I’m going to share something with you that I probably shouldn’t admit. After years of exploring the far corners of the world and working with various companies, I have a few favorite travel companies. I suppose much like parents – a travel writer is not supposed to have their favorites, but I do – cuz I’m human.
If I had a ‘stamp of approval’ – I would give Heritage Expeditions the ‘Ottsworld Approval’ in a heartbeat. I love this family-owned expedition company; their travel philosophy of getting off the beaten track is in alignment with mine.
Heritage Expeditions tend to challenge people’s views of the world with their unique itineraries. I too believe that travel is about taking on challenges – in the way you think, act, and live. It certainly has been that way for me over the years, and it is what keeps me continuing to travel to new destinations and cultures.
The Beauty of Being Different
As I get older, I am less and less interested in following the crowd; I don’t want to be living the same life as everyone else – nor do I want to travel to destinations that everyone else goes to. This is also a core value of Heritage Expeditions; they strive to be different, unique, and not like every other cruise operator out there (and there are many).
Heritage differentiates itself by its unique itineraries, passion for exploration, taking you to destinations few people visit, incredible knowledge of expedition cruising, and ability to pivot quickly to new plans (which is often necessary for expedition travel).
Heritage Expeditions Travel to the Ross Sea and Sub-Antarctic Islands – a place where few people go.
It’s no surprise then that they ask their passengers to be ‘rigidly flexible’. Every time I hear that, it makes me smile because it resonates with me so much.
A New Expedition Ship
Heritage’s expedition cruise offerings changed drastically in the last year – I was curious to see if they were the same great company that I remembered from my previous trips to Antarctica’s Ross Sea and Russia’s Wrangle Island pre-pandemic with them.
As we all know, the pandemic hit the travel industry hard. The cruise industry was probably hit the hardest. Heritage stopped operations the first year and then could really only offer cruises to local New Zealanders the second year. Finally, when cruises started back up internationally, Heritage had one more additional curve ball that other companies didn’t have to contend with; Russia invaded Ukraine.
One of Heritage’s differentiators was their itineraries in the Russian Far East. Now, these could no longer run. And to top it off – their current ship, the Spirit of Enderby, was leased from Russia and could no longer be utilized due to sanctions.
Heritage had to pivot quickly, they returned their Russian leased ship and invested in a completely new vessel – the Heritage Adventurer.
I recently traveled with Heritage for the 3rd time on a remote and unique expedition cruise through Melanesia (South Pacific Islands). It was the inaugural cruise of their new expedition vessel the Heritage Adventurer. They had made an exciting change during the pandemic, and now I got to see what this means to the company and its style of expedition cruising.
Experience an epic journey through Melanesia – one of the most culturally fascinating regions in the world. Learn more about my trip and the 2023 dates for the Secrets of Melanesia Itinerary.
Expedition Travel Defined
These days you’ll get a lot of different definitions of expedition travel, and it’s hard to say which one is correct. But what I do know is that more and more companies are starting to use the term – and with that has come confusion.
I tend to consider expedition travel as travel to hard-to-get-to remote destinations in order to discover and experience the region on a deeper level. According to National Geographic, “An expedition is a journey that requires planning and purpose, and is usually undertaken by a group of people, for a specific purpose, such as to explore a distant place or to do research.”
As more and more companies start to use the term in marketing and label their offerings as expedition travel, I find that it has become slightly watered down. I feel as if the term has been stolen and forced more mainstream.
Heritage Staying True to Their Expedition Cruising Roots
As we bounced around in the back of a lorry truck while trying to sit on a wooden plank, I was overjoyed with the authentic (albeit uncomfortable) experience that we were having in the Solomon Islands. We were headed to a remote village via the only transportation on the island…local transportation. Other expedition cruise companies don’t do that, they probably wouldn’t consider putting you in such an uncomfortable situation for an hour’s ride to the middle of a remote island.
However, Heritage gives you the opportunity to push yourself into new experiences. You push yourself into areas that you might not be comfortable with because those turn out to be the most talked about and best experiences of your trip typically.
Heritage does as much as it can possibly facilitate, but it’s up to the passengers to take on what they want. As Nathan, one of the owners, says, “You always offer the experience, facilitate it, and people can make their own decision. If it means waking up at 4 AM to provide you the experience, then I will – even if only 5 people go.”
