A Heritage Expeditions Review – Cruising in Style on the Heritage Adventurer

Heritage Expeditions review and ship Heritage Adventurer

Last Updated on 07/10/24 by Rose Palmer

I love cruising, especially small ship cruising. I also love Japan – it’s one of my favorite travel destinations. So, a cruise on the Heritage Adventurer expedition ship that took me to some of Japan’s less visited sights was a dream come true.

As I was planning an extended trip to Japan, I was looking for a cruise that would easily take me to some off-the-beaten-path locations. I was thrilled to discover Heritage Expeditions and their boutique cruises that combined unique itineraries with a small ship experience.

My Heritage Expeditions review

The more I read about Heritage Expeditions, the more impressed I became. The company was started by New Zealand natives Rodney and Shirley Russ in 1984 “as a way of increasing awareness and conservation of the natural world through responsible expedition travel”.

Today, the company is still a family owned business based in New Zealand with second generation sons Nathan and Aaron Russ now at the company helm.

Taiko drumming
Nathan Russ leads guest as they all learned Taiko drumming on Sado Island

As with all expedition cruise lines, the big draw is the company’s Antarctica itineraries. But unlike other expedition cruising companies that tend to go to the Arctic in the northern hemisphere’s summer months, Heritage Expeditions stays closer to home.

Their itineraries offer unique destinations in the Pacific region that other companies don’t do: the Melanesian islands of Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu; the remote islands in Indonesia; or the subantarctic Islands, just to name a few. And of course, Japan.

Beautiful Yushien Garden was one of the special stops with Heritage Expeditions
Beautiful Yushien Garden was one of the special stops with Heritage Expeditions

As I found out on my cruise, the Russ family are actively involved in each of the sailings and the itineraries they provide. Both Shirley and Nathan Russ were present on my cruise around Japan, supporting and helping the expedition staff running the cruise. I know it was this personal attention that made my voyage so special.

The Heritage Adventurer experience

As a small, family run business, the Russ family takes great pride in the product they provide. In 2021 they acquired and updated a new expedition vessel, now christened the Heritage Adventurer. Formerly the luxury exploration vessel MS Hanseatic, the ship was built in 1991 at the Rauma shipyard in Finland.

Heritage Expeditions acquired the ship and refurbished the interior to their high standards. Along with completely updating the inside, the total guest capacity was also reduced from 184 to 140 in order to improve the overall tour experience.

As an expedition ship built for polar exploration, the Heritage Adventure has the highest ice class rating (1A Super). A fleet of 14 zodiacs onboard also ensures that all guests can be easily accommodated off the ship for sightseeing excursions.

My cabin on the Heritage Adventurer

My initial reaction when I first stepped into my cabin on the Heritage Adventurer was “Wow! This room is huge!” The ship’s renovation has resulted in larger, more spacious rooms that added the words comfort and style to adventure cruising.

All the regular cabins on the ship were 237 square feet (22 square meters) which was almost as large as a mini suite on some of the bigger cruise ships I’ve sailed with. And since this was a smaller boutique ship, there were no inside cabins and there were also no balconies, but every cabin had either a large window or two porthole windows.

Along with the king sized bed, my cabin on deck 4 also had a roomy couch and coffee table, and also a large desk and chair. There was also a minifridge and a vast amount of closet space.

The en suite bathroom was also surprisingly spacious with the biggest walk in shower I have ever experienced on any size ship. And the provided robes were soft and comfy.

My en suite bathroom on the Heritage Adventurer
My en suite bathroom on the Heritage Adventurer

After a busy day of sightseeing, it was a pleasure to go back to my cabin retreat to relax and recharge for the next day’s adventures.

Public spaces on the Heritage Adventurer

As large as my cabin was on the Heritage Adventurer, the public spaces were equally spacious with plenty of room for all the passengers without feeling crowded.

Deck 2

It was on this deck that the medical facility was located. Fortunately, I did not have any first hand experience with this space.

Deck 3

Deck 3 had two mudrooms which stored the zodiac life jackets. We also accessed the zodiacs from this deck using a set of metal stairs. Getting into and out of the zodiacs was very easy and was always very safe with constant assistance provided by the staff.

Deck 4

The dining room on deck 4 was bright, airy, and surprisingly elegant – not something I expected on an adventure based cruise ship. There were tables that could accommodate all groups sizes, from a party of two to larger tables for groups of 8.

In the back of the dining room, doors led outside to a small, open deck area with tables and chairs.

Outdoor seating area aft of the dining room on the Heritage Adventurer
Outdoor seating area aft of the dining room on the Heritage Adventurer. This was also the dedicated smoking area.

