Cruising makes exploring the world’s most remote regions that much easier. Here Nick Dalton selects eight of the best expedition cruises for the year ahead.

Expedition cruising is all about sailing on small ships to exciting places big ships can’t get to. Here’s a round of the best expedition cruises for 2019 onwards, including the destination, itinerary and cruise line.

Greenland

Polar Bears in Greeland best expedition cruises

Icebergs-a-go-go, Greenland is an extraordinary place. Almost 80 per cent covered with ice, it’s the planet’s second biggest ice field after Antarctica and offers opportunities to sail through huge, iceberg-filled fjords with reindeer wandering the shores.

The 10-night Baffin Island & Greenland Explorer cruise from One Ocean Expeditions spends half its time exploring the latter, but only after it has sailed from Canada’s Baffin Island, reached by a special charter flight from Ottawa. Once in the Canadian Arctic, Monumental Island is alive with walruses while Cumberland Sound is the place for polar bears. Greenland’s Ilulissat Icefjord, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is filled with icebergs the size of small mountains, pumped out by the Jakobshavn Glacier at up to 40m every day.

RCGS Resolute, for 146 guests, is a purpose-built polar expedition vessel, with an environmental edge (not least because it serves local, sustainable seafood). Modern, with two bars offering panoramic views, there’s also a gym, spa and saltwater pool. Daily yoga, fitness sessions, hikes and snowshoeing are included, with sea kayaking at an extra cost.

A 10-night Baffin Island & Greenland Explorer cruise, departing 9 August, starts from £8,350pp based on two sharing, including excursions and Zodiac cruises. Flights to and from Ottawa cost extra, from £915pp (020 3126 4039; oneoceanexpeditions.com).

Arctic

reindeer visited on one of the best expedition cruises

An itinerary named Realm of the Polar Bear does what it says on the tin. The eight-day round-trip from Longyearbyen on the isle of Spitsbergen in the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard all but guarantees patrolling polar bears, colonies of seals, carpets of walruses, reindeer herds and lots of birds.

It’s one from the Jane Goodall Collection, a selection of wildlife-focused tours endorsed by the primatologist and conservationist and helping fund her work in Africa. The cruise heads up and down the island’s coast, into bays, along ice-packed fjords and around icebergs in the search for wildlife – and this is the land of the midnight sun, so 24-hour viewing opportunities are available. Experts lead walks through the wilderness and give talks.

The ship G Expedition carries 134 passengers. Smart and modern, there’s one restaurant, a pub, lounge and gym. Kayak excursions cost extra.

A 10-day Realm of the Polar Bear expedition on board G Expedition, departing 12 June 2020, starts from £2,799pp based on two people sharing, including a seven-night cruise, two pre-cruise nights and one post-cruise night in hotels, arrival transfers and land adventures via Zodiacs (0344 272 2010; gadventures.co.uk).

Panama Canal

the-panama-canal-can-be-visited-on-one-of-the-best-expedition-cruises

Scenic Eclipse, the first ‘discovery yacht’ from Scenic, has been much delayed but is finally emerging this summer. With its onboard helicopter and mini-sub, the ship is wonderful for snowy climes, but also superb for somewhere warmer.

The 12-day Cartagena to Lima cruise starts in Colombia, passes through the Panama Canal and heads down the coast of Ecuador and Peru. Along the way, there are plenty of tropical nooks and crannies to explore by Zodiac, and heaps of wildlife to spot including the black-headed spider monkey and even Humboldt penguins on Isla Guanape.

But the centrepiece is the canal with the 228-passenger ship immersing guests in the scenery as they glide from the Caribbean to the Southern Atlantic. Helicopter and sub rides are extra but give a new viewpoint on everything from jungles to coral reefs. The ship is like a billionaire’s yacht with sleek modern décor and 10 dining options.

A 12-day Cartagena to Lima cruise on board Scenic Eclipse, departing 29 October, starts from £7,235pp based on two people sharing, all-inclusive with flights. Includes excursions and Zodiac cruises (0161 236 2444; scenic.co.uk).

South America

South-America-trekking-on-one-of-the-best-expedition-cruises

An extraordinary journey that follows the coast north from Argentina’s Ushuaia (the continent’s southernmost town), the 14-day Patagonia and Chilean Fjords cruise from Aurora Expeditions takes in breathtaking landscapes of the Andes. And it’s on board a breathtaking ship, too – Greg Mortimer.

With its protruding prow, the 120-passenger ship is like something out of a science fiction film and only enters service in October. Viewing platforms fold out over the water and two sea-level doors on either side provide swift access to the 15 Zodiacs, allowing for wildlife outings several times a day.

These trips are included, but kayaking, diving, skiing and climbing cost extra. The cruise travels through the Beagle Channel, hugging the coast away from the wilder seas of Cape Horn (the route Charles Darwin took on HMS Beagle in 1831), and passing glacier after glacier. There’s also a night in the spectacular Torres del Paine National Park, with hikes, plus a maze of fjords – and almost certainly whales. 

A 14-day Patagonia and Chilean Fjords cruise on board Greg Mortimer, departing from 2 April 2020, starts from £5,350pp, based on two people sharing and including wine with dinner, excursions, Zodiac cruises, pre-cruise hotel night in Ushuaia and city tour (0808 159 2005; auroraexpeditions.co.uk).

