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Expedition Cruise Travel Guide

A Full Travel Guide to Expedition Cruises

Expedition cruises are one of the best ways to learn more about the world around you. When you step onboard an expedition cruise, you’ll notice they’re smaller and more intimate than a standard cruise ship. That’s because expedition cruises are meant for exploration and adventure, allowing you to explore off-the-beaten-path destinations. 


If you’re up for an unforgettable excursion, review our expedition cruise travel guide. In our guide below, you’ll find tips for traveling on an expedition cruise, as well as top destinations, things to know, and other information. 

Travel Tips for Expedition Cruises

If you’re wondering what to know when traveling on an expedition cruise, our expedition cruise travel guide can help. Below, you’ll find our top expedition cruise travel tips to help ensure a smooth experience.


Your Fellow Passengers

The thrill of an expedition is made better by the people with whom you get to share your journey with. Even better, these people are equally adventurous and share your thirst for knowledge that will take them to the end of the world. But wait, there’s more. Road Scholar’s expedition cruises are staffed with experts in their field — historians, anthropologists, biologists, geologists, photographers and more — who are on board to offer their insight into the spectacular environments and the creatures that call it home. When you’re on an expedition cruise with Road Scholar, there will be opportunities for exclusive access to these onboard experts.


Go with the Flow

The expedition is all about the adventure. A rough itinerary sets the expectation but you never know what surprises await you in the upcoming days. You’ve come on board to experience the natural world at its finest and Mother Nature is unpredictable. Passengers may spot a pod of whales feeding in the distance so the captain will navigate closer to these beautiful creatures to see them participate in the circle of life. The purpose of the expedition is to experience the world around you in its most pristine and having trust in your expedition team will never disappoint.


A More Casual Experience

You won’t find fancy cocktail hours or much need for formal attire while in the midst of your expedition. During the day, guests dress comfortably for the destination, whether layering up with a parka in the Antarctic or a swimsuit and flip flops among the islands of the Galápagos or the Baja Peninsula. When it comes time for dinner or shipboard activities, don’t fret, any outfit you would wear on an average meal out will be perfect. Instead of packing nicer attire, focus on simple, practical layers that are comfortable and can be easily layered for a variety of weather conditions.


Not Your Average Cruise Ship

When you come on board an expedition cruise, prepare to feel as if you have stepped into one continuous immersive excursion. Instead of the traditional amenities like top-tier entertainment and a plethora of dining options, there are expert scientists and culturalists on board to enhance the overall experience. These ships are equipped with expedition equipment that could include Zodiacs, wetsuits, kayaks and scientific tools to help explore and learn about the destination. While sailing, spend your downtime with your fellow passengers embracing a new and exciting sense of community. Instead of spending your leisure time enjoying a multitude of onboard amenities, gain a new appreciation for the world around you at expert-led lectures and reflect on your new experiences over some delicious food.


A Time to Disconnect

The Internet has become a key part of our lives as the world has become more connected, and cruise ships are no exception. As technology advances, onboard satellite Internet has become more reliable through both Internet lounges and Wi-Fi, but will still lag behind the broadband you enjoy in your homes. Many cruise lines offer package deals that support checking email and browsing the web. While it may be impossible to resist sharing pictures of these remarkable destinations, the Wi-Fi will often only be fast enough to upload a few pictures at a time. In more remote locations around the world, a Wi-Fi connection may not be possible at all. So instead, use this cruise as an opportunity to disconnect from the world and immerse yourself in the natural surroundings.


Expedition Cruises At a Glance


  • Popular destinations: Iceland, Alaska, Greenland, Scotland, Antarctica
  • Duration: Expeditions can range between 13 and 24 days, depending on your program
  • Weather: Weather conditions can vary based on destination, with below-freezing temperatures in Antarctica and tropical temperatures in Australia or Hawaii, for example.

Expedition Cruise Travel Tips

As you get ready for your expedition cruise, it’s important to be prepared. Expedition cruises offer a unique learning experience, and they’re not like the traditional cruise you might expect, where you relax by a rooftop pool and get off at ports to view a city’s nightlife. With that said, here’s what to know when traveling on an expedition cruise:


Wildlife isn’t a guarantee

One of the top tips for traveling on an expedition cruise is to not get your expectations extremely high when it comes to wildlife. Mother Nature runs her own course, which means it can be very hard to predict migration patterns and where certain wildlife might be. 

