Last updated: 09:00 PM ET, Wed July 01 2015

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  • Amber Nolan | July 1, 2015 9:00 PM ET

    6 of the Best Cruise Lines for Eco Travel

    6 of the Best Cruise Lines for Eco Travel

    Photo courtesy of Un-Cruise Adventures

    For travelers interested in eco tourism, cruises may not seem the likely choice, but several small-ship companies are dedicated to eco travel and sustainable tourism. These six cruise lines aim to educate and immerse travelers in the natural areas they visit and are taking extra measures to ensure that fragile environments will be protected. 

    Un-Cruise Adventures

    In April 2015, the Passenger Vessel Association recognized Un-Cruise Adventures as a member of its Green WATERS Program, a voluntary program aimed at creating a cleaner, greener marine environment. Members take initiatives such as reducing fuel consumption, conserving potable water, using less harmful chemicals, and conserving energy.

    Un-Cruise Adventures follows “leave no trace” practices on all voyages. In the line’s Seattle and Juneau offices and aboard ships, eco-friendly products are purchased; waste is reduced, and recycling occurs wherever there are facilities. Communities associated with the company are supported through local purchases, hiring, and donations. Un-Cruise visits Alaska, Hawaii, the Pacific Northwest, and Central America.

    IE Travel

    Specializing in nature-themed cruises in the Galapagos, Amazon, and Patagonia, IE Travel has a history of protecting the environment. In 1990, IE helped form The International Ecotourism Society (TIES), a company that brings eco travel to natural areas, while conserving the environment and improving the well being of locals.

    The company is also a member of the International Galapagos Tour Operators Association (IGTOA), an organization established to help monitor the delicate balance between nature tourism and Galapagos Islands conservation.

    In addition, IE uses biodegradable detergent and soap, engines that don’t burn oil, water-coolers instead of plastic bottles, and even tree-free notepads for guests to take notes about wildlife.

    National Geographic Expeditions

    National Geographic operates cruise expeditions to exotic destinations to study and photograph the Earth’s natural beauty and support local communities. The company explores the far reaches of the globe, including Asia, Australia, Europe, and Antarctica.

    Onboard vessels, a number of practices are put in place such as a waste management plan and recycling program (there’s even a recycling manager). Most water is produced aboard the ships using systems that desalinize seawater. Guests are given reusable stainless steel water bottles and refilling stations are available throughout the ships.


    Carrying between 148 to 310 guests, Windstar is reducing its environmental impact the old-fashioned way: by sailing. When they do motor, the ships use fuel that is cleaner and burns with lower sulfur content.

    Each crewmember undergoes environmental training each year, and every ship has a designated environmental officer. Windstar is partnered with Xanterra Parks and Resorts, a company that has been honored several times for its environmental efforts by the National Park System. Windstar sails to the Caribbean, Mediterranean, Northern Europe, and other areas.

    The Boat Company

    As the only non-profit cruise line in Alaska, The Boat Company has been a steward in environmental efforts for more than 35 years. The small-ship cruise line earned gold level sustainable tourism certification from Adventure Green Alaska, has been honored numerous times by other groups for its efforts, and provides financial support for Southeast Alaska’s wildlife conservation programs.

    Passengers can get involved by recycling onboard the ship and purchasing carbon offsets to help fund wind farms in Iowa.

    Rainforest Cruises

    As a member of International Ecotourism Society, Rainforest Cruises is dedicated to protecting the fragile regions it visits including the Amazon rainforest, Galapagos, and Panama. Each year the company makes a significant donation to the Rainforest Trust, a non-profit organization that purchases and protects some of threatened tropical forests.  

    Onboard practices include the use of biodegradable soap, refillable water bottles, proper waste management, energy conservation, and pollution control procedures. Before booking, passengers should read the cruise information carefully so that they too “leave no trace.


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Amber Nolan Captain’s Blog: Cruise Tips and Advice

Amber Nolan Amber Nolan loves to be on the water, and although she enjoys the fun and excitement of larger cruise ships, she prefers setting sail on smaller vessels to unique destinations. Originally from western New York, this restless traveler has a knack for finding creative ways to travel and befriending interesting characters along the way. On her most recent adventure, she hitchhiked on private aircraft across the United States. She previously served as the cruise editor at Sherman’s Travel but her work can also be found on and USA Today Travel. She current resides in South Florida.
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