by SUE LOBO
If you are planning a journey to Antarctica, the Arctic Circle or the Galapagos, you should take the time to compare cruises vs. expeditions. There are significant differences between the two, namely that you will have a more in-depth encounter on an expedition vs. a cruise ship, but is it right for you?
Travelers: On the larger cruise ship, there will be 1000+ passengers. The average expedition ship carries 30 to 200 guests.
Experts: On a large cruise ship you have a cruise director vs. an expedition team. A cruise director can point out wildlife and give you a brief summary, but they do not cruise this region more than a few times per year. On an expedition you will travel with an expert team of Naturalists, Historians, Marine Biologists, Geologists or other specialists that can share knowledge and fascinating stories.
Ports: The larger ships can only access certain ports of call. Expedition ships use zodiac landing crafts that allow you to thoroughly explore the region and get exclusive encounters with nature. Cruise ships stick to a set itinerary. Expedition ships are flexible to take advantage of unexpected sightings.
Cabins: Larger cruise ships will have a variety of cabin categories to choose from including suites. Expeditions ships typically only have a few cabin categories available.
Optionals: On a conventional cruise you often have to purchase shore excursions, on an expedition ship, practically everything is included. A cruise line may not offer as many options when it comes to excursions than what is included on expedition ships. Expedition ships are equipped with zodiacs and kayaks, as well as hiking, skiing and camping equipment. Keep in mind on an expedition, chances are you are in for quite an adventure. Mother nature has a mind of her own, so you could be boarding a zodiac (or kayak,) rising and falling in 3 to 4 ft. swells, and making “wet landings” where you jump in the cold water near the shore to begin explorations.
Entertainment: The larger boats have lots of activities throughout the day, and Las Vegas style entertainment in the evenings. You also have comforts such as room service, shopping, movies, a casino and lounges. On expedition ships there is little if any scheduled entertainment. They are there to educate you through slide shows, videos, informal talks and even undersea cameras. Keep in mind that expedition ships have very few days at sea so you are occupied with choices like hiking, bird watching, snorkeling, kayaking and more depending on the region you are visiting.
Attire: You will be asked to dress country club casual and even formal a few nights on larger cruise ships if eating in the dining room. On an expedition it is informal dress at all times.
Food: Cruise ships give you lots of dining options including the main dining rooms, specialty restaurants and buffets. The expedition ships typically only have one or two dining options, but the cuisine is good, typically using ingredients from the region you are visiting.
Silversea cruises has given an upscale twist to expeditions onboard their Prince Albert II. Here you will jump on a zodiac for exploration, but upon your return there will be a butler waiting for warm coffee or hot chocolate. They also have a larger selection of cabin categories than the typical expedition vessel. National Geographic / Linblad Expeditions, Quark and G Adventures all offer a range of options to these fascinating destinations.
So which is a better option? That all depends on the experience you are looking for. If you want a mix of some pampering, lots of dining options and entertainment along with a splash of seeing some wildlife, then the larger cruise ship would fit your needs. If this is a once in a lifetime trip to the Arctic Circle, Antarctica or the Galapagos, and you want up close encounters with the last true wilderness areas remaining on the planet, then an Expedition ship is the way to go.