Deck 5

The main lounge and bar was located in the aft area of deck 5. At the end of each day we gathered here to review that day’s activities and then go over the next day’s schedule – and enjoy a cocktail or two.

The bar provided all manner of alcoholic and non alcoholic drinks. There was also a self serve coffee, tea, and hot chocolate station that was well used by all the guests. And jars with homemade cookies were always available and full.

Enjoying a drink in the lounge during evening get together
Enjoying a drink in the lounge during the evening get together

Deck 6

At the back of the ship on deck 6, the smaller Bistro Dining room offered another option for more informal meals. A large deck space also provided the option for al fresco dining.

Outdoor deck space on the Heritage Adventurer
Outdoor deck space on the Heritage Adventurer in the aft area of deck 6

Deck 6 was also where the bridge was located. If the crew was not busy, guests were welcome for a bridge tour.

Deck 7

The ship’s top deck was a mix of outdoor and additional indoor gathering spaces. A small pool and loungers provided a nice spot to chill on a warm and sunny afternoon after a day of excursions.

Besides the pool, there was also a hot tub in a glassed in solarium setting which offered a nice option to ease sore and tired muscles with a warm soak. The nearby inside spaces included a gym and a beauty/massage spa space.

The forward section of deck 7 had the Observation Lounge and Library which was another popular gathering spot for group presentations. The wide, forward facing windows made this a wonderful option for watching the scenery as we cruised from one location to another. There was also a coffee and tea station here which only added to the relaxing experience.

Deck 8

At the very top of the ship, an additional open observation space provided an ideal spot to see the scenery or to spot sea life. My cruise was culturally oriented with port stops every day and cruising during the night so I didn’t make use of this space. I imagine that on scenic cruises in Antarctica, this is a prime spot for sightseeing and wildlife viewing.

Food on the Heritage Adventurer

I was pleasantly surprised at how good the food was on the Heritage Adventurer. Whether it was breakfast, lunch, or dinner, there was always a large variety to choose from for all dietary needs and individual tastes.

Breakfast was an extensive buffet with more than enough choices. I am not a big breakfast eater, so a grapefruit, a slice of freshly made, crispy bread with butter and jam, and a cup of tea were fine for me. But for those that liked big breakfasts, there was a wide selection.

A small section of the breakfast buffet on the Heritage Adventurer
A small section of the breakfast buffet on the Heritage Adventurer

I only ate lunch on board the ship a few time since I preferred the option to eat locally on shore whenever possible. Lunch was also a buffet with an extensive array of salads, soup, sandwiches, hot dishes, and desserts.

Some of the lunch buffet on the Heritage Adventurer
A small portion of the lunch buffet on the Heritage Adventurer
Ramen soup station at lunch
Ramen soup station at lunch

Dinners were a convivial affair where we had the chance to sit down with other guests and get to know each other. I had dinner in the more formal dining room most nights, though I also did try the menu at the Bistro.

Thai chicken and cashew nut salad at the Bistro
Thai chicken and cashew nut salad and Asian inspired fish tacos at the Bistro
Fresh locally sources sashimi grade fish from Sakaiminato's fishing fleet
Fresh locally sources sashimi grade fish from Sakaiminato’s fishing fleet for dinner in the main dining room
Chocolate lava cake with ice cream
Chocolate lava cake with ice cream for dessert in the main dining room

Besides typical Western style dishes, there were also plenty of Asian inspired or Japanese items on the menu. I especially liked the ramen soup station we had for lunch one day, and the al fresco BBQ dinner with fresh oysters on the half shell.

Fresh oysters at the outdoor BBQ on the Heritage Adventurer
Fresh oysters at the outdoor BBQ on the Heritage Adventurer
lots of salads and veggies at the outdoor BBQ
Lots of salads and veggies at the outdoor BBQ

The Heritage Expeditions staff

All the Heritage Expeditions staff and ship’s crew were excellent. The ship had two distinct organizational structures. The captain and his crew were responsible for the ship and associated services. The expedition staff were our daily sightseeing coordinators and were personable, knowledgeable, and engaging.

In addition to the regular Heritage Expeditions staff, there were also two dedicated Japanese tour guides that were extremely well versed on all the sights we were visiting, and spoke excellent English. We also had two local Japanese lecturers that were brought on board just for this cruise and they provided additional color commentary.

