Cruising excursions: 50 of the best
By Jane Archer
The top day trips, attractions and adventure outings that can be enjoyed after you pull into port.
Just as cruising is no longer simply for the well-bred and nearly dead, so cruise lines' shore excursions have moved on from being dull days out for unadventurous souls happy to tick off the sights through a coach window.
These days you can zip through tree tops on a wire, ride a bobsleigh in Jamaica, learn to cook, walk on glaciers, even fly in a MiG fighter jet.
Cruise lines offer numerous excursions at all the ports their ships visit, some adventurous, some fun, a few still for those still happy just to tick off the sights. Opt to book one of these tours and you'll be escorted from the moment you leave the ship such tours offer convenience and peace of mind, but they are often expensive. Often you may find you have paid a fortune for something you could have done yourself for a fraction of the price.
Royal Caribbean's "Rome on your own" tour, which will see you transported by coach from the port at Civitavecchia to the city (where you are left to explore alone), costs from $60 to $100 (39 to 64) per person; the train from Civitavecchia to Rome costs 4.50 (4) each way. Likewise, on a cruise last year, a 90-minute walking tour of Split and Diocletian's Palace cost $49 (31) per person, but I walked into city from the port in five minutes and bought a ticket to the Palace for just 3.20, while two-hour walking tours were on sale locally from about 9.
As a result I have picked 50 top excursions that you would struggle to do alone or which could be difficult or expensive to organise.
If you don't fancy going ashore alone, and don't want to bust the budget, then opt for one of the cruise lines that package shore excursions in the cruise price. These include Swan Hellenic, Spirit of Adventure, Voyages to Antiquity and most river cruise companies. Luxury lines usually include excursions in the cruise price.
* Prices shown are per person with child prices, where available, in brackets. Tips are not included.
1. Volcano hiking, Santorini
Sail to Nea Kameni, an island in the centre of Santorini's volcanic caldera, in a local fishing boat for a 45-minute hike to the crater. Then sail to Palea Kameni for a dip in that island's hot sulphur waters. $79 /48 for two and a half hours.
2. Turkish bath experience, Istanbul
Get scrubbed, steamed and stretched down as you discover just why the baths are so popular in the Middle East. It leaves you in a relaxed state of mind for the frenetic Grand Bazaar, the last stop on the trip. 45 for four and a half hours.
3. Cycling, Croatia
Saddle up for a leisurely peddle through the countryside around Dubrovnik, passing vineyards and cycling along the Ljuta river. You'll cover about three miles, cycling over bumpy ground but with the promise of frequent stops along the way. Five-hour excursion.
4. Livadia and Alupka Palaces, Yalta
Nicholas II, Russia's last tsar, built Livadia Palace, which hosted the 1945 Yalta Convention at the end of the Second World War. The Alupka Palace, built by Prince Vorontsov, was the British headquarters during the conference. From $59/36 per person for four and a half hours.
5. Helicopter adventure and the Isle of Capri, Italy
Fly from Sorrento over Mount Vesuvius, Pompeii and Naples to Capri. Visit the Blue Grotto, lunch at the five-star Grand Hotel Quisisana and take a jetfoil back to Sorrento. $7,099/4,320 per helicopter seating six people for seven and a half
6. A taste of Istanbul
Have an unforgettable meal out with local entertainment at the Kizkulesi restaurant, in the middle of the Bosporus. The building dates back 2,500 years and boasts fabulous views over Istanbul. $244/148 per person for three and a half hours. There is a minimum age of 12.
7. Insider Venice
A local food and wine expert guides you through Venice, visiting open-air markets and stopping at small local restaurants to sample the food. A lunch of regional specialities and local wine is included. $199/120 for a half-day.
8. Best of Cairo, Alexandria
An overnight trip to Egypt's capital, where you'll see the Pyramids at Giza, visit the Temple of Ptah and the ancient cemetery of Sakkara, and sail on the Nile. $499/303 ($249/151) for two days including the hotel.
9. Biking in Barcelona
See the capital of Catalonia by peddle power. You'll be guided through the old town and along the sea front, with drinks by the harbour. 47 (38). Minimum age seven.
10. Ferrari driving experience
Join the jet-set for an hour's drive along the Corniche in Monaco in a classic Ferrari, with a short stop for a glass of champagne at the Vista Palace Hotel. 630 for one hour. Minimum age 18; full drivers' licence required.
11. Cookery lesson in Tuscany
Learn how to make pasta on a gastronomic-themed day out in the Tuscan countryside. You'll help make lunch while enjoying a glass of wine, and visit the herb garden and wine cellars for tastings. $395/ 240 for seven hours. Minimum age 18.
