Cruises aren’t just for lounging on the pool deck and shopping at exotic ports of call anymore. Increasingly, travel companies are offering adventure cruise options that make for a great blend of the onboard comforts you’d expect on a cruise ship with the opportunities for exploration, fun and roughing it when visiting far-flung destinations.
Sailing through those waters to get to your destination provides incredible experiences and opportunities in itself – a chance to bond with your travel buddies as you pass through rough seas, time to spend with new companions, and the possibility of glimpsing interesting marine life and geological formations you’d miss getting there by air.
The following are five ideal destinations for adventure cruising, once-in-a-lifetime trips to see some of the greatest natural wonders on the planet.
The largest state in the United States, Alaska is a land of diverse terrain and wildlife, and a prime location for adventure cruising. Cruise companies offer a wide range of packages that either focus on a specific aspect of Alaskan travel or provide a small taste of many adventures. Adventure Life tours, for example, has an eight-day Discoverers Glacier tour that takes you to the Grand Pacific and Margerie glaciers in Glacier National Park. On a turn through the Icy Strait that includes a trip to Point Adolphus to look for humpback whales, you can also spend the day kayaking at Admiralty Island National Park to do some grizzly bear spotting. And that’s just one of their cruise offerings.
Adventure Smith tours will take you to Prince William Sound, where on your first day, you will travel through Knight Island Passage and Dangerous Passage – with a chance of orca sightings – toward Chenega Glacier and on to Bainbridge Passage to fish for halibut, if that’s your thing. Also on the agenda: four more glaciers, sea lion watching and hiking beached ice bergs. The company also offers passengers the options to extend their Alaska trip with a land excursion to Denali National Park, which includes a guided tour through the tundra landscape and the chance to see more bears, wolves and caribou.
Hawaii has long been popular as a romantic getaway destination, a honeymooners’ paradise or a place to check out from the “real world.” But what if instead of running from the real world, you dove-in and embraced the wilder side of the Hawaiian Islands? A Hawaiian Seascapes tour is just the ticket, as the eight-day journey includes night snorkeling with Manta Rays, a “marine life search” in the Humpback National Marine Sanctuary, snorkeling off the coastal town of Olowalu on Maui and a visit to lava tubes. If that’s not enough adventure for you, there’s always the option of joining a separate tour to Volcanoes National Park when the cruise is over.
Alternatively, Virgin Holidays Cruises offers an 11-night Honolulu and Hawaiian Islands cruise that includes a stop at Hilo Bay, where you’ll find yourself smack between the Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea volcanoes. The cruise also takes you to Kona, on the big island, for black sand beach exploration and a chance to go canoeing off the coast.
3. Galápagos Islands
It hardly gets more adventurous than a trip to the Galápagos, and there are plenty of options for observing the wildlife and natural beauty of the islands. Adventure Life offers several tours, including the Darwin’s Islands package, which includes stops at Giant Tortoises Reserve, a sea lion colony, collapsed lava chambers and an active volcano, (and of course, a visit to the Charles Darwin Research Center).
G Adventures also boasts several Galápagos tour options, which you can select based on what types of exploration you’re going for and what animals you’d like to see. The Western Islands tour gives you a chance to snorkel with sea lions and look for sea turtles, while a trip to the Northern and Central islands includes snorkeling in the caldera of a collapsed volcano and checking out bird colonies on Genovesa, according to the G Adventures site.
Clear on the opposite side of the world, it’s an adventure just getting to Australia, let alone traveling it. You can go where few have gone before with a cruise to Rowley Shoals, as part of an atoll cruise offered by North Star Cruises, which includes diving and snorkeling to visit “maze-like coral lagoons” and tidal passes.
National Geographic’s Orion makes a 14-day journey that will carry you to the Kimberley, a remote part of Northwestern Australia. The journey promises not only wildlife and interesting geological formations, but a look at ancient aboriginal culture as well. Highlights of the trip include seeing the 40,000-year-old aboriginal rock art, a beach stay in East Timor, a visit to Purnululu National Park and the Bungle Bungle range, “where striped sandstone hills shaped like giant beehives give way to deep chasms filled with greenery,” and the Horizontal Waterfalls of Talbot Bay.
If an adventure cruise to Australia wouldn’t be complete for you without spending time at the Great Barrier Reef, fear not. There are options for that, too, such as a Coral Princess Cruises package that includes glass-bottomed boat tours of the reefs, trips to an uninhabited island (and many other locations throughout the reef network) where you can go snorkeling, a diving excursion with the resident marine biologist, and a land-based rainforest tour of Dunk Island.
The previous four on this list are bold places to visit, but Antarctica really takes the cake as an adventure destination. This wild, frozen frontier will truly make you feel as though you are at the edge of the earth and is sure to be an experience like no other. For that reason, it’s important to be sure you really want to make this journey. As rewarding as it can be, it’s not likely to be a simple walk in the park.
G Adventures offers several Antarctica packages, with one that includes visits to the Falkland Islands and South Georgia along with Antarctica, a “Spirit of Shackleton” tour undertaken with the famed Antarctic explorer in mind, and one that crosses the Drake Passage into the Weddell Sea. G Adventures describes this last as a “less-visited region of Antarctica … [that] is the planet’s clearest sea and the birthing ground of incredible tabular icebergs.” Daily excursions can include kayaking, taking a Zodiac inflatable boat ashore and camping.
Peregrine Adventures offers a tour that begins in Chile and takes you to the Antarctic Circle, to observe unique ice and rock formations and the many Antarctic animals you’ll see out and about on the ice, such as penguins and seals. Other activities include hikes to a penguin rookery and Zodiac trips to look for whales and ice bergs.
Adventure cruises can make for amazing, memorable and even life-changing experiences. But before you go, make sure you feel comfortable with the company you’re booking through. Ask questions about their safety standards – what kind of medical staff or resources are on board, what happens in the event of emergency – to determine if you feel safe with a particular company. Depending on where you’re headed, you’ll want to make sure you come prepared for the weather so also be sure to inquire about what amenities are provided on the ship and what you’ll need to bring yourself.
Safety is paramount, so look into the company before you book and check out reviews from past travelers. The cruises mentioned in this article are just a sampling of what’s out there so find a ship and tour company that suits you and your travel companions and what’s best for this exciting voyage.