list of specialized equipment to deal with the destination's climate and terrain conditions, depending on the scheduled level of activity.

Finding the Right Voyage

When looking for the perfect adventure cruise, it is best to consult with a specialized travel agent, specifically one who is experienced with expedition voyages. Depending on the voyage's projected activity level, passengers should be in good health and accustomed to moderate activity, including hiking, though other activities (climbing, swimming, etc.) may be more appropriate depending on the itinerary. Because ports of call may vary in elevation and climate, passengers should pack a variety of appropriate clothing to suit each destination.

Prospective passengers should note that because of their limited itineraries and smaller size, most adventure cruises are more expensive than typical mainstream voyages. On the other hand, the fare usually includes various shore excursions, helping balance the overall cost of the getaway.


From exotic destinations to exciting activities, adventure cruises offer passengers a truly once-in-a-lifetime cruise travel experience. These unique voyages are not for everyone, however, and educated passengers can make the best decisions about whether they are ready to forgo the typical luxuries of cruise life to experience the remote ports, vigorous activities, and isolated locations of expedition cruises.

Adventure Cruises