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Stargazing Cruises

The starry night sky is lost to city dwellers. Only the light from the Moon, a few planets, and a number of bright stars can piece the glow of a city’s light-polluted sky. To see the stars, you have to get away and travel to a dark-sky site. But that can be challenging. The site could be several hours away, you might need to camp overnight, and you’ll have to hope that the sky doesn’t cloud over once you’re set up, thereby wasting your drive into the country. Fortunately, there is a better way—take a stargazing vacation on a cruise ship.

Stargazing at sea has a long history, one that’s directly tied to navigation. During ancient times, knowledge of the constellations and bright stars played a key wayfinding role when sailors ventured out of sight of land. The Minoans, who lived on the island of Crete between 3,600 BC and 1,400 BC, used their knowledge of the sky to help them navigate the waters of the Mediterranean. At about the same time, the Polynesians were using the stars to guide them as they sailed from island to island across the vast Pacific Ocean. In all cases, these ancient mariners used the positions of the constellations, and the rising and setting points of certain bright stars, to ensure they stayed on course during the night. During the past 1,500 years or so, sailors in the Northern Hemisphere had a handy celestial guide—Polaris, the North Star or pole star. The height of the pole star above the northern horizon equals the latitude of the observer, making sailing east or west along lines of latitude reasonably easy for Viking, Spanish, and Portuguese navigators.

Today’s sailors have satellites, GPS, compasses, and other modern devices to help guide them across Earth’s oceans. Even so, it’s fun to stand near the bow of a ship, contemplate the dark, star-filled night sky, and imagine what it was like to navigate the ocean thousands of years ago. A stargazing cruise can take you back to those ancient times, with no consequences if you don’t know your stars or constellations!

Explore this and other types of eclipse travel

A Cruise to the Stars

A stargazing cruise is one of the most enjoyable ways to see the stars. No need to drive to, or camp at, a remote dark-sky site. Once you’re on board, you unpack in your cabin, and your floating hotel becomes your mobile stargazing base camp for a week or so. Meals are provided, there’s usually entertainment or informative talks each evening, and there are excursions. On small expedition ships sailing in quiet waters, some day trips may involve a Zodiac ride to shore so you can discover the local flora and fauna. Other excursions are on the sea itself, experiencing whales up close and personal, as well as watching for dolphins, sea lions, and other forms of aquatic life. There are also water sports off the boat itself—scuba diving, snorkeling, kayaking and so on. You can relax or participate in these activities as much (or as little) as suits you. While many of these activities apply to most small-ship cruises, stargazing is an evening event not usually included on a regular voyage.

When a ship is at sea, the only light anywhere comes from the ship itself. On a stargazing cruise, the captain will dim as many of the ship’s lights as is legally permissible. On the ocean, the night sky is incredibly dark. The stars, constellations, and even the Milky Way shine forth, much as in ancient times.

On eclipse cruises in the South Pacific, the Paul Gauguin serves as our floating observing platform. (Photo by Rick Fienberg/TQ)
When cruising the southern tip of Baja looking for whales and stars, we sail on a small expedition vessel. (Photo by Lindblad Expeditions)

To help you make the most of our stargazing cruise, TravelQuest’s trip astronomer prepares you beforehand by describing the stars and constellations you’ll be able to spot that evening, weather permitting, of course. The ship is in motion, so using a telescope onboard isn’t practical. Instead, we encourage clients to bring binoculars for stargazing and, of course, to birdwatch and check out other wildlife during the cruise.

From the decks of our cruise ship, our astronomer will lead observing sessions of the spectacular night sky, outlining the constellations, identifying the bright stars, and pointing out where to aim your binoculars. Away from city lights, we see the unspoiled splendor of our Milky Way galaxy, the amazing celestial dome of stars, and many remarkable sky sights that are too dim to be seen in light-polluted city skies.

The night-sky viewing deck area on the bow of Lindblad’s National Geographic ship. (Photo by Lindblad Expeditions)
Watching sunset from the deck, hoping the clouds don’t roll in and spoil the stargazing. (Photo by Paul Deans/TQ)
On our stargazing cruises, we gather in the ship’s lecture hall to acquaint you with the night sky. (Photo by Marco Ricca/Lindblad Expeditions)

Stargazing from a Cruise Ship

TravelQuest specializes in astronomy-themed excursions. So it’s not surprising that we offer stargazing from a cruise ship. Every year we plan for a stargazing cruise, combined with another ocean-based activity such as whale watching. For stars and whales, sailing the Sea of Cortez in the spring is one of our favorite destinations.

We also combine different types of cruises with stargazing. In Norway, we take the Hurtigruten coastal ships up the coast of Norway, each evening watching for the appearance of the northern lights. When the lights are not visible, our trip astronomer leads stargazing activities from the deck of the ship. And on solar eclipse cruises, we try to include several evenings on the ship dedicated to stargazing, often from the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

If seeing a dark, star-filled night sky from the deck of a cruise ship appeals, contact TravelQuest to learn about either our next stargazing cruise, or any of our upcoming cruises that include a stargazing component.

On some of our stargazing cruises, we’re also chasing the northern lights—often successfully. (Photo by Paul Deans/TQ)

Header image by Eberhard Grossgasteiger