Expedition cruising is about getting off the beaten track, out of the way of other ships and other visitors. You may not be far from civilisation but you will often be out of sight of it.
This will often be via a fleet of on board Zodiac landing craft which offer marvellous manoeuvrability allowing access to places like inlets, fjords, bird sanctuaries and land in otherwise inaccessible places. Zodiacs also enable the Expedition Team to offer Zodiac cruises along the voyage: near a seabird colony, next to a cliff, along a glacier front, or a beach where polar bears dwell. Zodiacs are also used as platforms from where swimming and snorkelling can be conducted.
In place of a customary Cruise Director and entertainment staff, you will be joined by an Expedition Team. These hand-picked experts are naturalists, historians and ecologists who will share their knowledge and enthusiasm during forays ashore and whilst on board. Another benefit to small ship cruising is that most will allow you to visit the Captain and Officers on the Bridge to check the progress of the vessel.
I joined a ‘soft’ expedition cruise on the MS Caledonian Sky, a 3 star ship within the Noble Caledonia fleet whilst it was on a Circumnavigation of New Zealand. Embarking in Dunedin we stayed on the ship for three nights, travelling down to Stewart Island and then through Resolution Bay, Doubtful Sound and Dusky Sound until we docked in Milford Sound.
Typical of a small expedition ship, the maximum number of passengers is 114 and all cabins have either portholes or balconies and are on average a relatively spacious 20-23 sqm.
The public areas on the ship are more than adequate for the number of passengers aboard and include a large lounge with bar, the main dining room in which all guests can be accommodated in one seating. The seating in the main restaurant is a combination of smaller and larger tables to cater for those who’d prefer a quiet dinner for two to those who are keen to make new friends. In addition there is a library, outside deck where meals are served in warm weather, an observations deck complete with sun loungers and a hot tub Jacuzzi. There is also a small hairdressers, fitness room and a doctor on board. The expedition team and crew went out of their way to get to know you and what you were most interested in seeing or doing whilst cruising.
During the time I was on board all of our daily excursions were by zodiac and these were organised incredibly efficiently. To cater for the ability of passengers, each day’s activities included an easy, moderate and more challenging level and the groups of passengers were then called in order so as to avoid too much standing around waiting to get into zodiacs. All excursions were accompanied by at least one expedition leader from the ship and often a local guide too. Whenever on land, there was always the option to head off and explore independently if you preferred too. Whilst out and about with the expedition team, they were always flexible with the plan or itinerary in case we came across any interesting wildlife activity.
For anyone who’d like to combine the easy style of cruising where you can unpack once and spend your days travelling to and seeing a variety of destinations along with getting off the beaten track and learning an enormous amount from a talented expedition team then this is a great way to do it.