THE SHIP The 2,600-passenger Grand Princess is the complete opposite of a tiny gondola. While sailing from Venice to Rome, guests can do just about anything onboard, whether it's sunning by a pool or dining in a Southwestern-themed restaurant, one of nearly a dozen places to eat. The Skywalkers nightclub, suspended 150 feet above the ocean at the aft end of the ship, is reachable by a neon-lit suspension bridge.
THE DETAILS 800/774-6237; www.princess.com; 12-night cruise departs May 2, 2005; from $2,090 per person, double; An American Gondola Builder in Venice tour, $89 per person.
Fly a Russian MiG
The Yachts of Seabourn Seabourn Pride
THE TRIP The Baltic cruise is great, but could anything be more impressive than flying over Russia at twice the speed of sound?When the Pride docks in St. Petersburg this summer, sign up for a flight tour of Moscow—in the captain's seat of a Russian MiG, which hits 1,500 mph at its 20,000-foot cruising altitude. Guests take a commercial plane to the Russian Military Airbase, where they board a MiG-29 with an instructor and complete a flight check before blasting off.
THE SHIP The 208-passenger Pride gives guests complimentary mini-massages on the pool deck as well as one free shore excursion per cruise (with the exception of the MiG tour). On the Baltic itinerary, the ship sponsors a private classical music performance at St. Petersburg's Baroque Yusupov Palace.
THE DETAILS 800/929-9391; www.seabourn.com; 14-night cruise departs June 19, 2005; from $8,733 per person, double; MiG tour, $9,999 per person.
See a Private Nature Preserve
Lindblad Expeditions Sea Voyager
THE TRIP Lindblad has the only ship that stops at the Smithsonian Tropical Institute on Panama's Barro Colorado Island, in the middle of the Panama Canal. Mules hold lines of the ship steady while it moves up and down through the locks of the canal. The cries of birds (there are more than 500 species in the area) echo in the distance. Before spending the evening watching the ship rise and fall with the locks, passengers board Zodiacs and motor ashore. Visiting scientists who study everything from fig trees to butterflies introduce the group to the flora and fauna of the lowland-forest ecosystem, pointing out howler monkeys in their natural habitat. Like all of Lindblad's tours, the trip is included in the cost of the cruise.
THE SHIP The 60-passenger Sea Voyager, which makes its way from Costa Rica to Panama, may be a basic expedition cruiser (no jacket-required dining rooms here), but the environmentalist guides are true academics. They plan daily trips based on the weather and the movements of the wildlife. Kayaks are always in tow so that guides can decide on a whim to explore the wilderness.
THE DETAILS 800/397-3348; www.expeditions.com; seven-night cruise departs November 20, 2004; from $3,590 per person, double.
Ride an Elephant on Safari
Holland America Prinsendam
THE TRIP One of the most exciting of Holland America's new post-cruise tours is the three-day overland adventure at Kapama Game Reserve, just outside of Durban, which includes a pre-dawn elephant-back tour of the bush. Passengers saddle up the giant beasts (orphaned by poachers and rescued by Kapama) and go on a two-hour guided search for buffalo, rhinos, and giraffes. Since the reserve is home to only 12 adopted elephants, you're guaranteed a look at the big game without crowds.
THE SHIP The refurbished 793-passenger Prinsendam was built in 1988; it's the elder statesman of the fleet. On this Madras-Cape Town itinerary, book one of the European-style veranda suites, and you'll get free laundry service and invitations to cocktail parties.
THE DETAILS 877/724-5425; www.hollandamerica.com; 16-night cruise departs March 28, 2005; from $4,732 per person, double; Kapama Game Reserve Overland Adventure tour, $3,899 per person.
Hit the Market with a Chef
Silversea Cruises Silver Cloud
THE TRIP In Ho Chi Minh City, the Norfolk Hotel's rising chef, 31-year-old Pham Ba Chinh—already renowned for setting fusion trends in Vietnam—will take passengers on a half-day tour that includes a produce-shopping trip to the city's famous Ben Thanh Market. From the piles of chiles and coconuts, he will select the ingredients for a cooking class. Back at the hotel, passengers watch the chef turn the fresh meats, vegetables, and herbs into lunch, including pho, a brothy beef-noodle soup, and lemongrass chicken with chiles.
THE SHIP The 296-passenger Silver Cloud weighs 16,800 tons, but since it carries less than half the number of passengers of other ships its size, there's space to stretch out on this voyage from Cairns to Bangkok.
THE DETAILS 877/215-9986; www.silversea.com; 16-night cruise departs January 31, 2005; from $7,007 per person, double; Market Visit and Cooking Class, $85 per person.
SHERRI EISENBERG has written for the Boston Globe.