Cruise excursions you shouldn't skip

Docking at a new port doesn’t necessarily mean cruise passengers have only a day of shopping trams, snorkeling tours, and guided walks ahead. Cruise lines are increasing their activity offerings in the name of destination immersion with a side of adrenaline rush. These 10 extraordinary excursions prove that adventure is very much possible while on a cruise vacation.

1. Abseiling down a waterfall in Vanuatu with P&O Cruises

(age fotostock / Alamy)

There’s a good reason the classic musical South Pacific used Vanuatu as the physical representation of the mythical island “Bali Ha’i.” Its wild jungles and waterfall oases could appear in an encyclopedia next to the word “paradise.” P&O Cruises’ shore excursions include a chance to abseil down one of those waterfalls. Abseiling is the act of descending a sheer rock face via mountaineering equipment. Naturally, the reward for completing the abseil trek is a swim in the natural rock pools below.

2. Heli-instagramming above a nuclear icebreaking ship in the Arctic

(John Borthwick)

Departing from Murmansk, Russia, the ship 50 Let Pobedy carves its way to the North Pole through polar ice and the remote Franz Josef Land, a barren, uninhabited environment dominated by glaciers. At sea, the ship’s helicopter is used for ice reconnaissance. Around the 191 islands of Franz Josef Land, however, guests board the chopper for aerial photography excursions along glacier edges over the ice fields. The ship, whose name translates to “50 Years of Victory,” is the world’s largest nuclear-powered icebreaker and can easily force its way through the eight-inch thick ice of the Arctic Ocean. The North Pole expeditions are available with both Quark and Poseidon Expeditions.

3. A real “night at the museum” with Azamara in Monte Carlo, Monaco

(Godong / Alamy)

When the sun sets on the port of Monte Carlo, the stately Oceanographic Museum of Monaco closes to the public but reopens for guests of Azamara Club Cruises ships. The historic property is home to 4,000 fish species, a showcase shark lagoon, galleries of seafaring artifacts, and, for these special after-dark experiences, a legion of performers and musicians bringing the darkened halls to life. The excursion is unique for another reason in that it’s completely free. Every Azamara voyage includes an “AzAmazing Evening,” a complimentary private event for all 600 of the ship’s passengers to enjoy a priceless, immersive experience on land.

4. Breakfast with Bedouins in the Dubai Desert Reserve

(Arthur G. Pauli / Alamy)

For this excursion, you'll depart the port of Dubai before dawn for a 4x4 ride through the desert to a Bedouin camp. It’s here that Royal Caribbean Cruise Line guests may watch the sun rise over the crest of sand dunes and share “Futoor,” a breakfast of local specialties, with the tribe. Camels are available for rides, or simply sit and savor stories of the nomadic Bedouin lifestyle.

5. Flightseeing the Falkland Islands’ penguin colonies

(Cynthia Drescher)

During the summer, whales migrate to the waters around the Falkland Islands, swimming around shipwrecks and alongside beaches and cliffs home to Rockhopper, Gentoo, and King penguins. Flying overhead is a twin-engine, 10-seat Britten-Norman Islander aircraft on an hour-long scenic flight with guests from the Azamara Club Cruises’ ship Azamara Journey. The Falklands war in 1982 left much of the countryside and beaches dotted with land mines, so flightseeing is the only way to appreciate the topography and hidden natural wonders of the Falklands.

See more can't miss trips while cruising. 

More from Conde Nast Traveler

The World’s Most Dangerous Trips

The Most Underrated American Cities

Private Islands That Cost Less Than an NYC Apartment

15 Places You Won’t Believe Exist