Galápagos

Galapagos-Islands-can-be-visited-on-one-of-the-best-expedition-cruises

The Galápagos is a destination that’s made for tiny expedition ships, and there is none better than Celebrity Flora, new to the Celebrity fleet this spring. The 100-passenger ship is built for the archipelago with good environmental credentials – sustainable materials and an anchor-free positioning system to prevent coral damage – and it’s packed with luxurious features.

The 10-night Quito and Galápagos Inner Loop holiday features a seven-night cruise that never strays from the beauty spots – Daphne island, home to the famed blue-footed booby bird as well as sealions, the black rocks of Puerto Egas and its magical snorkelling, the isle of Ramida with its ancient volcanic cone, plus beaches, bays and mangroves, sea turtles and those big lizards.

The ship offers infinite Balcony suites, where the whole room is turned into an outdoor terrace, along with sleek restaurants, bars and viewing areas. There are pre- and post-cruise nights in Ecuador’s capital, Quito, and the night before the cruise is spent in a hotel in the port of Baltra.

A 10-night Quito and Galápagos Inner Loop holiday on Celebrity Flora, departing on 9 August, starts from £8,269pp based on two sharing, all-inclusive. Includes flights from Heathrow Airport, a seven-night cruise, two pre-cruise nights and a post-cruise night, shore excursions and Zodiac cruises (0800 441 4054; celebritycruises.co.uk). 

Australia 

sea-turtle-in-Australia-can-be-seen-on-one-of-the-best-expedition-cruises

The Great Barrier Reef is on everyone’s must-do list but there’s much more to it than most of us imagine. The seven-night Immersive Reef cruise from local specialist Coral Expeditions does it to the full on 42-passenger Coral Expeditions II.

There’s snorkelling over the coral at nine private spots (diving, too, but that costs extra), swimming with turtles at Fitzroy Island with its Turtle Rehabilitation Centre and trips led by an informative marine biologist in a glass-bottomed boat. As you trace the mainland coast, through channels and around islands, land excursions take in golden beaches, rainforests, walking up the dizzy heights of 271m Mt Kootaloo and Victorian-era Cookstown with its botanic gardens and the James Cook Museum.

And another highlight is, of course, sunset drinks. The ship’s rooms have traditional marine décor with wood-panelled walls, and there are teak furnishings on the sun deck. 

A seven-night Immersive Reef cruise on board Coral Expeditions II, departing weekly, starts from £2,020pp, based on two sharing, includes excursions and snorkelling (00 61 7 4040 9999; coralexpeditions.com). 

Japan

Fujiyoshida, Japan, at Chureito Pagoda and Mt. Fuji in the spring with cherry blossoms.

The serenity of Japan is celebrated in the 11-day Kobe to Otaru cruise from Silversea, visiting places of beauty rather than simply the big names. There are the gardens of Okayama, Takamatsu’s Ritsurin Garden – the work of a century creating hills and ponds against a backdrop of Mt. Shiun – the exquisite island of on  and more, as well as the rebuilt city of Hiroshima with its peace monuments.

There’s also a detour to South Korea and its big beach resort of Busan – ideal for more modern relaxation although Beomeosa temple, one of the country’s major Buddhist sites, on the slopes of Geumjeongsan mountain, calls for a visit.

Silver Explorer is a purpose-built expedition ship that travels from pole to pole in luxury. Twelve Zodiac boats allow for adventures with the Expedition Team to far-flung spots, from snorkelling in marine-rich waters to visiting tiny villages. Cruise ship sophistication on a small scale can be expected (only 144 guests) with a variety of different restaurants and bars.

An 11-day Kobe to Otaru cruise on board Silver Explorer, departing 7 June 2020, starts from £6,030pp based on two sharing, all-inclusive. Includes excursions and Zodiac cruises (0844 251 0837; silversea.com).

Falklands and Antarctica

Antarctica makes for one of the best expedition cruises

The 16-day Falkland Islands, South Georgia and Antarctica cruise combines the contemporary luxury of French company Ponant’s boutique expedition ships with the insider knowledge of National Geographic. Departing from Ushuaia on the southern tip of Argentina, the cruise takes in New Island and Grave Cove on either side of the Falklands, where the beaches are empty, and albatrosses fly above the wild yet placid landscape.

Then there’s a circumnavigation of South Georgia with, weather willing, a call at Sir Ernest Shackleton’s 1915 landing site and Salisbury Plain with its 300,000 king penguins. Guests can also step on the Antarctic Peninsula with a National Geographic photographer and expert, while back on board there are lectures about everything from geopolitics to the environment.

Le Soléal, sailing here well below capacity with 200 people maximum, is a divine experience, offering guests a world of pale wood and white décor, French cuisine and sheer style sure to wow all.

A 16-day Falkland Islands, South Georgia and Antarctica cruise on board Le Soléal, departing 14 November, starts from £11,899pp based on two people sharing, all-inclusive. Includes return flights from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia, shore excursions and Zodiac cruises (020 3105 0644; nationalgeographicexpeditions.co.uk).

To plan your dream holiday, look at our cruise finder.