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Credit: Steve Newman

Complete guide to adventure cruises - what to expect, what to pack & where to go

Author: Steve Newman

Published on:

Adventure cruises see travellers sail to lesser-visited, remote corners of the globe on thrilling voyages to discover natural wonders of the world, fascinating wildlife and more.

Adventure cruises may sound appealing to some and terrifying to others - but what do you really get on an adventure cruise?

Our complete guide has all the answers, from what to expect and what to pack to which cruise lines will take you.

What is adventure cruising?

Adventure or Expedition Cruising as it is sometimes known is completely different to the more conventional type of cruising most of us experience. These small ship cruises go, as the name implies to wild and remote parts of the world that traditional cruise ships simply can’t get to.

There’s not much to beat landing on a deserted beach with penguins casually getting on with their everyday lives or talking to the locals on some remote island that gets visitors at the very most twice a year.

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Why do adventure cruises?

Because you’ll never forget it! It’s an incredible experience whilst conventional cruisers get on a coach to visit a museum or a vineyard, you’ll be snorkelling with sea lion pups, kayaking amongst penguins or wading through the surf with elephant seals watching you.

The ships are smaller than your average conventional cruise ship and can only have between 40 and 400 people on board so their small draft means they can visit islands and places that the conventional cruise ships simply cannot get anywhere near. Thus, the destinations you visit are untouched by mass tourism.

- READ MORE: Marine scientist shares his love of the White Continent -

Is there entertainment onboard adventure cruise ships?

Forget the Broadway shows, shuffleboard, shopping malls and onboard casinos. You’ll be too busy enjoying the scenery and watching for dolphins and whales.

There are lectures on your next day’s destination, wildlife you’ll encounter, the history and geography of the area even how to use a sextant. In short, you’ll be too involved with everything that’s going on to worry about deck quoits or the evening film.

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Adventure cruises: There’s not much to beat landing on a deserted beach with penguins casually getting on with their everyday lives. Credit: Steve Newman

Do I need to be fit to go adventure cruising?

You don’t need to be super fit to go adventure cruising but a degree of mobility is required. You will need to step off the ship, either from the stern or the side onto a rolling sea and the same is true when returning to the vessel.

Plus 90 percent of landings are on to beaches or rocky shorelines where you might well need to take care where you place your feet. You also need to be prepared to be disappointed if you have set your heart on seeing something on a particular island it may well not happen if the sea gets too rough for a safe landing.

- READ MORE: Seabourn names new ultra-luxury purpose-built expedition cruise ship -

How basic are the adventure cruise ships?

This may be expedition cruising but we all still want a unique style of ultra-luxury sailing on some of the sleekest and highly innovative ships to be found on the seas in modern times.

Although each ship varies in its design and function, they all share a range of qualities, spacious and comfortable luxury, outside view cabins, ensuite facilities, fine cuisine, lecture rooms and/or lounges and numerous decks for viewing opportunities of sea mammals or birds.

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Adventure cruise ships are some of the sleekest and most highly innovative ships going. Credit: Steve Newman

How do I get from the cruise ship to the shore?

There are various methods of transportation depending on where you are in the world and which cruise line you're with.

Zodiac

Zodiacs flex with the movement of the swell and waves. The favourite of most expedition/adventure cruise ships they’re fairly easy to get out of.

Their only real drawback is that you sit on the sides and hang on to the rope so you can get quite wet in choppy water. On some landings, you may have to sit on the side and swing your legs over so they’re not as easy to get out of as the other boats.

The DIB

The DIB (Demaree Inflatable Boat) is a rigid catamaran-like structure with seats running on either side of the hull. They can be quite bouncy in choppy water but you are higher up and can see more than in a zodiac. Disembarking is from the front via metal boxes.

The Polar Cirkle Boat

As the name implies the Polar Cirkle boat is designed specifically for ice work. They have high benches for you to sit on and they are single-hulled ice-strengthened boats that can get where zodiacs can’t. They are accessed by a set of detached steps on the beach and from the centre of the ship.

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Adventure cruise: Zodiacs are the favourite of most expedition/adventure cruise ships. Credit: Steve Newman

What to pack for an adventure cruise

Many cruises issue you with a special waterproof jacket you can keep after the cruise and specialist footwear for the duration of your voyage.

However always take insect repellent, sun cream, sunglasses, insulated gloves and seasickness prevention. You are going into some of the remotest parts of the world where the weather can change in minutes.

It’s important your headgear covers your ears to protect them from cold or sunburn and you have your own waterproof footwear with a good solid tread to ensure a firm grip.

