Expedition cruising has soared in popularity in recent years, but it’s not all about Antarctica or the Arctic anymore. Purpose-built ships that weather all types of conditions at sea and gain access to inlets, bays, and otherwise remote harbors are now sailing to the world’s most exotic reaches. But gone are the days when you had to be rugged to set out on one of these voyages. Instead, today’s expedition ships offer the same top-notch amenities you’d find aboard traditional luxury cruise ships: fine dining, impressive wine cellars, comfortable cabins (some with balconies and butler service), and onboard entertainment. Expedition vessels also travel with onboard naturalists, historians, and photographers who can offer their unique insights about each port of call. If you’ve already seen Antarctica and the Arctic, try one of these five fantastic expedition voyages this year:
ALASKA & THE ALEUTIAN ISLANDS
Whether you’ve sailed the waters of Alaska a dozen times or this will be your maiden voyage, check out Zegrahm Expeditions’ 16-night Wild Alaska with the Aleutian Islands itinerary.
Ports of Call: Anchorage, Seward, Kodiak Island, Katmai National Park, Aghiyuk Island, Unga Island, Dutch Harbor/Unalaska Island, St. George Island/Pribilof Islands, St. Paul Island, Adak Island/Aleutian Islands, Kiska Island, and Petropavlovsk/Russia.
What’s So Special? The 100-passenger all-suite Caledonian Sky visits some of the most engaging Alaskan ports and may out of the way destinations in the Aleutians and Russia.
What Does It Cost? Rates start at $12,470 per person.
BAJA, MEXICO / SEA OF CORTÉS
Un-Cruise Adventures and its 64-passenger Safari Voyager yacht offers two ways to spend seven nights exploring the Mexico’s Sea of Cortés: Baja’s Whale Bounty itinerary from January through March and Cousteau’s Aquarium of the World in November and December.
Ports of Call: Baja’s Whale County cruise calls on Bahía Agua Verde, Baja California Sur, Ensenada Grande/Isla Partida, Gordo Banks, Isla San Francisco, Isla Santa Catalina, Los Islotes, and San José del Cabo. Cousteau’s Aquarium voyage visits Bahía Aqua Verde, Baja California Sur, Cabo Pulmo, Isla Carmen, Isla Cerralvo, Isla Espíritu Santo, La Paz, and Los Islotes
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What’s So Special? Mexico’s Sea of Cortés in Baja is one of those destinations you have to see to believe. Here you’ll get incredibly close to sea turtles and pelicans, orca and humpback whales, dolphins, and sea lions.
What Does It Cost? Fares start at $2,695 per person.
Celebrity Cruises sails its Xpedition ship in the Galapagos year-round and offers voyages ranging from seven to 15 nights in duration.
Ports of Call: The popular seven-night Galapagos Outer Loop Itinerary features Baltra; Daphne Island; Gardner Bay and Punta Suarez, Espanola; Cormorant Point and Bahia Post Office in Floreana; Isabela’s Punta Moreno, Urvina Bay, and Punta Vincente Roca; Punta Espinoza, Fernandina; and South Plaza, Dragon Hill, and Puerto Ayora in Santa Cruz
What’s So Special? A trip to the Galapagos is all about the wildlife. In this region that is so untouched by modern life, the sea lions, seals, tortoises, and birds are not afraid of humans so you can get up close—both on land and in the water.
What Does It Cost? Fares start at $3,399 per person.
Myanmar in Southeast Asia is 2014’s new “it” destination and a new purpose-built ship complete with an on-deck plunge pool makes its debut this December along the Ayeyarwady and Chindwin Rivers. Ananda from Sanctuary Retreats will offer three-, four-, seven-, 10-, and 11-night itineraries.
Ports of Call: Mandalay, Sagaing, Amarapura, Ava, Bagan, Sale, Magwe, Minbu, Thayet, Pyay, Akauk Taung Caves, Kenaung, Zalon, Danuphyu, and Yangon
What’s So Special? Visits to famed pagodas (2,000 of them alone in the city of Bagan); cooking demonstrations; village tours; and workshops featuring gold leaf beating, lacquerware, textiles, and cheroot (cigars) with local artisans make this trip unusual.
What Does It Cost? Seven-night per passenger cruise fares start at $2,128.
Variety Yachting offers three-, four-, and seven-night Garden of Eden voyages around the Seychelles archipelago aboard the 44-passenger M/Y Pegasus.
Ports of Call: Mahe, St. Anne Island, Curieuse, Cousin Island, Anse Lazio on Praslin, Aride, St. Pierre, Baie St. Anne on Praslin, Felicite, La Digue, and Moyenne Island
What’s So Special? The chance to cruise the Indian Ocean and explore the relatively untouched Seychelles islands, which are known for black parrots and giant land tortoises, rain forests and Coco de Mer palm trees, and beaches strewn with huge polished boulders. What’s under the water is pretty special too. The Seychelles are a haven for divers and snorkelers.
What Does It Cost? Seven-night per passenger cruise fares start at $2,200. (Mention the code “Summer Special 2014” when booking and the fare drops to $1,650 for departures on April 12, 19; May 3, 17; and June 21.)
Andrea M. Rotondo is a freelance writer based in New York City. She covers cruise news and luxury travel trends for Fodors.com, Condé Nast Traveler, Cruise Critic, and other websites and magazines. Her latest book is Tom Petty: Rock ‘n’ Roll Guardian. Follow her on Twitter: @luxtravelmavens.