12. Gallipoli, Turkey
A poignant tour of the Gallipoli Peninsula with Kenan elik, one of Turkey's top experts on the disastrous campaign that took place here during the First World War. You'll see the trenches, and visit the Australian and New Zealand cemeteries and British memorial. $179/108 for eight hours.
13. Baalbek, Lebanon
Baalbek was founded by the Phoenicians, rebuilt by the Greeks and then the Romans moved in. The remains are stunning; the Temple of Bacchus is said to be the best-preserved temple in the world. A mezze lunch is included. Full day. Free.
14. America's Cup racing, St Maarten
Help the professionals race a yacht around a shortened America's Cup course or just sit back and enjoy the ride. 60 for up to three hours. Minimum age 12.
15. Cricketing legends, Antigua
Tour the Sir Vivian Richards Cricket Ground and West Indies Hall of Fame before a 40-minute trip down memory lane with one of Antigua's cricketing legends maybe Sir Vivian Richards, Curtly Ambrose or Richie Richardson. 69.50 for three and a half hours.
16. Harley-Davidson ride, Freeport
Roar around Grand Bahama on a classy Harley-Davidson motorbike. There is a guide to show the way and includes a stop at a local market. $199.95/120 for three hours. Minimum age for drivers 25, for passengers 18.
17. Jungle adventure, Cozumel
Speed along narrow jungle paths on a 250cc all-terrain vehicle in search of local wildlife and Mayan ruins. From 56 for three and a half hours. Minimum age 16. Valid drivers' licence required.
18. Offroad safari to Dunn's River Falls, Jamaica
You'll visit a working cattle station and coffee plantation in a zebra-striped jeep before arriving at Dunn's River Falls, to climb the 600-feet waterfall. Wear a swimsuit. Non-slip shoes provided (extra cost). $95/58 for five hours. Minimum age six.
19. Horseback ride and swim, Jamaica
The fun starts after a rather tame ride, when you change into a swimming costume and remount the horse, now bareback, for the swim. The horses really do swim; you have to hang on to stop floating away. 68 for three and a half hours.
20. Amazing secret river, Cozumel
Join a guide for an exploration of a subterranean world filled with stalactites and stalagmites. You'll walk, wade or swim around the 600-metre route. 62 for eight hours. Minimum age six.
21. Adventure river tubing, Grenada
Prepare to get a soaking as you float down the Balthazar river in an inner tube, swirling with the currents and over the gentle rapids. Wear a swimming costume. 40 for three hours. Minimum age six.
22. Trekking, St Barts
Not the thing most people do when they visit this chic Caribbean island but a walk is a good way to get away from the crowds. You'll learn about the island's history and people, and have time for a swim. Two hours. Free.
23. Bobsleigh adventure, Jamaica
Take a chairlift to the top of Mystic Mountain, get harnessed into the bobsleigh and speed back down to Earth on a 3,280ft track, travelling at speeds of up to 40mph. From $79/48 for four and a half hours.
24. Moscow and Helsinki overnight
After a tour of Helsinki, board the overnight train to Moscow for sightseeing trip around Red Square and the Kremlin. After lunch and a metro ride, board a train bound for St Petersburg and the ship. Costs from $899/547 per person for two days.
25. Sailing to the Red Desert, Greenland
Despite being surrounded by water and giant icebergs, the desert really is red, due to all the minerals found here that are high in sulphur and iron. About 139 for up to five hours.
26. King Crab Safari, Honningsvag, Norway
You'll be taken by deep-sea raft out to reel in the day's catch from the crab pots, then back to shore to eat them in a lavvo a Sami tent with an open fire in the middle. $249/151 for three and a half hours.
27. Musical evening at the Hermitage, St Petersburg
See the highlights of one of the world's greatest art collections on a private tour of the Hermitage after the day visitors have left, followed by a concert by players from the State Hermitage Orchestra. 135 for three and a half hours.
28. Glacier rafting adventure, Olden
There's a one-and-a-half-mile uphill climb to the Briksdal Glacier lake. Once there, you'll be given a life vest and rubber boots, oars and a helmet, and loaded into a boat for a 45-minute paddle amid the ice floes. 64 for four and a half hours.
29. MiG fighter jet experience, Moscow
If you are feeling particularly flush, cruise to St Petersburg, fly to Moscow for a once-in-a-lifetime flight in a MiG fighter jet. The trip includes a full day sightseeing in Moscow and a quick look at Nizhny Novgorod. $39,300/23,900 for two days.
30. A night at the ballet, St Petersburg
Enjoy a cultural evening at the ballet in St Petersburg, home to some of the world's best dancers. You'll most likely see Swan Lake or Giselle, and champagne is offered during the intermission. 54 for three hours, 15 minutes.
31. Historic roof tour, Stockholm
You'll be taken to the top of the Old Parliament Building, given a hard hat and safety harness and set off around the narrow path, as a guide picks out the highlights and history of the Swedish capital. 115 for three hours. Minimum age 15.
