Discover ‘small ship’ expedition cruising

Silver Discoverer passengers in zodiac

Expedition and adventure cruising enjoys a unique appeal.

The small ships let travellers explore destinations away from the throng of mass tourism in a way that respects the culture and environment being visited.

Intimate and immersive, small ships tread lightly while delivering an intelligent, sustainable experience – without sacrificing creature comforts.

1. Coral Expeditions I

Coral Expeditions has just launched its brand of adventure voyages to Tasmania

While not quite correct to call Coral Expeditions I and II sister ships, both vessels have a lot in common.

Carrying just 50 and 44 passengers respectively, these nimble craft share many of the same features.

Small size, maneuverability and with itineraries designed to utilise their ability to explore shallow and narrow waterways around Australia’s coastline in destinations as far apart as Tasmania’s remote south coast, the Great Barrier Reef and the rugged Kimberley region of Australia’s North West.

Coral Expeditions’ specially designed all-metal, shaded tenders provide comfy seats for all passengers and allow for disembarking to take place directly onto the shore.

2. Lindblad Expeditions

Lindblad Expeditions has moved its luxury Nat Geo Orion ship to Europe for 2015

National Geographic Orion is a luxury expedition vessel well known to Australians for its superior level of comfort and amenities, while still retaining the essence of adventure and exploration.

Now acquired by the stalwart Lindblad Expeditions operation, the 2003-built, 102-passenger ship begins a new phase of its life with worldwide itineraries from cushy European jaunts to edgy Antarctic voyages which make use of its Super 1A ice hull.

Onboard, passengers are enriched with highly qualified lecturers and presenters as well as guides and expert in their respective fields such as birds, human geography or marine biology.

3. Silversea Expeditions

Silversea Expeditions offers a high-end brand of adventure cruising

Premium cruise brand Silversea began offering expedition cruises as part of their global catalogue in 2008 and since 2014, Silver Discoverer has sailed itineraries primarily in Asia and Oceania.

Silversea’s famous all-inclusive luxury cruising style is now in an expedition setting, drawing passengers from the ranks of its many repeat cruisers, a style that has proven appealing to Australians.

The purpose-built, 120-passenger expedition vessel offers superior, personalised service and gourmet fine dining as it explores remote islands throughout Melanesia, SE Asia and the Pacific Rim.

4. Blue Lagoon Cruises

Recently refurbished, the MV Fiji Princess takes guests to the small islands of Fiji.

Fiji-owned cruise line Blue Lagoon Cruises has operated the 68-passenger, 46-metre MV Fiji Princess as part of its fleet for several years, cruising mostly among the scenic Yasawa and Mamanuca Islands where the vessel visits small islands and secluded bays inaccessible to regular-sized cruise ships.

While definitely at the softer end of adventure, there are still plenty of opportunities to swim, scuba and snorkel in the warm, balmy waters as well as visit villages and schools as part of the line’s humanitarian efforts.

This older vessel has smaller cabins and some basic amenities, but a recent refurbishment has seen upgrades to cabin decor and bedding, public spaces as well as an overhauled restaurant menu and wine list.

5. APT

APT's small ship Noble Caledonia sailing in Tasmania

All-Aussie, Australian Pacific Touring (APT) stepped up to luxury small ship cruising in a big way after their recent merger with established UK-operator Noble Caledonia.

The move gained the company access to two twin vessels, Caledonian Sky and Island Sky. Comfortable and well-appointed, both are rated as among the best in class, with Caledonian Sky offering its maximum of 114 passengers a choice of 57 spacious outside suites that really are substantially larger than similar vessels.

Her itineraries are similar to those offered by competing operators in the Asia Pacific region with focus on near neighbours in Melanesia, New Zealand the Pacific.