Walking the rooftops of Stockholm, catching lobsters in Maine, Maseratis in Monaco and bobsleds in Jamaica: anyone who thinks the shore excursions offered by cruise lines consist of only half-day city sightseeing tours, is in for a huge surprise. Today’s cruise industry is all about offering variety and choice. In addition to new ships of all sizes, innovative and diverse itineraries and new worldwide cruise destinations, cruise lines have also dramatically enhanced the scope and quality of cruise vacations by offering shore excursions that are dazzling in their ingenuity and often breathtaking in their sense of adventure. And many offer luxury in the extreme.
For starters, there are reserved seats for the Monaco Grand Prix and the chance to drive one of the world’s fastest sports cars through the French Riviera. There is icy champagne on the way to the Arctic Circle. There’s hunting the Red Elephant of Tsavo with a camera, and sampling rare wines from one of the world’s largest private collections. Cruise passengers can explore the Viking ruins of Greenland or the ancient Incan treasures of South America. They can ride Harleys in the Caribbean, climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia, or go biking in Croatia. In short, virtually anything an adventurous or inspired traveler can imagine doing is probably offered on a cruise line shore excursion. Here are some examples of the most unusual, newest or most popular options:
AZAMARA CRUISES: One of Azamara’s most interesting shore excursions is Colors, Tastes and Smells of Turkey. Offered in Kusadasi, guests visit the town of Sirince, known for its fragrant and flavorful apricots and peaches; travel through the mountainous region of Kirazi Koy to visit a local primary school and perhaps nap under a tree before a special lunch of gozleme, keskek and manti and a cup of strong Turkish coffee. For those inclined, there is also the harvesting of fruit with the local residents.
CARNIVAL CRUISE LINES: Offered for passengers in Ocho Rios and celebrating the improbable Jamaican bobsled teams of the 1980’s and 1990’s Winter Olympics, the Rainforest Bobsled Jamaica at Mystic Mountain is a new eco-friendly shore excursion just launched in July. It features a bobsled ride through the tropical forest, a chairlift journey over the countryside, a zip-line canopy adventure through the treetops, an island culture and heritage center, as well as dining and shopping.
CELEBRITY CRUISES: A visit to the famous Hermitage Museum is a staple of most shore excursions in St. Petersburg but Celebrity goes one step further: Hermitage Splendour – An Exclusive Evening at the Hermitage Museum features a private tour and ballet performance after hours, when the museum is closed to the public. In addition to the incomparable art collection, the evening is highlighted by performances of the Mariinsky Theatre dancers.
COSTA CRUISES: One of Kenya’s first and largest wildlife refuges, Tsavo National Park, is the focus of Costa’s “Safari” shore excursion for passengers in Mombasa. The “game drive” is conducted in closed-top minibuses for up-close photography of the reserve’s famous “Red Elephant,” zebra, giraffe, buffalo, lions and leopards and includes a stop in one of the park’s lodges, for more a relaxed viewing from the terrace.
CRYSTAL CRUISES: With Crystal’s “Extreme Luxury” excursions on most Mediterranean itineraries, guests can slip behind the wheel and race through Italy in a private Ferrari, following a guide through the Umbrian countryside or the winding roads of Livorno and Tuscany, lunching at a five-star restaurant along the way, or motor through the French Riviera and Monaco's dramatic hills in a Maserati, Lamborghini, or a Ferrari 612 Scaglietti, one of the world's fastest grand touring cars.
CUNARD LINE: The Sticky Wicket Restaurant and Bar is only one feature of Cunard Line’s Cricketing Legends tour for guests visiting Antigua on Queen Victoria. The program includes a visit to the Antigua Recreation Ground, home to four cricket world records; a guided tour of the new Sir Vivian Richards Cricket Ground, venue for the 2007 World Cup; and even lunch and a visit, with photo opportunities with Sir Vivian himself or numerous other famous Antiguan cricketers.
DISNEY CRUISE LINE: For those who thought Disney was all about Mickey and Donald, there is Disney Cruise Line’s Graycliff’s Wine & Cheese Pairings adventure in Nassau. For guests 21 and older, the program features some of the world’s finest wines and old-world cheeses at this five-star restaurant built in the 18th century. Exclusive to Disney, it is highlighted by eight tastings from one of the world’s largest private collections of rare wines.
