A cruise can be a thoroughly peaceful escape with days spent relaxing on deck, sipping cocktails at happy hour, and watching the waves roll by. With travellers these days seeking new experiences, cultural immersion, and remote untouched destinations, adventure cruises and expeditions are trending. That’s not to say that these cruisers are totally roughing it. Many return to butler service, five-course dinners, hot tubs, and spacious suites after a day of kayaking, hiking, or snorkelling. By Patricia Doherty
Adventure cruises can satisfy a traveller’s curiosity, commitment to ecotourism, or desire for an active vacation. Well-equipped expedition ships might take them to Antarctica, to the Galápagos, or to inaccessible islands in the Arctic Circle. Along the way, they may climb into kayaks or Zodiacs, hike through dense forests, or snorkel among tropical fish or coral reefs. Onboard educational programmes enhance the experience on most adventure cruises.
The options are many, with expedition itineraries and adventure-based activities even showing up in the brochures of traditional luxury cruise companies. Here are 13 adventure cruises for both newbies and experienced adventurers.
Adventures by Disney – Antarctica and Patagonia Expedition Cruise
This 12-day excursion begins in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and continues with a flight to Ushuaia and a chance to explore Tierra del Fuego or ride on the End of the World train through Patagonia. There, guests board the ship for the 10-day cruise to Antarctica. Along the way, optional activities include a Zodiac cruise to the Antarctic Peninsula, a walk among penguins, a kayak experience, and a hike for stunning hilltop views of Antarctica. The two-day crossing of the Drake Passage is a highlight. Onboard, activities include wildlife viewing, naturalist presentations, photography tips, ship tours, games, movies, and a heated pool.
Adventures by Disney – Galápagos Islands Expedition Cruise
This 9-day excursion begins in Quito, Ecuador and continues with a flight to Baltra where guests board a panga boat that takes them to their ship, Galápagos Legend. A hike and snorkel on Bartolome Island begin the adventure, and the ship sails to South Plaza Island for a naturalist-guided morning wildlife walk among sea lions, iguanas, and blue-footed boobies. On Cristóbal Island, guests can hike, take a glass-bottom kayak cruise, and snorkel. Visit the oldest of the Galápagos Islands, Española, where green sea turtles, sea lions, and mockingbirds live. Onboard, guests enjoy stargazing on the equator, Disney movies, and al fresco dining.
Lindblad and National Geographic – Wild Peru Escape: Amazon and Machu Picchu
Starting in Lima, Peru, guests on this adventure head to Cusco for a drive to an Andean village and a train to Machu Picchu. Travellers spend a day exploring Machu Picchu, with hikes to the Sun Gate or Huayna Picchu. A train ride, flight to Lima, and a drive to the riverside village of Nauta takes guests to the Delfin II for the cruise of the Upper Amazon. For the next three days, they explore the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve, with more than five million acres of pristine jungle. Daily excursions by skiff or kayak and hikes (when water levels permit) pass sloths, monkeys, birds, and more. Guests have a rare opportunity to meet the ribereños, the people who live on the river.
Hurtigruten – Fjords Expedition Cruise from Dover
Travellers spend 11 days aboard MS Maud exploring five of Norway’s most beautiful fjords. Departing Dover, England, the ship passes the famed white cliffs on its way to the North Sea. During a day at sea, guests meet the expedition team, relax in a hot tub, and learn about fjords, glaciers, and Citizen Science volunteer projects. On the third day, the itinerary includes a scenic hike or kayak to the village of Rosendal with its 16th-century manor, gardens, and cafés. On day 5, there’s a guided tour of the Supphelle Glacier and a visit to the glacier village of Fjaerland, home to only 300 residents and 10 second-hand bookshops. Waterfalls, windswept islands, snow-capped mountains, and natural beauty await during small boat trips ashore.
Hurtigruten – Circumnavigating Svalbard: The Ultimate Expedition
The Svalbard Archipelago, located in the Arctic north of mainland Europe, represents one of the world’s largest untouched wilderness areas. The eight-day expedition begins with a flight from Oslo to Longyearbyen. There’s time to explore the frontier town before boarding ship to cruise among huge glaciers, icebergs, and wildlife. In eastern Svalbard, the largest population of polar bears in the archipelago can often be seen hunting seals with their cubs. Drifting ice and the frozen seascape determine the specific route, and the captain and expedition team decide where to sail and land. Onboard amenities include hot tubs, sauna, gym, lectures from the team, and a professional photographer’s advice for capturing the best landscape and wildlife photos.
UnCruise Adventures – Columbia River Cruise: Rivers of Adventure and Wine
From Portland, the ship heads to Astoria with its Victorian downtown, and Fort Clatsop where guests explore the landscape of the Lewis and Clark expedition. The ship cruises upstream, through the Bonneville Dam locks and to Multnomah Falls. A guided hike takes travellers to the heart of the Columbia Gorge through a fern-filled forest, and a tasting of Hood River Valley wine ends the day. Day 5 takes the ship to the mouth of the Palouse River for kayaking, paddle boarding, swimming, and wildlife viewing. A guided white-water rafting adventure on the Deschutes comes with a picnic lunch and visit to Columbia Hills State Park. The next day’s hikers are rewarded with views of the river, Mt. Adams, Mt. Hood, the Columbia River Gorge, and a farewell dinner before the return to Portland.
