Last updated: 10:00 PM ET, Sun April 26 2015

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  • Amber Nolan | April 26, 2015 10:00 PM ET

    7 of the Best Expedition Cruises

    7 of the Best Expedition Cruises

    Photo courtesy of Adventure Smith

    Expedition cruises are a world away from the packaged style sailings that the megaships offer, and are sought out by intrepid travelers trying to reach the far corners of the Earth. These voyages have an emphasis on nature and wildlife, and itineraries are not set in stone but often dictated by conditions of the sea. The Las Vegas-style shows are replaced by informative lectures and stunning scenery, and accommodations are often similar to more traditional ships. These seven epic cruises offer an exceptional and unique experience.

    Norwegian Arctic on a Schooner

    Explorers can experience the Arctic glaciers on a massive icebreaker, or — to truly feel the awe and power of nature — they can sail on a three-masted schooner. Adventure Smith Explorations operates the 20-passenger Noorderlicht on eight to 10-day cruises to northern Spitsbergen, a Norwegian island located 600 miles from the North Pole. Traditional cabins have twin bunk beds with frosted glass ceilings (instead of portholes) and shared bathrooms. Travelers can witness unspoiled wilderness and seabird colonies with a chance to see walrus, reindeer, Arctic fox, and polar bear.

    Adventure Canada’s Northwest Passage

    Sought out by explorers in the 1500s, it was not until the early 1900s that a successful transit of the Northwest Passage was accomplished. The route travels through the Canadian Arctic, and in the past few years climate change has led to melting ice and a more easily navigable route. The 198-passenger, Ocean Endeavour will go where the ice allows, beginning in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, and traversing the coast — stopping in fishing communities and UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

    The ship also visits Devon Island (the largest uninhabited island in the world), and Beechey Island, the location where the 1845 Franklin expedition went missing.  

    Cape Horn on Australis

    The southern tip of South America is home to dramatic scenery, an unpredictable climate, and one of the few remaining biologically-rich coastal habitats. For more than 20 years, cruise operator Australis has offered a well-executed cruise that follows the path of Charles Darwin through the most remote parts of Patagonia. Excursions include close encounters with a Magellanic penguin colony, walking next to an active glacier, a visit to the lighthouse at Cape Horn (“the end of the Earth”), and hiking up mountainsides for unbelievable views.

    Alaskan Dream Cruises

    Alaskan Dream Cruises provides extremely popular small-ship voyages from Sitka to ports that megaships don’t visit. On a stop in Windham Bay, passengers can explore the region by kayak and enjoy a campfire on the shore.  Or, in the traditional Tlingit Indian Village of Kake, guests can watch a dance performance and totem carving. Vessels carry as little as 10 passengers to as many as 58, and have sun decks (on larger ships), viewing areas, and lounges.


    Passengers can feel the same excitement as Charles Darwin had when they set sail on the MS Beagle, named after Darwin’s legendary expedition ship. The steel-hulled sailing ship is fitted with teak decks and gorgeous, classically-designed interiors. Ecuadorian meals are served on the deck or in the saloon, which also offers a small library of Galapagos literature. Vaya Adventures charters the vessel for a series of seven-night cruises to the northwest or south central islands of the Galapagos.  

    The ship departs from Santa Cruz and offers opportunities to see rare wildlife ranging from Galapagos sea lions, marine iguanas, green sea turtles, blue footed boobies, manta rays, and a wide range of other species.


    Follow in the footsteps of explorer Ernest Shackleton for opportunities to see colonies of Emperor, Magellanic, and King penguins. One Expedition Cruises allows passengers to camp in tents overnight in Antarctica, go sea kayaking through the frigid waters, or hiking using trekking poles and snowshoes. Both the One Ocean Navigator and One Ocean Voyager were specifically designed for polar and scientific research, but have modern comforts such as theater-style presentation room, gift shop, fitness center, massage room, hot-water spa, sauna, and salt-water plunge pool.


    For a taste of adventure mixed with pampering, the “Kimberley Ultimate Wilderness Cruise” has been True North’s flagship product for more than 25 years, taking passengers to some remote areas of Australia in style. The new “Wet Season Adventure” takes place at the end of the rainy season, when thunderstorms and light shows illuminate the night sky and waterfalls are more powerful than ever. The luxury vessel will visit Montgomery Reef and anchor at the base of the stunning King George Falls — with fishing trips and helicopter excursions on the passenger activity list.


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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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