32. Evening at Catherine Palace, St Petersburg
Tuck in to canaps and vodka on a trip back in time to the days of the tsars at the baroque-style Catherine Palace. Tour the rooms and enjoy a champagne reception. From $199/121 per person for five hours.
33. Hermitage and Gold Room, St Petersburg
A guide will steer you to the best bits of the Hermitage's massive art collection, before visiting the archaeological treasures from the Black Sea coast and northern Caucasus housed in the Gold Room. 66 for three and a half hours.
34. ATV quad bike safari, Kirkenes
Once you've got the hang of driving the quad bike, you'll head through the town and out to the border with Russia for history, hot drinks and muffins. From 99 for two and a half hours. Driving licence required.
35. RIB rides, Geiranger
Get your thrills on a high-speed, inflatable boat as it speeds around the fjord, sailing up close to waterfalls. 90 per person for two hours.
36. Sled dog and musher's camp, Juneau
Climb aboard a wheeled sled for a one-mile ride through spruce trees, pulled by a team of 16 huskies. It's a chance to learn about dog mushing and play with the husky pups. 86 for three hours, 15 minutes.
37. Eagle Islands sea kayaking, Ketchikan
You'll be driven to Knudson Cove, climb into the kayaks and paddle over Clover Pass to Eagle Islands. With luck, you'll see eagles, seals and leaping salmon. $79/48 per person for three and a half hours. Minimum age is eight.
38. Whale-watching quest, Juneau
The company doing these dinner cruises on Auke Bay guarantees you'll see a whale because the area is so popular with humpbacks, and maybe also killer whales, sea lions, porpoise and harbour seals. $159/99 for three and a half hours.
39. Volunteering at Sitka Sound Science Centre
You'll help with the operation and maintenance of the salmon hatchery or marine-life exhibits as part of Crystal's "You Care, We Care" programme of excursions that are designed to give something back to the places visited. Three hours. Free.
40. Dog sled adventure by helicopter, Juneau
A 30-minute helicopter ride will take you over the Juneau Icefield to a glacier to visit a dog-sledding camp. You'll learn about Alaska's gruelling 1,150-mile Iditarod Sled Dog Race, and have a husky ride too. 333 for two and three quarter hours.
41. Chilkoot Trail Hiking and Rafting Adventure, Skagway
The Chilkoot Trail took forty-niners to the gold fields, or their deaths, as many starved en route. You walk a mile and a half, then float back to base by raft. From $119.95/73 for four and a quarter hours.
Rest of the World
42. Camping in Antarctica
It's only for one night, as part of an 11-day cruise of the White Continent, but that's probably long enough to be under canvas in freezing temperatures. 49 for one night. Minimum age 18.
43. Rainforest kayaking and orang-utans, Malaysia
Paddle up the Sarawak river, stopping for a picnic lunch, before arriving at Kg Semadang where transport awaits to whisk you to the rehabilitation centre at Semonggok, where rescued orang-utans roam freely. $99/60 for eight hours.
44. Diving in the Arctic
Discover the world beneath the ice on a 30-minute dive in the Arctic on a cruise from Spitsbergen. You must have a Padi diving certificate and driver's licence. $300 /182 for half an hour, equipment provided.
45. Jetboat ride, St John
You'll get soaked as your jetboat driver races through the churning waters in the Reversing Falls in the Bay of Fundy (so called because the water flows backwards during high tides). Waterproofs are supplied, but make little difference. Take a change of clothes. $129/78 for two hours.
46. Elephant safari ride, Bali
You'll be taken to the Elephant Safari Park at Taro for a ride through the forest on one of these gentle giants. The tour ends with a splash at the park's bathing lake. 84 for about seven and a half hours.
47. Catalina kayak expedition, Catalina Island, California
Explore the island's coastline by kayak while the guide points out landmarks, birds and plant life, and lectures about its geological features. From 28 for three hours.
48. Nature and nurture, Costa Rica
Visit a SOS Children's Village for orphans in Limon and a rainforest Wildlife Rescue Centre that's home to three-toed sloths, monkeys and turtles, as part of P & O's new "Green World Tours". 45 (includes donation to the village and wildlife centre) for four and a half hours.
49. Hue and the Perfume River, Vietnam
Hue was the Imperial capital of Vietnam from 1802 to 1945. You'll visit the Royal Citadel and the Imperial Enclosure, cruise by dragon boat on the Perfume river and have a buffet lunch. Eight and a half hours. Free.
50. The Cage of Death: Crocodile encounter, Darwin
Come face-to-face with saltwater crocodiles from the safety of a cage. You'll be submerged with these deadly creatures for about 15 minutes. Remember to take a swimsuit. $299/182 for two and a half hours.
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