Want a cruise experience that challenges you, takes you out of your comfort zone and showcases the world’s most extraordinary natural beauty? Here’s everything you need to know about adventure cruises

Dog sledding with huskies in the Arctic Circle as part of an adventure cruise © iStock
Dog sledding with huskies in the Arctic Circle © iStock

What are the best itineraries?

If you want to go in search of the Northern Lights you’ll need to head to the Arctic Circle. North Norway itineraries including ports such as TromsØ, known as the Gateway to the Arctic, and Alta, one of the best places to see the Lights, are a good bet, but so are cruises to Iceland and Greenland, where the lack of light pollution is a big factor in seeing the Aurora Borealis.

One Ocean Expeditions has some fascinating Arctic itineraries, including 10 days in the Spitsbergen and Svalbard archipelago, where you should encounter the icon of the Arctic – the polar bear – hunting for seals; they also offer a 13-day trip exploring the remote Northwest Passage.

The Antarctic has the Southern Lights, however these are rarely seen because cruises tend to be during the Antarctic summer when it’s too light at night. But those with a penguin fixation or yearning to see the glaciers that beguiled explorers such as Sir Ernest Shackleton 100 years ago will not be disappointed with a trip to this extraordinary continent.

Most Antarctic cruises are on purpose-built expedition ships but some mainstream cruise companies, such as Holland America Line, venture way down south. On Holland America Line’s South America & Antarctic cruises from Buenos Aires in Argentina, you sail through Drake Passage and Glacier Alley then close to the Antarctic Peninsula without stopping at any Antarctic ports.

Excursions along the way include kayaking with sea lions at Puerto Madryn in Argentina in the Punta Loma Nature Reserve and there’s a Penguin Adventure at Punto Tombo Nature Reserve. There are more penguins to see at Bluff Cove in The Falkland Islands and passengers can take a catamaran trip to see colonies of birds at Beagle Channel’s Bird Island.

You won’t see the Northern Lights on summer cruises to Norway or Iceland, when the Arctic countries welcome the Midnight Sun, however you can choose increasingly adventurous excursions on several cruise lines. Saga has a new calm water kayaking offering at Isafjordour in Iceland, which involves a trip across the waters of the Westfjords during its Faroes and Land Of Ice and Fire cruise on Saga Sapphire. It also has trips on a small catamaran in Naeroyfjord to see waterfalls close-up in its Springtime in the Fjords cruise.

Meanwhile Alaska is almost purpose-built for adventure and Royal Caribbean has some particularly good adventure cruises that are new for 2017. Its 12-night Kantishna Select Wilderness & Wildlife cruisetour on Radiance of the Seas is for those who want to explore Danali National Park with local experts. After a seven-night cruise there are opportunities to hike the Exit Glacier, kayak on Eklutna Lake or cycle round it and stay at wilderness lodges in the park.

Another Royal Caribbean cruisetour in Alaska is its new Katmai Bear Trek & Kantishna Fly Over, which gives passengers the chance to see American brown bears in their natural habitat in Katmai National Park & Preserve, which again follows a seven-night cruise.
This cruisetour also includes two nights in Denali National Park and a flightseeing ride to Katmai National Park to see the brown bears, which you can watch from an elevated boardwalk along Brooks River.

Royal Caribbean’s Alaska cruise excursions includes whale watching in Stephens Passage and spotting the Alaska Big Five wildlife list of bald eagles, bears, caribou, sea lions and humpback whales.

Also on offer are floatplane flights to see glacial lakes and waterfalls in the mountains from Ketchikan, or learning how to dog sled with huskies at a musher’s camp near Skagway. Disney Cruise Line has introduced new “port adventures” for its Alaska cruises including a stay at Taku Glacier Lodge in the Alaskan wilderness across from the picturesque Hole-In-The-Wall Glacier and surrounded by Tongass National Forest.

You can take the Liarsville Gold Rush Trail from Skagway, a historic path through mountains. And at Ketchikan you can get a glimpse of the Tsimshian people at work on Annette Island or take Disney’s Bering Sea Crab Fishermen’s Tour, watching 700lb king crab pots hauled on shore.

Galápagos has been a favourite expedition cruise destination for some years but in 2017 Celebrity Cruises has two new luxury ships sailing to these volcanic islands in the Pacific Ocean. The cruise line describes Celebrity Xpedition and Celebrity Xperience as: “Sexy, stylish spaces that make you feel like you’re in one of the world’s best boutique hotels, only with better scenery.”

A third ship, Celebrity Xploration, equally notable, is also sailing to the Galápagos Islands in 2017, and all offer the seven-night Galápagos Inner Loop, Galápagos Outer Loop, Galápagos Northern Loop and Galápagos Southern Loop itineraries.

Celebrity Xperience also has a brand new 13-night Xperiential Travel itinerary that allows passengers to get close to the people of Galápagos, as well as the wildlife, by spending three nights in a Puerto Ayora hotel on Santa Cruz Island after seven nights at sea.
Guests will be able to visit a local farm to help select the food chef cooks for their dinner, spend time with fishermen to bring in the catch of the day for another of their evening meals and learn how responsible tourism helps preserve the islands.

Slightly easier to get to are the islands of Hawaii, and Norwegian Cruise Line’s Pride of America offers seven-night cruises from its homeport in Honolulu with excursions tailor-made for adventurers.

You can get within a few feet of the red-hot glowing molten rocks of Kilauea Volcano, on Hawaii, with a guided walk through the active lava field. Or you can cycle down from the crater rim of Haleakala on the island of Maui, arriving by van in time to watch the sun rise before following the trail down from a height of 10,000ft. There’s also the chance to abseil down waterfalls in Maui, swim in the pools below and hike up to a challenging jungle trail.

A couple on a trekking adventure in Juneau, Alaska © iStock
A couple on a trekking adventure in Juneau, Alaska © iStock

When is the best time to go?

Northern Lights cruises to Norway and Iceland will be in autumn and early spring when the nights are dark but the threat of winter storms is reduced. However, if you want to see the Norwegian Fjords at their most picturesque, you should go in late spring and summer when the days are long.

Antarctic cruises take place during our winter and the southern hemisphere’s summer, with December being the very best time of year to visit. Alaska is also a late-spring to September destination. It’s too cold the rest of the year, but you can sail to the Galápagos Islands all year round, with July to December the dry season and January to June wet but warm. High season in Hawaii is from December to March for winter sun, although it’s less expensive from September to mid-December, while mid-April to mid-September is the driest time of the year.

TIP: Ask your GP if you need any vaccinations or medication before embarking on
your trip.

Don’t miss out on great advice in part one of the Cruise International guide to adventure cruises.

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