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Bicycling excursion on the Danube hosted by Amawaterways (Photo: Amawaterways)

11 Best Cruise Destinations for Active Cruise Travelers

You can get a workout on pretty much any cruise, but to maximize your adrenaline-pumping options, it's best to find the right combination of cruise ship and destination. Active cruise travelers will usually turn up at least a handful of shore experiences to whet their appetites for adventure, but if you're cruising with a sedentary lot, that city bike tour or rainforest hike might get canceled due to lack of interest. Likewise, certain ports simply don't lend themselves to athletic adventures, while others have so many active choices, it's hard to make up your mind.

Below, we have listed our picks for the 11 best adventure cruise destinations for those who are active travelers, as well as our suggestions for the cruise lines that make the best matches. Just don't forget to pack your running shoes and snorkel gear.

Updated December 31, 2018

1. Australia and New Zealand

Why: Both of these popular Southern Hemisphere locales are famous for their outdoor sports. At many major ports, you can find your way into surfing, Jet Skiing, windsurfing, wakeboarding, parasailing or even (gulp) bungee jumping. In Australia, the Great Barrier Reef, despite the ecological challenges it faces, remains one of the best places in the world for diving and snorkeling, while New Zealand's Lord of the Rings-esque landscapes beckon with diversions in the great outdoors.

Who: Coral Expeditions focuses on adventure and sends its four small ships to some pretty out-of-the-way places in Australia (including remote moorings across the Great Barrier Reef), with enough hiking, diving, swimming and snorkeling to cater to even the most restless explorer. Onboard marine biologists and dive instructors will show you the ropes, while you venture out via inflatable Zodiacs and glass-bottom boats, or head into the water with snorkeling and diving gear provided by the cruise line. For a more traditional big-ship experience, Princess Cruises touts robust offerings to both Australian and New Zealand ports, with active excursion offerings like snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef, camel riding in Broome, Australia, or biking through the geothermal landscapes of Tauranga, New Zealand.


2. Costa Rica

Zodiac excursion in Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica

Why: Any country that's designated more than 25 percent of its landmass as protected parkland is going to be rife with outdoor pursuits. You're likely to see crocodiles, toucans and monkeys from a unique perspective as you zip between canopy treetops on pulleys and cables and hike the rainforest. Don't forget to go white water rafting or kayaking in mangrove estuaries while you're at it.

Who: Windstar's Costa Rica-focused itineraries hit all the right ports for experiencing this country's plentiful nature activities, such as hiking in Carara National Park, surfing the waves at Manuel Antonio National Park or ziplining past titi monkeys above the jungle floor in Quepos.


3. French Polynesia

Why: A daylong port call is enough time to take an off-road adventure, book some sailing time or even play beach volleyball on a motu (small island). Plus, in the atolls' sheltered lagoons, you will find fabulous snorkeling opportunities and have the chance to scuba with some terrifyingly awesome animals: sharks and giant manta rays, to name a couple.

Who: Our choice? Paul Gauguin Cruises' namesake, Paul Gauguin. We like its water sports platform, which facilitates windsurfing, kayaking and paddleboarding. Plus, we salute the ample diving and snorkeling options, including onboard dive instructors for dive excursions and even full scuba certifications. Plus, passengers can check out complimentary snorkeling gear to use for the duration of their voyage.


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4. Alaska

Dog sledding in Alaska

Why: This rugged land has opportunities at every stop for today's more active cruise traveler. These range from stalking salmon with a rod and reel or bears with a camera, to climbing up, rappelling down, driving a dog sled to or riding a Zodiac right up to the faces of glaciers.

Who: The little boats of UnCruise Adventures are able to get into Alaska's nooks and crannies in a way the big guys really can't. What that means for you is paddling and hiking to places most cruisers don't see, going on glacier walks and even having a few chances to join the "polar bear club" on some frigid dips. But, if you still want to enjoy the trappings of conventional ships, we lean again toward Princess. With at least a half-dozen ships in the region, the line offers a variety of unique active excursions, such as canoeing to a glacier, heli-hiking, lake kayaking, biking, rock climbing, rappelling, dog mushing, sport fishing and trail hiking.


5. Hawaii

Why: Surrounded by clear seas with flourishing coral reefs and towering surf, the Hawaiian Islands brim with rugged dynamism: volcanoes, mountains, rushing rivers, chasms and canyons. Options for the active are almost unlimited: exploration on foot, by kayak, underwater or even bicycling down a volcano. Don't forget to celebrate the birthplace of surfing by doing just that.

Who: For passengers aboard UnCruise Adventures, activities like kayaking, whale watching, hiking, paddleboarding and even night snorkeling with giant rays are built right into the Hawaiian itineraries, and are included in the rates. For a big ship experience, Norwegian Cruise Line's Pride of America rocks a jogging track and sports court onboard. On shore, cruisers can choose from many active shore tours on the port-intensive itinerary (including two overnight stays). Excursions include rainforest and crater hikes, surf lessons, snorkeling with turtles, rappelling in waterfalls, volcano biking and zipline adventures.  