It’s true. We all sat looking at the shore of Ambrym Island in Vanuatu as we waited to see if the waves and wind would die down enough so that we could do a landing and experience the rarely-seen traditional Rom dance on the island. However, the weather wasn’t letting up. I was amazed at how long and hard Nathan and the expedition team kept trying with plans B and C; trying other landing spots, putting themselves in peril at times.
We waited it out as long as we possibly could as Nathan communicated all of the details with us – but eventually, he had to give up and move on to plan D for the morning. He still got people off the ship for a zodiac cruise in another area. They don’t give up.
Heritage Expeditions Expedition Cruising Stays in the Family
Another trait that makes Heritage stand out to me is the fact that they are the only family-owned expedition business left. Everyone else has got corporate backing.
The company was started in 1984 by Nathan’s parents. In fact, my previous two expeditions to Russia and the Ross Sea Antarctica were done with Nathan’s father, Rodney, at the helm as the expedition leader. I always liked Rodney’s style and travel philosophy, and I was happy to see that he did pass that on to Nathan and Aaron, his sons who now run the business.
I had the pleasure of getting to know Nathan as an expedition leader for my Secrets of Melanesia trip. I heard Rodney’s voice and saw his mannerisms in Nathan. This was somehow comforting to me…mainly because it made me think of my own family and how we have the same mannerisms as we get older. Sure – I try to believe that I’m not going to turn out like my parents…but inevitably I will. Every time I saw and heard Nathan address us for the day, I was reminded that this really was a family business.
Rodney had been preparing his sons for expedition travel their whole lives. Nathan was 6 years old when he went on his first expedition trip with his dad. And he went to Antarctica when he was 8 years old!
On my cruise to Melanesia, Nathan brought along his own family. This was the first time his two young boys (the same age as he was on his first expedition) and his wife were all with him. He was starting to plant the seeds of the family-owned business with his own boys.
“Being able to bring them into environments like Melanesia where there is poverty and hard living is a great educational experience for them. It lets them understand where their dad goes and why when the phone rings at midnight that he has to answer it. It teaches them what else is in the world outside of New Zealand,” Nathan explained.
“That’s why on every expedition Aron (his brother and co-owner) and I will plan it. Then one of us will go on the first voyage and the other on the second voyage and then we’ll sit down and rehash it.”
Heritage Adventurer A new Era for Heritage Expeditions
Originally designed to accommodate 184 guests, Heritage Adventurer now welcomes just 140 expeditioners ensuring spacious voyages, while a fleet of 14 Zodiacs ensures all guests are able to maximize their expedition adventure.
Heritage Expeditions was ‘built’ on the Spirit of Enderby, an older research vessel not necessarily meant for passenger cruising. It was one of the coolest things about Heritage (in my opinion), but it was also a bit of a thorn too. I loved the Spirit of Enderby when I traveled with them in the past. It only held 50 passengers, but there were absolutely no thrills…it was basic. Therefore, I was pretty curious about this new larger, cruise-ier ship they were moving forward with.
Even though this is a very different ship for Heritage, Nathan expressed that it was more important than ever to remain true to their roots of expedition travel.
“I never want to hear the word cruise,” Nathan said. “I want to deliver a true experiential expedition while maintaining a new degree of comfort. What the Adventurer gives us is the chance to deliver an extraordinary platform to be able to deliver true experiential expeditions while people still travel in a degree of comfort and service.”
Heritage Adventurer Highlights – What you Can Expect From the New Ship
The ship itself is much bigger than the Spirit of Enderby, so it has many more things it can offer. This is pretty important as Heritage runs trips that can last up to 28 days (to the Ross Sea)! The Secretes of Melanesia Trip I was on was 17 days. When you are on a ship that long – you definitely appreciate extra space and some comfort.
My room was comfortable and had a big window which made it feel even larger. Each basic room had a small seating area with a couch and table. All cabins have ensuite bathrooms which were also spacious and there was plenty of closet space.
More Space for Relaxing
Even though I loved the Spirit of Enderby, it had very little comfortable/lounging space which can be tough on longer journeys. However, the Heritage Adventurer has multiple choices for lounging and relaxing.