With the vast size of the ocean, spotting wildlife can become even more difficult. This means you might not see a school of cod in the Arctic or a polar bear on an icecap in Antarctica. However, no matter the expedition cruise you go on, you will still see plenty of wildlife, but not always the rare and unique species you might be hoping for.

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Itineraries can change

Because expedition cruises are designated differently than a traditional cruise ship, they have more lenient rules to abide by. Expedition cruises provide enriching programs and often have key specialists on board, such as naturalists, biologists, and historians. 

This allows expedition cruises to change their course should there be a wildlife sighting, weather change, or ocean conditions. While this may seem like a drawback to some, expedition cruises allow travelers to explore off-the-beaten-path and enjoy a more spontaneous adventure.


Expect to be active

When embarking on an ocean voyage, you should expect to be active. Unlike your standard cruise that has plenty of activities onboard meant for rest and relaxation, such as casinos, arcades, and plenty of restaurants, expedition cruises are more involved. On an expedition cruise, you and your cohort will learn and discover with professional naturalists, anthropologists, photographers, and more, to get an all-encompassing experience.

While each expedition cruise is geared toward different activity levels, it’s important to know your body and its limitations. For example, one expedition cruise might require several hours of kayaking in strong currents or choppy water, while another may involve hiking steep oceanside cliffs and bluffs. Always review the details of your program beforehand and get an accurate assessment of your overall health to ensure you’ll be able to handle the activities of your expedition cruise.


There are fewer amenities

As stated, expedition cruises are much different from traditional cruises. This means there are fewer amenities on board, mostly because these vessels are smaller and are designed for exploration. 

At Road Scholar, we work with various ships and expedition cruise lines, meaning the amenities may vary. For example, one ship may have a pool and sauna, while the other doesn’t have either. When planning an expedition cruise, consider what you want to get out of your program and the amenities you’re interested in to narrow your search.


Do your research beforehand

When planning any trip, it’s also essential to do your research beforehand. Sitting down and finding books, pamphlets, and online articles and resources on your destination allows you to better understand what to expect. 

We all have different interests, and after researching, you may realize a certain expedition cruise isn’t what you’re looking for. With that said, there are certain things you should research before booking an expedition cruise, such as weather conditions, culture, landmarks, history, and wildlife. You can prepare adequately with a deep understanding of the areas your expedition cruise will bring you.


Follow safety guidelines

Traveling the open sea is an incredibly freeing experience. However, the ocean can have a temperament of its own, which means you should always follow the safety guidelines issued to you by your captain or leader. For example, knowing where life jackets and lifeboats are can help you in the event of an emergency. Or, knowing the protocols for stormy sea conditions can ensure you and other passengers are safe when things get bumpy. 

Additionally, inform yourself of the signs of seasickness or motion sickness and pack essential remedies like medications, ginger, and crackers to help an upset stomach.


What Should You Pack for an Expedition Cruise?

One of the top expedition cruise travel tips is knowing what to pack. Weather conditions can vary significantly depending on where you’re going, and being on the open water means things can get wet. While most expedition cruises will provide heavy gear like parkas and wetsuits, there are a few key garments you should bring yourself, including:


  • Base layers and mid layers
  • Waterproof rain jacket
  • Waterproof hiking boots
  • Warm socks
  • Gloves
  • Hats
  • Sunglasses
  • Sweater
  • Undergarments
  • Short and long sleeve shirts
  • Pants and shorts


Educational Expeditions with Road Scholar

Go where nature leads on a rugged expedition ship that brings you close-up to wildlife and natural wonders. With no set schedule, your captain charts a general course determined by weather, sea conditions and recent wildlife sightings.


At Road Scholar, our expedition cruise programs can bring you across the world. With a diverse cohort of shipmates, you’ll be able to learn and discover the wildlife, landscapes, and cultures around you. From riverboat cruises to ocean voyages and expeditions, we have several cruise programs to choose from.

35+ Number of educational expeditions with Road Scholar See them all

“If you’d like a wide and robust spectrum of geography, geology, ecology and intriguing history along the Columbia River and are flexible to small changes aboard an intimate ship, this is the adventure for you. All smiles for all aboard!”

— Monica, Road Scholar Class of 2018, from Ojai, Calif. —