Which cruise is best for you? 10 new itineraries for 2022

With an array of destinations, ships and prices, an adventure cruise offers the chance to experience a location from a new perspective, in the company of experts.

Le Commandant Charcot.

Photograph by Nicolas Dubreuil
By Julia Buckley
Published 14 Aug 2022, 15:00 BST

“To me, adventure cruising is at the core of travel itself,” says Mary Curry, small ships specialist at tour operator Adventure Life.

“At its core, travel is about discovery, whether that’s of people and cultures, wildlife or places. Adventure travel allows you to feel like an explorer — you go out there and find out something in a way that you can’t from a luxury hotel or a large ship, where you’re more isolated from what you’re trying to discover. It goes back to the original reasons for why people travel.”

But while adventure cruising’s core values remain, the cruise experience is very different. Today’s adventure cruises are increasingly luxury and hi-tech, and have powerful eco credentials. And while the industry used to be centred round the earth’s two poles, it’s now branching out closer to home. You can even take an adventure cruise around Scotland. 

Part of that reason is the pandemic. “Post-Covid, people seem to want that break away from the norm — I think they value what we have in the UK, but want to do something out of the ordinary,” says Paul Sharman. Hebridean Adventures, where he’s the business development manager, launched in 2019 with a repurposed fishing boat to take people around uninhabited Scottish islands. Although 2022 will be their first full year, business is booming to such an extent that they’ve acquired another operator: The Oban-based Northern Light Cruising Company, which owns a former Norwegian search and rescue vessel with in-built stabilisers — to make the crossings easier, especially while heading into the Atlantic to St Kilda. Elsewhere in Europe, what’s dubbed ‘the world’s tiniest cruise’ launched in Denmark this year: three days and three remote islands on a sea ranger rib boat. 

The post-pandemic vibe, it seems, is micro, not macro. 

Cruising closer to home is, of course, more sustainable — and that’s important for adventure cruising today. Every new-build ship pushes its eco credentials, whether that’s using liquefied natural gas (LNG) for power, or ‘dynamic positioning systems’, which keep the boat static without dropping anchor. They’re going plastic-free, and ensuring they keep close links with the remote communities they visit. “If you’re not doing that right now, you won’t have a business for much longer,” says Monika Sundem, Adventure Life’s CEO. 

The industry is going upmarket, too. “Historically, expedition cruises’ itineraries have always been amazing but the ships were built more to travel to those regions than to wow travellers on board,” says Adam Coulter, managing editor of Cruise Critic UK. By custom-building new ships and gently upping capacity, companies can recoup their investment fast, says Curry, while providing “much nicer cabins at a similar price point”. 

Of course, in adventure cruising, luxury also refers to the product. Ponant’s Le Commandant Charcot, which debuted in 2021, can go “far deeper and further [into Antarctica] than anyone else,” says Edwina Lonsdale, managing director of expedition cruise specialists Mundy Adventures. “And that’s a luxury in itself.” Other boats are incorporating their own helicopters or submarines, she adds. Some are prioritising the luxury of time: flying one leg of an Antarctica trip, to save a two-day Drake Passage crossing, for example.

The other big change? The arrival of big-gun cruise companies. Coulter flags Viking Ocean Cruises’ two new adventure cruise ships, and Seabourn’s 2023-scheduled Venture, as ones to watch. Viking’s new Expeditions division, which launched in January, will “take the immersive experiences we offer to the next level,” says Wendy Atkin-Smith, managing director of Viking UK. Each journey will have at least 25 experts in attendance — they’re partnering with Cambridge University, among others. 

Even tour operator G Adventures is getting in on the act — its first custom-built ship took to the Galápagos waters in April. That ship, the Reina Silva Voyager, will, unusually, have two solo cabins. Yves Marceau, G’s VP of product, says that the adventure cruise demographic, which always skews high-ish, because of the cost, is beginning to open up post-pandemic.

In the future, cruising destinations will get more varied, predicts Lonsdale, who flags the Kimberley in Australia and IndonRFesia’s Raja Ampat as hotspots-to-be. Curry, meanwhile, says the new trend is for solar eclipse journeys. The future of adventure cruising looks bright, then — literally. 

Rendering of the Viking Mississippi  Explorers’ Lounge on Deck 1.

Rendering of the Viking Mississippi  Explorers’ Lounge on Deck 1.