Their big bar/lounge located in the back of the ship was where we met regularly for lectures, expedition updates, and cocktail hour. The chairs were plush and comfortable, and the audio-visual setup was great. Plus – there are tons of windows so you won’t miss anything outside while you are sitting in a lecture!
They also had a library lounge at the front of the ship above the bridge. The library was also filled with comfortable seating areas, and it had a fantastic view out of the front of the ship! During my time on board – the library was barely used! It was a great place to go read or just relax and birdwatch.
There is a dedicated movie room with comfortable movie seats and a great sound system. On a few of the nights, they featured documentaries about the areas we were traveling to which was a fabulous way to learn more about the area.
I think this was my favorite part about the new Heritage Adventurer. There were so many outdoor viewing areas that it was easy to get lost! There was an observation deck at the top of the ship as well as a pool area with seating (more on that below), a ‘deck’ right in front of the bridge, multiple levels of ‘decks’ along the sides of the ship and then a great big back deck that was partially covered. The back deck was the perfect place to enjoy breakfast in the mornings!
Spa and Pool
This is certainly a new perk for Heritage. The pool is small, but it’s there…and some people used it. For Melanesia – I preferred to just swim in the sea! The hot tub is enclosed and a nice addition for those cold arctic trips. They also have a fitness room and spa that offers massages.
The dining room vibe is a bit more upscale on the Heritage Adventurer, but don’t get me wrong – the ship is still very casual; there is no need to ‘dress up’ for dinner. Not only is the dining room much larger than the Spirit of Enderby, but it’s also filled with windows, AND beer and wine are included at dinner.
There is also a Bistro Café on the ship which is for quick and less upscale meals – great for lunches and lighter breakfasts.
Of course, the bridge is ‘open’ meaning you can go on the bridge and see the Captain and crew at work. Ask questions, and learn about their jobs and how they navigate. It’s also a super area to watch for birds.
New Expedition Offerings with Heritage Adventurer
With the new ship, comes new itineraries. That probably wasn’t the original plan, since they had a full year of trips prior to the pandemic, however since the Far East Russia itineraries were no longer possible, they had to come up with a plan B. They looked in the vicinity that they were already operating in and worked on developing a new expedition program there.
Hello Japan! Heritage Adventurer will be starting expeditions around the remote outlying islands of Japan in 2023. This new itinerary includes Hokkaido, one of Japan’s northernmost and least developed islands, it’s a world away from the country’s more traditional and contemporary cities.
In keeping with their strength of going where few companies go – Heritage will be focusing on immersion in Hokkaido. This is different from the other cruise operators in Japan who tend to hit all of the highlights in the bigger cities of Japan. Heritage in turn will go deep into the wilderness of Hokkaido and its culture.
In addition to Japan – Heritage is also making new stops in South Korea, the Philippines, and Indonesia.
Learn about Heritage Expeditions’ small 18-passenger yacht experience around the Kimberleys and New Zealand.
Heritage Adventurer in the Ross Sea and SubAntarctic Islands
Since one of my favorite trips I’ve ever taken was when I went to the Ross Sea Antarctica with Heritage Expeditions on the Spirit of Enderby, naturally I wondered how the new Heritage Adventurer may affect those classic itineraries.
It’s a bigger ship, which means there will be more expedition team crew. It grows from 5 to 14 expedition crew. This basically means they will have more specialists in a multitude of fields. One of my favorite things about an expedition cruise is the opportunity to learn about geology, wildlife, culture, and history. Now you will get even more of that on the way to Antarctica.
For the Ross Sea trip, you spend a number of days at sea in the Southern Ocean, therefore more space, lounge area, and outdoor viewing areas only make this already amazing expedition even better.
I’m so happy that Heritage Expeditions was able to make it through the pandemic. They continue to be one of my favorite travel companies.
The lesson here is that when the world deals you lemons in the form of the pandemic and war, Heritage made lemonade with their new Heritage Adventurer ship. It makes me love the company even more – this family-owned company is a fighter. They’ve taken all of the years of true expedition experience, the strength of family ties, and their knowledge of remote areas, and have brought it all together in a great expedition package on board the Heritage Adventurer.