If you’re an adventurous traveler who likes to get off the beaten path, then exploration cruising is for you. This sub-genre of cruising caters to travelers who want to see more than just a city or country from the window of their cab or hotel. An exploration cruise will take you off the itinerary, away from the hordes and give you a real sense of what that particular place is all about. They usually involve excursions ashore and have limited numbers of passengers on board (generally 25 to 200). They also generally depart in the evening after dinner so they can explore during daylight hours under a different light with fewer people around. That’s not to say that larger ships don’t offer exploration cruises. Some of the largest cruise lines in the world now offer smaller vessels, like yachts, expedition ships or luxury barges, specifically for exploring places that are less accessible by traditional cruise ship standards. Here’s a list of some of those cruise lines:
Azamara has seven smaller-sized ships with capacities ranging between 584 to 984 passengers. There are three ships that are expedition-style ships on which you can explore Antarctica, Patagonia, South Africa, and the Amazon. There are also the Z-Class ships that can explore the Mediterranean, Northern Europe and Asia. Although they offer a wide range of itineraries and excursions, the Azamara ships are more focused on intimate experiences, education and enrichment. They also offer what they call “Stay-in-the-know” technology where you can plug in your phone or laptop to receive information about your destination.
The Coast Cruise is a family-owned company that offers small-ship exploration cruises to 100 destinations around the globe that larger companies don’t cover. These cruises usually have less than 100 passengers on board and depart from the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. They also occasionally depart from San Francisco and Vancouver. The Coast Cruise ships are smaller, but they’re still luxurious, with fine dining, spa facilities, and onboard entertainment. Cruises depart every month and you can choose from three types of cruises, the 10-day “Coast to Coast,” the 14-day “Coast to Coast with Canada,” and the 14-day “Coast to Coast with Canada and New England.”
Crystal Cruises is one of the more high-end cruise lines on this list, but it still offers smaller ships (only six in total) that are perfect for exploration. There are five ships that are expedition-style vessels and they can explore almost anywhere in the world. Crystal Cruises is known for its high level of luxury, but it also offers engaging shore excursions that are perfect for travelers who want to learn more about their destination. They also offer special interest cruises to satisfy a variety of interests like food and wine, photography, music and arts, and history.
Hapag-lloyd Cruises has three expedition ships that explore the Arctic, Antarctica, and the Amazon. Three luxury ships explore the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, and Asia. Hapag-lloyd Cruises is a German cruise line that’s been operating since 1891. On their larger ships, they have a focus on culture, cuisine, and history. On their smaller ships, they have a more expedition-style focus.
MSC Cruises is a global cruise line that has been operating since 1972. They offer a wide range of cruises from seven to 28 days, but they also have two smaller-sized vessels that are expedition ships that explore the Arctic, Antarctica, and the Amazon. Two smaller luxury ships explore the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, and Asia. MSC Cruises is one of the cruise lines on this list that have a bit of a wild side. They’re known for their passionate cruisers and they have a “more is more” approach to cruising. They also have an open-door policy, so there’s no key card required at the door of your cabin.
Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL)
NCL is one of the largest cruise lines in the world and they have a fleet that includes larger and expedition-style ships. They have seven smaller-sized ships that are perfect for exploration and they can explore almost anywhere in the world. These ships include the Norwegian Bliss, Norwegian Breakaway, Norwegian Escape, Norwegian Getaway, Norwegian Jade, Norwegian Jewel, and Norwegian Sun. There are also two smaller luxury ships, the Norwegian Epic and the Norwegian Serenade. NCL has a wide variety of itineraries that depart from either their home ports or from different ports in Europe, Asia, the Caribbean, or South America. They’re best known for their wide range of dining options, onboard entertainment, and their “freestyle cruising” approach.
Silver Cruises is one of the largest independent cruise lines in the world that was established in 1995. Their larger-sized ships are perfect for exploration and they can explore almost anywhere in the world. These ships include the Silver Cloud, Silver Explorer, Silver Galicia, Silver Muse, Silver Moon, Silver Spirit, and Silver Whisper. There are also two smaller luxury cruisers, the Silver Shadow and Silver Spirit. Silver Cruises has a wide variety of itineraries that depart from their home port in Italy, South America, the Caribbean, Asia, and Europe. They’re best known for their high level of luxury, fine dining, and their “Silver Choice” itinerary style.