So, you want to play in the dirt on your cruise? You are not alone. All-terrain vehicle (ATV) shore excursions are among the most popular nonwater adventures in many cruise ports. ATV enthusiasts and novices alike can strap on their helmets and head for the hills on four-wheeler excursions in the islands of the Caribbean, in Alaska and even in the Greek islands.
There are a few things to keep in mind if four-wheeling is on your cruise agenda. While safety is a top priority for ATV tour operators, accidents do sometimes happen, so travel insurance that covers that specific type of accident is advisable. Also, because there are so many ATV shore excursions and tours available, it's wise to read reviews and compare all your options among those offered through the ship and tours you can book independently. Lastly, be prepared to follow the rules of the tour. Off-roading does not always mean you get to go where you want.
Often these tours are in ecologically sensitive areas, making it important to stick with the designated trails. Most operators also have a minimum age for participants and do not allow anyone with neck or back issues or certain other medical conditions to participate. Closed shoes, like sneakers, are usually required as is a valid driver's license in some locations. Be sure to check with the tour operator or your ship's excursion staff for any additional requirements.
With all of that in mind, we went wandering around the globe to find you some of the best cruise ports for off-road ATV shore excursions.
Updated January 8, 2020
As on many of the Caribbean islands, Grand Turk ATV excursions are often combined with other activities like snorkeling, ziplining, horseback riding or beach breaks. The tours often include drive-bys of points of interest like colonial-era buildings, the Turks and Caicos National Museum and the Grand Turk Lighthouse.
Off-road trails are more like unpaved dirt roads, but they encompass beach areas and the highest points on the island to get you the best views of the crystal-blue waters that Grand Turk is known for. Be on the lookout throughout the ride for a fun glimpse of free-roaming donkeys and horses along the roads. There are also options for dune buggy tours on Grand Turk, which are generally easier to drive and allow slightly younger passengers than the quad ATV tours.
The rugged desert terrain of Aruba's mostly undeveloped eastern side makes it ideal for ATV excursions. First, choose your vehicle: quad ATV (one- or two-seaters), UTV (utility task vehicles for up to five passengers), standard dune buggies or Jeeps. Then, choose your tour and activity.
Many options will include tours of the Aruba Arikok National Park, with a dip or even a snorkel in the natural pool there. Others will offer more time for beach breaks or sightseeing. The ATV excursion choices on Aruba can be mind-boggling, so read the details and reviews carefully to know what you are booking, especially if you have specific sites you want to see or activities you hope to do.
For example, don't assume that every tour that visits the national park allows time for a swim in the natural pool and many skip the iconic California Lighthouse altogether. Tours of less than three hours are more likely to be simple drive-by rides; anything longer than three hours usually includes swims and more time to explore.
Splash through streams and mud puddles, wind your way through jungle terrain and see the rugged side of Puerto Rico on ATV four-wheeler excursions ranging from two to four hours.
While the trails are in the foothills of the El Yunque National Rainforest, don't expect this to be a slow-moving guided ecotour. In Puerto Rico, the ATV adventures are more about getting dirty than about seeing the sights. There are plenty of trails to roam here, so crossing paths with another ATV group is not likely -- giving you a true off-road experience.
The jungle terrain around Costa Maya, Mexico, makes a fun backdrop for an ATV excursion. The vehicles are typically one- or two-seater quads. The trails are smooth enough for beginners but sufficiently rugged to give experts a few bumps and thrills. Most tours are two to three hours long and include a beach break.
Many tours also include a stop at the small fishing village of Mahahual, where you can shop for souvenirs or snacks. If you plan to swim at the beach, bring along biodegradable sunscreen, which is recommended throughout the Riviera Maya for the protection of the coral reef system.
Cabo San Lucas
ATVs, dirt bikes, dune buggies and camels, oh my! Wait, camels? Yes! In Cabo, you can pair your off-road excursion with a camel ride in the desert. ATV excursions here range from two to seven hours, depending on your choice of extra activities, and usually include some wide-open riding in the dunes, as well as rides along the beach.
From January to March, your beach ride is ideal for spotting migrating gray whales. For the most daring off-roaders, choose an ATV or UTV excursion that includes the Los Cabos Canyon Bridge. At 1,083 feet long, it is the longest wooden pedestrian/ATV bridge in the world. Ride across, suspended more than 164 feet above the canyon floor -- if you dare.
Bash through the Red Dunes on an ATV shore excursion from Dubai, where four-wheeling is often paired with a camel ride and possibly even a traditional meal. Longer excursions might also include time to surf the dunes on sandboards, followed by a barbecue in a Bedouin campsite where performers entertain with music and dance.
Vehicle options on Dubai's off-roading excursions include self-driven quad bikes, dune buggies and multipassenger UTVs, as well as four-wheel-drive SUVs driven by professional drivers.
If the opportunity to explore the Alaskan backcountry, including glaciers, by four-wheel drive is on your must-do list of Alaskan excursions, then Skagway is ideal. Off-road excursions from Skagway might include ferry rides or bus rides to the trails, some even passing through the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve, while others traverse the White Pass Summit, known for its famous scenic rail.
Vehicles are typically UTVs (Kawasaki Mules or side-by-side, cart-style two-seaters). You can expect the trails to be rugged and wet. This is the Alaska you came to see -- complete with wildlife and waterfalls.
Yes, you can get an ATV fix in Iceland, while your ship is docked in Reykjavik. There are numerous tours available, most using quad ATVs, both one- and two-seaters. Tours can range from one-hour quickies to six-hour explorations, depending on your time in port.
Tour operators usually provide balaclavas and all-weather coveralls to keep you warm and comfy while you explore beaches, bays and volcanoes amid the rugged beauty of Iceland. Some tours take you along gravel roads near Hafravatn, while longer rides take you to the summits of the twin peaks of Hafrafell and Ulfarsfell. You might even visit a local farm or see herds of the famous Icelandic horses along the way.
There is so much more to see of Santorini than what you can experience on foot, squeezing shoulder-to-shoulder with all the other tourists on the narrow pathways or on tour busses. On an ATV excursion, you still get those stunning caldera views, but you also get to see the backroads and villages, and the beaches and coastal caves hidden from sight to everyone else.
Most tours use quad ATVs and include stops for Greek snacks, wine tastings and even breaks to swim in the sea. Tours average three hours, leaving you ample time to shop before returning to your ship.