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Our Guide to Small Expedition Cruises

Here at Real Holidays, we’re big fans of small ship cruising, especially as these sturdy expedition vessels can gain access to remote nature and lesser-seen destinations.

Why take a small ship expedition cruise?

Suiting the experiential traveller, small ship cruising means a slower place and a more immersive approach. Small expedition ships often head deeper into more remote areas, discovering hidden gems away from the well-sailed routes and large ports. Small ships also allow for more connection, whether that’s longer in your destination or smaller, lesser-known port towns or simply heading further off the beaten track. And you’re more likely to meet kindred souls onboard who are as passionate about travel as you are. Like the sound of it? Read on for our pick of the best small ship expedition cruises.


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Icebergs by the coast
Colorful buildings and houses in Sisimiut, Greenland
Humpback whales in the beautiful sunset landscape
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Greenland : bay with an inuit village, colored houses bay with a
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Sea Cloud Silverseas


Known for the expertise of their staff, Silversea cruises have an excellent reputation within the cruise sector, largely for their high-quality experience on board and the interesting destinations they sail to. A case in point is their Iceland and Greenland itinerary. Starting in Reykjavik, the landscape changes from green to ice white as you enter Greenland’s Skoldungen Fjord, characterised by icebergs and snow-dusted mountains. Onwards to the remote and rugged beauty of the Christian Sound, Evigheds Glacier and the hot springs of Uunartoq Island as well as dropping in on Arctic settlements such as the Inuit enclave of Kangaamiut and Sisimiut, known for its colourful wooden houses.

In each location, go further with excursions by kayak and zodiac allowing you to connect more deeply with your environment. Hike through fjords and spot whales thrashing in the ocean. Watch icebergs serenely float by and see polar bears, Arctic foxes and seals dot the snowy landscapes. Enjoy a coffee with locals and try the famous Greenlandic cake. After day’s out in wild nature, rest assured that coming home to your Silversea vessel is comfort personified with a warm welcome, spacious cabins and chef-prepared meals.


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Tiger blue.
Tiger blue
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If you’ve always dreamed of sailing into the unknown where you’ll hardly see another soul, look to Tiger Blue, a beautifully restored traditional phinisi boat. As its sails unfurl in the breeze, the polished teak boat explores the little-visited islands of Eastern Indonesia, mere dots of verdancy amid cerulean blue seas.

The boat sleeps 12 with five cabins so this is a once-in-lifetime trip for family and extended friends. Aboard the boat, there are plenty of spots to relax and enjoy the tropical view including the daybeds, rooftop deck and dining area, and deliciously fresh and wholesome food is prepared in the galley, or you can have a beach BBQ on a deserted island. During the day, you can drop anchor to snorkel one of the world’s most pristine marine environments or explore uninhabited islands and their wildlife. In terms of your itinerary, this depends on the season. From May to September, Tiger Blue sails the turquoise waters of Komodo National Park just off the western tip of Flores. In October or November, she explores Raja Ampat, a stunning archipelago made up of hundreds of jungle clad islands.


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MS Fridtjof Nansen Science centre
Penguins on the snow
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Adventures in Antarctica


Perhaps one of the most well-known expedition cruisers, Hurtigruten have taken passengers in small numbers to the ends of the earth for around 130 years. What sets this pioneering Norwegian cruise company apart is their dedication to exploration including land-based adventure, interaction with residents in local communities and a deep respect for the nature as seen through their impressive eco credentials.

On this trip to Antarctica, you will board a hybrid-powered ship in the city of Ushuaia, the southernmost tip of Argentina. From here, a 12-day expedition cruise will cross the Drake Passage before entering the awe-inspiring icescapes of Antarctica. On board, enjoy educational briefings about glaciology, climate change and polar exploration and how you can play your part in a Citizen Science project. See it all for yourself amid the icy, glacial wilderness – and meet its extraordinary residents: seals, penguins and whales as well as kayaking around the silent majesty of the icebergs and hiking the vast, looming glaciers.


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The most beautiful beach of Seychelles – Anse Source D’Argent
drone aerial panorama of pristine uninhabited island with untouc
Coquerel Sifaka
canyon, grands lavaka Ankarokaroka, Parc National Ankarafantsika
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Nosy Ve island, Anakao, Madagascar. View of the beach of Nosy Ve
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Ponant represents a perhaps more prestigious way to small ship cruise with an emphasis on learning and education either in your destination or on board. Guest speakers who are experts in their fields are the norm, as well as cruises that follow themes such as music, the arts, geopolitics or literature. On land, particular significance is given to authentic cultural experiences and discovering traditional ways of life.

Taking a Ponant expedition cruise to Madagascar starting in the Seychelles and finishing in Mauritius will showcase the best of this luxury cruise company where over 16 days you will discover endemic fauna and flora aboard Le Jacques-Cartier. From the bustling coral reefs of Nosy Ve to the UNESCO Biosphere Reserves of Madagascar’s south-west coast and lagoons, rainforests, thorny forests, baobab trees and volcanoes in between, you will also have a privilege opportunity to meet the Vezo, ‘sea nomad’ people. Nature lovers will be entranced by Madagascar’s spellbinding wildlife – spot green turtles, ring-tailed lemurs, chameleons, red-tailed tropicbirds and radiated tortoises.

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