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What is a small ship expedition cruise?

With a collection of spectacular itineraries around the world, discover the key features of small ship expedition cruising and what makes such holidays truly rewarding. From the untouched, wildlife-rich waters of the polar regions to the verdant vibrant shores of British Columbia, the fascinating cultural and geological wonders of the Marquesas Islands to the glaciers of Alaska.

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Safe Cruising

Watching walrus from a Zodiac

The safety and well-being of our guests continue to be a top priority for Discover the World and our partners. We remain in close contact with our voyage operators, who have been working hard to implement a range of new measures to ensure protection against Covid-19 onboard our expedition ships.

These measures will continue to undergo constant review and development over the coming months in order to stay in line with the most up to date medical advice and guidelines and are being established in consultation with independent advisory bodies including the World Health Organization (WHO), Centres for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), IAATO (International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators), AECO (Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators), and Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).

The new protocols will vary slightly from ship to ship, but include changes to the embarkation and disembarkation process, detailed health screening pre-boarding and temperature checks on board for guests and crew alike, restrictions on the number of passengers in public areas, deep cleaning and disinfecting of ship before and during voyages, widely available sanitisation stations, use of masks/PPE where appropriate, enhanced medical care on board, and options for isolation and evacuation. In addition, the IAATO and AECO task-forces are establishing best practices in the field to ensure the polar regions and those who inhabit them remain Covid-free.

Prior to any departure, we will be able to provide the most up-to-date safety information and special protocols for your specific ship and voyage.

Wildlife encounters

Sea otter

Most of our expedition cruises have a strong focus on the natural world and the onboard experts will make sure you don’t miss a thing. You could find yourself snorkelling with turtles in Hawaii, watching playful sea otters in Alaska, learning about grey whales in Baja or sitting amongst thousands of penguins on South Georgia.

In the Arctic enjoy superlative wildlife encounters including Arctic foxes, whales, walrus, abundant seabirds and the emblem of the region, the mighty polar bear as well as encountering Inuit culture.

An Antarctic voyage offers the rare privilege of exploring the world’s least accessible continent. Cruise past towering icebergs, glaciers and snow ridges and marvel at the wildlife including whales, seals, seabirds and the consummate entertainers of the animal world, the penguin.

Learn and discover

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You’ll be accompanied by one or more expert guides: marine biologists, naturalists, ornithologists, geologists, historians, photographers and/or kayak guides, on hand to maximise your experience with a deeper understanding of your surroundings. This may take the form of structured presentations, or guiding excursions ashore as well as informal dinner conversations and casual chats on deck. On some ships there’s even the chance to assist scientists carrying out vital research.

You might also visit remote communities providing a great insight into a totally different way of life. For our team, trip highlights have included enjoying the evocative singing of the South Pacific Islanders, and spending time with the resilient Inuit of the Canadian Arctic.

Smaller ships, bigger adventures

A smaller group size allows faster embarkation and disembarkation, which means more time ashore. It also allows you to get to know your fellow-passengers and expedition team more quickly, forming lasting friendships and making your shared experiences all the more fun. And it offers a more intimate experience with the locals, whether you are visiting remote indigenous villages or coming face to face with wildlife.

Our expedition cruise fleet is made up of small ships: in most cases this means a maximum of 200 passengers, with the majority of vessels carrying between 40 and 120. 

Making the remote accessible

There are no hotels on the Antarctic Peninsula and you can’t drive to the Marquesas Islands… some places are best explored by boat. And unlike larger cruise ships, our fleet can navigate through narrow channels and drop anchor in shallow bays, offering the chance to set foot on pristine beaches, reach isolated colonies of walrus or spend the night in your own private fjord.

Off-ship adventures

On a traditional cruise ship shore landings are restricted to set times and durations as dictated by port authorities. But on an expedition cruise there is much more freedom to land when and where the best experiences are. Most ships carry Zodiacs, skiffs or tender craft which mean you can pull up on any beach and then explore on foot. These small boats are also used for cruising excursions, so you can meander among icebergs or get closer to wildlife.

Active Adventures

Many ships offer the chance to really immerse yourself in your surroundings by exploring under your own steam. Try snowshoeing across pristine virgin snow in the Arctic, kayaking through mangroves in Costa Rica discovering rare flora and fauna, snorkelling at the Great Barrier Reef or paddleboarding past ‘bergy bits’ in Antarctica.

Push your boundaries for the experience of a lifetime.

Embrace the unexpected

Spot a pod of humpbacks bubble-net feeding and you can hop into the ship’s Zodiacs to watch them for a couple of hours… Can’t get ashore due to too much ice – no problem, just head round to the next bay and kayak with seals instead…

Wildlife sightings will dictate your route as much as the weather and sea conditions, but one thing’s for sure, your experienced expedition team will always have a plan B up their sleeves and will adapt your itinerary as you go.

Home away from home - shipboard accommodation

Choose from ex-research vessels, working freight ships or custom-designed superior expedition ships – whichever you prefer there are no airs and graces and there’s no need to dress up for dinner. Kick back, relax, and make yourself at home!

Sustainable and responsible travel

We select our expedition cruise partners carefully, working with those that reflect our belief in conservation through education. Our partners work hard to minimise impact on the environment whilst creating lifelong ambassadors for the protection of the cultures, wildlife and landscapes of the destinations visited.

Popular cruise holidays

Around Spitsbergen

from £5,399
excluding flights
9-13 nights May-Aug
Voyage along the Spitsbergen coast in search of polar bears and explorer history.
  • Wildlife
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Peninsula, Falklands and South Georgia

from £10,699
excluding flights
18-23 nights Jan-Mar, Oct-Dec
Discover many of Antarctica's top wildlife hotspots on this expedition cruise.
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  • Whale Watching

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Cruise the Marquesas Islands

from £4,006
excluding flights
12 nights Year round
Discover the intoxicating beauty of the luxuriant Marquesas Islands aboard the Aranui V on a Polynesian adventure.
  • Small Ship Cruise
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Inside Passage: Alaska Fjords and Glaciers

from £3,703
excluding flights
7 nights May-Aug
Journey to the heart of the Inside Passage on a small ship expedition cruise.
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