Expedition cruises are on the rise and rise. According to Travel Market Report the number of advisers selling expedition cruises is set to double in 2020.  

Where expedition cruises were once the preserve of biologists and explorers – now the baby-boomers and Millenials cruiser market are snapping up opportunities to visit far-flung locations and partake in more adventurous cruise activities.

Below, we look at this new industry, it’s rise and some of it’s pros and cons for both the traveler and the environment.

What are expedition cruises?

Expedition cruise ships are smaller than your average, usually taking on 200 or fewer passengers. The smaller the ship, the smaller ports they can visit, and the more far-flung locations passengers can experience. The activities on offer tend to be more physically taxing than traditional cruise fare, with sea-kayaking, paddle boarding, scuba surfing and hiking taking the place of spa visits and sight-seeing trips. The ships also tend to offer higher levels of luxury – as they cater to a smaller number of guests.

These trips also tend to be at the higher end of the price bracket, as smaller ships offer fewer economies of scale and expedition teams and more highly specialised cruise staff and instructors come with a price-tag.

Popular destinations include The Arctic, Antarctica, The Galapagos, and the Pacific Islands.

Why is the industry booming?

The cruise market seems to be aligned within the travel market in general, in that a trend is emerging for more adventurous, experiential holidays. Part of this is a result of Millenials prioritising more experienced-based holidays (as discussed in our piece about Millenial Yacht Owners) but another factor is the baby-boomer market having more time and money in retirement to explore the world, and seeking a more immersive way to do so.

Programs like Blue Planet and Planet Earth have awakened people to the wonders to behold in the less-explored corners of the earth – making a cruise of the Arctic as appealing as the traditional cruise of the Med.

There is also something to be said for the ultra-luxurious experience offered by many expedition cruises, and the more personalised level of service achieved by having a lower staff-to-passenger ratio. As more cruise lines expand into this lucrative market, this industry seems poised to grow and grow.

What can passengers expect?

More luxurious vessels and more exciting adventures as providers compete for a slice of this growing market. Alaska’s Seaborn has invested in two ultra-luxury ships for 2021 and 2022 both complete with submarines for ocean exploration and Celebrity Cruises is soon to launch a fourth expedition ship – Flora – an open star-gazing platform for astronomy tours. Crystal Cruises will be upping the luxury, with a staff-to-passenger-ration of 1 to 1 on it’s soon to come Polar yachts – capable of penetrating the deep Arctic and Antarctic.

The further cruise liners (and river cruises) can venture, the more exciting sights they’ll see,

What are the pros and cons?


  • The opportunity to experience rare natural sites and take part in exciting adventures will offer passengers a more fulfilling experience.
  • More luxurious experiences and personalised service
  • Learning experience as well as travel experience
  • More innovative shipbuilding as vessels need to content with more harsh and complex environments – for example, Arctic ice.


  • Risk of overwhelming regions unused to large influx of tourists
  • More adventurous activities will be more strenuous for passengers, increasing the risk of injury
  • Risk of environmental damage from heavy fuel oil used in some ships, higher foot traffic in previously untouched regions.