Photograph by Viking Cruises

1. Best for new cruisers

This Great Lakes Explorer offering from the new Viking Expeditions division dips between the US and Canada. Over eight days, you’ll tick off all five of the Great Lakes, calling at the underrated city of Milwaukee, crossing the Soo Locks and visiting car-free Mackinac Island. So far, so standard — but here comes the adventure part. You’ll see these well-known destinations from a completely new viewpoint as you kayak along the Mackinac shoreline, or take a RIB into the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve of Georgian Bay. 

The Viking Octantis, the first of the company’s new expedition ships, sleeps 378 in 189 staterooms, so it’s at the larger end of the spectrum, with a balcony for every room, plenty of outdoor observation space (some of it covered) and two in-ship submarines.  

Viking Cruises offers the eight-day Great Lakes Explorer from £6,496 per person, including return flights from select UK airports, all on-board meals, wi-fi, gratuities and use of expedition gear. Departs 13 or 27 August and 10 September 2022, or May to June 2023. 

A remote waterfall.

A remote waterfall.

Photograph by Paul Sharman

2. Best for a quick adventure

This speedy five-night trip, Autumnwatch, is perfect for those wanting to dip a toe into the adventure cruise scene — at prices significantly lower than destinations further afield. On the Hjalmar Bjorge you’ll explore Scotland’s west coast mainland and the inner Hebrides. The boat calls in on old favourites such as Skye, Mull and Jura, but shows them from a different perspective — floating into sea caves you can’t reach from the land, and getting up close to the local otter population. It’s a journey that focuses on wildlife, so as well as otters you should hopefully see eagles, red deer, beavers and dolphins, too. 

The Hjalmar Bjorge has stabilisers, which makes for a much smoother ride, even on a close-to-land trip like this. 

Northern Light Cruising Co Ltd offers a five-night Autumnwatch trip from £1,425 per person, including locally sourced meals, afternoon tea and excursions, but excluding travel to Scotland, soft drinks and alcohol. Departs 5 October 2022. 

Sea kayaking in Svalbard.

Sea kayaking in Svalbard.

Photograph by Matt Horspool

3. Best for history lovers

Aurora Expedition’s incredible 15-day Across the Arctic Circle journey starts in Aberdeen and then travels northwards as far as Svalbard. As well as the nature that you’d expect on an Arctic cruise, this packs in plenty of history, bringing in the prehistoric settlements of the Scottish islands to the Vikings, and fishing traditions of the Norwegian fjords. The ship is the Greg Mortimer, a 2019 purpose-built, 79-cabin expedition ship. It’ll likely be a comfy ride — this was the first passenger ship to be built with the Ulstein X-Bow, essentially a reshaped hull that hits waves at a different angle, making for a much smoother crossing. 

The first stop on the cruise is the Orkney Islands, where you can hike and birdwatch on Fair Isle, before continuing to the Shetlands and their incredibly preserved ‘brochs’, Iron Age fortifications. On-board naturalists will transform your at-sea day en route to Norway with their birdwatching help, before you glide up the Norwegian coast, zipping into inlets that only a small boat like this can get into, stopping off at the Lofoten islands, and spotting blue whales, humpbacks and orca in the ocean as you head towards Svalbard. You fly back from Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen.

Aurora Expeditions offers 15 days Across the Arctic Circle from £8,771.25 per person, including all shore excursions and Zodiac cruises, airport transfers from Aberdeen and to Longyearbyen, one night’s hotel stay in Aberdeen, and all meals. Excludes flights, optional excursions and activity surcharges, and airport arrival and departure taxes. Departs 16 May 2023. 

4. Best for beaches

This journey is a full-on immersion into Bahamian history, culture and nature, slotting in unforgettable experiences such as kayaking through mangrove forests and snorkelling over multi-coloured reefs. Discover the Bahamas’ archipelago of 700 islands: instead of being limited to the 30 or so that are inhabited, on an expedition cruise, you can get truly wild. Not least because your ship, the National Geographic Sea Lion, has been specifically designed to navigate the narrowest of inlets and wildlife spots that larger boats can’t get close to. 
From Miami, you’ll fly to Great Exuma to board the ship. Highlights include visiting the fishing communities of former pirate hangout Acklins Island, the easternmost island of Mayaguana, and Eleuthera, home to a unique Island School, which teaches conservation. This is an intimate trip — the Sea Lion only has 31 cabins. 

