Blog, Travel Tips, & News

How is expedition cruising different from ocean cruising?

Antarctica-Expedition-Landing-Penguins-Featured Image-ws

Join me next January for what I consider to be the top bucket list trip ever – going on a luxury expedition Antarctica cruise to step on the seventh continent.

If you’ve never considered Antarctica, now is the time – I have special group pricing that is below published list price, and it is a fully inclusive rate – from executive transfers to the airport, international and charter flights, pre-cruise hotel night, full 10-day cruise including expedition excursions, wine, beer, and spirits, and gratuities. There’s not much left to use the $300 per stateroom onboard credit on except spa treatments!

Since expedition cruising, which includes many other itineraries than Antarctica, is a bit different from ocean cruising, this week’s article helps explain the differences…

Expedition cruising is the ultimate authentic travel 

At some point in the future, when we get back to traveling, cruising will emerge as a safe and healthy way to travel, as the cruise industry has incorporated an immense number of protocols to protect their guests.


Within the cruising options, expedition cruising will continue as a growing trend with even higher interest. Travelers desire to explore the world in earnest and, in particular, see remote and natural locations while they can.

Expedition cruising – what is it?

Expedition cruising focuses on exploring remote destinations that aren’t typically visited on a regular cruise ship, with a high emphasis on enrichment and up-close encounters with wildlife, nature, or isolated cultures.

When one thinks of authentic travel, expedition cruising fits the expectation perfectly through immersive adventures in natural settings and unique experiences made possible by the expedition leaders who guide you to hidden discoveries.

Specialized small ships with ice-strengthened hulls, expedition leaders and lecturers who are experts in their field, and exploration equipment such as zodiacs and kayaks are typical hallmarks of an expedition cruise.

How is expedition cruising different from ocean cruising?

Most travelers are familiar with ocean cruising, whether they have sailed or not, and have a general understanding of the experience – did anyone else watch “Love Boat” every week in the late ’70s and ’80s? Within ocean cruising, there is a wide range of experiences, with large ships over 5000 passengers with rock walls and racetracks, to small ships that offer more intimate settings with a focus on cuisine, enrichment sessions, and destination exploration.

Expedition cruising tends to be more similar to small ship cruising, as the ships tend to have fewer than 300 passengers and the focus on guest lecturers, but there are still dramatic differences.

Rather than a typical cruise director and entertainment team, an expedition cruise will have a group of expedition leaders and speakers relevant to the destination. Depending on the expedition focus and location, authorities in the fields of wildlife, photography, marine biology, birdlife, and geology may be on board to provide lectures or education to prepare you for the area you will explore. These experts and other expedition leaders lead the guests in small groups of twelve or less as they travel via Zodiac to see a polar bear play with her cubs, approach a beach filled with penguins, or land on a beach to see the flora and fauna native to the area. Ocean cruises place most of their emphasis on their onboard experience and more established destinations.

While ocean cruising has very well-designed shore excursions to learn about the port of call, typically larger cities or well-established towns, expedition cruising is more fluid and flexible. The landings and excursions are more responsive to the wildlife and natural environment.

Flexibility is a crucial attribute of an expedition, as there is no precise time of arrival or departure. Expedition cruise ships adapt the schedule to see wildlife and easily change direction to watch whales breaching and get closer to the shore to view polar bears or shift the timing to respond to weather or local conditions.

Since they focus on the path less taken, expedition cruises often dock in under-the-radar harbors, ports, and beaches that are considered hidden gems. Many of the larger ocean liners cannot reach the smaller ports and inlets that a smaller expedition cruise ship can; the embarkation and disembarkation process on a larger ship takes a long time due to the number of people and complexity involved in getting everyone on and off the ship.

One significant difference is in the area of onboard entertainment and diversions. On an ocean cruise, you can enjoy live shows, dancing, and games and the focus is strongly on your temporary home: your luxury cruise liner. While on an expedition cruise, the total focus is the destination and exploring it to the fullest while you are there. The experiences you accumulate during the day leave little interest for the staged entertainment in the evening.

Most people who have experienced an expedition cruise love the sense of camaraderie that a small group brings, and they often make lifelong friends.

Expedition cruising is more about exploration than the cruise itself.

With the focus on exploration from Zodiacs to watch wildlife from a distance or land on a beach to walk ashore, daily landings are an included aspect of expeditions. Kayaks and bikes are often onboard as another method to immerse oneself in the destination. Usually, different options of excursions are offered, where some guests may head off in a Zodiac while others go kayaking, and others go ashore to see natural habitats.

The cruise experience is fairly inclusive with all the exploration activities, and the beverage and gratuity inclusions can vary between cruise lines. Some cruise lines provide a pleasant atmosphere with comfortable accommodations, and there are luxury expedition ships that provide a more high-end experience, balcony stateroom with gourmet cuisine.

Because expedition cruises focus on adventure destinations, you can expect them to go to some extraordinary places.

Polar regions are premier experiences, with opportunities to see polar bears in the Arctic or walk among Antarctica penguins. Tropical destinations include visiting numerous islands of the Galapagos to see the rare animals there and explore the Amazon region. Alaska and Hawaii are usually visited by ocean cruises, but as an expedition cruise, it is a totally different experience. The list of destinations make up top picks on most bucket lists.

Expedition cruising appeals to those interested in more remote destinations, different cultures and ways of living, diverse wildlife, and the natural environment. For those that love continuous learning, this type of cruising feeds your soul. At its heart, it is the ultimate way to truly experience a remote destination.