Are you a cruise fanatic looking for a new shipboard hobby? Or perhaps a veteran stargazer heading out to sea for the first time?
Either way, you might wonder what celestial sights you can expect to see.
Here’s whether you stargaze on a cruise
You absolutely can stargaze on a cruise. In fact, cruises are a terrific stargazing opportunities because they stay (mostly) far away from sources of light pollution. If that’s a priority, then consider a specialist stargazing cruise that emphasizes dark skies and educational events on board.
And that makes perfect sense, seeing as sailors traditionally used the stars for navigation.
Then again, simply being on board doesn’t guarantee good viewing. But with some simple tips and a little extra planning, you can enjoy dark, clear, and totally unobstructed skies.
Ambient light from ship and shore vs. open ocean
Whenever you’re thinking about stargazing in a new location, you need to worry about one thing — the amount of light pollution that makes it more difficult to get a clear view of the night sky. So, the question is: how do cruises fare in this regard? Well, it depends on the point of the cruise where you are.
If you carry a small telescope on your cruise, you can try to find a dark spot on the deck; however, more often than not, the lights from the actual ship will be the biggest issue. Also, if you’ve just started the cruise and you’re near the shore, the lighting from habitats on the shore will be a big problem as well.
When you’re out on the open ocean, the only lighting you’ll have to worry about is the one coming from the ship itself. With that in mind, we also recommend getting some binoculars as they require less stability. Also, if you’ve got a cabin balcony, you’ll probably have an easier time viewing the sky from there, as it’s both darker and it has better protection from wind than being up on the deck. Sure, you’ll have to consider viewing direction restrictions; but that’s an okay tradeoff.
When to worry about storms and volatile weather at sea
One of the biggest issues you’ll have with ships and stargazing on a cruise is the weather — if there are any storms or sea turbulences due to waves, you can pretty much forget about any stargazing with a telescope; there just won’t be enough stability to hold the telescope firmly in place.
This can be an issue even if the weather conditions aren’t objectively that bad. During cruises, ships move at speeds between twenty and twenty-five knots. When you combine this with night wind, even calm nights without choppy seas may prove difficult for stargazing. However, if you keep your magnification below 20X, this should help with the stability issue.
Storing a telescope safely and dealing with salty air?
If you do decide to take a telescope out to sea with you, there will definitely be some considerations to make. For one — there is salt in the air, and strong winds might provide abrasions that scratch your glass; not to mention the corrosive properties of salt.
However, this isn’t that big of a concern. Only truly strong winds could scratch your lens with salt particles in the air — and if the wind is really that strong, chances are you won’t be stargazing anyway.
On the other hand, there’s still a chance of your lens becoming damaged after prolonged exposure to salty air. But you can easily deal with this by cleaning it carefully after every stargazing session. If you do that, there isn’t a big chance of your scope suffering in any way.
Just make sure that you protect your optics at all times when you’re not using them. Also, inspect each of the instruments on a regular basis, and clean them whenever you feel like you need to.
How to choose a cruises that caters to stargazers
Plenty of cruise ships give specialist sailing tours. In fact, some entire ships and and routes lines are dedicated to amateur astronomy or even to specific constellations.
Choose right, and you’re in for a great night-sky experience.
While some general cruises are suitable for stargazing, they’re not optimal. For instance, it’d be disappointing to find yourself docked near urban light-pollution on a prime viewing night! The ship’s lighting might also remain too bright for too long after dark.
Besides, certain popular routes just wouldn’t make sense. For instance, the Alaskan midnight sun is quite an experience, but it’ll keep from seeing other stars.
If you’re new to stargazing and simply curious to explore, then consider educational programs like Discovery at Sea (on Princess), the onboard planetariums of the Viking Orion and Cunard Queen Mary 2, or even Viking Jupiter with a resident astronomer.
What are the best cruise destinations for stargazing?
If the night sky is your priority, then you’ll want to stay away from the popular Baja or Caribbean routes. Rather, it’s time to farther afield.
It’s impossible to top the Arctic and Antarctic regions for clear skies, natural drama and mystique, and the surreal Northern or Southern Lights. Spring and autumn are ideal, since you’ll avoid the midnight sun and harsh winter cold, but winter affords better aurora viewing (especially up north).
Practically speaking, Antarctica may be more of a once-in-a-lifetime experience than any other location on this list. The same isolation that makes it so stunning also makes it logistically difficult and relatively expensive to visit.
If you’re more averse to the cold, then Australia and New Zealand offer wondrously remote landscapes with clear skies to view some of the brightest stars visible from Earth. Naturally, you’ll enjoy the Southern Hemisphere skies that most of us up north have never seen in person.
Another classic route is a transatlantic crossing. You’ll go through some of the most remote navigable waters on the planet, with utter darkness for several consecutive nights. Tip: depending on where you’re cruising in the Atlantic, consider a stop in Namibia or the Canary Islands, both of which are home to breathtaking dark sky reserves.
The world is filled with plenty of cruise locations perfect for a stargazing expedition. You just need to make sure that you’ve planned your timing correctly, since your enjoyment will depend not just on weather, but on what constellations and other sights are most visible.
If you don’t already have an optical equipment, then consider a pair of binoculars to help you make the most of those relaxed, onboard evenings. Here’s a guide to some of our favorites.