National Geographic Exhibitions offers the eight-day A Voyage to the Bahamas’ Out Islands from £4,500 per person, including arrival and departure transfers (if booked on recommended flights), meals, excursions and activities detailed in the itinerary. Excludes flights. Departs 29 December 2022, or February, March or December 2023. 

 Marine iguanas.

 Marine iguanas.

Photograph by Andrew Peacock

5. Best for solo travellers

G Adventures saw a gap in the busy Galápagos market for a vessel that was more upmarket than others, but catered to solo travellers, too. Enter the Reina Silvia Voyager, which debuted in April. Two of its nine cabins are singles: they’re in prime upper deck positions with a balcony for each. It’s a small, nimble craft but the onboard kayaks and Zodiacs mean that you can get even closer to the wildlife once you hop off.

On the eight-day Central and Eastern Islands itinerary, you’ll take in some Galápagos classics — the sea lions on San Cristóbal, iguanas on Santa Fé and red-footed boobies at Genovesa’s Darwin Bay. There are guided walks aplenty, whether that’s through wildlife colonies or to dramatic volcanic formations, and you’ll also get lots of free time for swimming or snorkelling, or simply watching the sunset from your balcony or the top deck of the boat.  

G Adventures offers an eight-day Galápagos — Central and East Islands cruise on the Reina Silvia Voyager from £3,289, including all meals, landings and excursions, a certified Galápagos National Park Service guide, and use of wetsuits and snorkelling equipment. Excludes flights. Departs 12, 26 August 2022, with further departures in 2022 and 2023. 

the enormous private terrace on the Owner’s Suite, on board Le Commandant Charcot.

the enormous private terrace on the Owner’s Suite, on board Le Commandant Charcot.

Photograph by Gilles TRILLARD

6. Best for explorers

Ponant’s long-awaited vessel, Le Commandant Charcot is a real game changer in the adventure cruise market, especially when it comes to the polar regions, since it can go further than any other passenger ship. Its Polar Class 2 hull enables it to press on through ice. 

But with that quality comes responsibility — it can run for six weeks purely on LNG, is partially electric-powered, meaning it can switch off the engines for zero noise pollution in remote or wildlife-heavy areas, has sealife detectors and doesn’t need to drop anchor. 

Ponant’s Geographic North Pole trip will be the star attraction. Embarking at Spitsbergen, the ship will dodge ice floes as it steers towards the North Pole, 435 miles away from inhabited land — the only living things you’re likely to see are whales, seals, polar bears and Arctic birds. 

Ponant offers a 16-day Geographical North Pole journey from £29,660 per person, including return flights from Paris to Longyearbyen, all food and most drinks, minibar, 24/7 room service, and all scheduled activities. Departs 8, 23 July and 7, 22 August 2022. 

Ombak Putih.

Ombak Putih.

Photograph by Jennifer Hayes

7. Best for nature lovers 

Edwina Lonsdale, from Mundy Adventures, tips Raja Ampat in Indonesia as an adventure cruise destination that’s set to boom. Here’s a fascinating way to explore it — New Scientist’s 13-day, intriguingly named, In the Wake of Alfred Wallace: Cruise Indonesia trip.

Wallace was a renowned naturalist — you may know him as the guy who ‘discovered’ the theory of evolution through natural selection, had Charles Darwin not stolen his thunder. He spent eight years studying in the Malay Archipelago, and this trip will follow in his footsteps, sailing through Raja Ampat and Indonesia’s Spice Islands in the company of no fewer than three specialists, including entomologist and evolutionary biologist Dr George Beccaloni. 

The ship is the 22-berth Ombak Putih, a traditional small pinisi boat. Though it’s not as fancy as the state-of-the-art ships that bigger players are launching, its dinky size means it can access bays they can’t, plus it’s a sailing boat, to minimise environmental impact. 

Your journey will take you to places where Wallace made significant discoveries — and you’ll make your own as you meet the resident wildlife, from giant fruit bats flying overhead to exotically plumed birds of paradise giving it their all in courtship displays, plus enormous golden birdwing butterflies, which Wallace thought the world’s most beautiful. Activities include snorkelling in this underwater paradise. You’ll also get the chance to sleep 
on deck under the stars.

New Scientist Discovery Tours offer the 13-day In the Wake of Alfred Wallace: Cruise Indonesia tour from £10,580 per person, including all meals, activities and excursions, one night’s hotel accommodation on day one, and transfers. Excludes international flights. Departs 22 January 2024. 

Kayaking and paddleboarding beneath the Wessel Islands’ remote waterfalls.