Most companies will issue a list of what you need and quite often this on their website or inside your joining instructions. I always like to take thermal trousers and a T-shirt in the polar regions, a small pocket torch and binoculars for wildlife watching from the ship also help your enjoyment of the cruise tremendously.

- READ MORE: What to pack for a cruise holiday -

Is adventure cruising safe?

All ships have a dedicated Expedition Team who are all highly qualified and trained to deal with any possible emergency. They are specialists in their field from reacting to the local wildlife such as polar bears to First Aid and survival techniques. Some ships have a qualified Doctor on board.

Note that not all adventure cruise companies go to the same destinations each year so do check by looking at their websites.

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Adventure cruises: Ships boast numerous decks for viewing opportunities of sea mammals or birds. Credit: Steve Newman

Where to go adventure cruising?

Antarctica/Falklands/South Georgia

Simply awesome, all those films and photographs you see don’t even begin to do it justice. Never mind the penguins, killer whales and seals it’s the albatrosses on the trip across the Drake Passage that will stay with you forever. Some of the most breathtakingly beautiful scenery anywhere on the planet is complemented by weather that can change in literally seconds.

Which cruise lines go here?

Aurora, Exodus, G Adventures, Hurtigruten, Noble Caledonia, Albatross, Viking, Hapag Lloyd, Silversea, Swan Hellenic, Scenic, Lindblad and Quark.

Alaska/Pacific Northwest

With the dramatic Inside Passage and Glacier Bay National Park plus the Snake and Columbia Rivers, this region has a wealth of surprises. Not a lot beats watching brown bears fishing for salmon.

Which cruise lines go here?

UnCRUISE, Hurtigruten, Silversea and Lindblad.

- READ MORE: Six amazing arctic animals to see on Seabourn's expedition voyages -

Sea of Cortes

One of the most amazing places you can ever visit and about as close as you can get to the Galapagos without going there. Snorkelling with sea lion pups, watching Blue and Humpback whales, walks on uninhabited islands with giant cacti and hummingbirds flitting around you are all on offer here.

Which cruise lines go here?

Aurora, unCruise and Lindblad.

Galapagos

Perhaps the ultimate adventure cruising experience. The wildlife is simply incredible but people often forget the scenery here is also pretty spectacular. Each island is completely different to the next in terms of landscape and atmosphere.

Which cruise lines go here?

Exodus, UnCruise, Exodus, Noble Caledonia, Celebrity, Silversea and Lindblad.

Greenland
Greeland: The stunning Ilulissat Icefjord is the world’s largest glacier outside of Antarctica. Credit: Shutterstock

Greenland

The Inuit people are a joy to meet and their churches and brightly coloured houses are a feast for the eyes. The stunning Ilulissat Icefjord is the world’s largest glacier outside of Antarctica and is perhaps the biggest draw as you can get helicopter rides over it or an iceberg cruise to visit.

Which cruise lines go here?

Aurora, G Adventures, Hurtigruten, Albatross, Hapag Lloyd, Silversea, Scenic and Lindblad.

Russian Arctic and Far East

Cruises to the Russian Arctic often visit the North Pole (via Helicopter). The region is wild, rugged, seldom visited, totally isolated, desolate and simply stunning. This isolation has resulted in an amazing ecosystem where the wildlife and pristine landscapes that only opened up with the demise of the Soviet Union make for an unforgettable experience.

Which cruise lines go here?

Aurora, Hurtigruten, Noble Caledonia, Swan Hellenic, Lindblad and Quark.

- READ MORE: Complete guide to Hurtigruten and its cruises -

Patagonia

Patagonia includes the southern end of South America, covering Argentina and Chile. Lakes, deep fjords, and glaciers to the west and deserts, and tablelands to the east make a cruise along this coastline a truly unique experience.

Which cruise lines go here?

Aurora, Hurtigruten, Noble Caledonia, Albatross, Swan Hellenic, Scenic, Lindblad and Quark.

Svalbard

Svalbard is the land of the Polar Bear and has the highest concentration of animals in the northern polar regions. Part of Norway, it is also a Duty Free Zone! A direct flight from Oslo can land at one in the morning but as there are 24 hours of daylight up here in the season many of the locals stay up in the bars and hotels to greet you.

Which cruise lines go here?

Aurora, Exodus, G Adventures Hurtigruten, Exodus, Noble Caledonia, Albatross, Viking, Hapag Lloyd, Silversea, Swan Hellenic, Scenic, Lindblad and Quark.

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