UnCruise Adventures – Belize Cruise: Wonders, Rivers, Reefs, and Mayan Culture
Adventurers board the Safari Voyager in Belize City for the seven-day cruise, then head to the Belize Barrier Reef and Ranguana Caye, a private island, for snorkelling, swimming, and paddleboarding. At Laughing Bird Caye National Park, kayak or snorkel among angelfish, parrotfish, sea sponges, and coral before setting sail for Guatemala. A hike through a tropical rainforest with more than 400 species of plants and animals is next. In Punta Gorda, guests visit the local market before a trip to Mayan ruins. There’s also a birdwatching skiff tour, hike, or kayak trip to see black howler monkeys, deer, crocodiles, and more than 300 species of birds. The cruise ends with the captain’s dinner before returning to Belize City.
Abercrombie & Kent – The Northwest Passage: From Greenland to the Bering Sea
This 24-day cruise combines adventure and luxury, with private balconies, butler service, French-inspired cuisine, and afternoon tea along with Zodiac trips, icebergs, and wildlife. Starting in Montreal, guests explore the city before flying to Western Greenland to board the ship. Cruising iceberg-strewn fjords, visiting Inuit villages, dog sledding, and seeing ancient huts are on the itinerary. The ship cruises into the Canadian Arctic Archipelago of Nunavut and enters the Northwest Passage with excursions that may include shore landings, whale sightings, and visits to historic towns. In the Northwest Territories, opportunities include tours of an Inuit town and the chance to see the “Smoking Hills,” cliffs of bituminous shale that constantly combust and burn, a rare geological phenomenon. Cruise the Yukon Territory and Alaskan coast before disembarking in Nome.
Ponant – Zanzibar and the Jewels of the Indian Ocean
This 13-day expedition cruise aboard Le Bellot begins in Victoria on the island of Mahé in Seychelles and continues to La Digue and Rémire before heading to smaller islands for snorkelling and diving in clear turquoise seas among coral reefs and marine life. Unspoiled Bijoutier Island, jewel of the Alphonse Atoll, features beaches, herons, frigate birds, tortoises, and giant crabs. The ship continues to the Cosmoledo Atoll, called “Galapagos of the Indian Ocean” for its varied marine life, and then on to Assumption Island, a major breeding site for sea turtles. The next ports of call will take guests to Tanzania, and then to Zanzibar located off its coast, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Quark – Canada’s Remote Arctic: Northwest Passage to Ellesmere and Axel Heiberg Islands
The 12-day trip begins in Toronto with a flight to Resolute, Nunavut where guests explore the town before boarding the new expedition vessel Ultramarine, equipped with two helicopters and 20 Zodiacs. The next days are spent cruising among the remote islands of the Canadian High Arctic and navigating icy inlets with the goal of reaching some of the most remote places on the planet: the rarely visited Ellesmere Island and Axel Heiberg Island with its famous fossil forest. Weather and ice conditions determine the route under the constant guidance of the skilled Expedition Team. Zodiac cruises, land excursions, sightseeing flights, an education programme, wildlife viewing, and community visits fill the days. Wildlife includes sea mammals, birds, polar bears, muskox, and possibly arctic wolves.
Adventure Canada – Newfoundland Circumnavigation
The 12-day trip begins in St. John’s, capital of Newfoundland, with an evening departure of the Ocean Endeavor, equipped with 20 Zodiacs and advanced navigation equipment. Cruising northeast, the ship passes icebergs, whales, seabirds, picturesque villages, and rocky shores. At L’Anse aux Meadows, guests visit a reconstructed Viking habitation and learn about the remains of the Norse settlement. In Labrador, at the Red Bay Basque Whaling Station, they learn about the whalers of the 1500s. On the west coast, they hike through Gros Morne National Park for views of Bonne Bay. Cruise past the bays, coves, and communities of southern Newfoundland, and get close to wildlife in a Zodiac. Guests are welcomed by local leaders of the First Nations Miawpukek to learn about their community and then stop in Saint-Pierre, an official territory of France just off the shores of Newfoundland, before returning to St. John’s.
Aurora Expeditions – Baja California Odyssey
Guests begin their 13-day adventure in Cabo San Lucas, cruising north towards the lagoons of Magdalena Bay where gray whales arrive in winter. In a Zodiac or kayak, cruise along mangroves among birds, sea lions, and dolphins, or hike across sand dunes, spotting tracks of lizards, coyotes, and jackrabbits. Sail overnight to Cabo Pulmo National Park, a reserve of living coral, colourful tropical fish, and birds, where visitors dive or snorkel among the marine life. The next six days are spent among the islands in the Sea of Cortez, with stops for hiking, kayaking, snorkelling, swimming, and diving. Abundant wildlife includes a wide variety of birds, mobula rays, pilot whales, and bottlenose dolphins. Stopping at seaside Loreto, guests can explore the town or the 1699 San Javier Mission before cruising to Pichilinque to disembark and return to Cabo San Lucas.
Viking Expeditions – Undiscovered Great Lakes: Thunder Bay to Milwaukee Expedition Cruise
The eight-day trip crosses the width of Lake Superior beginning in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada where Fort William recreates an early 19th-century fur trading post, and guests can hike granite cliffs and discover Kakabeka Falls. In Duluth, Minnesota, options include a journey along Lake Superior on the North Shore Scenic Railroad and a paddle down the St. Louis River. The Apostle Islands of Wisconsin feature coniferous forests, dune bogs, lagoons, and sea caves for exploring in kayaks. In Houghton, Michigan, discover the area’s 7,000 years of copper mining history and descend 370 feet into the Quincy Mine to learn about working underground. Choose a hike to Hungarian Falls or kayak among local birdlife. Next, the ship passes through the Soo Locks in the St. Mary’s River between Lake Huron and Lake Superior, before landing in Mackinac Island for a day. The cruise ends in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.