Sea & Shore Major cruise lines now offer active land excursions for passengers who want port activities more vigorous than a city tour or beach barbecue.

February 02, 1997|By Judi Dash | Judi Dash,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

On a recent Caribbean cruise, I joined a guided rain-forest hike in Nevis, went horseback riding across the beaches and hillsides of St. Barts and climbed a mountain in St. Kitts. For my next cruise, I am vacillating between a barge trip in France with cycling at every stop, and an African adventure that combines sailing the Indian Ocean's pristine Seychelle Islands with a wildlife safari in Kenya. Or maybe I'll choose the golf cruise along the Atlantic Seaboard's Intracoastal Waterway that provides games at five courses between Charleston, S.C., and Jacksonville, Fla.

Welcome to surf and turf, cruising style.

What began in the 1970s as a feisty fringe of the cruise industry -- adventure expeditions that sent hearty types tracking giant turtles on foot in the Galapagos Islands -- has gone mainstream. These days every major cruise line offers active shore excursions for passengers who want port activities more vigorous than a city tour or beach barbecue.

Hiking trips, horseback riding, kayaking, diving and snorkeling are now standard fare on many cruises, while more exotic programs offer wildlife safaris, archaeological treks and visits to tribal villages or scientific research stations. Some adventure programs run simultaneously with the cruise -- such as cycling during French barge trips and Zodiac excursions in Sweden and the Galapagos. Others are pre- or post-cruise programs, such as safaris in East Africa. Your trusty vehicle could be an ocean liner, a sailing cruise ship, river barge, classic tall ship, small expedition vessel or icebreaker with its own shipboard helicopter for aerial excursions. Passenger numbers range from an intimate group of 12 to hundreds.

Before you sign on for this new wave of active cruises, make sure you know what you're getting into. While luxury liners provide ample cabin space with private baths and other amenities, smaller ships may entail cramped quarters with shared facilities and healthful but basic fare.

On most ships not specifically built for tourist groups, all cabins are not created equal. On a recent cruise aboard a 112-foot motor-sailor in Ecuador's Galapagos Islands, for example, my husband and I got the so-called captain's cabin, a huge suite with king-size bed, large bathroom, dozens of drawers and a refrigerator. Our shipboard neighbors had a room that resembled an envelope -- they kind of slid into their bunk beds from the doorway, had only a few small shelves for clothing and a tiny bathroom.

Following are some of the best of the new surf and turf adventures.

Sweden and Australia

Two pioneers in the adventure cruise business, Zegrahm Expeditions and Special Expeditions, have expanded their horizons to new destinations using small luxury ships.

Special Expeditions, founded by Sven-Olaf Lindblad, son of the late adventure-travel pioneer Lars-Eric Lindblad, ventures into stunning Scandinavian surf and turf this year. Its one-week Impressions of a Swedish Summer cruise uses the 129-foot Swedish Islander, a yacht-like 49-passenger boat, to explore Sweden's Stockholm Archipelago. The necklace of 24,000 islands and islets is concentrated within an area of fewer than 4,000 square miles, forming two dramatically different landscapes -- a wooded, protected inner part and a wild, barren outer realm which is home to sea birds, seals and a few hearty fishermen. By day the Swedish Islander transports guests from islet to island, where participants can stroll centuries-old towns, bicycle through farmlands or join nature walks. Evening accommodations are at small inns and hotels.

Zegrahm Expeditions heads to the top of Australia for a voyage to the river valleys, gorges and offshore islands of the Kimberly region aboard the 114-foot, 42-passenger luxury catamaran Coral Princess.

Cruising between Darwin, capital of Australia's Northern Territory, and Broome, pearling capital of the world, participants have a chance to hike up soaring waterfalls and through caves adorned with ancient Aboriginal paintings and participate in a corroboree, an Aboriginal spiritual ritual.

African safari/cruises

The hottest adventure angle for mainstream ships is the Safari Cruisetour, which pairs cruises to or from Mombasa, Kenya, with wildlife safaris in Kenya or Tanzania. About a dozen lines offer this delicious mix in conjunction with cruises between Mombassa and the Seychelles, Israel or South Africa, with safaris before or after the cruise. Participants stay in lodges or tented camps, with game drives, village visits and sometimes camel rides.

For an even more adventurous cruise/safari program, consider the new joint venture of Galileo Cruises and African Travel, a much-respected safari operator. The two offer one-week exploration cruises between Mombassa and the Seychelles aboard the 36-passenger motor-sailor Galileo Sun, combined with a nine-day Kenya safari that includes walking excursions.

Polynesia and the Caribbean

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