Remote places by cruise ship: See an expedition cruise in wanderlust-worthy photos

When you imagine a cruise vacation, does your mind jump to a massive ship with thousands of guests on board entertained by shows, unlimited buffets and an array ofactivities? What about a cruise that can take you on an adventure to more remote areas of the world and bring you closer to nature?

Expedition cruising can provide just that – though expedition cruise ships won't have all the same amenities that the massive, ocean-going cruise ships boast.

"Our ships are small, the largest being 148 guests, so we can explore remote places often inaccessible to others," Trey Byus, the chief expedition officer of Lindblad Expeditions, told USA TODAY.

As seen from the Quark Expeditions Greenland Adventure cruise.

The cruises are popular in areas such as Antarctica, the Galapagos, the Arctic, Alaska, Greenland and other locations. Some come with loose itineraries, dependent on what "Mother Nature sends our way," according to Byus.

For example, if an expedition cruise encounters a pod of whales, that may become the cruise's new "destination" for the morning. Or, if icebergs slow progress on a voyage, the ship may need to adjust its schedule or reroute.

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And according to Michelle Fee, CEO and founder of Cruise Planners, interest in this kind of cruising is on the rise.

"Cruise Planners has experienced incredible demand for expedition and small ship cruising," Fee told USA TODAY, noting expedition cruise purchases have almost doubled since last year. They're currently about 15% higher than the same period in 2019 that reflects pre-pandemic bookings.

Lindblad Expeditions, Quark Expeditions, Aurora Expeditions and Hapag-Lloyd Cruises, among others, offer expedition cruises.

Quark Expeditions' Greenland Adventure cruise provides plenty of opportunities for excursions.

This kind of adventure can be found at the top of what Fee calls "bucket list" or "brag-worthy" vacation lists.

Like bigger vessels, additional COVID precautions are in place expedition cruises. Quark Expeditions, for example, has implemented what it calls "S.A.F.E. COVID Policy" which includesrapid COVID testing, pre-embarkation screening and onboard precautions.

But what is an expedition cruise really like?

Quark Expeditions' new ship Ultramarine will debut in June.

Here's what a Quark Expeditions Greenland expedition cruise is like.

Quark Expeditions, which specializes in expedition cruises, has a Greenland itinerary that it's run in the past, but starting in July, it will be on Quark's new ship, the Ultramarine.

Inside Quark Expeditions' new Ultramarine ship.

The Ultramarine, which is set to make its debut in June, carries two helicopters, four lifeboats, 20 Zodiacs and amenities including a restaurant, bistro, a dressing room to change into expedition gear, fitness center, sauna and more. The ship can carry 199 passengers and 140 staff and crew members, and it spans 420 feet.

The nine-day itinerary starts in Reykjavík, Iceland, and tickets start at $6,796, according to the Quark website. On day one, passengers will take a charter flight to Narsarsuaq, Greenland, for embarkation.

The cruise traverses Southeast Greenland's fjords, and passengers can be taken by helicopter to areas otherwise unreachable.

Days two through seven of the cruise are meant for exploring.

Passengers can step on the Greenland Ice Sheet and explore the tundra.

Of the many included activities on the Greenland itinerary is "flightseeing," during which passengers can sightsee from one of the helicopters. Groups of seven to nine passengers are seated on helicopters for an aerial tour of the Arctic that typically lasts between 10 and 15 minutes.

The helicopters can take passengers to see the polar plateau of the Greenland Ice Sheet, providing a view from above while they learn from Quark's team of glaciologists about the environment.

Passengers have the opportunity to step on the Greenland Ice Sheet and explore the tundra and other remote parts of the area.

Passengers can hike in Southern Greenland.

Heli-hiking is another popular activity. Passengers are transferred by helicopter to the start of Southern Greenland hiking routes and picked up at those routes' endpoints.

Hiking groups are tailored by pace, distance, exploration type and more.

Passengers kayak during the Quark Expeditions Greenland Adventure cruise.

Paddling is another option on the Greenland Adventure itinerary. Passengers can venture out to explore in inflatable kayaks.

Zodiacs, which are heavy-duty inflatable vessels designed for expedition work, are frequently used for transfer, luggage transport and for water-level cruising to see whales, icebergs and seabirds.

Passengers can camp in the Tasermiut Fjord.

Passengers are able to pay extra to camp in the Tasermiut Fjord with a local guide.

Meals are prepared by a chef, and at night, depending on the weather, campers may be able to see the polar twilight, which is a phenomenon that occurs in the areas located at the inner border of polar circles where the sun is at or below horizon level during winter solstice.

On day eight of the itinerary, passengers disembark in Narsarsuaq, Greenland, and take a charter flight back to Reykjavík before heading home.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Cruise ship photos: Expedition cruises take travelers to remote places