6. Western Caribbean

Ziplining Excursion

Why: The Cayman Islands offer some of the best coral reefs and greatest underwater visibility of any major dive site in the Caribbean. Mainland Mexico's Yucatan boasts jungle trails, access to the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza, dolphin encounters and the ecotourism theme parks at Xcaret and Xel-Ha, where swimming in underground rivers, helmet diving and ziplining are all in a day's work. And Jamaica is an active cruise traveler's paradise, too, with opportunities for kayaking, rafting, river tubing, parasailing and four-wheeling.

Who: We pick action-packed Royal Caribbean. Onboard many of its ships, you'll find rock climbing walls, basketball courts, ice skating rinks, ziplines and surf pools; look, too, for a surfing simulator, The Ultimate Abyss (the tallest dry slide at sea) and a trio of water slides, on Harmony of the Seas, which sails Western Caribbean itineraries. Plus, cruisers have the option to go bobsledding in Ocho Rios; ziplining on the world's largest overwater run in Royal Caribbean's private port in Labadee, Haiti; and snorkeling in Cozumel, Mexico; as well as swimming with dolphins, diving, biking, horseback riding and parasailing throughout the Western Caribbean.


7. The Bahamas

Why: The Bahamas are such a popular cruise destination that its ports are chock full of attractions for every kind of cruiser. Windsurfing, biking, kayaking, deep-sea fishing, horseback riding and even helmet diving can be arranged during your time in port.

Who: Carnival's "Fun Ships" sail to the Bahamas from homeports up and down the East Coast, with itineraries that range in length from three to eight nights. When not in port, expect onboard activities like water parks (many with winding water slides), ropes courses and/or sports centers (with options like basketball, mini-golf and more). Excursions in the Bahamas include dolphin swims, helmet diving, parasailing, kayaking and any water sport you can think of.


8. Mexico's Pacific Coast

Why: Smaller ships sailing Mexico's Pacific coast are geared toward cruise adventurers looking to dune buggy, parasail and trek through scenic terrain. Mega-ships frequent the region, too, and also highlight the area's water sports and active pursuits.

Who: We like Lindblad Expeditions, as its small ships can get you into some remote Sea of Cortez locales. At each stop, the line's got you swimming with dolphins, hiking through the desert or paddling in search of blue-footed boobies. Carnival's ships typically bring a younger crowd for canopy adventures, helmet diving, sport fishing, golf and even salsa dance lessons.


9. Galapagos

Group of sea lions

Why: In this natural world-wonderland (which inspired Darwin's theory of evolution), prepare to hike volcanic islands; snorkel seas rich with sea turtles, sea lions, manta rays and more; and set out on expeditions in search of fearless wildlife (from blue-footed boobies to dragon-like iguanas and giant tortoises). Cruising is the ideal way to navigate the Galapagos, with its diversified island terrain.

Who: International Expeditions' Galapagos voyages cater to adventure- and nature-lovers, with itineraries that come jam-packed with swimming, snorkeling, kayaking and hiking excursions -- all-inclusive activities that practically guarantee brushes with the islands' legendary and curious wildlife. Top-notch naturalist guides lead the way through desert and volcanic landscapes, lush forests and waters teeming with marine life.


10. Antarctica

Why: Antarctica is a long way to travel, and as a rule, doesn't attract -- nor reward -- the passive traveler. Largely the terrain of cruise travelers and scientists, the White Continent's wilderness welcomes active exploration of the great outdoors. You can trek frozen landscapes in the shadow of towering glaciers, glide by colossal icebergs in a kayak or Zodiac and photograph glorious wildlife (penguins, whales and more). You might even tack on excursions to camp under the stars, or challenge your senses with a polar plunge or a go at stand-up paddleboarding.

Who: The small expedition vessels of Quark Expeditions are dubbed "polar adventure ships," and they deliver adventure aplenty. Passengers can expect frequent Zodiac landings, hiking trips and seasonal snowshoeing outings in some of Antarctica's most remote reaches. For added adventure, supplementary excursions like kayaking, cross-country skiing, mountaineering, stand-up paddleboarding and even overnight camping trips can also be arranged. The expedition staff -- including polar naturalists, scientists and other Antarctica specialists -- offers passengers guidance and education on ship and ashore.


11. Central Europe

AmaSonata passengers parked with bikes along river
Why: A river cruise will take you through the heart of Central Europe, offering voyages along the Danube, Rhine, Main and Moselle rivers. Each river will take you through picturesque valleys, vineyards and villages. Besides the gorgeous countryside of Austria's Wachau Valley, the Black Forest and Rhineland, you'll also visit several major cities on the way -- Vienna, Budapest and Bratislava all sit on the banks of the Danube, providing plenty of walking opportunities along the way.

Who: AmaWaterways offers many itineraries, traveling on modern, stylish ships complete with swimming pools, fitness rooms and fleets of bicycles and electric bikes. The cruise line also has wellness hosts onboard almost every ship in the fleet. These hosts lead several daily group exercise classes, with options such as yoga, stretching, Pilates and circuit training. All classes are included in the cost of the cruise. Small-group shore excursions are also included, and you can set your own pace on the walking tours as they're divided into Gentle Walkers, Active Walkers and Late Starters (for those who want to sleep in). Stay-and-cruise options from Prague to Budapest are a good way to get the best of city and countryside experiences, and could include a hike of the Durnstein Fortress in Austria, a bike tour of Old Town Vienna, an exploration of Castle Hill in Budapest and even a private Oktoberfest when you board in Vilshofen.

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