As the saying goes, big surprises come in small packages. Zodiak excursions do just that - surprise, excite and treat you to once in a lifetime experiences.
There are a number of special places in the world that are only accessible by zodiak, or skiffs - small boats designed to take a small number of people into places that bigger ships (and even small ships) just can't get to - places where there are no ports or no docks.
Here are my top five favorite destinations where zodiaks are an integral part of the whole experience. The memories just would not be the same without them.
Photos courtesy of Lindblad
The Great White Continent. The experience here is in large part all about landings - the more landings the better. Take note that ships with more than 500 passengers are not allowed to have any landings. Passengers can take in the beautiful sites while cruising but nothing else. The majority of ships sailing this region have 200 or fewer passengers, however only 100 passengers are allowed to be on land at any one time (typically with 20 or so people per guide). Thus, the fewer number of passengers and higher number of guides on board increases the number of (and length of) landings you'll have.
The only way, for the most part, to step foot on this continent from your ship is via a zodiak. So if you want to see the rookeries or take a guided hike to experience the expansive views, make sure you are on a ship that allows for landings.
In this region, like the others, zodiaks aren't just for landings. As the pictures above depict so well, these skiffs take you close to the icebergs as well as wildlife. Imagine slowly motoring around the smaller icebergs to come "face to face" with a leopard seal warming itself on one of ice shelves. Or saying hello to a curious whale. Amazing, don't you think?
Photo courtesy of Australis
PATAGONIA AND TIERRA DEL FUEGO
The best way to see the fjords and glaciers in the Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego regions is on a small expedition ship. Only small ships can navigate the narrow channels and fjords, get you into remote areas and to untamed wilderness that bigger ships can't even dream of.
Here too there are few actual ports of call. Zodiaks take you out on daily excursions to explore the glaciers up close, search for wildlife unique to this region or drop you off for a hike through pristine wilderness.
Photo courtesy of Uncruise
Captains on the small adventure ships sailing Alaska's Inside Passage know the hidden gems of the region like the back of their hand. And there are many gems. These hidden bays and inlets hold wonderful surprises for the few who get to explore them.
The ships get you near these places - the zodiaks get you closer. Closer to the glaciers, closer to wildlife in the water and on land. And they are the vehicle for you to explore pristine rain forests that very few people actually have the opportunity to walk through.
Photo courtesy of Uncruise
SEA OF CORTEZ
If you want to get off the ship while cruising the Sea of Cortez, you have a few choices - jumping in to the water, getting on a kayak, paddleboard or a skiff. The only true port of call will be where you embark and disembark.
The Sea of Cortez itinerary is about unique and stunning scenery, tranquil beaches, remote islands and wildlife. The zodiaks are a big part of this adventure, taking you upclose to marine life and on to shore to explore the remote trails and scenic vistas. A big draw to this region are the whales that come to calf in the spring. Curious animals, they are known to come right up to your skiff to check you out. And of course, you them.
Similar to Antarctica, access to the islands is highly regulated and limited. Ships that are approved to sail this region can go to the same "stop" only once every 2 weeks. And the only way to get to the majority of these stops is on a zodiak. A number of these are "wet", meaning you have to climb out into water to walk up to the beach. All part of the exceptional experience (I say!).
The zodiaks, like all of the other regions above, get you close or closer to areas that you can't normally reach. A great example are the rocky shorelines teeming with birds, seals and other wildlife one would not see on beach landings. With the Galapagos being a protected region, animals really have no fear of humans. However, they do have natural predators, so of course wildlife will be found in areas more difficult to get to, by humans or natural predators alike.