Cruise ship shore excursions: Six of the best adventures

POLAR SNORKELLING, ANTARCTICA

Aurora Expeditions has always pushed the boundaries of adventure activities and was the first cruise company to offer camping and scuba diving in Antarctica. Snorkelling doesn't just give you unique boasting rights, but is a brilliant way to experience the frigid environment from a new angle, and especially to see how fast and agile penguins become when they're underwater. The ocean is very clear, allowing a look at shipwrecks, the underbelly of icebergs and small creatures such as starfish, nudibranchs and crustaceans. You may also have euphoric encounters with whales and seals. See auroraexpeditions.com.au

RIDING THE RAPIDS, KIMBERLEY, AUSTRALIA

Every Zodiac excursion with Ponant in the Kimberley is a magnificent ride through rust-red gorge systems draped in waterfalls, and into constellations of islands scattered across impossibly blue ocean. But Talbot Bay brings an added thrill, as a narrow gap opens in the escarpment, allowing huge tides to rush through and create the famous Horizontal Falls. Plunging through in a Zodiac is a wild ride as the engine roars, the water churns and spray whips your face. After you draw breath, you can admire the ring of red cliffs, and might see tawny nurse sharks circling below. See au.ponant.com

STINGRAY ENCOUNTER, MOOREA, FRENCH POLYNESIA

Moorea has one of the world's most voluptuous landscapes, encircled in a stunning sapphire lagoon shallow enough to stand in, so that one of the most extraordinary marine encounters is within reach even of those who don't want to get their hair wet – though snorkelling is even better. On this Oceania Cruises excursion, shoals of placid stingrays fly on undulating giant wings through the water, and don't seem perturbed when touched; they feel slightly rubbery and slimy, like damp mushrooms. The lagoon is also filled with tropical fish and small, harmless sharks. See oceaniacruises.com

NATURE HIKE, MONTAGNE D'AMBRE, MADAGASCAR

Madagascar features some of the world's most beguiling landscapes and unusual wildlife thanks to its isolation and wide variety of ecosystems, from tropical forest to savannah and mountains. Montagne d'Ambre National Park in the country's north has volcanoes, waterfalls and montane rainforest, and is a pleasant retreat from coastal heat. An excursion with Silversea brings a chance of spotting chameleons, geckos, bird life, magnificent butterflies and rare endemic plants. The park also has seven species of lemur, some of which you'll likely encounter while walking the forest trails. See silversea.com

WILDLIFE SPOTTING, KAMCHATKA, RUSSIA

The Russian Far East is one of expedition cruising's hotspots, and few cruise lines have the experience of Heritage Expeditions along its volcano-studded coastline. Bear-spotting on land is a highlight, and Wrangel Island has large numbers of musk ox, reindeer and polar bear. Getting out in Zodiacs to admire the sea life provides astonishing up-close encounters with whales, dolphins, fur seals and Pacific sea otters. Thousands of walruses congregate at haul-outs such as the Pika River delta. Meanwhile the sheer number of seabirds that darken the sky in confetti swirls is astonishing. See heritage-expeditions.com

OFF-ROAD ADVENTURE, WADI RUM, JORDAN

The Wadi Rum desert landscape of southern Jordan rumples into deep canyons and red cliffs backed by jagged, barren mountains, and is a classic shore excursion from the Red Sea port of Aqaba. A four-wheel drive journey into this stark landscape with Regent Seven Seas Cruises takes you in amongst its dry riverbeds, stretches of sand and soaring granite and sandstone cliffs. Some of the sand dunes are magnificently coloured from orange to mauve. A stop at a Bedouin camp for a mint tea or coffee flavoured with cardamom provides a chance to chat to the locals. See rssc.com

The writer has travelled courtesy of numerous cruise lines.

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