HOLLAND AMERICA LINE: Geared to those travelers who “have seen it all,” HAL’s “Machu Picchu, Chinchero, Maras & Moray” Encore Collection is a four-night, three-day overland adventure from the port of Arica in Chile. It includes travel by plane, motorcoach and vista-dome railcar to heights of 14,000 feet or more, with visits to some of South America’s most famous pre-Columbian landmarks as well as the Huaca Pucilana Archaeological Center and the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Lima.
MSC CRUISES: On MSC Cruises’ 2008-2009 Caribbean itineraries, the shore excursion emphasis is on adventure. Options include kayaking over coral reefs, dune buggy tours, snorkeling and diving and swimming with dolphins. In Grand Cayman, guests may learn how to Scuba dive. In St. Maarten there is horseback riding on the beach, adventures using catamarans and Swiss Army jeeps, and the Harley Davidson Experience featuring legendary models of motorcycles for island tours.
NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE: NCL recently launched a new class of private touring that offers more choices and convenience for guests wishing to explore ports of call however they want. The company’s “Ultimate Touring” offers such VIP tours for small groups of two to 18 people as the “Rooftop Walk in Stockholm” – a guided walk conducted along the roofs of this historic city, visiting locations such as the Old Parliament Building, the Gamla Stan quarter and the Royal Palace.
PRINCESS CRUISES: The “Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb” takes guest along the upper span of the famous bridge on catwalks and ladders, steadily all the way to the summit – over 400 feet above Sydney harbor. From the top of this Australian icon, visitors can see the equally famous Sydney Opera House and the entire city spread out below. The tour includes a comprehensive briefing, all necessary equipment, and a safety demonstration which includes an alcohol breath test.
REGENT SEVEN SEAS CRUISES: “Augustus House and Ara Pacis” is a tour in Rome offered exclusively by Regent. Among the highlights are a guided walking tour through underground levels of the ancient St. Clemente Church, each representing different centuries of the Roman Empire; a visit to Augustus Palace that, according to mythology, was the site where Romulus and Remus were found by the She-Wolf; and a tour of the Altar of Peace, or Ara Pacis, constructed by decree of the Roman Senate following conquests by Caesar Augustus.
ROYAL CARIBBEAN INTL: Keeping up with the latest technology, Royal Caribbean offers a unique GPS Video Walking Tour of Key West. In addition to a complimentary drink at Pat Croce’s Rum Barrel, guests use the handheld GPS Ranger to trigger a video and audio tour that not only provides directions but facts, myths and legends. The device can be programmed to follow a set path exploring Key West’s most famous sites, or used to “roam alone.” Either way it is interactive, easy to use and fun.
SEABOURN CRUISE LINE: From Helsinki, Seabourn guests may board a private jet to visit the Lapp people of the Arctic Circle. After landing in Rovaniemi, travel is by wooden river boat northward, complete with icy champagne, for a visit to a family reindeer camp and an Arctic Circle crossing ceremony or reindeer lassoing. Featuring a traditional Lapp lunch and folk dancing, the tour also includes a visit to the Arktikum museum and science center before returning to Helsinki by jet.
SEADREAM YACHT CLUB: Cycling in Croatia is the theme of one of Seadream’s Land Adventures from Dubrovnik. After an air-conditioned drive along the Adriatic coast, guests are met in the village of Gruda by professional staff who provide bicycles, helmets and instruction. The almost three-hour ride winds through beautiful Croatian countryside past vineyards and along the Ljuta River where a rest stop features a choice of local fruits. For those even more adventurous, Seadream also offers rock climbing expeditions in Croatia.
SILVERSEA CRUISES: “The Perfect Dubai Experience” features limousine service to the Novotel Airport and a chartered helicopter tour of one of the Middle East’s most modern and fast growing cities. Setting down on the cantilevered helipad on the 28th floor of the Burj Al Arab hotel, the tour also includes a journey of culinary splendour that begins with a simulated submarine voyage to one of the top 50 restaurants in the world, The Oyster, or Al Mahara, that features a floor-to-ceiling seawater aquarium and seafood dishes from around the world.
WINDSTAR CRUISES: Windstar’s “Monaco Grand Prix Package” tour includes a private Welcome to Monaco cocktail reception and gala dinner onboard ship; an exclusive gift package of binoculars, an official Grand Prix program and souvenirs; reserved seating for the Formula One time trials; an exclusive Windstar reception at the H.S.H. Prince Rainier III Auto Collection Museum; and a private breakfast onboard ship before reserved seat viewing for the final Grand Prix race.
Source: Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) www.cruising.org