Ride a bike 38 miles down a Hawaiian volcano, fly in a Russian MIG fighter jet, tube through a Costa Rican cave and rain forest, or dive the waters off St. Thomas and get your National Geographic Diver Certificate. These are just a few of the new, more active shore excursion options offered by cruise lines nowadays.
Gone are the days when most shore trips were city sightseeing, shopping or guided museum tours. Although they still exist and appeal to many cruisers, today's offerings go way beyond helicopter flightseeing to Alaska's glaciers (which used to be as exotic as it got). They're more adventurous, energetic and interesting. And the improvement is not just limited to during the cruise: For pre- and post-cruise options, lines are offering excursions to Tibet, train trips on the famous Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, safaris in Africa and visits to the ancient cities of Cambodia.
Shore options today are more extensive and varied than ever. For example, a Carnival Cruises Western Caribbean seven-night sailing to Cozumel, Grand Cayman and Ocho Rios has 105 shore excursion options. Celebrity Cruises offers 20 to 30 options per Caribbean port of call. On an average Celebrity cruise, there would be about 110 excursions from which to cruise; the prices range from $7 for the Key West Art museum to $249 for a SCUBA certification course.
The most exotic pre-and post-options sound great, but are hardly inexpensive. The pre- or post-cruise Tibetan adventure from Crystal Cruises costs $2,750 per person, while a Silversea Cambodian trip costs up to $2,220 per person.
Cruisers frequently ask if they should book through the cruise line or do it on their own. I have done it both ways; I tend to use the line's organized excursions for the ones I feel are harder to pull together independently. For the very adventurous among you, I say, ‘sure, do it on your own.' For the less adventurous, letting the cruise line handle everything is safest. Doing it on your own gives you freedom in terms of timing (just make sure to return to the ship on time; it won't wait for you). And it may very well be less expensive – especially if more than one couple is going. For more shore excursion info, check out what CruiseMates' resident shore ex expert, Kuki, says.
Here's a small sampling of what the some lines are offering (all prices per person for adults; kids' prices may be cheaper):
In Costa Rica, guests can go white water rafting: after a 90-minute sightseeing bus ride and a short walk, it's a 10-mile rafting adventure with guests paddling through easy and then more advanced rapids ($99). In Belize, there's a Cave Tubing and Rain Forest Exploration tour: After a bus transfer, guests take a 45-minute tubing excursion, meandering down the Sibun River, observing craggy cave and rock formations, lush foliage and vegetation ($93). In Puerto Vallarta and Jamaica, guests can take a Canopy Adventure, gliding through the treetops from platform to platform via pulleys on horizontal traverse cables, from 10-90 feet above the ground ($99-$109). 800-327-9501; www.carnival.com.
In Honduras, Celebrity offers an Xpedition to Copan in the inner part of the country. This six-hour journey includes a flightseeing trip via charter plane and a tour of the ancient Mayan ruins, considered the "Athens" of the new world ($700). In Peru, guests can take an overnight trip to Machu Picchu, the ancient "Lost City" of the Incas. Guests stay in a plush hotel at the 10,000-foot plateau, a great place to start explorations to the ruins themselves ($1,820). In St. Thomas, it's the National Geographic Dive -- an eight-hour adventure, including transfer, in-depth training, and the dive itself ($700). 800-437-3111; www.celebrity.com.
From Shanghai, guests can ride the revolutionary Maglev Train, the world's fastest with speeds up to 267 mph ($57). In Skagway, the line offers a Klondike Rock-climbing and Rappelling Adventure ($80). In St. Petersburg, guests get to experience a MIG Fighter Flight Excursion, performing some complicated aerial maneuvers with an English-speaking pilot ($13,000). In Santorini, there's a Nea Kameni Volcano Hike ($55). Crystal also offers some exotic pre/post trips, including an adventure to Tibet ($2,750) and train trips on the Eastern & Orient Express and the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express ($875-$2,390). 800-446-6620; www.crystalcruises.com.
In Halifax, guests can be a "soldier for a day," marching in the boots of Queen Victoria's soldiers and eating in the barracks at the Citadel National Historic Site ($299). Guests stopping in Barcelona can visit the Formula One track at Montmelo, take a turn of the circuit with a driver and then drive their own 270cc go-car at speeds up to 70km/hr. ($138). Water enthusiasts will enjoy the Key West Cup Regatta. It's a real yacht race for an hour and a half with guests guarding the winch, manning the helm, watching the clock and doing other race chores ($79). 800-426-0327; www.hollandamerica.com.
NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE
In Maui, NCL offers the Haleakala Downhill Bicycle Adventure at dawn. Seeing the sunrise come up in the morning is spectacular; bicycling downhill for 38 miles at speeds up to 20 mph is exhilarating ($149). Hawaii visitors can spend a day on the Kipu Ranch, a working cattle operation on the Jungle Mountain Trek, Wagon and Zipline Adventure. The zipline goes through the forest canopy above rivers and waterfalls at speeds of 30 mph ($135). NCL also offers an innovative and extensive Dive-In program: Guests can SCUBA or snorkel in a wide variety of ports, with different excursions possible for those of varying expertise (prices vary). 800-327-9020; www.ncl.com.
ROYAL CARIBBEAN INTERNATIONAL
In Bar Harbor, what better way to see the natural beauty and water wildlife of Mount Desert Island than by sea kayaking through the waters of Frenchman's Bay ($48). In the Baltic, get a view of Helsinki from a Helsinki Archipelago Rubber Boat trip at speeds up to 45 mph ($195). Off St. Kitts, guests get a chance to go deep sea fishing: This four-hour trip offers the opportunity to test one's skills and feel the thrill of catching sport fish such as mackerel, tuna and barracuda ($150). From Cabo San Lucas, guests can enjoy a three-hour Sea of Cortez Eco-Snorkeling Tour in clear waters teeming with an abundance of marine and sea life ($65). 800-327-6700; www.royalcaribbean.com.
SEABOURN CRUISE LINE
Seabourn is introducing some really interesting opportunities this year (prices not set at press time). From Warnemunde (the port for Berlin), guests get an opportunity via a German navigation simulator to be virtual Master and Commander of a full-sized ship in a 360-degree panorama. Guests stopping in Venice can put a fully-equipped Ferrari through its paces on a professional-circuit auto-racing course. Pre- or post-cruise from Mombasa, guests can do some game viewing in the Ngorongoro Crater and tour the Olduvai Gorge, discovery site of mankind's earliest ancestors. Also pre- or post-, but from Cairo, there's a tour of the recently discovered Tombs of the Pyramid Builders (still closed to the general public). 800-929-9595; www.seabourn.com.
Antarctica, the least visited continent, can be seen as part of a Silversea cruise via a full-day flightseeing adventure in a 44-seat chartered aircraft. The time on site, approximately four hours, should be quite special ($2,995). As part of its inaugural calls to Libya, Silversea offers a full-day excursion to Leptis Magna, one of the most complete ancient cities of North Libya. Along the Mediterranean 72 miles from Tripoli, Leptis Magna is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. From Sorrento, guests can take an exclusive boat trip to Ieranto Bay as part of Silversea's partnership with BAI, the Italian national conservation fund. Guests ending their cruise in Singapore can do a six-night post trip to Cambodia, visiting Angkor Wat and Phnom Penh ($1,935-$2,220). 800-722-9955; www.silversea.com.
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