Kayaking and paddleboarding beneath the Wessel Islands’ remote waterfalls.

Photograph by Crooked compass

8. Best for sunshine

Celebrate Australia’s long-awaited reopening by booking this trip of a lifetime: Crooked Compass’s six-day East Arnhem Land and Wessel Islands trip. This archipelago off the Northern Territory, home to tidal rivers and estuaries, mangrove forests and, of course, pristine ocean, is so remote it’s likely you won’t pass another boat once you set off from Gove, where you’ll fly into from Darwin. Before boarding, you’ll be introduced to the Yolngu Aboriginal culture, including a trip to the world-renowned Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre of art. You’ll spend the next six days on the boat, dipping between anchoring at white sand beaches, hiking island gorges and oceanside waterfalls, discovering secret lagoons and swimming holes — and even catching your own squid for dinner. The Wessel Islands are so remote that night-time is as beautiful as day — there’s incredible stargazing from the boat. 

This is a truly intimate experience, run by the Davey family. Their eight-berth boat, Wildcard, may not be as well equipped as a purpose-built expedition ship, but that’s kind of the point of this area — it’s absolutely back to basics, for a really intense interaction 
with nature. 

Crooked Compass offers six days from £5,570 per person, including three meals a day, beer, wine and soft drinks, all listed activities, homelands entry permits and fees, and laundry. Airfares and gratuities are excluded. Departs 10, 16 March 2023. 

Water lilies at sunrise in Brazil’s Pantanal.

Water lilies at sunrise in Brazil’s Pantanal.

Photograph by Getty

9. Best for big cat obsessives

Sprawling across southwest Brazil, the Pantanal is the world’s largest tropical wetland and one of the most extraordinary ecosystems on the planet. Stay on a boat instead of in a hotel, and you’ll have the same perspective as the wildlife that lives in this lush region. Sunvil’s six-night Northern Pantanal cruise, which goes between Caceres and Porto Jofre, takes you onto lakes, into lagoons and skirts land in hope of seeing the Pantanal’s jaguars, as elusive as they are iconic. 

Like the Northern Territory trip, this is about the destination, rather than the 10-berth boat — which lacks bells and whistles, but has kayaks and speedboats to zoom you right into the most remote spots. In the Taiaman Ecological Reserve you’ll hit the speedboats to go in search of jaguars, explore an archaeological park to see the beginnings of humanity in the area; and in the shadow of the Amolar mountains, the boat will dance through a patchwork of giant water lilies. There’s even Meeting of the Waters state park, where the Piquiri, Cuiabá and Three Brothers rivers swirl into each other. Who needs the Amazon when you’ve got the Pantanal?

Sunvil offers six nights from £2,940 per person, including full board, and transfers to and from Cuiaba airport. Flights and extra activities (riding, hiking and 4x4 safaris) are excluded. Departs 7 and 21 August 2022. 

 Emperor penguins,  Snow Hill Island.

Emperor penguins, Snow Hill Island

Photograph by Scenic Eclipse

10. Best for classic adventure 

Of course, for many, the ultimate adventure cruise has to be one that goes to Antarctica. Scenic’s Into the Weddell Sea itinerary is a classic of the genre — 19 days getting to and around the fabled White Continent, with time in Buenos Aires topping and tailing your expedition. After your first night in BA, you’ll fly to Ushuaia, at the tip of South America, to board Scenic Eclipse, the luxury brand’s first foray into adventure cruising. You’ll have a day to enjoy your floating resort as you cross the Drake, reaching the South Shetland Islands, before your first taste of Antarctica, on day five — the gentoo and chinstrap penguins will be there to greet you. 

You’ll spend the next five days exploring the Weddell Sea, weaving through ice floes alongside whales, emperor penguins and Weddell seals. There are activities every day — slipping past ice formations on Zodiacs, setting foot on islands to get close up to the wildlife, and kayaking and SUP-ping around icebergs, hearing them groan up close. On day 11, you’ll reach the seventh continent itself. Here, the itinerary is more fluid, to follow the weather conditions — but Antarctica is so extraordinary that the details hardly matter. On day 15, you’ll start the two-day journey back to Ushuaia, where Buenos Aires beckons again.  

Scenic offers the 17-day Into the Weddell Sea itinerary from £4,453 per person, including all meals, shore excursions, transfers, gratuities and internal flights. Excludes international flights and a small number of vintage wines. Departs 19 December 2022. 

Published in the July/August 2022 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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