Seeing an Eclipse From Land, Sea, or Air

Eclipse Travel Guide

Eclipse tours come in three flavors: land, sea, and air. In other words, you have a choice about your eclipse viewing site: a ground-based location, from the deck of a cruise ship, or in an aircraft chasing totality. Each option has its advantages, but there are also drawbacks to consider. When researching possible eclipse tours, take time to consider where you want to be when totality strikes.

Seeing the eclipse from land provides plenty of room to spread out.

On Land: Pros

A land-based site is absolutely the best for viewing the eclipse through a telescope, and it’s also the best for photography. Stability on the ground means you’re not watching the eclipse from a moving, vibrating ship or aircraft. If you have a lot of gear, there’s plenty of room to spread out. You’ll also experience all aspects of the eclipse: changes across the entire sky, the gathering darkness, reactions of animals, and the response of locals.

Well-designed land tours let you get the most out of the regions you’re visiting for the eclipse. You see the countryside, enjoy local activities and cuisine, and generally have in-depth cultural experiences before and/or after the eclipse. Because the group travels together for at least several days, the tour becomes a social happening. It’s not uncommon to make new and sometimes life-long friends on these trips.

On Land: Cons

The tour likely moves every day, or at least every other day. This requires constant unpacking and packing across multiple hotels. Travel is usually by bus. Logistics on eclipse day can be difficult, with a high volume of people and traffic moving along the path of totality. And if there’s cloud at the prime eclipse viewing site, it may not be possible to relocate to a new location.

On a Cruise: Pros

A ship’s mobility means it can search for, and if necessary move to, clear skies within its reach along the path of totality. This mobility means there’s no need to pack and move your gear in case of clouds; the ship will move for you. As totality nears, the approaching darkness is easy to see thanks to an unobstructed view of the sky down to the horizon. Many aspects of the eclipse will be on display, including all-sky changes, gathering darkness, and reactions of your fellow travelers.

On a cruise, you unpack once you’re onboard and don’t need to pack again until departure. With a variety of port stops along the way, cultural experiences are often quite varied. These are augmented by on-board lectures relevant to the region of the cruise. A cruise is often all-inclusive and provides a very social setting, with plenty of opportunities to make new friends.

On a Cruise: Cons

Due to the ship’s motion, it’s impractical trying to view totality through a telescope, and it’s not an ideal platform for photography. Sometimes there are numerous days at sea because of the remoteness of the path of totality, and seasickness may be an issue. Shore excursions often cost extra. Keep in mind that not all eclipse cruises are truly dedicated to totality. If the eclipse is just an add-on to a regular cruise, it’s possible that totality will be missed.

Eclipse seekers wait for totality on the deck of a boat.
Eclipse day on a ship’s aft deck.
Airborne eclipse watchers are prepared for totality.
Waiting for totality on an eclipse flight.

In the Air: Pros

Joining a charter to see an eclipse from the air almost guarantees success—unless the flight is grounded by bad weather or mechanical problems. Flying at more than 30,000 feet means clouds are not an issue. Because the aircraft is chasing the Moon’s shadow, the duration of totality is extended. Although the lunar shadow moves much faster than an airplane can fly, the chase prolongs totality, sometimes by as much at 40 percent beyond what’s possible on the ground. The approaching and receding lunar shadow is distinctly visible on any clouds beneath the aircraft.

When the path of totality traverses a region on Earth that’s difficult to access by land or sea, an eclipse flight is sometimes the best way to see the eclipse. A flight is ideal for those with limited time. You can arrive at the flight’s departure airport, fly to the eclipse, and return home in just a few days.

In the Air: Cons

Airplane windows consist of multiple layers of acrylic, can be dirty, and might frost over in flight—all of which could provide a less-than-ideal view of totality. It’s a cramped view, especially if you share a row with an eclipse-facing window. Photography is difficult due to aircraft vibration and motion, and many aspects of the eclipse seen on land or sea aren’t observable. Occasionally, eclipse viewing is “added” to a regularly scheduled flight if it passes through the path of totality. But if it’s not a dedicated eclipse flight, there’s a chance that totality will be missed or be visible on the side of the aircraft opposite where you’re sitting.

Photo Credits: (Header) TQ/Rick Fienberg , (Top) Land Site:TQ/Paul Deans, (Left) Ship’s deck: TQ/Rick Fienberg, (Right) Eclipse flight: TQ/Kelly Beatty

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