Top five adventure cruise ideas

Cruises are often thought of as relaxing, luxurious and low-key ways to spend a few days lounging in the sun. In recent years, however, a new type of cruise has been gaining popularity amongst holiday makers with more adventurous spirits.

Adventure cruises take place on smaller ships with fewer amenities that allow access to the small islands, bays, inlets and shorelines that larger ships cannot get to, explains Ken Neibaur, manager and travel consultant at Cardoza-Bungey Travel in Palo Alto, Calif.

Here are five of the best.

An Antarctic excursion is among the top adventure cruises available, according to Neibaur.

"The best adventure cruises are the ones that provide access to locations and settings that cannot be accessed by land travel," he explains.

This unparalleled access to the Antarctic shores allows visitors some amazing encounters with the surprisingly diverse indigenous wildlife, such as penguins, leopard seals, orca whales, sea lions and many seabird species. Click here for more.

The Nile 
A cruise down the world's longest river can yield some unforgettable memories. The majority of river cruises sail along the 124-mile stretch of river between the ancient Egyptian cities of Aswan and Luxor. Travelers will pass vast deserts, tiny villages and ancient landmarks that would be difficult to reach by land. Stops vary between cruise operators, but the spectacular Temple of Kom Ombo and Temple of Edfu are among the most popular. Click here for more.

Galapagos Islands
Not only is a small ship the best way to see all of the significant Galapagos Islands, explains Neibaur, it's the only way.

"Only a  few of the islands are inhabited, and there is only one airport, so expedition cruise passengers use the ship as a floating hotel, going from island to island for guided shore excursions with expert naturalists."

Of course, cruisers are rewarded for their explorations with unique interactions with the local wildlife. "Nowhere else in the world can humans mingle with wild creatures in such intimate safety," he says. Click here for more.

Iceland contains some of the most dramatic and volatile environments on Earth. From vast wilderness to towering volcanoes, the varied landscapes of this island nation can produce some thrilling spectacles. A cruise around the icy waters off Iceland's coast can take holidaymakers to some of the most remote locations on the island. Cruisers will marvel at pristine glaciers and lush countryside as well as some of the country's most spectacular volcanoes.

Canals of Southern France
Holidaymakers who prefer to go by their own schedule can take a self-guided boat cruise to navigate the vast network of canals that meander through the south of France. The waterways go past rolling countryside and verdant vineyards to connect the picturesque towns of the French wine country. This relaxed approach to cruising means that visitors can explore the cozy villages, restaurants, historic castles and landmarks at a more casual pace than most cruises allow. Click here for more.