 Taiko drumming on Sado Island
Our Japanese guide Hide-san tries his hand at Taiko drumming

Each evening one of the staff presented a couple of short lectures on a theme related to our Japanese travels. The subject matter of the talks was varied and included local religion, learning to speak Japanese, the essence of the Japanese garden, and how to take better photos with cell phones, just to name some of the topics presented over the course of our 10 day cruise.

Throughout the cruise, and especially relating to the zodiac transfers, safety was always first and foremost. Each of the guides had extensive experience driving the zodiacs and I never felt unsafe, even in choppy waters. And, when we were out on excursions, the staff kept an eye on all the guests and made themselves visible so that there was no chance of getting lost when we went off to explore a sight on our own.

Heritage Expeditions staff drive the zodiacs
Heritage Expeditions staff driving a zodiac

The ship’s crew that I interacted with were polite and helpful. My cabin steward did a very nice job making up my room each day. I loved coming back on board at the end of a busy day to a cabin that looked as good as it did on day 1.

In the dining room, the wait staff were attentive and efficient – my glass never went empty, and I never had to wait long for a course to appear in front of me.

My Sacred Japan and South Korea itinerary

Heritage Expeditions offered a number of unique Japan itineraries with different ports of call. I chose the Sacred Japan and South Korea tour though I would have liked to do any one of the others as well.

Day 1 – Arrived in Osaka and transferred to the Osaka Hilton

Day 2 – Sightseeing in Osaka which included a hike to the Minoh Waterfall, a typical Japanese lunch on Dotonbori Street, a demonstration by a master knife craftsman, and a walk around Osaka Castle. We boarded the Heritage Adventurer in time for dinner.

Osaka Castle
Osaka Castle

Day 3 – From the port of Uno, we explored the beautiful Korakuen Gardens and the historic Kurashiki quarter with its historic houses and picturesque canal. In the afternoon, we explore the artistic Naoshima Island.

Day 4 – The day started with a moving tour of the Hiroshima Memorial Peace Park. After a quick cruise and lunch on board, we had the afternoon to explore the sacred island of Miyajima with its UNESCO listed shrine.

Hiroshima Memorial Peace Park
Hiroshima Memorial Peace Park

Day 5 – Docked in the town of Hagi, we first visited the historic Hagi Castle town and the house/museum of master potter Yoshika Taibi. After a wonderful local sushi lunch, our group explored the vast Akiyoshidai caves with its travertine terraces, underground river, and huge lake.

Akiyoshidai caves
Akiyoshidai caves

Day 6 – Overnight we cruised over to Ulsan, South Korea. Here we explored two of the main sights nearby: the dome tombs at the UNESCO listed Gyeongju heritage site and the beautiful Bulguksa Temple.

Bulguksa Temple
Bulguksa Temple

Day 7 – After reaching the port in Sakaiminato, Japan, our guides took us to the stunning gardens at the Adachi Museum of Art. From here we headed to the equally pretty but quite different Yushien Garden.

Gardens at the Adachi Museum of Art
Gardens at the Adachi Museum of Art

Day 8 – We spent this day exploring the many sights in Kanazawa, including the Kanazawa Castle, the extensive Kenrokuen Gardens, and the Higashi Chaya Geisha District.

Kenrokuen Gardens
Kenrokuen Gardens

Day 9 – Today’s stop was truly off the beaten path as we toured Sado Island. We started the morning with a float in traditional Taraibune tub boats. This was followed by a visit to the Ogi Folk Museum and the Shukengi historic village. The day ended with a real bang as we tried our hand at Taiko drumming.

Trying out the traditional Taraibune tub boats
Shirley and Nathan Russ trying out the traditional Taraibune tub boats

Day 10 – The tour ended in Nagasaki from where we took a Shinkansen bullet train to Tokyo. Heritage Expeditions staff accompanied us all to Tokyo and saw us safely on our way.

I’ll have a seperate post describing in detail all the ports and the excursions.

My cruise around Japan with Heritage Expeditions gave me everything I was looking for and so much more than what I expected. It had all the benefits of a small ship environment, the personal attention and quality that comes with a family run business, and the unique japanese destinations that I was hoping to experience.

Saying goodbye to the Heritage Adventurer
Saying goodbye to the Heritage Adventurer


Please note that I was hosted by Heritage Expeditions on this cruise. All content and opinions are my own.


Other Japan stories I’ve written:

All my favorite Japanese experiences: My Favorite Unique Japanese Experiences

All about my day on Miyajima Island: A visit to Japan’s Most Sacred Island – One Day in Miyajima

A day at the Hiroshima Peace Park: My Visit to the Hiroshima Memorial Peace Park – A Continuing Classroom for Peace


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