The world’s best adventure cruises

imageFancy climbing a volcano, husky sledding or flying in a fighter jet? Wendy Gomersall picks the best adventure cruises for 2012.

Gone are the days when an excursion meant a gentle potter around a picturesque town centre or a scenic ride on a comfy coach. Nowadays, adventurous and unusual experiences you would never be able to enjoy at home are all part of what makes a cruise holiday so memorable.

Here’s a taster of the more “extreme” excursions on offer.

Explore an icy wilderness

On an Antarctic expedition, every excursion is a thrill. Travelling in Zodiacs – rigid inflatable boats – you can get close to icebergs and glaciers, not to mention seals, penguins and whales. French cruise line Compagnie du Ponant includes a full itinerary of excursions in the price of its Antarctica and South Georgia trips, which are accompanied by professional naturalists and geologists who can offer expert commentary on the wonders you encounter.

Antarctic departures are scheduled between December 2012 and February 2013.

Compagnie du Ponant offers a 10-night Antarctica round trip from Ushuaia in Argentina, departing December 11, 2012. From £3,910 per person, excluding flights. (0808 234 3802; www.ponant.com).

Make friends with a husky

You don’t have to be a dog lover to get a kick out of husky sledding. For £169 per per person Saga Cruises gives passengers the chance to go dashing through the snow in Norway, on a Northern Lights cruise that crosses the Arctic circle. The handlers will also tell you how their dogs are trained for the annual Finnmarksløpet, the world’s northernmost dog-sled race and, at 600 miles, the longest in Europe.

Saga Cruises offers a16-night Norway and the Northern Lights round trip from Southampton, departing March 13, 2012. From£2,984pp. (0800 505030;www.saga.co.uk/cruises).

Hit the hotspots

At the other end of the temperature scale, you can climb to the crater of an active volcano on Nea Kameni, a Greek island in the centre of a caldera. The stunning views over Santorini from the top make the 45-minute walk well worthwhile. After your descent you will sail to another tiny island, Palea Kameni, famous for its hot springs, where you can soak your tired feet in water that reaches 37C. The Volcano Hiking excursion costs from £50 per person.

Seabourn offers a seven-day Turkey and Greek Isles cruise from Istanbul to Athens, departing May 5, 2012. From £2,210 per person including flights. (0845 070 0500;www.seabourn.com).

Hop on to a Harley

Always fancied a ride on a Harley-Davidson? Where better to get acquainted with this iconic motorbike than the Caribbean island of St Maarten? Your guide will lead you across Maho and Mullet Bay to Marigot, the French capital, and Fort Louis. You’ll also take in the countryside along the north coast and the restaurant capital of Grand Case before returning to Philipsburg. The Paradise Harley excursion costs from £170 per bike. Riders must be over 25 and bring a full, valid motorcycle licence; pillion passengers must be over 18.

P&O Cruises offers a 13-night Caribbean Transatlantic cruise from Barbados to Southampton, departing March 17, 2012.From £1,249 per person, including outbound flight. (0845 355 5333; www.pocruises.co.uk).

Top gun thrills

A flight in a MiG fighter jet over Russia is surely the ultimate excursion. The adventure begins with a business-class flight from St Petersburg to Moscow for an extensive tour and lunch at the famous Writers’ Club restaurant. After more sightseeing you fly to Nizhny Novgorod and, the next day, transfer to Sormovo airbase to don flight suit and helmet and climb into the Russian jet. The English-speaking test pilot performs simple manoeuvres while you quote chunks of Top Gun script and try not to pass out – participants must pass a brief physical examination before flying. Start saving, though: the two-day excursion costs from around £29,800.

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